Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.

Being available to help and give orientation to people in difficult occasions is one of the great challenges to elders. A couple welcomes a new baby into their home; a woman has experienced a painful divorce; an elderly man loses his mate of 50 years; a middle-aged man must change vocations; an unmarried teenager is pregnant, and a young family must relocate to a new city are just examples of situations that call for help.

As a spiritual leader, you often help individuals during these times. Crisis situations demand our ministry. A crisis is a time of opportunity. What must we do when we recognize a crisis situation? Five suggestions are offered.


During a crisis situation ask yourself a few questions:

  • What are the needs of the individuals?
  • Are those needs being met?
  • Can I mobilize others to help?
  • What can I do?
  • When should I go?
  • How long should I stay?
  • Is the crisis severe enough to require an immediate response?
  • Is the crisis something I need to respond to at all?

After making an assessment, you will be able to respond in a wise and reasonable manner.


Your availability should be threefold: before, during, and after the crisis. Before the crisis you earn the right to minister. You prove you care. During the crisis you put your faith into action. After the crisis the need may be greatest because other support has moved on.


Elders in local congregations, in our modern times, are likely to encounter those contemplating suicide, homosexuals, unwed mothers, murderers, thieves, those impacted by a dreaded disease, divorcees, and many others in a crisis situation.

An understanding, accepting attitude will enhance your ability to minister to such individuals.

This idea of acceptance is amply illustrated in Job's three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. When they first visited Job, they were content to sit quietly; however, they could not resist the temptation to give advice. These friends told Job everything that was wrong without stopping to understand or listen to him. They could not accept Job and his questions.


You may give assurance in several ways. Read a carefully selected passage of Scripture or of the Spirit of Prophecy books. Give assurance by leaving a comforting pamphlet or booklet.

Give assurance by the gentle touch of a hand.

Give assurance through being silent.

For some reason most people feel they always must say something to people experiencing a crisis. Sometimes the best comfort is to say nothing.


The ministry of the presence is quite important in times of crisis. Most leaders of the local congregations usually know about service agencies that help people during times of crisis such as the Red Cross, funeral homes, counseling centers, government services, and volunteer services.

Sharing or locating information is a greatly needed service during a crisis. Timely information could ease a state of panic. Consider building a file in the church office that contains the names of helping agencies.

Another way elders can offer assistance is in the area of decision making. People experiencing a crisis are often confused and display distorted decision-making capabilities. You can help them explore alternatives and offer clearheaded suggestions that may have been overlooked.

No single formula is right for every crisis. Ministering during crises is difficult. No one can state with authority what must be done during these times. Pastors and elders always should be learning, growing, and developing in caring assistance.

Adapted from Tim Patrick. "Caring for Persons in Times of Crisis," Church Administration, March 1989, pages 23-24.

Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.