Crisis Ministry: Thoughts about Sutherland Springs

A tragedy occurred at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Texas this week. Something that should never happen happened as a small group of Christians gathered together to worship. A man walked into the church during worship and shot and killed 26 people ranging in age from 5-20 and wounded about 20 more. A common first reaction is to try to make sense out of this, but there is no explanation that will provide comfort or understanding for evil is not rational or understandable. For many, the next two reactions revolve around fear and a desire to help.

Overcoming Fear: I think it is vital for churches to use this tragedy as an opportunity to prayerfully consider what preparations they can make to prevent or minimize tragedy. Discussing the possibility of a tragedy occurring in your church and how to prevent or minimize it is important even though it may be difficult. Churches need to consider not only an active shooter, but also weather emergencies, fires, and responding to a violent person or one disrupting a church activity among others. God is the Author of life and each person is created in the image of God. We should do all we can to honor and preserve lives. One of the roles of a shepherd is to protect the sheep and I believe that a Pastor should lead his church in discussing and praying about such issues as he seeks to shepherd God’s people. Pastors should also minister Scripture that reminds people who God is, that He is worthy of our trust, and that He can help us overcome fear.

Some ways to Help: The most important way we can help is to pray. This tragedy did not take God by surprise. There are many stories that will come from Sutherland Springs, most which we will never know. God knows all the stories and knows and loves all the people impacted. He is the one that can bring true comfort and peace that passes understanding. Don’t forget to pray for the family members and friends who had loved ones taken away from them today, for those that are injured, for the emergency service workers (Police, Fire, and EMS) that responded, and others as God brings them to mind. Pray for opportunities to share the Gospel and look for ways to comfort those you know who are particularly troubled by today’s shooting.

I had the opportunity to minister and provide counsel to many after the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting that occurred in Fort Worth in 1999. After ministering through that tragedy, my colleague Dr. David Penley and I began the process of searching the Scriptures to see what we could learn about ministry in the midst of crisis. We developed what we call the Biblical Crisis Ministry Model. Some may have the opportunity to minister personally to those affected by this weeks shooting or possibly another crisis. To assist in either ministering or preparing to minister in such a situation I present a brief summary of this model.

Biblical Crisis Ministry Model

Foundation – Effective Biblical ministry to those in or impacted by a crisis should be based on four foundational principles. The ministry must be:

1. Biblical. That is, it must focus on glorifying and honoring God (1 Cor.10:31), and recognize that Scripture is sufficient for ministering to those in crisis as well as superior to the any of the world’s approaches. It recognizes and purposefully pursues the ultimate, eternal values of evangelism for the lost and discipleship for the saved, while being sensitive to people and context.

2. Relational. Biblical crisis ministry focuses on relationships — both loving God and loving neighbor (Mt. 22:36-40). The relationship with those being ministered to is not a professional/client relationship, but rather a discipling relationship modeled after Jesus example.

3. Comprehensive. The focus of a Biblical response is ministering to the whole person. If a person in crisis needs food, clothing, or shelter the appropriate response is to do everything possible to provide for them, in Jesus’ name.

4. Practical. A Biblical response is hands on, challenging, sometimes messy, and does not hide behind supposedly helpful platitudes. It is not, “Take two Scriptures and call me in the morning.”

The Tools of Crisis Response

There are five activities of crisis ministry that build upon the above foundation. These are showing compassion, listening, serving, ministering Scripture, and praying. As you read the brief descriptions of each of these ministry activities, notice how the four foundational principles of ministry (biblical, relational, practical, comprehensive) can be woven throughout.

Showing Compassion – Jesus’ life provides our example for true compassion. He left Heaven to walk among humans. He saw the people and recognized their need. He was moved with compassion and motivated by love. He took action to help.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

When He went ashore He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. Matthew 4:14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

Listening – God’s Word teaches us that it is wise to listen. Jesus’ example shows us that asking questions is part of effective listening. Listening requires time and a willingness to humbly refrain from interrupting with our own opinions or quick-fix answers. As we listen and ask questions, our goal is to move a person toward biblical hope.

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. One of them named Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” Luke 24:15-19a

This you know my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. James 1:19

He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. Proverbs 18:13

Serving – Jesus’ example as a servant reminds us that no task is too menial for us. As Christ washed the disciples’ feet, so too must we be willing to serve those we minister to. Our service cannot be limited to offering counsel, but must be comprehensive, including practical service, such as providing food, shelter, transportation, childcare, and the like.

You call me Teacher and Lord and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. John 13:13-14

But a Samaritan who was on a journey, came upon him, and when he saw him, he felt compassion and he came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. Luke 10:33-34

Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 1 Peter 4:9-10

Ministering Scripture – Ministering Scripture begins with Jesus’ example of confronting people with the Truth of God’s Word and the truth of their circumstances. Each situation is different and dictates our approach. Sometimes we must minister the direct commands of Scripture. Sometimes we minister Scripture by relating stories from the Bible. Still other times, we may share the comfort found in the pages of Scripture. Remember to point people to the hope found in Scripture.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” John 3:3

If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. If I should say, “My foot has slipped,” thy lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, they consolations delight my soul. Psalm 94:17-19

And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in the Scriptures. Luke 24:25-27

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. Romans 15:4

Prayer – Jesus’ life vividly portrays the importance of prayer in life and ministry. Prayer is vital before, during, and after ministry. Pray for those you minister to. Pray with people you minister to. Pray with and for those who minister alongside you. Solicit prayer support from others.

After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. Matthew 14:23

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission that he may sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail… Luke 22:31-32a

Brethren pray for us. 1 Thessalonians 5:25

Therefore, confess your sins one to another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. James 5:16

Application of the Biblical Crisis Ministry Model 

The BCI does not prescribe formulas and packaged responses to crisis and disaster. Effectively using the model requires a deep understanding of God’s Word and how to apply it to life’s circumstances. It requires prayerful sensitivity to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Learn to depend on God’s Word when you face crises of any magnitude.

John Babler

John Babler is Professor of Counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a Fire and Police Chaplain and reserve Police Officer and retired volunteer Fire Chief.

John Babler
Share your thoughts


  • Grady Summers
    November 18, 2017

    My wife grew up around that area and most all of those who were killed were her distant relatives. There were 3 generations of one family taken. The age range was 1 year to 77 years. As a hospice chaplain I really appreciate your insightful article. You brought out concern for the First Responders as well. Many don’t think about them in these tragedies. Even though they have to respond professionally, that does not mean that they are not affected. Some were weeping as they went about their care for those at the Sutherland Springs tragedy. Often these FR’s suffer from Compassion Fatigue. On the field they have to focus professionally but when they get home all the memories and emotions come flooding in. This can affect their home life as well as their “behind the scenes” work environment. We don’t want to miss that need for biblical comforting among the FR’s as well. Thank so much for reminding us.

  • Kurt Mustian
    November 20, 2017

    The beautiful qualities of the Scriptures are a truly fragrant aroma to the hurting soul. Scripture centered prayers have impacted many in my years of ministry. When we invoke the sovereign name of the Almighty and His words, the saint rejoices in the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. In contrast, the lost soul is awakened to a hopeful perspective never before heard. The all sufficient, God-breathed, inherent Word is the unfailing oration of Almighty God to every soul. We need to use it well.

  • Kurt Mustian
    November 20, 2017

    Sorry for the typo on the ‘inerrant’ Word…

    Thanks again for the great work done in preparing and presenting this article. The hard work of ministry; the darkest of dungeons to the brilliance of the mountaintops, produces the sweetest fruit of the Spirit in our lives as counselors, to be shared with all the Lord brings to us. Soli Deo Gloria!

  • victor Adebiyi
    December 6, 2017

    will it not be necessary for the church to be proactive in making use of the contemporary security apparatus to complement the Biblical counseling approach? When Nehemiah anticipated attack form the enemies of Jews during the rebuilding of the wall and the Temple, the Bible says those who build the wall including Nehemiah were on guard throughout the process of building the wall, they held sword on a hand and they build with the other hand…. …From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me.… Nehemiah 4:16-18

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