Crisis theory states that an individual may face developmental, situational, or existential crises throughout his lifetime (James, 2008). Developmental crises are those that accompany life events such as birth, death, starting school, marriage, having an “empty nest”, and aging. Situational crises seem to arise unexpectedly and may include accidents, job loss, disease, familial strife, or any number of other unexpected events that create extraordinary stress. Existential crises are those that involve identity, purpose, spiritual or moral beliefs, and other internal conflicts of meaning. Often these types of crises overlap. For example, a mother may feel she has lost her purpose in life once her youngest child finally leaves home. A husband may question God’s existence after losing his wife in a car accident. The ministry has the ability to impact people who experience any of these three types of crises through spiritual and practical guidance, as well as care and fellowship.
An individual also may be in a state of crisis that is either acute or chronic in nature (James, 2008). In terms of assessing crisis, a pastor is among the most qualified to determine acute or chronic crisis, as he usually has the opportunity to see and know the counselee outside of the office and in several different contexts. A person that presents for counseling that normally is happy, fulfilled, rational in his behavior, and orderly in his thoughts and judgment, is likely facing a specific, acute crisis. This particular counselee should be able to recover quickly from the initial crisis and begin to cope using his usual coping skills and resources with limited guidance. A person that presents for counseling by the pastor that is usually depressed or irritable, irrational in his actions, and lacking in sound judgment on a normal basis is likely in a state of chronic crisis, and may require extensive support to overcome a crisis event. Recognizing the acute or chronic nature of the crisis is key to providing help that is effective and within the scope of the duties and abilities of the pastor.
(from an original paper, “When Crisis Comes to Church,” January 15th, 2011.)
James, R.K. (2008). Crisis intervention strategies, 6th edition. Belmont, CA: Thompson Brooks/Cole.