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The Pastor’s Ministry: Biblical priorities for faithful shepherds

By: Brian Croft (Foreword by H.B. Charles)

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Posted in Book Recommendation

What 3 elements need to be in every funeral sermon?

I was contacted last week by a pastor asking this question and thought there might be others asking it also.  The most helpful advice I ever received about preaching at a funeral for someone I didn’t know is:

“Don’t preach them into heaven.  Don’t preach them into hell.  Just preach the gospel for the people who are there.”

This principle captures our task regardless the kind of funeral we do.  Ironically, though we focus on remembering and celebrating the life of the deceased, the funeral service is ultimately for those who attend.

The sermon is where the gospel must be preached clearly.  Only when we can personally have confidence in a person’s conversion should we feel comfortable to speak of the heavenly reward he/she has now received.  If there is any doubt in your mind, it is best to focus on the gospel for your hearers and resist the temptation to provide a false comfort that you have little or no basis to give.

A funeral sermon should not exceed 20 minutes and should highlight these three categories, preferably expounded from a text(s) of Scripture:

1)  Acknowledge the need to grieve 

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11) is particularly helpful as there seems to be a legitimate time of grieving for those present and sorrow for those who are experiencing the separation that death brings, including Jesus who wept (John 11:35).  I often share of the time my father sat my wife and me down, once we found out we had miscarried with our second child, and exhorted us to take time to grieve over this child, instructing us how to do so.

Don’t ever presume that people realize that grief is appropriate or that they know how to work through their grief by simply talking about their deceased loved one.  In actuality, many do not want to talk about them because of the hurt felt in loss.  Many pastors know that often, years later, people learn the value of this process, eventually working through the grief with some pastoral guidance.

2)  Make the hope of the gospel clearly known

True hope in grief cannot come apart from the hope of the gospel.  This is why the second and third portion of a funeral sermon focuses on Christ’s person and work.  Whatever text you choose to preach, make sure you are able to focus on the clear elements of the gospel from it:  God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness and deserving judgment, Christ’s perfect personhood and atoning work to save us, our essential response to repent and believe upon Christ.

3)  Call your hearers to respond to the gospel

To do so appropriately and effectively, you must prepare by knowing as much as you can about your hearers as well as the deceased.  You should assume Christians and non-Christians are present.  You should assume they all have come with a preconceived understanding on how we receive eternal life.  For example, I have done a funeral where ninety percent of those in attendance were devoted Catholics, another who were Mormons, and another where no one in the building had ever stepped foot in a church.

In every case, I explained the gospel clearly, called my hearers to repent of their sins, believe upon Christ, and trust in him.  Yet, in each of these different situations, I approached calling them to respond to the gospel differently, depending upon their preconceived understanding of the “good news.”  Exhort them to grieve.  Preach the gospel clearly and simply.  Help them understand their need for Christ as death is before them.  Call them to repent and believe.

Posted in Funerals

How should pastors want to be remembered when they are gone?

Our church recently sang a Joseph Hart hymn and it reminded me of that impactful day when I stood over his grave in Bunhill Fields Cemetery just outside the city of London.  This cemetery is just outside the city limits because these graves are marked as dissenters (NonConformists), those who would not submit to the corrupt religious authority of their day.

Yet, in this cemetery you will find some of the most faithful pastors who proclaimed the gospel amidst trying days.  Men like: John Bunyan, John Owen, and the great hymn writer Issac Watts, all have graves marked in this legendary resting place.  Seeing there famous graves is not what impacted me the most.  It was seeing the grave of the lesser known pastor–Joseph Hart.  I was so deeply impacted by the inscription of his grave as uniquely different from so many others.  Joseph Hart’s grave stone reads as follows:

Joseph Hart was by the free and sovereign Grace and Spirit of God raised up from the depths of sin, and delivered from the bonds of mere profession and self-righteousness, and led to rest entirely for salvation in the finished atonement and perfect obedience of Christ.

Joseph Hart’s grave captures the essence of who we are in Christ and why we as pastors have given ourselves to pastoral ministry.  It is not for the praise of men, the earthly rewards we might receive, nor the fame and notoriety many a popular preacher gets, especially in our culture today.  We labor, die a little every day, and give ourselves to this labor of love because we,

by the free and sovereign grace and Spirit of God were raised up from the depths of sin and led to rest entirely for salvation in the finished atonement and perfect obedience of Christ.

Dear brothers and fellow pastors, do not lost sight of for whom and what we labor to preach Christ and shepherd his people.  Begin now to consider how you wish to be remembered.  Will you want a tombstone like John Wesley (just outside Bunhill Fields) and so many others with monuments and flowery words that articulate all you accomplished for Christ?  Or, will you wish to be forgotten if it meant that Christ would not be forgotten to future generations?

Posted in Oversight of Souls, Preaching, The Pastor's Soul

New Trench Talk Podcast – Pastoral Mentoring

Brian and Jim talk about the crucial role that mentors have played in their lives, and how pastors can mentor others.

  • Jim tells the story of how a devoted pastor of a small, rural church mentored him in ministry even at a young age.
  • Brian recounts how a lack of mentors impacted his early life and ministry.
  • Jim identifies key lessons his pastoral mentors taught him.
  • How can pastors find a mentor?
  • How can pastors be a mentor to others?

Listen – HERE

Additional Resources

Why Should Pastors Have Mentors?

Why Should I Contact and Honor My Ministry Mentor This Week? 

Posted in The Pastor's Soul, Training for Ministry

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