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What To Do When Leaders Grieve

…and we hid as it were our faces from him

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:3

When a leader experiences a loss or goes through a tragedy, it affects both the leader and the follower. There are things the follower can do as well as some things the leader can do so that the experience is less difficult for both.

To the follower: Have you ever experienced watching someone you greatly admired and respected going through grief?

That person may have been a model of strength and courage, but then a tragedy occurred that caused that person to suffer great grief. You saw that person in a vulnerable time and in a way you had never seen him or her before. Was it embarrassing or uncomfortable for you? Watching someone so strong experience the weakness of grief is not easy.

The Bible describes Jesus as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The Bible continues to explain that mankind hid their faces from Him. For a long time, I did not fully understand Isaiah 53:3. I took it to mean that Christ’s suffering was difficult to watch, and indeed it was. The more I studied the verse, the more convinced I was that it was not talking about His appearance. I believe this verse teaches that mankind hid their faces from Him because it is difficult to see someone grieve in such a manner.

Imagine having been there when they crucified Jesus. Watching His grief and His sorrow would be almost unbearable. The people there thought that He was the Messiah. They were waiting for Him to establish His kingdom and deliver them from bondage. They had great respect for Him. When they saw Him grieve, it changed everything. They saw Him as weak and vulnerable, and it caused them to hide their faces from Him.

When a leader goes through sorrow and grief, you must not allow yourself to avoid that leader. Everyone experiences grief. Grief is not always a pretty sight. When people observe it in someone they highly respect, it can cause them to hide from that person. You may not know how to respond or comfort your leader, so you hide. Leaders are no different from anyone else. The strongest man or woman will experience times of great grief.

When David was grieving the loss of his child, it brought significant discomfort to the people. The same was true when Absalom died. People became confused while David was grieving. Sometimes the strength of a ministry is lost because the people do not respond well to the leader’s grief. It is hard for them to watch their leader grieving. As a result, they distance themselves from that leader.

When your leader is going through grief, you must understand his humanity. Do not avoid him. When Job’s three friends turned against him, I am not sure it was because of the suffering he had endured as much as it was the grief he was exhibiting. They watched him in his grief and perceived it as weakness. As a result, these men judged him wrongly. You must not judge a leader when he is going through sorrow and grief. Please do not assume that grief is a punishment for sin. Experiencing a loss or going through a tragedy is not judgment but part of the human experience that will only be eliminated in eternity. The greatest among us grieve as much as those who follow them.

I have seen my leaders grieve. I admit that it was not easy to watch them. There were times when I wished I could step aside and hide my face from them. I needed their strength, not their weakness. I needed the confidence, not their grief and sorrow. People must be unselfish with their leaders when they are experiencing their grief.

To the leader: What do you do to help your people not hide their faces from you in your time of grief?

The following information offers several suggestions.

  • Do not be afraid to show vulnerability. During your time of grief you can grieve openly but keep pointing out the faithfulness of God in your time of grief.
  • Use your time of weakness to elevate the strength and power of God. Let your people see your example of leaning on God rather than people.
  • Do not milk your grief for pity or more commitment. Do not guilt your people into doing more while you are grieving. Do not be opportunistic during your time of grief.
  • Do not wear your grief on your sleeve. Be someone unafraid to show that you are grieving without making it your definition of the person you have become. People will not respect you or follow you.
  • Show up even when you do not feel like it. The best time to get back to work is immediate. You still will be grieving, but you will show your people that God is faithful during your time of suffering and is strengthening you as you continue to serve Him.
  • Keep a good spirit. Rejoice in the Lord always. Let people see the joy of the Lord in your life even as you are suffering grief.
  • Keep caring more about others than you do yourself. Jesus exemplified this on the Cross. He did not allow His Crucifixion to become about His suffering, but about the work of Salvation for mankind. He kept caring for others.
  • Do not make excuses for the fact that you are grieving. You are allowed to grieve. You are human, and it is good for people to know that it is okay to grieve. Sometimes those who are grieving can try to be too strong, which is detrimental to them and others who watch them.
  • Understand how your people feel watching their pastor grieve. It will not be easy for them, but do not be afraid to talk about it. They need to hear you express your thoughts while watching you depend upon God to get you through. Be sensitive to the fact that it is just as uncomfortable for them as it may be for you. They also do not need you to hide from them in your time of grief either.
  • Do not to cut your grief short. The outward expression of your grief may diminish, but the grief itself is still there. It is okay to feel grief for as long as it is accomplishing God’s purpose. Do not feel you are weak because you are still grieving. The truth is we all are weak, and grief is important in getting us through our struggles.


No matter if you are the leader who is grieving or the follower who is watching your leader grieve, both of you can make the process easier for each other by applying these principles during this time.

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