Welcome to the Articles Archive. Below you will find articles written for pastors by other pastors, trained professionals, or those who are actively training church leaderships how to create effective long-term ministry to widows. If you have expertise in one of these areas or others and feel you have something to share with pastors about their ongoing ministry to widows, please contact me with your information.
If you click on the topic you want from the index below it will take you directly to that section.
By Pastor Stanley Cornils
By Pastor Mike Gauch
Senior Pastor Christian Fellowship Church
By Herb Reese
New Commandment Men's Ministries
By Richard E. Dodge
Deacon at Una Baptist Church/Retired Internet Producer
for LifeWay Church Resources
By Pastor Jack Seitzinger
Grace Brethren Church
By Gregory Schad
Crosswoods Counseling Group
By Pastor Buzz Inboden
By Pastor Jerry Giles
Long Beach Grace Brethren Church
Long Beach, California
By Pastor Tim Wagner
Grace Brethren Church
The following article, authored by the late Pastor Stanley Cornils, is printed with permission. Pastor Cornils was an American Baptist minister for 50 years before retiring in 1975. He authored several articles and two books: The Mourning After, and Your Healing Journey through Grief. This article appeared in Christianity Today (July 15,1983, p. 60).
Does Your Church Take Care of Its Widows?
"In the course of a single year, 500,000 American wives become widows. A large percentage of these are members of our churches. My experience as a pastor leads me to believe that they form one of the most neglected segments of our church life. Certainly we have a spiritual obligation to them. But what is it? For years I was overwhelmed by guilt feelings because I knew I had not ministered to them adequately.
The Grecian Jews within the early church complained "because their widows were neglected" (Acts 6:1), and most widows in our churches could echo their discontent. The leaders of the church then appointed leaders to look after this responsibility. A lack of satisfactory service brought this body into existence. Clearly, in the early church this service was to take a high priority. How much do your deacons know about caring for the widows of the congregation?
Let me suggest four steps we can take to minister to widows in our churches:
First, deal with major causative factors behind widows' problems by educating your congregation to prepare for the eventuality of death.
A widow's first and most difficult problem is that of working through her grief. But second, and often more frustrating, is coping with the financial management of the family, home, a business, an estate, and investments. At the moment her husband dies she crash-lands into an unfamiliar world of difficult decisions just when emotionally she is least capable of dealing with them.
All too often a husband deludes himself into acting as thought he will live forever. Sylvia Porter reports that only three out of ten men have an up-to-date will. He fails to share business, legal, and financial interests with his wife. Then, in seven cases out of ten, he dies before she does, leaving behind inadequate life insurance, a mortgaged home, and an estate that is a disorganized and undecipherable mess.
Couples of all ages should be encouraged to face up to these probabilities and make now the in-case-something-should-happen-to=us decisions. These statistics don't lie. In most areas a simple will can be written by an attorney for less than $100.00.
I believe a Christian husband is morally obligated, to the best of his ability, to insure the welfare of his wife and children after he has been removed from the scene. I think this is part of what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 5:8: "But if any provide not for ... those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel [unbeliever]."
Second, early in her experience of aloneness, encourage a widow to join a widows-helping-widows group. No one can help a widow as effectively as another widow. If you have even a handful of recently widowed women in your congregation, why not start such a group? It will take only a little guidance on what to do and how to go about it, plus a list of helpful books on widowhood (which should be in your church library). Then the members will be off and running on their own, helping each other and winning other widows to Christ and your church.
Third, follow the lead of the early church and designate a deacon or someone else to look after the needs of each widow. The apostle James had much to say about practical religion. In James 1:27 he emphasized that "pure religion and undefiled before God is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction" — and what an affliction widowhood is! We should not interpret this passage outside the context of the rest of the Holy Writ; this is not all there is to "pure religion," but this is a part, and it should be given high priority.
Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon gives the Hebraistic meaning of the word episkeptomai, translated "visit," as "to look up in order to help or benefit, to look after, to have a care for, provide for." Just to make a social call will not fulfill James's injunction.
So if a deacon or laymen is appointed to visit a widow in his charge at least once month over a period of, say, two years, this is what it means: When he makes his call and finds the bathroom faucet dripping, he fixes it. If the lawn needs mowing and there are no able-bodied children in the family to do it, he mows it. If the roof leaks, he repairs it. If the house needs painting and she cannot afford to have it done, he will recruit others in the fellowship to do the job so she will be proud of her home. If she needs counsel in business and financial matters and he does not feel qualified in this area, he will recommend the right person.
Finally, provide each widow with the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the persons and agencies in the community to whom she can go for help. The pastor or widow's deacon should list realtors, bankers, social workers, counselors, a mechanic who won't overcharge for auto repairs, and so on. Ascertain what her needs are and then do all you can to see that they will be met." -- Stanley Cornils
Widows In the Church
I admit it – I’m intimidated
by ministering to widows. It is
probably because their struggle is so unique to my experience.
I think every Pastor has duties that, because of skill set, passion,
gifting or life experience, he feels inadequate to fulfill.
I know one of mine is ministering effectively to widows. Nonetheless, the
Lord has shown me a few things I would like to share with you.
The key to ministering to a widow is that the Minister is
not the key. I’m not running from
my responsibility by this statement. I
do believe the Pastor plays a significant role but not the main one.
The model is found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
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 will be able to
comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves
are comforted by God
most effective “minister” is one who has been in a similar affliction and
found that the God of all comfort is faithful.
A widow who has gone “through the valley of the shadow of death” yet
has found that Christ, the good shepherd, was there to comfort her is the one
who can truly help another widow.
Our job as Pastors is to identify widows in our
congregation who have clung to God through the death of their spouse. These widows need to be given the vision of the powerful
ministry they can have. As their
Pastor, we need to then direct them to resources like WidowtoWidow
Ministries so they feel equipped for
the good work that God has created for them.
Last, we need to set them free to do the work of the ministry.
No one knows what to say (or not say) or to do (or not to do) like a
widow who has been there.
This does not negate our responsibility to care for the
widow. It does put the ministry in
the hands of the best and the blessed minister, another widow.
This is why I’m grateful to Kristine Pappas who has taught me more
about widow ministry than anything I ever learned in seminary.
She has shown our church the incredible value God places on widows and
their children as reflected in the verse below:
and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit
orphans and widows in their distress . . .
Minister to People with Long Term Needs
One of the problems I faced as a pastor was how to
significantly minister to people who had needs that lasted months and even
years, such as the widowed, single parents, and the disabled.
This problem came to a head when I was the pastor of a
church in Illinois. I had married a couple in their mid twenties and a year
later the husband died. We did the usual—a funeral, a family meal, cards,
flowers and a couple of home visits. Then, as always, we all went on our merry
way. Teresa—the widow—was coming to church every week. So the congregation
thought that she was doing okay, given the circumstances.
But Teresa wasn’t doing okay. Several months later I paid
her a visit and discovered that Teresa had been crying herself to sleep on her
living room floor every night since the funeral. She couldn’t bring herself to
sleep in her bedroom. It reminded her too much of her husband.
When I left the home, I went out to my car and wept. I
realized that we hadn’t even been scratching the surface in meeting Teresa’s
needs. So I prayed that God would show me how to minister better to Teresa and
to others like her.
Through a series of events, I came upon the idea of using
teams of four men, with each team permanently adopting a person with long term
needs and donating two hours of service to them each month (which is the
equivalent of eight hours of labor a month).
The men’s ministry was such a success, both in that
church and in the next church that I pastored, that I sensed that God was
calling me to do this full time.
Over the last nine years, teams of men have been
consistently and effectively ministering to hundreds of the widowed and single
parents in over forty-five churches and fifteen states across America.
Here are some of the advantages of the team concept:
Long term needs require a long-term solution. Teams make
the goal of meeting unmet needs for as long as they exist—even if that means
years of service—attainable. When one man leaves the team for some reason,
there are still three others to carry on until his spot can be filled.
Ease of Service
“Many hands make little work.” On a team, no one man
shares the entire load. So no one feels overwhelmed and no one gets burned out.
Each team is responsible for its own projects. So the
person overseeing the ministry doesn’t have to organize all of the projects
The men never go to the home of their care receiver alone,
so morally questionable situations are avoided.
Each man knows that if he has a legitimate reason for
missing any given service day—such as a son’s soccer game, vacation time,
sickness, etc.—he can take that day off without feeling guilty.
On the other hand, each team member knows that he can’t
just sleep in and miss the service day, because his fellow team members are
going to ask him where he was.
Perhaps most importantly, the team members are building
long term, godly relationships among themselves and between themselves and their
care receiver. Over time the men come to have a deep and profound knowledge of
their care receiver.
Conveys a Message of
Importance to the Care Receiver
The practice of assigning four men to a widow, widower or
single parent communicates how valuable that person is to the church. It tells
them, “We’re taking your needs very seriously.” This message can be an
overwhelming source of love and comfort to a care receiver.
In the words of Etta Delaney, a widow in Colorado who collapsed in tears when she first met her team of men, “I know this is Scriptural. But I never thought it would happen to me.”
Herb Reese is the founder and director
of New Commandment Men's Ministries in Broomfield,CO. Herb has created a
training program that can be used in churches to equip men to minister long term
to the widows and single mom's in their congregations. To learn more about
this program and how you can use it to create effective ministry in your church
you can contact Herb directly at:
New Commandment Men’s Ministries
you change a light bulb? Can you mow a lawn? Can you give someone a listening
ear? If you can answer yes to these questions, then you are ready to minister to
one of the unseen groups in your church: widows.
Deacons often are assigned several families if their church uses the
Deacon Family Ministry Plan, a well-know process of assuring that all families
in the church receive ministry, particularly in times of special need. But
widows may need a little extra ministry. Women whose husbands have passed away
represent a growing percentage of many churches today, and therefore represent a
significant ministry need in every church. Here are some special ways to address
the needs of widows.
Assign not only a deacon and wife but also enlist a younger couple to
develop a personal friendship with each widow to maintain social contact with
these persons. Too often the greatest needs widows face are emotional in nature.
They often face isolation and separation from friends. This often is especially
important the first year after losing a spouse. The widow should be contacted at
least once a month by both couples.
Suggest to the deacon body that cards be sent to each widow on special
dates by a deacon other than the assigned deacon.
Be sure that the widow is not alone on the evening of the anniversary of
the death of her spouse.
Remind teachers of widows' Sunday School classes that the class should
develop regular fellowship activities that help these ladies remain connected to
the rest of the church family.
Create a support network of widows who can help women facing or going
through the grief of losing a spouse during the first year following the death
of a spouse. Help these ladies meet weekly or monthly so they can talk about
their feelings and needs.
Create a committee of men who can handle minor needs around the home for
widows. Address things from leaky bathroom plumbing to gutters to leaves in the
fall and other things that people in your church can do for these ladies. If
necessary, create a deacon fund that could be an emergency repair fund for
widows who have unexpected major repair expenses. This could be an anonymous
kind of resource when needed.
Some older women cannot drive. They would need help getting groceries or
getting to doctors' appointments. Create a transportation network involving
others in the church who can help widows with transportation needs.
Help widows find ways to use their skills and talents in ministry
opportunities in and through the church. Give them a sense of purpose by helping
them meet needs.
Ministry is at the heart of the work God has placed in the hands of deacons. Touching lives and meeting needs can be accomplished better when deacons are trained and equipped with tools that can help them accomplish their tasks. Deacon Magazine is a ready resource of equipping tools to help your deacons meet the growing needs of widows and others in your church family.
Richard Dodge is a deacon at Una Baptist Church and retired Internet Producer for LifeWay Church Resources located in Nashville, TN
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Pastor Jack Seitzinger with his wife Dorothy
For a widow, Christmas is a dreaded time of the year.
It seems impossible to face the tasks of buying gifts, decorating a tree,
and putting on a cheerful face for the children.
How can a pastor and other church leaders help her get through the
holidays? First of all,
communication is vital. Each widow
needs to be called to assess her needs. Perhaps
she needs someone to help with the children so she can shop.
She may need financial assistance. An
older widow may need someone to help put up decorations.
Perhaps she has no place to go for Christmas dinner.
Unless someone takes the initiative to call the widow and ask
specifically what her needs are, she most likely won’t ask for help.
But there are other perks that would be an encouragement
for every widow in the church. When
my wife lost her first husband, she was surprised by a Christmas visit from a
lady in the church bearing a basket of homemade candy and cookies.
Just knowing someone cared brought tears to her eyes.
Preparing and delivering such treats would be a great project for Sunday
School Classes. Another year she
was encouraged by carolers from the church who stopped by her house and sang. It’s amazing, too, how much it means to receive a card in
the mail from the church leaders saying, “We know this is a hard time for you,
and we prayed for you today.” During
the holiday services, it is appropriate for the pastor to remind the
congregation to remember those who are hurting.
It is also meaningful to encourage donations of flowers for the altar of
the church in memory of dear ones who have died.
(Before reading this article, I recommend that you first read the article entitled “The Advantages of Using Teams of Men to Minister to People with Long Term Needs,” by Herb Reese.)
In the spring of 2004 Herb Reese, the Director of New Commandment Men’s Ministries came to speak to the men of our church about New Commandment Men’s Ministries. Before he finished speaking that morning, our ministry to widows was launched with over 80 men organized into 16 teams, who were committed to serving the widows and single mothers in our church once a month. During the two and a half years our men have been faithfully serving, many of them have forged strong, lasting relationships with their care-receivers. A few of our teams have had a more frustrating experience, as noted in the following instances.
Friendliness of the Widow
Because our ministry is relationship based, potentially lasting over many years, it is very important to establish a warm and friendly relationship between the caregivers and the care-receiver. Most of our teams have done this; for example, my team spends the first 10-20 minutes drinking coffee with our widow and finding out how she is doing before beginning any tasks she may have for us. However, the teams that haven’t established such a relationship have felt like day laborers coming in to do a job and then leaving. In a few cases, the care-receiver has gone back to bed after giving the team their assignment. As the pastor over this ministry, I failed my teams by not properly instructing the widows on how to treat their men’s team. The widows need to know up front that these men are volunteering and it is incumbent on them to be hospitable, gracious, and express their appreciation for the men’s efforts. The teams that have gotten discouraged, lost members, or wanted to give up completely were teams whose widow didn’t treat them with warmth and friendliness.
Not having enough work to do
After two and a half years, some of our teams have run out of things to do. My team, for example, has tiled our widow’s front porch, torn out old florescent light fixtures and replaced them with new track lighting in her kitchen, put up shelving in her garage, cleaned up her yard, and washed her windows inside and out. With her home in such good repair, we are running out of things to do.
Moving Out into the Neighborhoods
It is our desire to help other widows/single mothers in the neighborhoods of our care-receivers, but many of them don’t know any other widow in their neighborhood. Because ours is a large city of over 500,000 people, there is the tendency to live isolated lives. Our caregivers may know the neighbors right around them, but not two or three houses down the street.
These are problems we are facing, but we are working toward resolving them. Over all, our ministry to widows has been a success: our men enjoy working together, deepening their relationship with each other as well as their caregiver.
Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach, California
Marriage is a profound entanglement of lives. Husband and wife become entwined as the two become one. Death removes a strand in the cord of life that leaves a widow with a deep sense of loss – not only emotionally and relationally, but quite practically as well. “Who will cut the lawn, do the taxes, change the oil, and crack that perfectly timed joke when I have to call the plumber?” It is impossible to resume life as it used to be. The functional disorientation of losing a spouse can be quite real. Widows must begin the daunting task of developing new routines, processes and boundaries.
Boundaries are protective. They also assist in defining who we are - and who we’re not. The fence around my yard, at once, keeps my little dog in, the neighbor’s big dog out, and helps me distinguish which grass I have the responsibility to mow. Pastoral support for people faced with navigating unfamiliar or “rusty” boundaries can be a tremendous gift. Grieving persons who are empowered to effectively manage new boundaries experience healing in that process. In time, there can be a new sense of “I’m really going to be okay,” or “I can do this.”
Boundaries are created primarily by our “no.” The “no” tends to limit, separate and close. Our “yes” can create boundaries as well. “Yes” tends to be inviting, connecting and opening. However, using “yes” after the death of a spouse may lead to feelings of disloyalty, guilt or vulnerability. It is helpful for a pastor to talk about these feelings. In some situations, helping widows understand they have permission from God may be just what is needed for her to say a healthy “yes” to new decisions in life.
Using “no” may stimulate the fear of being misunderstood, of being seen as ungrateful or rude, and ultimately, the fear of being even more alone. Pastoral encouragement to help widows experience the empowerment of a well placed “no” can be a Godsend. “No” can be scary – it’s a powerful word. Pastors may be able to work with the woman in developing and renewing her “no” in its many forms (e.g., a “not now” or a “not yet” or even a “no way!”). Pastors may help by mediating with others to support the widow’s “no.”
Assisting the grieving person’s recalibration of boundaries supports a new sense of self – the new “me” of now versus the previous “we” of marriage. And in the Lord’s grace and mercy, He will weave a new cord between the person and community. And Himself – always Himself!
By Gregory M Schad
Crosswoods Counseling Group
Greg is licensed in three disciplines: social work, marriage and family therapy and chemical dependency counseling. He is the Executive Director of Crossroads Counseling Group in Columbus, Ohio. He is also the Executive Director of the Emergency Spiritual Care Team, which is a volunteer organization that provides short-term emergency spiritual care at the request of the disaster services department of the Red Cross.
It has been said that among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more repugnant to God than idolatry. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is, and replaces Him with someone or something made by Him. For many of us, we pride ourselves in the notion that idolatry consists only of kneeling and worshiping before visible objects of adoration. A better definition of idolatry given by A.W. Tolzer in the book, The Knowledge of the Holy, says, “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.”
Paul writes in Romans 1:21: “For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened” (Holman Christian Standard Bible). What the mind of wrong thoughts produces is indeed acts of idolatry, for the thoughts themselves are idolatrous. The idolater imagines things incorrectly about God and lives as if they are true.
Scripture gives clear examples of this kind of wrong thinking that produces wrong living. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul give an example of wrong thinking and living. He reminded the Corinthians that their ancestors who were led by Moses had all the spiritual and physical advantages provided by God. However, their unsatisfied appetites were not satisfied with God because they sought the created, i.e., eating, drinking, sexual immorality, rather than the One who provided for all their needs.
As pastors visiting and listening to the widows in our care, it does not take long to realize who is satisfied with God and who is chasing after the things that are fleeting and never satisfying. It is important that we encourage widows to be content only with the Lord Jesus Christ and to draw near to God so that God in return will draw near to them. We can summarize for them the first portion of 1 Corinthians 10 by stating verse 14: “Therefore, my dear (widow) friends, flee from idolatry.”
I realize that we don’t have to have experienced something as a prerequisite to help others get through those same things. But it helps! So, before we go one sentence farther, let me say that I’m 52 years old and have never lost anyone close to me. I am a grief rookie; in fact, I’m worse than a rookie; I’ve never even played the game. As a pastor and friend I have, however, walked through grief with many people. They have taught me quite a few things.
I’ve learned grief is appropriate. After all, Jesus wept (John 11:4). What makes the story in John 11 amazing is that Jesus knew what was going to come next. He knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet he still grieved. If Jesus knew the specifics of the plan and grieved, then all of us who know only that a plan exists will certainly grieve, and usually for a long time.
I’ve learned from my grieving friends that grief comes and goes. Right when people think things are in perspective, they get ambushed by grief. There is no point in asking “why am I still grieving?” It is best to say “since I am still grieving . . ..” The good pastor prepares the widow for those ambushes because they will occur for years and years. They are not a mark of the person’s spiritual weakness; an ambush is a sign of the strength and joy that was a part of that lost relationship.
Grieving friends remind me that for everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). I can’t make it Spring by running a heater outside. I can shout at the cold, I can reason with the cold, I can whisper to the cold; but it will never get warm outside until it is the season for warmth. I have learned that many times we want grieving people to “move on,” so that they will be easier to deal with. We want them to “get over it and move on.” We push, we teach, we counsel, we frustrate them and ourselves. I’ve come to realize that grief isn’t something you get over, it is something you get used to. Getting used to things takes time. Pastors must make sure their goals are correct. The goal is not to help her “get over him and move on,” but rather to get used to the grief and walk with God, wherever he might lead.
Grief is a strange thing. It jogs the mind. It pulls up memories, it savors them and cherishes them. It caresses those memories and it longs for them to be real again. But grief also propels our minds and hearts to heaven. Grief reminds us that our hope for now and eternity rests in the hands of the Lord Jesus. My Christ-following friends who grieve, like those who have hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), cling tightly to the Holy Spirit, and walk by faith, and not by sight. They learn again, and again, and again, that Jesus is enough. He always has been and he always will be.
My grieving friends remind me that everyone has a place in the body of Christ, and as we emerge from the valley of the shadow of death we will slowly but surely take our place as an active, vital, healthy part of the body of Christ.