Dealing with the emotional intensity of a tragedy in a group setting is a very difficult task. It is really tricky and awkward. In my youth ministry experience, I have dealt with disease, death, suicide, sexual promiscuity, and an abusing of drugs and alcohol. I have found myself saying: I don’t have a clue what to do when trying to help the community process the confusion and pain. Through a series of failures of what not to do, I have slowly discovered what to potentially do.
1. Ask the student/family permission to talk about the tragedy in the youth group context.
2. Clearly describe the tragedy in a factual matter. Clear up any misunderstanding of what the students may have heard. Get the facts straight. Avoid talking about the uncertain aspects of the tragedy.
3. Ask descriptive questions using the “what,” “where,” and “how”. For example: What did you see when [the event] happened? Where were you when you first heard about it? What did you do next? How did you feel when that happened? What do you think about the [the event]?
4. Allow the students to ask questions. It is healthy for you students to process out loud in a public group setting. Be prepared to encounter a lot of different emotions. Remember to listen!
5. Read and talk about certain Scriptural passage that deal with understanding tragedy. Job 42.1-6, 2 Cor. 1.3-5, 12.9, Psalms 27; 40; 71; 86; 121; and 139, & James 1.12. Make sure to highlight that God did not intentionally orchestrate this tragedy. Don’t blame God for the tragedy or the person. If God is going to be the healer, then He cannot be the tragedy starter.
6. Use creative activities to help facilitate a greater understanding of the tragedy. Some activities can include: Have student journal describing how they are feeling and what they have learned; Have a memorial service; Have the students write an encouraging letter to the student(s) involved in the tragedy; Have teenagers raise funds for groups such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, Cancer Research or whatever group that relates to the tragedy; & Have the group make a hospital visit. The goal is to find activities that can bring the students together and give them a sense of realization and contribution to the healing of the community.
7. A continual effort in praying for the not only the tragedy invididuals, but for the inviduals that are also facing the tragedy.