Pastoral ministry is perilous. Not only do pastors face unique temptation due to their work, but their congregation watches their lives and imitation their actions. What a pastor most deeply loves, the church will grow to love. What captivates the imagination and affections of an elder will be mirrored by the church. Based on my anecdotal evidence, churches tend to become like their pastors over the years—both in the pastor’s strengths and deficiencies. This fact proves the wisdom and need for a plurality of elders in a local church, as many shepherds help balance out an individual’s weaknesses. Yet, the responsibility here is weighty.Read More
In recent years, expository preaching has experienced a resurgence. In reaction to topical sermons driven by the personality and whims of the preacher or the felt needs of the congregation, many have returned to the practice of verse by verse exposition. I believe this trend has helped address the crisis of biblical illiteracy and the evangelical disconnect between the authority of Scripture and its sufficiency. Overall, the recovery of expositional preaching is a sign of health and cause for celebration. However, this return to text-driven preaching has exposed a hermeneutical deficiency—what do we do with the Old Testament?Read More
God moves to slow for us, particularly for us pastors. With great expectations, we enter the pastorate prepared to usher in a great movement of the Holy Spirit. However, it doesn’t take long for zeal of youthful optimism to shatter.Read More
I’m sure you have probably have heard the phrase “one trick pony”. It pretty much describes someone who only has one joke, one skill, or one talent. They are not good at much else, but they have one thing in which they excel. In our world of the super powered CEO, many pastors feel the weight of being a counselor like Dr. Phil, a innovator like Steve Jobs, a shrewd financial business man like Warren Buffet, an intellectual apologist like Ravi Zacarhias, or a mega church pastor like….well take your pick. The pastoral ministry is an incredibly diverse profession in which at any moment you can be managing the church's budget, reading commentaries, leading a staff meeting, brainstorming new ministries, or praying with a mourning family. The pressure to be diverse in our skill sets can often feel overwhelming, because most of us are not prodigies in any one of these areas, let alone all of them.
The Only Hope for the World
If you are a pastor, I’ve got some encouraging news for you. You just need to be a one trick pony. You don’t need to be skilled in every possible area imaginable, you just need be skilled in one thing and one thing only – the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What your people need most from you is to be an expert at applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ into how you serve your people. Study the Gospel, treasure the Gospel, and understand its many facets as a diamond in the light. Then bring the truth of the Gospel into your peoples lives. As you preach, as you teach, as you counsel, as you manage, as you pray, as you write, do it all with Gospel intentionality, bringing the truth of what Jesus has done into each of these areas of your ministry.
We have one message and one message only–the risen, crucified Christ. That’s it. We have nothing else to offer our people but Jesus, yet he is more than enough. Pastors do have the most important jobs in the world, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope for the world. You don’t need to be a modern day renaissance man, you just need to know the Gospel and bring its truth into everything you do in your ministry.
Practice Applying the Gospel to Your Own Heart
It is not easy being an expert in any one area. In a sense, to say you are an expert in the Gospel is really foolish, because we will spend eternity still growing in our knowledge of God’s mysterious plan called the Gospel. However it takes practice to learn how to apply the Gospel to your peoples lives, and it is best to start with your own. Probe your heart, study the Scriptures, and learn who to take the Gospel message and apply it to your marriage, your family, your finances, your physical health, your friendships, your diet. If you want to be multifaceted in applying the Gospel, apply it to every little hidden area of your life.
One Remedy, Administered in Many Ways
As pastors we have one remedy and it is Jesus. As we look at the hurting and sick world around us, there is only one treatment and that is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
When we encounter someone who is spiritually dead, we share the remedy of the Gospel praying God would give them faith and thus life.
When we encounter a broken marriage, we share the remedy of the Gospel in which God reconciles us to himself through Christ and thus gives that broken marriage hope for reconciliation.
When we are dealing with mourning families, we share the remedy of the Gospel and point them to the coming return of Jesus and the coming restoration in which Christ’s resurrection was the first fruits.
When we are counseling addicts, we point them to the remedy of the Gospel about Jesus the liberator who through his death breaks the shackles of addiction through his victory on the cross.
When we are managing our churches finances, we share the remedy of the Gospel, knowing that God owns it all and that he has purchased it all through Christ, therefore we are but stewards of this money.
When we a preparing for sermons, we do so knowing that it is through the remedy of the Gospel that our eyes are open through Christ to perceive and understand the Word of God.
When we are preaching the word of God, it is only the remedy of the Gospel through the application of the Holy Spirit that can bring try transformation and revival in our people.
Do Not Be Ashamed of Being a One Trick Pony
Pastor, do not be ashamed if all you have to offer the world is the Gospel. That is more than enough. You may apply it and prescribe it in different ways, but you only have one medicine in the bag. Preach and proclaim Christ. Do not be ashamed that this is all you have, because as the apostle Paul said the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). In your pastoral ministry make it your life’s ambition to preach the Gospel and do not get distracted with feelings of inadequacy, ministry comparison, or a manufactured pragmatism. Decide like Paul “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). You may be a one trick pony, but within your medicine bag remains the one hope of the world, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I must admit. I am a newbie to the whole funeral thing. I've done a few gravesides and a few services, but by no means am I an expert. But as a pastor, you will have those time when you will have to comfort and encourage a grieving funeral. Over the course of my time on earth I have seen some powerful encouraging preaching at funerals and some that made me wish I was in the casket. Funeral sermons can be life giving or life draining to those grieving. Although I am still learning how to preach a good funeral sermon, I do know three ways to preach a bad funeral sermon.
1. Talk Only About How Good the Person Was
In your funeral sermon if you spend the whole time talking about how good the person was and not how good Jesus is, you've got a serious problems. One of the reasons moralism has so powerfully crept into the church is because pastor propagate it in sermons, particularly funeral sermons. I have heard whole sermons (often well received by the congregation) that discuss how many good things the person has done with absolutely nothing about the goodness of Jesus. Pastor, don't distort the gospel by holding up moralism before the family and congregation. Only talk about the goodness of the person to point to the goodness of Christ. Our righteousness is filthy rags. Don't hand out filthy rags of moralism to grieving people, give them the pure white robe given by the righteousness of Christ!
2. Talk About Heaven Without Jesus
The way heaven is talked about in may funerals is nothing more than religious materialism. Great emphasis is given to the streets of gold and your own personal mansion. We even speak about reuniting with loved ones. However the emphasis in our speaking about heaven is in the wrong place. The chief reward isn't stuff, it is Jesus. Yet so often in funerals, Jesus being there is just a footnote on a grand health and wealth caricature of heaven. What makes heaven wonderful is that we will stand, clothed in the righteousness of Christ and be in relationship with the holy sovereign King of the Universe. We will see His face with unveiled faces. That is what makes heaven wonderful.
3. Sentimentalize but Don't Evangelize
At no other point in people's lives are they more aware of their own mortality than at a funeral. There is no better place to share the hope of the Gospel than standing over the hollow of death. Yet, many pastors fail to preach the Gospel. Deep in our souls we know that death should not be, yet death happens because of sin. Yet God, in his great mercy put in place a rescue plan to save sinners through the death of His son Jesus Christ. Through the death of Christ our sins are paid for and victory has been accomplished, even over death. The Gospel rings in power at the last chime of a person's life. Yet, the Gospel is neglected in so many funeral sermons in exchange for empty and vain sentimental anecdotes. If you seek to comfort the people gathered to grieve preach the Gospel. It is the only hope as we stand before death. Warm fuzzys of sentimentality might last for a day, but the lasting comfort that comes from the hope of the Gospel endures for eternity.
Pastor, if you avoid these three things you are well on your way to preaching biblically faithful and eternally helpful funeral sermons. Funerals create unique opportunities for a pastor to minister in people's greatest need. Steward this opportunity well. Honor the deceased, comfort the grieving, and above all else preach the Gospel.
What other things should pastors not do at a funeral? What are some positive things you have seen pastors do at funerals? Share your thoughts with us all in the comments below!