What should be the opening words of a funeral service?

Opening a funeral service can feel as awkward as those first words you speak to the family who has just lost their loved one.  Yet, because of the attentiveness people give in those moments, we must seize the opportunity to choose carefully these words as they will set the tone for the entire service.  A good rule of thumb is to always allow God to speak before you do.  Keep in mind, though there are different kinds of people attending the funeral, they are all in their own way asking the question, “Why God?”

Choose a passage of Scripture that cuts through the questions, sorrow, and skepticism to declare the unchanging character of our great God.  Prepare in such a way that you can stand up, move to the pulpit and then say, “Hear these words about our great, unchanging God. . . .”

The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds.  The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.  He will fulfill the desires of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them.  The Lord keeps all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.  My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord and all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.  (Psalm 145:17-21)

God’s words will always be more powerful, profound, and pervasive than our own.  Begin by allowing God to pierce through the doubts by speaking first.   After you have prepared a welcome for those attending and state why you have gathered, prepare the rest of the funeral service around five areas, asking how the gospel can be accurately portrayed in them:  prayer, music, Scripture readings, eulogy, and sermon.

Posted in Funerals

What is an important lesson a pastor can only learn by staying longer than 5 years at his church?

A pastor must stay longer than 5 years to learn about the sweetness of tough love. Every pastor thinks he wants everyone to instantly receive him and his ministry and think those ultra-supportive church members are exactly what he wants.  But I have learned that to have church members hostile to you, not receive you, and make you pursue them in love is a sweeter and more rewarding relationship when you win them.  I have some incredibly supportive people in our church now, but the relationships that mean the most to me are those with whom I fought in the early years, struggled to love in any way, and yet we grew and learned how to love each other.

To be greeted every Sunday with a smile, hug, and warmth by the man who led the charge at year five to try and remove me is hard to describe and it still moves me every time.  That is an evidence of God’s redemptive grace every time we see each other that I do not experience when I am greeted by my greatest supporters who have always been with me and for me.  Had I left before five years which I almost did, I would have missed one of the greatest joys I now regularly experience almost thirteen years later as a pastor.

Pastors, hang in there.  Hold fast.  There are rewards waiting for you on the other side if you can remain steadfast and just hold on.  And remember, the Chief Shepherd knows your struggles and he is with you.

Posted in Oversight of Souls, The Pastor's Soul

What is a great summer ministry for stay-at-home moms?

One of the most helpful assets to a pastor in the local church in regard to caring for elderly widows is a stay-at-home mom. Here are five practical ways a pastor can train young moms in his church to take their children and visit elderly widows. Once a list has been created of those widows by the pastors:

1) Pray and contact

A great place to start is to take that list of widows that the pastors have put together and set a goal to pray and write a hand-written card to each widow on that list in one month. This allows a young mom who may be a bit apprehensive to go visit to make the first contact and allow God to stir affections for these widows through praying for them.

2) Organize a scheduled visit

Take the list and begin systematically to work your way down the list, setting a goal to maybe visit one or two widows a week. Once you complete the list it will be time to start the list over again.

3) Bake or make something to take as a gift

Widows love to receive any gift that you might bring with you. Whether you bake cookies, make something, or have your children color a picture, never underestimate the value of bringing something for this woman that she can look at, eat, or admire days after you have left.

4) Make a list of prayer requests

At some point in the visit, pull out a pad and pen and ask, “What are some things you would like the pastors and the whole church body to be praying on your behalf?” This is helpful to the pastors and a wonderful way to communicate a desire to care for her needs.

5) Write a brief report of the visit for the pastors

After you leave, write a brief email to one of the pastors by the end of the week of how the visit went and the prayer requests you gathered from her. This allows the pastors to pray more specifically for this widow and more accurately inform the congregation of their needs.


Frequently asked questions:

Lastly, let me address two of the most common questions asked. “How long should we stay and what should we talk about?” Anywhere from 15–45 minutes is a good template (barring comfort level, kids meltdown, etc.). Topics like how she is feeling, family members caring for her, a typical day, history about her life, testimony of conversion, marriage and child rearing advice, and ways to pray for her are all great ways to carry a conversation.

Pastors, be training young moms in your congregation. Young moms are capable of having a very meaningful ministry in this area if you encourage them to step out in faith believing God will give the words and compassion needed to care for these ladies.






Posted in Caring for Widows

What should a pastor do in his first few years at a church?

So many of the mistakes and missteps a pastor makes in a church as the new pastor comes from a lack of knowledge of what to do. The absence of clear thinking on this matter causes a pastor to listen to all kinds of different voices and hastily react to what he finds and hears in his church. Some say change everything immediately. Others urge a pastor to look outside the church for new life.

If a pastor does not have a solid handle on what to do and even a better idea of what not to do, he will react and make quick decisions based on the mess he finds.

A pastor needs to be trained not to be reactionary regarding the dysfunction and turmoil he finds, but to have a clear plan on how his time should be spent during his first few years, regardless of what problems he inherits. The best approach for a pastor, especially when entering a dysfunctional, dying congregation is to simply be a pastor to those people. This is why pastors need to be trained in the practicalities of pastoral theology so to be equipped in the work of the ministry.

A simple definition of pastoral theology is the application of biblical theology in a pastoral manner for the purpose of caring for God’s people.

That is, pastoral theology informs a pastor of the day-to-day tasks of a pastor with the aim of ministering to God’s people. These tasks include such things as preaching, praying, visiting the sick, caring for widows, discipling others, raising up leaders, encouraging the weak, conducting weddings and funerals, to name a few.

The key to applying pastoral theology in a church is centered on these two principles: The biblical tasks of a pastor for the sake of caring for the flock. The absence of biblical pastoral theology often leads to pragmatism. The absence of intentional, wise, and creative desires to minister to God’s people and meet them where they are can create the purist. A pastor should not place the crushing expectation on himself of transforming the church in eighteen months, but should simply come with a clear vision of what his calling is as a shepherd and pastor and do that with all his might. First and foremost, prepare to just be patient and shepherd the souls of the people who are there when you arrive. This allows a pastor to do what he can do and allows God time to do what only he can do.

Posted in Oversight of Souls, The Pastor's Soul, Training for Ministry

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