Companioning: The Best Thing You Can Do After the Loss of a Pastor

The pastor is gone and is not coming back.

What is the best thing you can do for those who grieve the loss of their pastor?

  • Tell them it’s going to be OK?
  • Tell them the search committee is already looking for the next pastor?
  • Tell them God has a plan for our church?

No, no, and no.

What grieving people need is a companion to walk alongside them. It doesn’t need to be you, if you’re the transitional pastor, but it needs to be someone — someone equipped to know what to say, what not to say, and how to show up.

How we walk with people who are grieving matters. I’ve been learning to support grieving people in a way that has a track record of being very helpful - the term for it is companioning. How you and I show up with those who have experienced loss, whether it’s the loss of a pastor or the loss of a friend, makes a lasting difference.

One resource I’ve found very formative in learning how to walk with grieving people is the work of Dr. Alan Wolfelt.* As a grief expert, he has developed 11 tenets or principles of companioning that I believe are very relevant to the work of facilitating closure and supporting all kinds of loss that the people in our churches are experiencing.

What is Companioning?

The word companion comes from the Latin word meaning messmate. The word itself includes COM which means with and PAN which means bread.

A companion is someone who shares a meal with a friend as an equal. It can also be done without any bread being shared. Alan Wolfelt took the noun companion and made it into a verb — companioning.

Companioning is sitting together at a table, walking on a path, or sharing the same space with someone else. It’s about sharing life together, hearing the story, and being with each other.

Companioning is not about assessing, analyzing, fixing or resolving someone’s grief. It’s about being fully present to the person. It’s letting the person who’s grieving be the teacher.

The 11 Companioning Tenets* — An Overview

Let me introduce the 11 tenets that describe what companioning is all about. If you are interested in learning more, I have developed a free six day email course entitled "Grief Companioning 101" that goes into more depth on the 11 tenets. If you want to receive this resource, sign up here.  

Tenet One: Companioning is about being present to another person’s pain; it is not about taking away the pain.

Tenet Two: Companioning is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.

Tenet Three: Companioning is about honoring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.

Tenet Four: Companioning is about listening with the heart; it is not about analyzing with the head.

Tenet Five: Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about judging or directing these struggles.

Tenet Six: Companioning is about walking alongside; it is not about leading.

Tenet Seven: Companioning is about discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it does not mean filling up every moment with words.

Tenet Eight: Companioning is about being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.

Tenet Nine: Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.

Tenet Ten: Companioning is about learning from others; it is not about teaching them.

Tenet Eleven: Companioning is about compassionate curiosity; it is not about expertise.

Final Thought

As you spend time with those who are grieving, whether it’s because a pastor has retired or because a friend has died or because a family has moved out of the community, you can feel more relaxed knowing that you don’t need to have the answers or try to come up with a solution.

You can simply show up and come alongside with time, love, and empathy. When you bring compassionate curiosity with you as you sit or stand or walk with a person who is hurting, you represent Jesus in that moment.

Romans 12:9 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it…Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Sign up here for Cam's 6-day Grief Companioning 101 email course. 

*Source: Companioning the Bereaved by Alan D. Wolfelt


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