6 Questions for Pastors to Ask a Grieving Person

Through support and biblical wisdom, individuals can experience recovery.

Grief is a complicated process, and it doesn’t happen the same way for everyone. It is a long, sometimes painful journey. Thankfully, through support and biblical wisdom, individuals can experience recovery.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated grief.

In 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death according to the CDC. But the impact is even greater. Americans are experiencing grief on top of grief, and the physical and mental effects are destructive. Anxiety and depression are on the rise, and we have yet to even understand the full domino effect of this pandemic.

People are hurting and mourning on a new level. They need a trusted resource for helping them to cope with their grief, in a way that is healthy and leads to true hope, which provides an enormous opportunity for the Church.

For this reason, it is more important than ever that church leaders feel comfortable leading conversations and are prepared to walk through grief with their congregation.

No matter the reason for the grief, here are five simple questions to ask any grieving individual in order to understand how to best offer spiritual care.

1. How have you been since we last talked?

Starting with a general inquiry can help an individual open up on their terms. Hearing what information they lead with will allow you to understand where to take the conversation and what they feel comfortable discussing.

Sometimes this question does not provide much information. If you find that to be the case, don’t worry. Rather, follow up with additional questions.

2. Are there any questions or concerns have you been thinking about since our last conversation?

If this question yields a clear response, then take notice of how they answer. How is it framed? What is their tone? Is there a sense of shock, desperation, exasperation, or more of benign curiosity?

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They may have concerns that show anxiety or distress but have difficulty articulating the feeling or thoughts. If that occurs, suggest possibilities that will aid them in expressing the emotion because the more vague a concern is, the more ominous it can become in their thinking.

3. What situations or experiences prompted these concerns?

Never assume you know the source of one’s grief. While there can be events or circumstances of which you are aware, grief is complicated.

This follow-up question can clarify the significance attached to the concerns. Asking about specifics offers more detail that brings you closer to a coherent understanding with which they are dealing.

4. Is there increased tension in your home these days?

Grief doesn’t just affect one individual. It permeates into the lives of those within the vicinity of the griever. This question can help to understand how one’s environment is impacting their grief or assist the individual to understand how their grief may be affecting others in their home.

Depending on how they answer this question, additional discussions may need to be had to track the progress on the conflict and make sure it is not getting worse. No matter what, your words should provide empathy and communicate appreciation for what the person is sharing.

5. Do you have any physical needs that our church may be able to meet?

A grieving individual will have needs, but they may not voluntarily ask for help. The church has a variety of resources to support hurting individuals and asking this question can be a starting point for bringing healing.

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Any positive role the church can play in connecting to someone walking through loss is beneficial and will add to them feeling loved and supported.

6. How can I be praying for you and your family?

We know that there is power in prayer. Never miss the opportunity to ask someone grieving their specific prayer needs. But don’t just ask, take action right away. Pray for them at the end of the conversation. Prayer can help them reframe their perspective on the current trial they are facing and shift to a more hopeful outlook.

Many individuals are not ready to put meaning to what they are dealing with, so try to hold back from offering care through sharing how God is working through the loss. Eventually, they will be ready to have the discussion but having it too early can be harmful. You play an impactful role as you have the privilege to connect others with our almighty God through careful conversation.