Pastor, you need to process your grief too

By Noah Oldham

Last week was a hard week.

It began with the public release of a cell phone video capturing the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, ended with the news that influential pastor and church planter Darrin Patrick died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound — and was punctuated by word of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias’s terminal cancer diagnosis.

All of this came in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. If you’re like me, this means your week began with anger and ended with sadness. Perhaps both brought deep emotions out of you — maybe even tears.


The events of last week remind us of the great, important work God has called us to as pastors and church planters.

Sin is strong, and brokenness permeates to the very core of people and systems. One of the clearest effects of the fall is that human beings are prone to do the unjust and unimaginable. And the only hope for it all is the light of the gospel working its way into people and systems and casting out the darkness.

But if we’re not careful, we can numb ourselves to the reality of this brokenness and what it is and should be doing in our own hearts.

As leaders who feel the weight of helping others work through these situations and others like them, we can tend to perform. We feel the pressure to have the “right” words. We feel the weight of responding quickly enough, creatively enough or comprehensively enough. Before you know it, we look back and realize we didn’t take the necessary time and space to process the situations we led others through because we were too busy performing.


Proverbs 4:23 is a well-known verse that reminds us to “keep” or “guard” our hearts because from them flows the springs of life. You’ve probably heard, thought of or taught this verse in the context of guarding our hearts from something “out there.” But if we look at the verses preceding verse 23, we realize God wants us to keep the right stuff in just as much as He wants us to keep the wrong stuff out.

So, how do we get the right stuff in? How do we “be attentive to His words” and “incline our ears to His sayings?” How do we “let them not escape from our sight” and “keep them within our hearts?”

We reject performing and we embrace processing.

Unlike performing, processing doesn’t claim to have all the answers. Processing is quick to listen and slow to speak. Processing recognizes the need for intentional, gospel-centered relationships where we can be vulnerable, known, honest and ignorant without fear. Processing is the desire to learn — from others, from God and about the junk deep down in our own hearts.

If I could encourage you toward anything after the events of last week, it would be to process these events and your grief well. Process with your wife, with your team and with other pastors and church planters. When we do, God wins, the gospel gains ground and we all grow in Him and with one another.

We are Send Network.

Resource: NAMB’s Pastoral Care Line — 1-844-PASTOR1
A free, confidential, dedicated help line for pastors. Trained, professional counselors are available every day from 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. (EST). Confidentiality is ensured by Focus on the Family.

Published May 14, 2020

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Noah Oldham

Noah Oldham is the lead pastor of August Gate Church, a church he planted in St. Louis in 2009. He also serves as the Senior Director for Church Planter Deployment for the Send Network. Noah has been married to Heather since 2005, and God has graciously given them five children.