To My Fellow Pastors

I have officiated four funerals in my life. Last Saturday, for the first time, I preached a funeral for a man to whom I had been a pastor. He was an elderly man who had listened to my sermons, had sought me out for counsel, had received me as a guest in his home, had held on to my hand as I prayed for him in the hospital.

After the sermon I led the casket everywhere it went. I led the casket down the aisle to the back of the church where guests filed out to view the body. I stood at the head of the casket as they did so. I led the casket to the hearse. I rode with the casket to the cemetery. From the hearse, I led the casket again to its final resting place. I stood at the head of the casket, read Scripture, prayed, and concluded the service by placing a flower on top of the casket.

I don’t know how or when the tradition of the minister leading the casket originated, but as I later reflected on what I had done, I felt that the image that we seek to convey by such a tradition is that a pastor is one who serves as a guide in life and death. He leads the casket in order to symbolize his role as one who shows sinners the way to life beyond the grave. So I began to ask myself these questions:

Did this man hear the truth from me?
Did I rightly proclaim to him the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Did I do everything in my power to help him prepare for eternity?
Am I a guide who can be trusted in life and death?
What about others in my congregation? What about when they die?
Am I a faithful steward over those whom God has entrusted to me?

Brothers, pastoral leadership is largely about preparing people for death. Don’t ever take that lightly. Eternity hangs in the balance. Preach Christ faithfully, diligently, persistently. Pray for your people. Love them and care for them until you commend their bodies to the ground and their souls to God.

I am thankful that Saturday I preached a message of hope for a brother in Christ who had died. I have full confidence that he died trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. But, sadly, I highly doubt that the same is true for all members of my church (in which case they should not be members, but you know how that goes). Will I be a faithful guide for them? Death is a sobering reality. May we think on it often, for we often need to be sobered.

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