I can honestly admit to having never read a book like Paul Tautges Comfort the Grieving. Manuals on how to shepherd people through the valley of the shadow of death are not exactly popular. In this short work, however, the author seeks to make such a topic accessible for pastors. Comforting the grieving is, he says, “a vital part of a shepherd’s calling” (14). This concise manual breathes life into what is an often overlooked area of ministry.
The book is quite simple. It is broken down into two parts: (1) A ministry of Comfort, and (2) Preaching that comforts. In the first five chapters he outlines the theology of comfort and the practical steps to developing a ministry of comfort in your own local congregation. In chapters 6-8 he gives readers three samples of Christ-centered funeral sermons. Its simple layout makes the gems of this volume shine forth.
Tautges has served as a preaching pastor, a hospice chaplain, and a certified Biblical counselor. Those various roles have prepared him well to write this very practical and much needed work. He begins with giving us a solid theological foundation for communicating comfort to the grieving, namely that our God is a God of comfort. God is the foundation of comfort. Walking readers quickly, though comprehensively, through Psalm 46 he makes his case. He presents us hope too as we think about the death of believers. Death is not the final word, and though it is right for us to grieve, the death of a believer is “precious” to God (Psalm 116:15). He unpacks this idea and relates it clearly to the gospel itself.
Such truths, however, are not likely to be the most appropriate statements made in the aftermath of someone’s loss. Tautges is sensitive to this and so as he turns an eye towards the actual practical aspects of this ministry of comfort he begins in a most healthy place: silent presence. He writes:
I’m convinced we often fail to recognize how powerfully our quiet presence may minister to someone in the first hours and days of their deep valley of sorrow…Don’t be too quick to offer answers. (This is especially true in cases of suicide). Let them cry. Allow them the freedom to feel numb. Pray for them. And pray that you will speak wisely when the time is right. Let them know you care by simply being there. (47)
This is our starting place, but the author knows we will eventually need to offer words. So he gives us a very helpful guide to gentle words that can guide the grieving towards comfort in Christ. He focuses in chapter three on the immediate hours and days after loss. These are days of few but meaningful words.
One of the great benefits of this book is chapter four. Here the author moves us beyond the first weeks of grief and seeks to help pastors and counselors establish a long-term bereavement care plan. Far too often our care of the grieving ends after the body of the deceased is put into the ground. I know I am guilty of this and those of us who have suffered loss have experienced it too. Eventually the phone calls stop, the flowers wilt, and the cards stop coming, but the pain continues. Tautges outlines a very simple and practical plan that ranges from sixteen months to three years of care. In cause this sounds daunting he has made it very feasible. He includes in chapter five some “Practical advice for busy pastors.” As a veteran of ministry he is sympathetic to those whose schedules are already full. Yet he also recognizes the absolute importance of this kind of ministry. Grief provides an especially important opportunity for the church to be the church. We should not let such opportunities pass by us.
The book is full of practical advice and samples. Tautges provides wisdom on the importance of letter writing, and the content of such letters. He guides us through the use of poetry and music to provide solace to those who grieve. He gives us sample sermons, sample funeral guides. The book abounds in gifts to ministers. As part of Brian Croft’s excellent Practical Shepherding series you could expect nothing less.
I suspect many pastors are like me in that they have not read many books on this subject. If you buy and read Paul Tautges Comfort the Grieving, you won’t need to read a bunch. In a few pages he packs tons of help. I highly recommend this book to all pastors and counselors.