2003 Shepherds' Conference, A Ministry of Grace Community Church 818.909.5530. © 2003 All Rights Reserved. Grace Community Church. A CD, MP3, or tape cassette copy of this session can be obtained by going to www.shepherdsconference.org
How to deal with suffering, dying, and death within your ministry
Jim serves as an assistant pastor and elder at Grace Community Church. He oversees the church’s prayer ministries, the “Pastor of the Day” counseling ministry, the shut-in ministry, hospital visitations, and funeral services. In addition, he co-pastors the Joint Heirs Fellowship Group and teaches on various counseling topics, including marriage and parenting issues, for the Logos Bible Institute. He also serves as a member of the Elder’s School Council for Grace Community School. Jim earned his B.S. degree from Penn State University and his Master of Divinity degree from Talbot Theological Seminary. He is currently a certified member of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors. He and his wife, Sharay, have been married for seventeen years and have four children
It’s good to have all of you here. I trust you’re enjoying the conference, like all of us here at Grace. It’s a wonderful time to be with you. This afternoon, we want to take a look at a session here called “Life after Death: How to Deal with Suffering, Dying, and Death within Your Ministry.” As the pastoral care pastor here since 94’, I’ve had the privilege of participating in well over 100 funeral services now, so I’ve been in all kinds of situations and in and around death with families. So I hope to share a few insights with you today that may be helpful in your ministry, and then, when we get to Q & A time, I’m looking forward to dialoguing with you and you sharing some of your insights, your experiences, with me as well. I’m really excited to have this session with you.
In the notes there, I put down Romans 12:15: the apostle Paul says to “rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.” Obviously, we believe here, at Grace Church, in the primacy of preaching; our pastor-teacher is such a great Bible expositor. But I wanted to make a few opening comments here, by way of introduction.
During a crisis situation or a death situation in your ministry, if you are with people and ministering to them during those moments, your shepherding ministry can have an unforgettable, positive impact on someone’s life. People may forget the points of your sermons, but they will remember your ministry during crisis situations—and I’ve seen that happen. So, as much as we want the primacy of the Word of God, of course, in our teaching ministry, the shepherding ministry, especially in and around death situations in family, is critical. I have people come up to me many years later, saying, “Jim, I remember when you ministered to us in thus-and-thus a situation, and it helped to change the course of our life.”
So, it’s a very, very important topic. It’s a great opportunity for us to demonstrate the compassion of Christ—and love—to people, when they’re really hurting. It’s a great opportunity to prepare for life after death. It’s a great opportunity to share with many non-Christians in crisis situations.
Dr. C.W. Smith, who recently passed away, who you will see on this video—that’s the gentleman you saw as many of you walked into this session—he’s going to give us some pointers as well. I interviewed him back in December at his home, and we had his funeral service last month, here at Grace Church. He said this, regarding the gospel towards unbelievers: “No man is prepared to live until he’s prepared to die.” Great statement. And we’ll see him a little later as we get towards the Q & A; I want to play a portion of that video for you.
So, your shepherding can create a friend for life, so to speak, and some of you know what I’m talking about because you’ve experienced that. When you’re with somebody, and you’re showing the love of Christ, and you’re there in a crisis situation, it can have a great impact on people’s lives.
Let me give you some interesting information that I found on the web pages this week. This is not in your notes; this is just basically for fun. In the United States, the 50+ population now numbers 73 million people—that’s 27% of our population—by 2020, projected to increase to 114 million people, or 35% of the total population. Obviously, that impacts our ministries because we have a lot of older saints in America. There are more that 2 million funerals each year in the United States. Per recent studies, the average funeral costs between 8,500 and 10,000 dollars. Funerals can be the third largest expense families face, after homes and automobiles. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about that before. It’s pretty interesting. 8,500 to 10,000 dollars is kind of an average range. Most people will spend more time and care buying a used car, costing half as much as a funeral. No one goes into a car dealer and says, “Give me whatever you think I ought to have—just make it nice,” yet that’s exactly what many—perhaps most families—do at the funeral home. Just knowing what to ask, what to say, and who to call can save families 50% or more on funeral services, burial plots, or monuments, and as much as 75% on the cost of a casket. Again, these are statistics and facts that sometimes, as pastors, we don’t think about. Of all the funerals arranged each year in North America, a woman is the primary arranger in more that 70% of them, and 25% of the time, the woman is under 25 years of age—pretty interesting little tidbit, isn’t it? I would have never have guessed that.
Well, if you look into your Roman numeral I there: preparing for death.
We as pastors may need to help families and their friends accept the reality that a loved one is dying because, after all, dying is a normal course of our life here on earth. But sometimes families don’t recognize that or sometimes don’t accept that (with a diagnosis with cancer). We may have to minister to a family to help them understand that dying is going to occur, and that’s a normal course of life. In fact, Dr. C.W. Smith again, as he talked about his cancer—he said, “I referred to my cancer as a kind killer. It actually allows me the time to get ready to go and be with the Lord, to get my affairs in order, relationships, to say goodbyes, and so forth.” Many people see cancer, of course, as a dreaded disease—and especially the world because of the fear of death itself (to a non-Christian)—but he referred to it as a “kind killer” and I thought, “What a great example of a mature man of God to say those things.”
So, we may need to help families get prepared to say goodbye. A genuine farewell itself, from the dying person, he testified—I interviewed him for about 25 minutes on this video (you’ll see just about five minutes where he’s giving us some tips)—but he said, “It gave me time, now, to say genuine farewell to my loved ones and people.” Even as he got close to death, singing hymns in and around his bed at home—these are all opportunities, not only to minister to the dying person and their families, but also to the unsaved.
Helping Christians to prepare for life after death spiritually—some things like, “What would you like at your funeral?”—to talk through some of these issues—“What songs would you like played? What scriptures would you like read?” These are all things that you can help families collect before a loved one dies.
Another example of this is, in our shut-in ministry here at the church, I’ve asked our shut-ins—those who are able to, mentally, still do that—some of our older saints who are no longer able to come to church, to write down their testimony for me. I keep that on file here at the church so, when they pass away, if I end up doing their funeral or one of the other pastors, this is often a great opportunity to share the gospel, from heaven, from them. I’ll show you an example of that later, in our notes, from a former shut-in who is now with the Lord.
So, spiritually, you want to help your people get ready for being in the presence of God. So, “What would you like at your funeral?”—to work out those details.
I listed there for you, “The death of a child of God is _______”. You can see many scriptures there: “precious in the sight of God,” “to go to paradise,” “to go to the Father’s house,” “to be with Christ,” and so forth. Those are some great scriptural passages, of course, that you’re familiar with, on the death of a child.
As far as relationships, spiritually, getting a Christian prepared for death: Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Are there any sin issues between you and another person that maybe haven’t been reconciled over the years? Maybe this is an opportunity to go, now that you know you’re going to go and be with the Lord in a few months, to confess any sins, if necessary, to family members or to try and reconcile to somebody who’s sinned against you. So it’s a good opportunity, as you prepare a Christian for going home to be with the Lord, to try and reconcile any broken relationships that may occur in their life.
Materially, then (on the second point there), help them get their affairs in order.
Estate planning is important—wills, living trusts, deeds and titles, mortgages and notes, marriage certificates, children’s birth certificates, income tax records, annuities, distribution of possessions to family and friends. In C.W.’s case, with three children (two of the children that live out of state), they came and began the process of talking to him, even before he passed away, of divvying up the material goods in his house between the three children, making a list of what they prefer, and doling all that out and getting it ready before he dies. So, their material possessions—again, to get prepared before they die.
Life insurance policies are another critical thing to have in order. These, especially in California—I would assume in your state as well—require a certified copy of a death certificate, to get access to life insurance policies. So, we need to be aware of facts like that and help a family think that through. Death certificate.
Here’s another little tip I found out in just researching this, as far as life insurance policies: it’s a good idea for a couple, let’s say, to make others outside their family aware of their insurance policies, in the event of a multiple death. In other words, to have somebody aware of where their valuables are—the annuities, all the marriage certificates, and all that—because if mom and dad gets killed in an airplane crash and the kids are left—little ones—who knows where to find all those things? So, it’s a good idea to talk to your folks in your church about making somebody outside their family aware of their insurance policies and where they could get that information.
I was talking to one of a fellow pastor yesterday (and he’s sitting right here). At their church, they put together a nice booklet (“Preparing for Eternity”) here for their congregation. “Where are the important documents located?” All kinds of helpful things here. “My wishes regarding the disposition of my remains.” So, I would suggest that you do something like this at your church as well. It’s something, as we discuss, that I certainly want to do here: get more things in place, that people can actually work through a little workbook like this to get prepared. Here’s local funeral homes in the Phoenix area that they can have access to, hospices in case they need hospice care—things like this that you can put in brochures and come up with your own material at your church to help people think these things through. “Who should be contacted at the time of my death?” Again, write these things down—very, very helpful. “The durable power of attorney for medical care”—things like this that we can help families prepare to be good stewards of their material possessions.
Now, this overhead… As you will see here, I found on this website—you can jot these things down, that’s why I just put these up here before we actually get into the things that I wrote down for you—I just found this stuff recently. funeralsripoffs.org Here are the four most important points of consumer advice, according to this website—now again, this is not in your notes, so you might want to just jot down these four points, and then you’ll be able to find on the website, this other information here that I’ll just briefly run through.
Know how much funeral services and caskets should cost (that is, a low and reasonable price).
Consult a survey of mortuary prices in your local area or you can jot down the 800 number, or again, just look up the website. I called the number right before our session here and got a lady on the line, and she said there’s like 118 contacts around the United States of maybe funeral homes that participate with the Memorial Society with reasonable prices and things like that. Now she mentioned to me, while I was on the phone with her, some terms like “healing” and so forth and so on, so you’re dealing with a secular person here, so just beware. But, they might be helpful to give you some information in your area about mortuaries that would have reasonable prices.
Here you can see some various different kinds of services for caskets and direct cremation that we need to be aware of, so that you can educate your people in your churches about some reasonable prices. You can see the vast difference of how they mark things up. So, again, you can just jot down the website.
The second one here: find a mortuary with reasonable prices regardless of its location in your metro area.
Be careful about protective seal caskets: they harm bodies, rather than protect them—they have a whole bunch of information on there about that.
The neoprene rubber that seals the caskets builds up the putrefactive bacteria in the body, and the body can explode in the casket because there’s no normal air flow for deterioration and dehydration of the body. So now, there’s people who’ve gone to court for that, because bodies have kind of oozed out over the casket and stuff like that, and some people are now suing mortuaries because of the rubber sealed caskets and stuff.
So, you just need to be aware of that because, as Christians, obviously, I mean, cremations and so forth is cheaper, but you don’t want your families worrying about things like this because natural decay should take place and so forth: to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Let it occur.
It’s amazing, some of the stuff. You’ll find some interesting reading as they describe some of the problems with these protective seal caskets.
Four: be cautious about prepaid plans—most lock in high prices and/or non-refundable, non-cancelable.
They have some good insights there as to what—families should get prepared, what they want from the funeral, but maybe not necessarily buy a prepaid plan, so that you’re using your own money, earning interest throughout your life, and then get what you need at the time of death.
So, these are just important principles, again, apart from the spiritual issues that we’re going to talk about for most of our hour here. But I just wanted to make you aware of—and the website—so that you can go on there and just check things out for yourself. Sometimes we don’t think about things like this, but it’s important so that your people who have a limited budget don’t get ripped off by some mortician who’s, obviously, like a car salesman, looking to make money and sometimes prey upon people who are grieving; people buy more than what they really need. So, you want to be aware of those things.
Is that a dash between funerals and ripoffs?
Yes. Yes. That’s a little dash there between funerals-ripoffs.org. And the lady that I talked to regarding this memorial society, I think she said their website is funerals.org. So, you can go on just funerals.org and you’ll pull up all kinds of sites and stuff. So, you might want to take some time and investigate that information on the internet; it can be very helpful. It’s been kind of enjoyable just to read all the different things. For example, about the prices—the reasonable prices here, this number two—they said in the article here, “In short, women are being systematically targeted and exploited and all under the guise of caring or just trying to do what the deceased might have wanted”—again, this is according to a writer that’s on the website here. “Funeral directors invariably say, ‘It’s just marketing,’ and it is, but where does shrewd marketing bleed over into predatory behavior? For me, it was when a widow in Texas wrote to tell me that when her husband had died, following nearly a decade decline with Alzheimer’s, she took her husband’s papers with her to the funeral home, including his loan insurance policy for 12,000 dollars, and walked out the funeral home with a funeral costing 12,000 dollars to the penny. Think it doesn’t happen? Ask around.” Interesting info, isn’t it? 12,000 to the penny. So, as pastors, we do need to be aware of this so that we can shepherd our sheep effectively when it comes to the death of a loved one.
Now, Roman numeral II: the place for grief.
Grief is a proper expression of emotion over a life-shaking loss. It is the expression of a painful or profound sorrow, sorrow over a loss that hurts. And I quoted Wayne Grudem here: “It is not wrong to express real sorrow at the loss of fellowship with loved ones who have died, and sorrow also for the suffering and hardship that they may have gone through prior to death. Sometimes Christians think it shows lack of faith if they mourn deeply for a brother or sister Christian who has died, but scripture does not support that view because, when Stephen was stoned, we read that ‘devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him’ (Acts 8:2). Their sorrow showed the genuine grief that they felt at the loss of fellowship with someone whom they loved and it was not wrong to express this sorrow; it was right. Even Jesus, at the tomb of Lazarus, wept, expressing sorrow at the fact that Lazarus had died, that his sisters and others were experiencing such grief, and also, no doubt, at the fact that there was death at the world at all for, ultimately, it is unnatural not to be, in a world created by God.”
Of course, we know that Christ conquered the fear of death and, as Christians, we don’t need to worry about that because we’re going to pass through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23). But, it is OK, of course, for Christians to mourn with those who mourn and to express genuine heartfelt sorrow over losing a loved one. So, there’s certainly a time and place for grief.
I also listed there: Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus; He was a “man of sorrows,” as Isaiah said, “acquainted with grief”; and then, of course, Paul talks about (in the passage there in I Thessalonians) that it’s OK to grieve—we certainly can grieve—and it’s going to be different though, than those who don’t have any hope because we do have the hope of Christ in us. So, grief is a natural, normal thing that people are going to experience after death.
Number III: practices in biblical times.
I just thought you would be interested; we don’t need to take time, really, to go through this because I’d like to move on to some of the funeral aspects and follow-up here in the notes. I thought you would be interested in some of the things we see in scripture from the Israelites in the Old Testament of how they grieved—weeping, loud lamentation, rending of clothes—and listed several things for you there. It’s interesting, Jeremiah the prophet even says that, in 17 and 18 of chapter 9, “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘Consider, and call for the mourning women that they may come, and send for the wailing women that they may come.’” So, that happened in biblical times: people would come and weep and wail after the death of someone.
We also notice there, in that next paragraph, the period of mourning for the dead varied in biblical times according to the custom of the particular nation. For example, the Israelites typically mourned for seven days. Genesis 50:10 tells us Joseph and his family mourned for Jacob seven days once they returned to Canaan from Egypt. While Joseph and his family were still in Egypt, the mourning period was 70 days, according to Egyptian custom. For Aaron and Moses, it was 30 days, and for Saul, seven days, so we see a bit of a variety here even in the scriptural model.
Now, let’s look at some practical tips at the time of death as you seek to minister to people in your churches. [IV]
First bullet point there: be with the family or get to them as soon as possible.
As in the case here with Dr. Smith—his family there at the bedside, to be there at his last breath—things like that are very meaningful for people, to be there. If you can be there with the family singing hymns—whatever’s appropriate—reading scripture, prayer, it’s a wonderful time for the family, to be with them; and again, your ministry at those times can have an impact on your people for the rest of their lives. I can’t stress that, really, enough.
Second point there: spend time with them.
People may go into shock after somebody does die, not necessarily with a case like this where it’s expected—a long-time cancer patient—but somebody who hears the news like that and they’re not expecting death. I think of a situation of an airplane crash and the woman, the wife of the husband who died, having to be told, in an hour, about 60 different times that “your husband has died. He went down in a plane crash.” And 30 seconds later, the woman would say, “What happened to my husband?” “He died. He was killed in a plane crash.” She’s in what? Shock. She’s in shock. Her system—you know, the Lord has made us that way.
Again, that can be quite normal. I know of another pastor who told me, when his father died, he said, “Jim, I just couldn’t believe it; I denied it for the first 24 hours. I couldn’t believe my dad was dead.” He was in shock. It was like, “It didn’t happen. This can’t be happening to me.” It was unexpected.
So, people can go into shock—so we need to be there to comfort them. And, by comfort—I know you guys can share some tips on this as well. Again, when we get to the Q & A, you can share with me some of your insights, over the years, here. I want this to be a very open session in that sense. These are just some things that I’ve learned that, hopefully, are helpful to you:
When you’re there with people, you don’t, at the initial thing, need to say anything really; just be there and be like Christ. “Weep with those who weep.” Comfort them. Some of your people are going to want to hug you, to touch you, to feel reassured. You’re there representing the Lord Jesus. You’re the rock of Gibraltar, so to speak, in their life, at that moment.
So, oftentimes, you don’t need to say anything. Silence is OK. In fact, silence is better than some of the trite clichés that I have listed there for you. Saying, especially after somebody just finds out the news of the death of someone or after someone, “Well, this is the Lord’s will”; “You’re taking this too hard”; “Just think of the blessings you still have”; “I know what you are going through.” We have to be very careful, men and ladies, to be careful with statements like that when you’re around people who are really hurting. These things can be hurtful to them. We need to be there just to weep with them, to pray with them, if necessary, and to just sit quietly.
I think of one case where I was with a family for three hours after their 11-month-old son died. And I held him in my arms and was just right there with them, nice and quiet with the family, in a private room in the hospital, and just was there for three hours. They cried. Said goodbye. We prayed. They hugged me. Didn’t have to say much; just was there. And, finally, at the end of an experience like that, they said, “Jim, what to we do now? What do we do?” And I was able to say, “We’ve said our goodbyes to your little one. It’s OK now if we go home. You guys can get some rest. So, I think it’s OK if we go.” They said, “OK. We’re OK now. We’ve said our goodbyes. We can go.”
So, it’s just a great time to be present and just love people. Period. Even if we just are quiet. We don’t need to say anything profound—that’s not necessarily the time—but just to be with people, weep with them, show the love of Jesus Christ, and give direction where needed, as in that case.
The next bullet point there: when necessary, help in the days ahead to make funeral arrangements.
I say, “when necessary.” A lot of our folks here at Grace do have these things planned out pretty well because of the maturity of our body here, at Grace, and sitting under John’s teaching for so many years. A lot of our people have funeral plans in place with their families, have things pretty well ironed out, so it’s not always necessary that I have to get involved with going to funeral homes and things like that; they already, sometimes, have things arranged with their local mortician and so forth. But go with them when needed.
That’s why I put things up like this: so that you can gain more information of costs in your areas, so that you can go with families, where needed, to discuss prices of caskets and services that a local mortician may supply for them. Know their desires, know how much they can afford, and help the family through that.
In one of these websites here—this same website, I believe—there was “misleading advice includes…”—now, we’ve all heard this, but again I bring it to your attention because we have to be careful—“ask your friends or clergy to recommend a mortuary. This is often dangerous, leading you to unfair mortuaries because most friends and clergy know little or nothing about wholesale casket prices, outrageous mark-ups, deceptive sales practices, reasonable price ranges, comparison of mortuary prices in the community; and many clergy and hospital personnel receive gifts from high-priced morticians to coax them to recommend their firms.”
That’s new to me. That doesn’t happen here; I haven’t had to worry about any of that. But maybe you do in your small town. You might have a mortician say, “Hey pastor, you know, I’ll give you some gifts here if you’ll recommend my mortuary,” but they may be a bit pricey and so forth. You need to be aware of that. That’s why I bring it up. Because, if you go along, we do have to be aware of these kinds of factors to help the family, so that it’s not just pooled ignorance, right? Because we care and we’re compassionate! But if we don’t know how much a casket costs or should cost and so forth, and we go and the grieving wife may look at you and say, “Does that sound reasonable? Five thousand dollars for that casket?” and you’re going, “I really don’t know”—you see what I mean? Pooled ignorance doesn’t help.
Same goes then, they say: “Take a stable friend with you to the mortuary to protect you from deceptive tactics and bad decisions. This is dangerous for the same reason.”
I know I’ve said those things over the years and I’m sure some of you have, too. You say, “Well, just grab a friend and go.” But again, if that person doesn’t know the game and the whole thing, like buying a car, you know, an unscrupulous mortician can take advantage of two people just as easy as one, who doesn’t know what they’re doing, right? So again, it may sound humorous to us, but I just fire it at you so that we’re aware of these things to more effectively shepherd people in these areas—because we do need to be aware of these things because it is a big cost to people.
All right, I put in a section here, Roman numeral V: purposes of funerals. (This is just a few; I’m sure you can think of some more.)
Funerals allow people to grieve together.
As I mentioned, grief is a normal response to their loss. Funerals can help work through the disappointment of the loss—and we looked at some Biblical examples of mourning that we took a look at there.
Secondly, funerals provide an opportunity to express Christian love and support.
Individuals who experience loss can feel lonely, confused, abandoned—and we can be there to express Christian love and support, as I have mentioned. Our involvement reaffirms our love and commitment to the family at a crisis time like that. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Losing somebody, of course, is adversity, and that’s a great opportunity for us to come in and help minister and express our Christian love.
Third, funerals help people to accept the loss.
People are in the process of emotionally adjusting to the loss. They’re grieving. A funeral service can actually help them to accept that. “I can’t believe he’s gone. This isn’t happening to me.” When we actually have funeral services, it’s sort of, to use a secular word here, “closure” for people, to help them work through that.
Funerals force people to face the fact that death has taken their loved one.
We see this more often in the non-Christian funerals that I’ve done where—I remember one man, an older gentleman, who didn’t really listen to me as I was preaching the gospel; in fact, he really wouldn’t look at me. I can remember him coming up afterwards because—I’ll get to this—but, while I was standing up there at the casket, and people filed by to go out (and then we go to the internment site), just him weeping and kissing his wife in the casket. Now, that’s a vivid illustration that he has to accept the loss—tragically, rejecting the gospel, because there’s the only hope he had was in his wife. But that was a vivid illustration and portrayal to me as he weeped and kissed his wife in the casket like, “Don’t leave me. It’s over.” But funerals can help people to accept the loss. On the Christian side of things, of course, again, just say good things about the person and their life and their testimony.
The next one, funerals allow people the opportunity to remember the highlights of a person’s life.
Fond memories, character traits can be shared at the funerals services or memorial service. Respect for the person, the depth of love and quality of the relationship can be discussed at the memorial service or the funeral service, by the family. That’s a neat thing to see.
Recently had a funeral like that—just about a week ago. The son and daughter, two of the four kids, got up and just gave a great testimony about their mother’s faith in Christ and what she meant to them. And there were a ton of Roman Catholics there and Jewish people there—and even Greek Orthodox. I think a Roman Catholic priest was there. So, it was a great opportunity, and they were waxing eloquent on sharing the gospel. So when I got up, I said, “I’m almost ready to say ‘Amen’ to this. How can I gild the lily? But I do have a few words to say” and proceeded to share the gospel based on what they said about their mother. That was a neat time because there were a lot of unbelieving people there. So, it’s a great opportunity for the family to remember the highlights of the person’s life.
Here’s an interesting little tidbit maybe you haven’t thought about: usually close and loving families find it easier to reflect upon positive and negative things—failures and shortcomings. You may keep that in mind as you minister to families. Why? Because they understand the reality of the sinfulness, if they’re solid Christian people. And sometimes you’ll hear Christian families stand up and testify that Dad was a wonderful dad, but he was a little bit weak here and there and so forth, and they laugh about it. Why? Because they were a close family. Whereas distant families, especially non-believers, you don’t usually see that as much; they’ll just mention a few positive things about the person, and rarely talk about the shortcomings. It’s just an interesting little insight that I learned over the years you can keep in mind.
Funerals are a great opportunity to share the hope of the gospel.
As a pastor, unlike weddings or any other context I’m in, funerals allow us the opportunity to share the hope of the gospel because, in a non-Christian setting, people call our church and ask for one of our pastors to perform the funeral service for them—and we’re up front with them that this is what we’re going to be discussing and, more often than not, they’ll say, “That’s fine,” based on a testimony from a member of our church who’s been ministering to that family. It’s a neighbor or something who said, “Hey, call Grace church. They might be able”—when these people are not connected to a church at all. More often than not over the years, non-Christians have allowed me to come and share the gospel at funeral services. What a great opportunity because a lot of these people never dawn the door of a church in their life! And we throw the seed, scatter the gospel. It’s a great opportunity, unlike weddings or any other ministry that we do, to share the hope of Jesus Christ and the assurance of God’s presence if they come to Christ in love for His own.
It’s interesting. People—obviously, as you know, from those of you who are experienced here with funerals—people do get saved. I remember when I first started in ‘94 (one of my first funerals), shared the gospel. Years later, a gentleman showed up on campus and said, “Jim, I was at that funeral. I was a non-Christian. Barely knew the person; I came out of respect for the family. I sat there and disagreed with everything you were saying, going, ‘That’s a bunch of bologna; that’s not true.’ But God used that—the message—and I got saved.” And he’s now married and serving in a church in San Diego. And that just was wonderful to get that feedback! You don’t often get that feedback, but it was neat to hear. So we need to keep sewing the seed—and funerals are a great opportunity to do that.
Now, Roman numeral number VI: on the day of the service, when the service is at the funeral home, here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years that may be helpful to you.
Arrive at least 20 to 30 minutes before the service is scheduled to begin.
Now, I don’t always do that. Again, if everything’s in order and we’re dealing with a Christian family and everything’s cool and we’ve worked everything through, sometimes I don’t even get there until 10 or 15 minutes. It depends on the circumstances. So, I put down 20 to 30 minutes—why?
So that, number two there, you can check in with the funeral director to receive the clergy card and sometimes the honorarium.
Sometimes here, the funeral homes will work with the family to give you an honorarium straight through them; sometimes people will give that to you on their own. But, you want plenty of time to check in with the funeral director.
Ask—bullet point number three there—ask the funeral director if there are any last minute changes through the service or what the family wants.
Be flexible. You’re there to serve them.
Four, give copies of the order of service to the funeral director.
And, I just brought a sample—I brought several—if any of you would like to have this. This is just off—again, this is off-campus. Now, when we have funeral services here at the church, our communications department makes a real nice bulletin for our families here. But this is off-campus now at a funeral home where I do a funeral service with the body present. My secretary and I just put it together and so forth, what that particular order of service would be. I give a copy to the funeral director and then whoever wants it in the family so that they can follow along—the immediate family—while I am performing the service. Generally speaking, you don’t need to give it to the whole crowd because everybody just follows along anyway, but it’s a nice thing for the family and the funeral director, especially if you have an organist and a soloist there so that they can follow with you, of course, etc. etc.
Next bullet point: give a copy of the order of service to the organist, piano player.
I just said that, so I’m ahead of myself, see? And review it with them.
Then, greet the family. Comfort them. Ask them if there is anything to be added to the service.
Sometimes they may say, “Hey, Jim, we thought of this particular scripture that we would like you to read”—just jot it down—or any changes they may have.
View the body with the family, if appropriate. If it’s an open casket, you can do that with the family privately, if you have time.
Pray with them, if possible.
Again, if you’re dealing with Christians in your church, to pray with them and ask that God would be glorified, that as we share the gospel with the unsaved family and friends who are coming, that God, the Holy Spirit, would be at work in the unsaved who are coming… So, pray if you have the opportunity.
Ask the family if they have any last minute questions.
Sign the guestbook.
I don’t know if you’ve thought about that. Over the years, sometimes I haven’t done that, but I try to make that a practice when the family has it there. Usually at the front of guestbooks, there’s a slot for the pastor. So, sign your name, and usually it’s nice if you put a scripture in parenthesis. I know of cases where people have gotten saved by looking up the verse when you sign the guestbook. Again, it’s an opportunity, a little detail you might not think of. Put a verse down—John 14:1-6, whatever may be appropriate, Romans 6:23. Do that. People can come to Christ later on when they go back and review the guest book.
Next bullet point there: if possible, spend some quiet time in an office alone to pray and review the service.
Most funeral homes around here will have a pastor’s room off the main area where you can go and have some private time before the service and pray. Again, just like counseling or any other of our ministries, I would suggest that you do that. Spend some time with the Lord and ask Him to bless and use you as a vessel to clearly share the gospel to people that day. Spend some time in prayer.
Then, perform the service—and we’ll go through that in just a second. Let me finish these points, and then I’ll walk you down through a service.
If there is a viewing following the service, stand in an appropriate place near the casket as people are led forward by the funeral staff.
If the casket’s here and the lectern is over here and so forth, and people are going to come forward (pretending you’re the chapel audience now), I’ll stand up here at the feet of the loved one, usually off to the side like this, so that those who want to speak to you can come over to you here and address you. And then the rest will come and pay their last respects and usually exit through the door to the left to go out and wait in their cars until we would take the processional to the internment site. So, usually, standing off to the left is a good idea.
It’s interesting. Over the years, Christians inevitably will come up and say, “Good job, Jim. Right on with the gospel.” The non-believers don’t want to even—what? Look at you. In fact, I had a recent case of a 35-year-old woman who passed away from cancer and I was surprised at how many people were at Forest Lawn in Glendale. (It’s a pretty famous mortuary around here, Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills. We do a lot of services there.) It was in a huge old chapel at the top of this hill.
Well, the place was packed. There were as many people there as there is here today. I was surprised that many people came—Roman Catholics and unbelievers. The husband was kind of blown away by how many people came. But, afterwards, I talked to him and he said, “Well, that was very direct. Nobody’s going to miss the point on that one about the gospel. That was very direct.” And then, couple days later, I saw him here in church out in the parking lot and he said, “You know, I had some friends there that go to another seeker-friendly church in our area here in southern California and they said, ‘We don’t hear preaching like that; that was very clear about the hope that you can have in Christ.’”
So, people get it. And that’s a good—great—opportunity, again, to share the truth. Perform the service, and then stand there at the casket.
Now, the next to the last point there: visit there with the family at the casket when everyone else has left. Spend some time to comfort them.
Then, after they exit, remain there until the funeral director closes and secures the casket. This can help prevent theft by an unscrupulous funeral director.
You go, “Huh? Does that happen?” It does. John taught me that principle many years ago. He said, “Jim, I’ve seen cases where guys will take”—because, oftentimes, families will come up at the last moment, while you’re left alone with them, and put expensive jewelry on the body, rings, other items.
It’s interesting. I did the funeral of a gang banger in south central L.A. One guy came up and put a clip of bullets in his—because he was a gang member and that was his way of honoring him: a clip of bullets. And one of the women came up there angry and took it out. That was quite a funeral service. Sometimes I don’t know how I get involved in some of these things. But that was an interesting evening—big dudes all around me, you know, “Jesus loves you, man.” But anyway, sometimes, obviously, morticians can steal things if you leave.
Now, obviously, if it’s a shady mortician, and you get out to the internment site, could they still open the casket after everybody leaves? Yeah, if they really want to rip somebody off, they can probably do that. But, to do our job, we wait till they’re there, they seal the casket; you remain with the body, then they have the pallbearers come back in who usher the body out to the hearse and then follow out to the graveside. At least it can help because it does happen, unfortunately—people stealing rings and so forth and selling them. And that’s a horrible thing to think about, but it does happen, as you know. So anyway, it’s just a little tip: stay there. Remain with the body until they seal the casket.
Now, let’s look at some suggested order and components of the funeral service.
I thought it would be helpful to put down a typical order of service for you, some traditional passages you can see there.
You have the organ prelude…
(Again, this can work for a memorial service in your church or at a funeral service at the mortuary and then the internment site; this can be a standard service and components for you.)
You see some of the traditional passages that families, especially Christian families, enjoy: prayer…
Then, solo or hymn.
Usually two songs throughout the service is good. Maximum for a funeral should be about three. Clayton gave me—in the music department—filled me in there with some good standard traditional hymns that I thought would be helpful for you.
Non-Christian funeral: have a family member write down 2 or 3 paragraphs about the person. Sometimes, when I don’t know the person—it’s a non-Christian context—I’ll ask the family, “Jot down some things that you would like me to share with your loved ones about that person,” and people don’t have a problem with that. For example, his or her education, job accomplishments, fond memories with, who he or she is survived by, etc. When possible, tactfully go over their notes with them to prevent inappropriate comments, OK? You know, “We used to get drunk together… And Uncle Harry was just a great guy”—you know?
I’m trying to think here. Yeah, we recently had a situation of working with—the mom was a Christian and the kids are not. I didn’t end up doing the funeral; one of our younger guys did. And the one daughter requested “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” to be sung. Seriously. And so, we had to graciously tell her that really wasn’t the best song to have at your mother’s funeral. She ended up singing “Amazing Grace,” interestingly enough. Little bit of a contrast there. Night and day. Darkness, light.
Christian eulogy, background testimony, ministries, fond memories… If the family members wish to speak, try to have it pre-planned, not open to the congregation (that can get pretty unwieldy). Keep it to a minimum, maybe one to three people. More than two to three gets unwieldy. Go over their notes with them, and have them keep it under three minutes. This can be very effective: to have Christian family members get up and talk about their loved one.
The reason I put one to three people is you have to be careful. I’ve been to funerals before where three or four people talk, and it can go a half an hour. That gets too long. You lose the non-Christians in the crowd. So, my advice is, you want to keep and work with the Christians too to keep it under three minutes—if they stand up and talk about their mom or their dad, etc.—and try to keep it to two or three people.
Sometimes, depending on—a godly saint with 50 years in ministry—if it goes longer than that, that’s OK. But, generally speaking, what I’m trying to teach you is, the total time should be no more than 10 or 15 minutes, with two or three or four people speaking, because if they go too long and start getting preachy and all that, sometimes you can lose people. So, be careful with that.
Also, be careful if you have an audience like this: sometimes the family will say, “Jim, can you open it up to the audience?” That can be dangerous too because then you’ve got Uncle Fred and Aunt Mary and they’re wanting to come up and talk about this, and it’s just—it can get bad.
So, you have to work with the family tactfully, graciously, to maybe one or two people. Now again, context. If there’s only 10 people at the funeral and a few people stand up and say something, generally, in my experience, it’s been cool. They don’t abuse it. But I have seen, even recently—I think of a professing brother who wanted to get up and say some things, and he launched for about 20 minutes in the eulogy. And it just—even the family is sitting there starting to cringe, going, “[Whistle] Get the shepherd’s hook”—right? And this man actually looked at me and said, “How long do I have?” and I said, “About one minute, please. I have some things I want to say.” And so, he got the point and he finally got down. So, be careful with those things, about the eulogy. Work with people. Have it pre-planned.
I think of another situation where I opened it up to the audience—and I actually taught this girl when she was in junior high many years ago. Not a Christian… And she got up there and said nice things about her grandmother, but out of left field, she said, “I wish my grandma was here today because I wanted to tell her I’m pregnant.” And I’m sitting there thinking, “Great,” you know. “Yeah… Yeah.” So here’s an unwed mother—pregnant—wanting to tell her grandmother, and I thought, “This is sad,” and so forth. So, you have to be careful when you open it up to the audience.
The pastoral message…
Another solo may precede message if desired. For a non-Christian funeral, explain the gospel from selected scriptures or appropriate themes—heaven, hope, lessons one can learn from the death of a loved one. Sometimes I’ve done sermons: lessons that Christians can learn from the death of a loved one and then lessons that non-Christians can learn—“Life is fragile,” “You can only protect yourself so much,” etc., etc.—and try to come at the gospel to the unsaved that way. For the Christian, look through the person’s Bible for sermon material. That’s very effective.
The example listed below—do you see that? This was from a dear saint who was a missionary for many years. I went through her Bible and then saw these four things that she had written in there: “Am I honest? Am I faithful? Am I pure? Am I dedicated?” (Which she was because of Christ’s righteousness in her life.) But I used those four simple points to launch into the gospel and help the people see that there is no way that you can do these things apart from Christ. And here’s this lady speaking to you, her loved ones, from heaven. And she had a couple—you see the quotes I listed there for you, in her Bible? “No man is wise if he is ignorant concerning the Bible”—I thought that was catchy and bounced off of that. “Reputation is what men think you are; character is what God knows you to be,” and I just launched off of that as well. “Are you known as honest, faithful, pure, dedicated? Well, if you blow that in God’s eyes, you’re guilty of all,” and then just launched into the gospel. That can be very effective—using the person’s material from their own Bible—or a testimony, as I mentioned earlier.
Get their testimony and share that. Oftentimes, if it’s somebody I didn’t know that’s not a shut-in, I’ll get their membership application testimony here at our church and use that at the funeral. And that blows the family away because they have no idea I’m going to do that. I’ll take their actual testimony that they wrote, when they joined Grace Church 25 years ago, and take that and launch off of what they’re saying into the gospel. And the family’s sitting there going, “This is cool, man. I didn’t know my mom said that” or “—my dad said that.” Then I’ll give them a copy of the membership application after the funeral so that they have it to take home. Stuff like that. Those are some ideas. OK?
Total time: about 30 to 40 minutes (message: 10 to 15 minutes). Be flexible; each service is unique.
OK, let’s look at some follow-up. If the services will conclude at the internment site—let me run through that real quick first.
Escort the casket to the hearse.
Walk in front of the casket and the pallbearers, for you younger guys—usually you lead the casket and the pallbearers. Stand to the side of the rear of the hearse as the casket is loaded. So, if the casket’s here, the door’s open, you just stand here as the men come and they load the casket.
Then, you follow the funeral director’s instructions—number two bullet point there. Usually you will follow the hearse in your car to the graveside.
Three, escort the casket to the graveside.
Again, walk in front of the casket and the pallbearers. When you arrive at the internment site, gentlemen, you always want to stand—where? At the head of the casket. So, you just make sure that you know where the head is, as you walk. Generally speaking, the head comes first. Make sure that you stand at the head of the casket as you address the family.
Perform a brief service—graveside service—when the funeral director gives you the signal.
Usually consists of a few brief comments, reading of scripture, and a prayer—to “commit the body to the ground to which it came” and to “the soul back to God”—things of that nature.
Once you are done, the funeral director usually has some concluding remarks. For example, “There will be a reception.” Usually I let the funeral director do that. They’ll step up and say, “Thank you, Pastor Paul, for that service. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the service for Mary Doe. The family would like to invite all of you to come to a reception at their house. We have some maps for you available here. You can now greet the family and then proceed to their house”—something like that. So, I turn it back over to the funeral director and let them…
I’ve had some funny things over the years. I’m sure you guys—that’s what I mean! Hopefully, we’ll get a little—well, we have a little time because we have a break at a quarter-till. Maybe we can stay a little longer.
I’ve had some great funeral directors. “I’d like to thank the good Reverend Pile for that message!” and so forth. “There was a lot of love in that message!” I’ve had some interesting funeral directors. “Thank you, Brother Pile, for that wonderful message!” I can remember one guy saying, “Based on his message and so forth, let’s just take a moment and give each other a big hug!” I mean it’s just—you never know what you’re going to run into in dealing with funeral directors and so forth. Some interesting stories! I’m sure you guys have stories as well.
OK. Visit with the family at the internment site and then attend the reception or return to the church, whatever is appropriate.
If you know the family and you want to be with them, of course go to the reception; or, you know that you can excuse yourself and go back to the church and get back to your duties at the church—that’s fine too. Play that by ear.
Offer to follow up with the family.
Here are some follow up suggestions for you:
Place a call or write to the family within two weeks following the funeral service—or sooner, depending, again, on the closeness of your relationship with the people.
Follow up with them: give them a call, write to them. Let them know that you’re praying for them, that you’re there to do anything you can to help.
Invite the family to church if they’re not already in your church. If the family is already connected, help them get back into the flow of body life as soon as possible.
Now, this may take some time. People grieve differently. Some may not wish to be around others for a season. I think of a godly saint right now who’s actually helping me in my office call other widows. And I went many times to the hospital as her husband was dying—and she’s a wonderful person, loves the Lord—but she said, “Jim, I needed—” (because I kept calling her, saying, “Hey, we miss you. We’re here. Are you doing OK?”), “Yeah, I’m OK. I just need a couple months to sort of readjust and just…” It’s not that she was totally absent form church, but she wasn’t ready to come back to our fellowship group just yet. She was just working through some things. And now she’s back and she’s actually helping me follow up on other widows—and she’s calling them because she just lost her husband last year. It’s a wonderful ministry that she’s performing to other gals. So, it’s a really neat thing to see. But she just needed a little extra time.
So, you want to be careful to let them know you care—“We’re here; is there anything I can do for you?”—and I’ll get to some of those points here in a second. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Next one: be available to counsel if someone needs help dealing biblically with their grief.
Some people may feel responsible for the person’s death. Car accident, you know? “If I hadn’t wouldn’t have run a red light” or whatever, “have fallen asleep”—those things. “Why me?” type of issues. They may need some discipleship/counseling. Anger, fear, worry issues come up, so be available to shepherd after the fact.
When appropriate, offer to be present with the family when the headstone is placed at the grave, approximately one to two months after the inscription is submitted.
Wherever you may be when they put the headstone on, it might be important for you and a good idea for you, to be there with the family just as they set that.
Visit the family in their home or invite the person or family over to your home for a meal. Encourage church members to follow up with visits, counsel, meals, help in the home, and so forth.
We do that on an ongoing basis in our fellowship groups. We’ll have people—Bible studies—get activated and follow up with meals and calls. This should be ongoing until the person or family is back in the normal flow of the church life.
Send a card to a widow or widower on the wedding anniversary.
Send a card to the family on the date of the deceased’s birth and death.
This is especially important for the first and second year. We keep everybody on a computer and I write hand-written notes to people, letting them know I’m praying for them, thinking about them, specifically, on birthdays, deaths, the anniversary of the death, and so forth. Very effective; very meaningful to people.
Encourage another church family to adopt the grieving family.
Like this lady who experienced God’s divine comfort, she’s now adopting some other widows and saying, “Hey, I’m here. I understand. I’ve walked in your shoes. I love you. How can I help you?” Or families—get them involved.
Continue your ministry to the grieving until they can comfort others with the comfort they have received.
Get them involved in ministering to others. You can have a profound impact on people in and around your church by shepherding them through difficult times. I’ve had many testimonies of people coming to me after the fact—whether it’s hospital, severe-crisis situations—saying, “Hey, thank you for being there. It meant a lot to me for you to be there.” Even in non-crisis situations. Recently, my wife and the kids and I (we have four children)—we have some people in our fellowship group who have a daughter who spent six months over in France, and she flew back… We surprised her by going with the family to LAX, and were there when she arrived. Meant a lot to the family. It’s like, “Hey, man, this is cool. Pastor Paul’s taking time to come down here and greet our daughter back” and so forth. You can make friends for life that way: just by spending time with them.
OK, now, we need to get to the video because I would like you to see Dr. Smith’s responses to some of my questions. And then, we’ll dialogue a little bit after that.
Who is Dr. Smith?
Oh, thank you, very good question. Dr. C.W. Smith was a professor at Bob Jones University, in the Bible department, for 35 years. Then he came out here in 1986, I believe, when our pastor John MacArthur took over The Master’s College, and taught there ever since. So, well over about 15, 16 years—until he passed away here—in the Bible department. Wonderful man. Tom Pennington, our executive pastor—some of you have heard Tom speak—his wife Sheila, it’s her dad. So, very, very close connection there… And has taught for well over 50 years of impacting college students with the Word of God. Just a gracious, humble man. This was an interview. He died of—it initially started with prostrate cancer and spread throughout his body. He was diagnosed about a year ago and died just recently. And this was in December that I interviewed him, and I just wanted you to see little bit of advice that he would give us, OK?
What advice would you share with pastors who are ministering to someone who is terminally ill?
There are a number of things. One, I think you ought to show a genuine compassion and let them understand that they will stay with them and give them the proper care and prayer. And make certain that they realize that they will be taking care of the family, in the sense of showing proper compassion for the family. Quite frequently, people who are dying may have things they would like for you to do for them in dealing with the family members that they know are not saved and little details like this.
One, I would try to walk them through it as normally as possible. For example, even when my wife was dying, we asked her, “Do you have anything that you would like to have at your own funeral? Is there something you would like to leave behind for others? What would you like?” And so, we made certain that these are things that the people themselves are aware—and the reality of death and then, especially, the joy of the transition from earth to heaven, the joy of getting to leave this earth and to be with the Lord. I’m not talking about, primarily, the problems of life, but we need to focus on the purpose: to be with the Lord and to be in the place of perfect holiness. Those two things attract me about heaven, more than anything else. I’m not interested in a guided tour of heaven, showing me all the nice pearls and the stones and all of those things. Those are beautiful, I’m sure, but the main thing is that Jesus is there and that we will be sinless. And those two things, the life of sin—perfection of heaven—and the person of Christ, to get that across to a person, I think, removes all of the other problems.
What tips would you give pastors as they minister to that person’s family?
Again, a lot of this depends on the person. They need to be aware—and, again, this is hard—many families don’t want to acknowledge that a person is dying. And you will face—I have faced this where people just won’t acknowledge the person is dying. They’ll say, “Oh, you’re going to be all right. Everything’s going to be OK.” And, as a result, the person himself knows he’s dying and he can’t get the comfort for them. And the family members need to realize there is a great comfort for the one who is dying in being able to say a genuine farewell to his loved ones of where they can have the resolving of it—the resolution—where, until you say “Goodbye,” you can’t say “We’ll see you again” in the proper sense.
What tips would you give pastors as they minister to that person’s family after they’re gone, after they’ve graduated and gone to heaven?
I have seen this over and over, where, ordinarily, just the time of the funeral and just the week after, everybody brings food, they bring meals, they come over, they call you, they have cards, and a week later nobody knows you. And that is one of the greatest things, I think; one of the greatest crashes. There is a numbness to death. For the person, everybody says, “Oh, isn’t he handling it well? Isn’t it marvelous the way he’s doing it?” Well, that’s God’s gracious way of allowing us to have our sensitivities dulled until we can get through that initial era. But, it’s the weeks and the months later.
Now, I’ve gone by many times after a person’s died— months later—and just sit down and talk about the person. A lot of people don’t want to talk about the dead person. And we’d talk about the person and the things we did together and the fun things we did, and that keeps that person fresh in the memory in the proper sense; that’s to remember them properly. And it is a constant reminder. We can’t do a follow up—especially a pastor of a larger church—certainly couldn’t follow up on every member year-in, year-out, but, in general, those are the types of things. And to remember, even as we were discussing earlier, a year later, months later—but, especially, not to be afraid to talk about the person because that says they are not forgotten.
OK. You want to hit the lights, guys? All right, we have a few minutes because you have a break next till 3:15. So, if you have a comment or question, the only thing I would ask, for the sake of the tape, is try and keep it concise if it’s a question, that way I can repeat it. If you have a comment, that’s fine as well. Yes, sir.
The question is, if you’re uncertain about a loved one who may or may not be in heaven, and the family or the loved one, the spouse who’s left may think that they’re in heaven…
Personally, if I’m interacting with a person and I’m not sure myself, you know, I will say to that person things like, “The Judge of the earth will do what is right with their soul” etc. and “We can trust Him for that.” And then, when I’m actually doing the service, I’ll preach the gospel and the hope and so forth without necessarily referring to the person—if there’s some doubt in your mind about the assurance of their salvation.
So, I try to be careful, you know, not to give a false assurance, to say “God will do what is right with your loved one,” and preach the gospel from another angle and so forth, that would be tactful/appropriate for those who need to hear.
That’s a good question. The question is, if a person was a mason or a member of the elk’s club and so forth, do we allow the people to come in?
To be honest with you, I’ve only had that—in all the funerals I’ve been involved with—only once. I didn’t participate in it, but it was away from here. And, in the Lord’s providence, it didn’t work out that the family wanted me to end up doing it after all, and I’m glad I wasn’t because it was a mishmash of stuff that was sad. I mean, the masons got up and said their stuff… Unbiblical. So, I wasn’t involved. Again, because of the maturity of our church here and the faithful teaching of our pastor, that’s really not been an issue for our members here; because our men aren’t members of a Masonic lodge or the elks, it’s not an issue here at our church. In your church I’d just be—in your setting, I’d be very careful. We wouldn’t allow that to happen here, in our pulpit, except for a person to stand up and maybe give a eulogy. But as far as saying anything spiritual and stuff, we’d try to not do that any more than we would a Mormon or somebody else to use the pulpit here for anything spiritual said. Eulogize? Possibly. But away from here, if you’re at a funeral home or something, just try and work with the family, and be cautious and try to find out preplanned what they’re going to say and work it through, I would say. And then just share the gospel, if you have opportunity, to hammer that home to those people and so forth.
So, that’s a big question—a good one—but I haven’t had to worry about that too much here. Sometimes it’s been more cults here, when that’s been an obvious “no.” We’ve had Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or something say, “Hey, can we come?” “No, no, no. This is our church.”
Well, the question is, if the family insists on opening up the microphone to eulogize the person, that’s a Christian family in your church…
I’d be sensitive with that, and, generally speaking, try to go with the flow. Try to shepherd the family to keep it as concise as you can. But, again, we want to minister to them, and be careful in that circumstance that we don’t hurt them. So, it’s kind of one of those things we have to watch carefully. Do you have a comment on that?
A gentleman in the back—a pastor in the back making the comment that a good idea would be to have the open mike at the reception where more people can do that. Thanks for that reminder. I’ve done the same thing. That’s right. Good tip.
Yes, sir. Yes, thank you. Yeah, I’ve done the same thing. The comment again from another pastor here in the back is, to make some comments while you’re up there—“If any of you would like to make a comment or two, we would ask you to stand where you’re seated and make a comment or two, and we would ask that you would keep that brief for the sake of the family”—something like that. And you’re right—that’s nipped it in the bud, oftentimes. Thanks. Good tip.
The question is, is it a worship service or isn’t it a worship service?
It is in the sense that, obviously, for Christians, it’s a celebration, a worship service. For non-Christian funeral even, apart from here, we seek to be faithful to the gospel and glorify God in what we do to minister to that family. In that sense, it’s almost like Christ preaching the Sermon on the Mount in a sense, you know, preaching and evangelizing still with us as the Christians there. It’s a worship service in the sense that whether I eat or drink or even perform a worship service, as a pastor, I do all for—what? The glory of God.
So, it’s a good question. I haven’t really, necessarily, thought about it in that venue. I guess I just seek to minister to people depending on where they’re coming from spiritually. And we, as a church body, when a Christian’s involved—even with non-Christians—are there to seek to minister the gospel of Christ to hurting people. But, definitely, to answer your question, for Christians within our body, yeah, it’s a celebration and a worship service. In fact, our people view it as that, that we’re here to not only eulogize, but to glorify God based on this person’s life and testimony. It’s a good thought.
That’s why, even when I deal with non-Christian families, that I want to try to help them and minister to them, that what I’m doing is not only to help you, but to bring glory to God. And we’re up front with people about that when they contact—when they’re outside of our church. Sometimes people turn that down. But more often than not, they’ve said, “No, we don’t mind.” And so, we’ll take advantage of that because it’s like Christ sitting down with the tax collectors and sinners: it’s a good opportunity. Good thought.
Now, those of you who want to leave and take your break, feel free to do so. I’ll be glad to remain and dialogue with those who want to, so just come on up. Thank you very much. God bless you, guys, in your ministry!
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