Read an Excerpt
Beyond the Broken Heart: Leader Guide
A Journey Through Grief
By Julie Yarbrough
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Julie Yarbrough
All rights reserved.
Part I – Leader Support
Starting the Group
Planning and Promotion
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Romans 12:3-8 NRSV
If you are reading this Leader Guide, likely you are interested in starting a grief support group. You may be planning to lead it yourself, or exploring what it would take to lead a grief support group in order to recruit a capable leader. You may be a pastor or church staff person. You may be a lay pastoral care volunteer or a Stephen minister who discerns the need for a grief support group in your church. You may be a lay person who has been asked to lead a group or who has volunteered to lead one. Or you may be a professional counselor who plans to lead a group in the community or a church. But it is by no means a requirement that you have pastoral or counseling experience to be an effective grief group leader. If you have a heart for those who grieve and bring to your mission both empathy and compassion, you can lead a grief support group.
Whatever your background or motivation for starting a grief-support group, you will be equipped to lead a group using this Leader Guide and the DVD for each session. The following guidelines will help you start, plan, and promote a grief support group.
1. Many churches do not have a support group for those in the congregation and/or community who are grieving the death of a loved one. If you are interested in being the leader of a Beyond the Broken Heart grief group, contact the person on staff at your church who best understands this area of pastoral care.
If a staff person or committee needs to review and approve the Beyond the Broken Heart program, the Leader Guide and DVD provide a good overview of the content.
A kit containing one each of the program components is also available.
In addition, the pocket-sized A Journey Through Grief: Life Beyond the Broken Heart is available, which well summarizes the journey using much of the content covered in the group sessions. This inexpensive little book is a resource that might encourage those who are interested in the group but may be hesitant about participating.
2. Depending on the size of your church and/or the number of persons in the church who are grieving the loss of a loved one, it may not be possible to constitute a stand-alone group. A grief group typically is most dynamic when there are 6-12 people who participate and, over time, bond to become a real support community. If there are not enough people within your own church, consider coordinating with other churches in your community to form a joint grief group. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
The church most centrally located might serve as host and provide the meeting space.
Each church should then promote the grief support group through its newsletter, worship bulletin, website, etc.
To avoid any confusion, it should be made clear in all publicity that there is one location for meetings and one contact person, number, or website.
A joint grief group might be an interest story for media outlets. Cooperative church efforts always seem to be newsworthy.
3. Decide on a time frame for the group. There are a variety of possibilities:
8 weeks – Meet once a week for 8 weeks.
10 weeks – Meet weekly using the 8 sessions and the 2 supplemental sessions.
16-20 weeks – Meet bi-weekly for a total of 16 or 20 weeks. Or, meet weekly but devote two sessions to each session guide. This latter option allows you to:
* Spend more time in each session on content review and group discussion.
* Have a more in-depth study of grief.
* Use the same opening and closing for the two sessions, or create new ones for the additional session.
* 8-10 months – Meet consecutively once a month for 8 or 10 months.
* 12 months – Meet for 10 sessions, gathering once a month over a year with two months designated as breaks.
Note that the two supplement sessions can be used at any time during the program. Here are some ideas for incorporating these sessions:
It is effective to use "Grief at the Holidays" during November and December.
Each of the three topics in chapter 9 of the Participant Book is relatively short. A session on each topic—The Season, The Experience, The Light—would allow the group time for rich, cathartic conversation about the emotions of grief at the holiday season.
If one session is planned before Thanksgiving and two sessions before Christmas, the group has continuous support throughout the holiday season.
Your church might want to open the group to anyone in the community who is grieving at the holidays, whatever their experience of loss (divorce, estrangement, loss of job, death of a friend, etc.).
The supplemental session Peace of Mind: Financial Management for Life might be offered before the New Year or as an option for "break" months or weeks, or at the end of the program after the 8 sessions have been completed. This session content is also well suited to spread out over 2-4 sessions.
Here are some things to consider when deciding on a time frame for the group:
How many weeks or months should be scheduled?
How does the schedule for the group coincide with events in the church liturgical year?
Should the sessions be scheduled during the fall with a lead-in to Advent and Christmas?
Should the group be scheduled before or after Lent or Easter?
Would the focus on Christ's death during Lent emphasize the pain of group participants already struggling with grief and death?
Could the sessions be scheduled to parallel the message of Holy Week and Easter? How does the schedule for the group coincide or conflict with events on the church calendar?
4. Decide on the day of the week and the time of day to meet. If your area is subject to the time shifts of Daylight Savings Time, select a time that allows older participants to attend without concern about driving after dark.
When would most participants likely be available to attend?
* On a weekday?
* On Saturday or Sunday?
* In the late afternoon?
* In the early evening?
Is it practical to consider scheduling the group for a day and time when others will be at the church or venue for activities such as choir practice?
5. Schedule the time and day that the group will meet on the church calendar. The sessions are ideally structured for a 90-minute meeting, which includes time for discussion and sharing.
6. Ask your pastoral care contact or pastor to provide a list (name/phone number/email address) of those in your church or community who have experienced the death of a loved one within the past several months.
7. Contact those on the list with information about the new grief group. As the leader, respond to questions and concerns about participating in the group with your outreach of comfort and hope.
8. Encourage those who have been grieving for three months or longer to participate in the group. Most often, people whose grief is new (less than three months) are not yet ready for a group. Participating in a group immediately after the death of a loved one may be painful rather than comforting. Those who rush into a group soon after the death of a loved one may feel overwhelmed and quickly drop out.
9. When the schedule is set, confirm it on the church calendar. Identify possible participants and begin to publicize the opportunity to participate in a grief support group:
Prepare copy for your church newsletter or website several weeks prior to the beginning of the group. (See the sample on page 134.) This could include an image of the cover of the Participant Book if space allows.
Use social media to promote the group. If you are not familiar with this as a promotional outlet, you might want to consider consulting with someone you know who is experienced in the use of social media.
Place an announcement in the Sunday worship bulletin of your church with your contact information. (See the sample on page 135.)
Offer the group through local print media—newspapers, community calendars, community newsletters, etc. There is always someone in need of a grief support group.
Ask for coverage by the news media—a newspaper article or interview, a radio announcement, etc.
Speak to Sunday school classes or other groups in the church to promote the group to those who may want to participate or know of someone who might be interested.
When publicizing the group, include a contact number or email address for interested participants to pre-register. You might ask the contact person on your church staff to direct calls and inquiries about registering for the group to you. This is the time to gently pre-screen participants and mention that the group is recommended for those who have been grieving for three months or longer.
10. When you know who will attend the group, make sure each person receives the Participant Book before the first session. Have extra books available for those who show up for the group without pre-registering. Suggest that participants read the Introduction and Chapter 1 to prepare for the first group session.
11. As you follow up after each session with those who attend, consider starting an online community where participants may interact between the sessions. Your church may have a website with secure space for a grief group community to share. Or you may want to talk with someone who can recommend the best way to establish an online place for your group to post and exchange ideas. As leader you have the opportunity to monitor and contribute regularly to the exchange of your group. Your group forum could also be used to network with other Beyond the Broken Heart leaders and/or groups.
12. If your church has a special Christmas service of remembrance, you might ask to participate in some way (reading scripture, lighting candles, etc.) to support those in the group and others in the congregation and community who are grieving at the holidays.
Leading the Group
Your Role as Leader
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 RSV
Your mission as leader is to provide spiritual care and nurture for those who grieve in the safe community of a small group. This is your "work and word" as you extend eternal comfort and good hope through the power of God's grace at work through the Holy Spirit.
Your objective as leader is to guide participants in the way back to a rich and full life as you encourage and direct the group. The spiritual insights and practical content of both the Leader Guide and Participant Book for Beyond the Broken Heart are based on the scriptural wisdom of the Bible, used to support each topic.
Your role as leader is to direct those who come together as a group in their shared bond of grief for a loved one. For participants, there is urgency in your message of hope. Hope is the steady trajectory of the topics you will present.
Your function as leader is to facilitate. There are no lessons to plan or teach; you will be presenting topical content rather than lecturing. Each chapter in the Participant Book provides the content for the session and each session in the Leader Guide provides the structure and instructions. As the leader, you will present one or more of the spiritual and emotional issues of grief and lead the group in discussion. You will also want to highlight for the group the specific coping strategies for everyday life on the journey through grief mentioned throughout the Participant Book and session guides.
Your preparation as leader begins with yourself. Because leading a grief support group stretches you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, a Leader Self-care section precedes each session guide. This section provides suggestions for your spiritual preparation during the time between each group session. Each Leader Self-care section includes a selection of scriptures relevant to the topics you will present in the session, prayer meditations for your spiritual encouragement as leader, and suggestions for your reading in the Participant Book.
Your experience as leader will influence the group. If you have grieved the death of a loved one, you are well qualified to join hands with others and communicate heart to heart. Yours is the voice of emotional and spiritual authenticity when you say to those in the group, "I hurt with you. I share your pain. I love you." However, if you have recently lost a loved one or if you feel in any way that you are "stuck" in your own grief, it is perhaps wise not to take on the challenge of leading a group. A grief group needs and depends on the emotional reliability of a compassionate leader. If you have not yet personally experienced the loss of a loved one, the Participant Book relates many personal stories that you as leader can use to illustrate topics or lead into discussion with the group.
Your spirituality as leader will encourage participants in their faith. Your personal warmth and the gifts of grace uniquely yours will bless those who entrust their woundedness to your care and spiritual guidance through grief. Consider Isaiah 61:1-3 (NASB), which you might think of as God's standard for you as leader of the group:
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
* * *
to comfort all who mourn
* * *
giving them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified."
Knowing the Group
Leading for Effective Group Dynamics
And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient ... 2 Timothy 2:24 NRSV
Knowing the group so that you may lead in a way that will produce the most effective group dynamic lies in your understanding of an important fact about grief. That is, no two people are ever at the same place at the same time. There is no "one size fits all" that will meet the need of each person in the group at every session. Likely there will be some in the group who are closer to acceptance; these participants usually want to understand more about life after grief. There may be others in the group who are hanging on day to day, in need of your sensitive spiritual care and encouragement.
As you assess the collective experience of the group, you will discern how best to meet participants where they are emotionally and spiritually. Under your guidance as leader, the group will become a community that cares for and supports one another. These are some of the group dynamics that you may encounter:
1. As the leader, likely your experience will be that participants usually add to the conversation as their emotions allow and dictate. Some will be eager to articulate their thoughts and feelings; others sense that sharing is uncomfortable or simply too painful. Ideally the group develops into a forum of positive interaction.
2. As leader, promote respect for the privacy and individuality of each participant's unique experience of grief. Participants should not feel pressured to contribute to the conversation. There is no imperative to speak. Assure that silence is allowed and honored. Grief does not demand its articulation.
3. Invite group participants to support the content review with comments of understanding and affirmation. Those willing to share their experiences naturally encourage other group participants.
4. Monitor and moderate the exchange of the group so that no single individual dominates the conversation. You may need to be assertive in your leadership, intervening to redirect the conversation, if necessary. For example, you might say, "Thank you for sharing that experience (or thought, or idea, or concept) with our group." Then, without hesitation, move the conversation forward by asking if anyone else has an insight to share. If not, direct the group's attention to the next question or topic.
5. Some in the group likely have a strong personal theology of death. Others may be less interested in the "why?" of death. This is a discussion that may arise. Your role as leader is to assure that each participant is respected.
Excerpted from Beyond the Broken Heart: Leader Guide by Julie Yarbrough. Copyright © 2012 Julie Yarbrough. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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