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FIRST-PERSON: It shouldn’t be this way; ministry after tragedy

Makeshift memorials line the property of Covenant Presbyterian Church and Covenant School in Nashville. Photo by Becca Bogardus

CROSS PLAINS, Tenn. (BP) – My church is roughly 35 miles north of Green Hills in Nashville. At 10:30 on Monday morning, our lead pastor texted our staff saying something is going down at a school in Nashville. We didn’t know what at that point but we knew it may not be good.

As the day unfolded and the news broke of the horrific tragedy at the Covenant School we all had to take a moment to stop and pray. There’s nothing similar to the feeling of helplessness we all have experienced when something terrible happens nearby. 

We’d later learn that several church members who are police officers were involved in the whole incident and acted bravely and swiftly to stop the massacre. We praise God for the first responders in this situation, and I’m thankful my students still get to hug their parents tonight. 

But that’s not the case for everyone. Today, students, parents and staff are scared. Scared of the evil in this world that causes people to act in violence against others. Scared of places like schools and churches where violence may happen. Scared of not getting to come home. I have felt the heaviness this week, and like you and all those you minister to, I need the reminder of the hope that only Christ can provide.

Here are three thoughts that I pray will help you process and help you help others process gun violence, mental illness and pure evil in this world. 

Do not downplay the reality of what we face.

Many will politicize this event. And yes, the loss of six precious lives is too much not to work for policy changes. However, no policy will change the heart of man. We are wanderers in a sinful world and many try to fill the god-sized holes in their hearts with things that will not satisfy.

Do not downplay the significance of an event like this. Do not look over it passingly. Do not become so used to it that it doesn’t bother you. Understand that what we are experiencing is an injustice against God’s image bearers and justice will come soon. But our job now is not just to advocate policy changes, it is to continue to share the only hope that we have. Even though we are sinners, we have one who died and rose again for us. Who sets us free from sin and calls us sons and daughters. There is only one thing that can truly stop the work of Satan and that is the work of God. 

Talk about it with your students, pray with them and for them, and never stop giving them their only hope. The present reality is hard but our current and future hope lies in the resurrection of Jesus who will come again and restore life once and for all. 

Pray for the hurting, watch for the ones needing help.

Parents and students are hurting. Sympathize with them. Maybe you’re the one hurting. Get on your knees and pray. Pray others may know the comfort of Christ. Pray for protection, for peace, for reminders of hope. Pray for church members who are first responders and their colleagues. Pray for the ones who lost their children, spouses and friends. The comfort of the Lord is felt through prayer. Don’t believe the lie that our prayers are not working. Although it may feel that way at times we should continue to pray. 

As ministry leaders, watch for those in your community who are hurting. Many feel confused, lost, broken, unheard and unwanted. It is not our job to save them but it is our job to equip, serve and love the students in our care. We’re not Superman. We’re not Christ. But we have the Spirit of the Lord in us and we can be diligent in watching for those in our flock and seeing when they are hurting. When we make efforts like that, we are practicing the love of Christ. Be alert. Be aware. Be ready to share that unmerited love even more tomorrow. 

Give the heaviness to Jesus.

Finally, in the heaviness that I know we all are feeling, remember Matthew 11:28-30.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

Give the heaviness to Jesus. It won’t make it go away but it will lighten the load. The posture of giving is one of surrender. Christ gives us rest. Christ gives us peace. Christ has a gentle and humble heart. He understands us. He intercedes for us. He cares, and He cares about what happened at the Covenant School in Nashville on March 27. He cares about what happened in every shooting, in every death, in every life. 

Our heaviness is felt because we know it’s not supposed to be this way but Christ is near to the broken-hearted. Rest easy tonight knowing this and share this regularly with those in your care. 

As you minister in your context, here is my prayer for your people and you: 

Lord, in our heaviness and sorrow, may we rest in you. May we feel your presence today more than ever. May we not fear the evil on this Earth knowing you have overcome it all through your death and resurrection. May our hope be in you alone. Be near to the broken-hearted, be near to the grieving, be near to us tonight. Take our heavy burden and make it light. Protect us and give us peace. Amen. 

A version of this article first appeared here.

    About the Author

  • Nick Hartman

    Nick Hartman is the associate pastor of students and discipleship at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Cross Plain, Tn.

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