I’ll never forget the feeling; a small funeral early in my pastoral ministry, perhaps one of the first few I conducted.
Afterwards a couple came up to me and said something to me that has informed every funeral I’ve conducted since.
Brian Croft’s post reminded me again.
Sunday evening, I preached a funeral of an unbeliever with many other unbelievers present. When conducting a funeral in this environment, you never know what kind of feedback you will hear. I hear a variety of statements that are met to encourage me and sometimes I am just met with a scowl. But what should be the words we long to hear more than any others after a funeral?
I heard them from a very unlikely source. A burly man with a bushy beard and a long pony tail had already left, but I saw that he came back in specifically to talk with me. I must be honest, I had no idea what I would hear. What I heard was a great, unexpected encouragement to me. Let me first tell you what he did not say. He did not say, “You spoke very well about the deceased, or you accurately portrayed him though you did not personally know him, or you spoke in a very articulate way.” These are all encouraging words to hear, but should not be what most encourage us. The man said none of these things. He simply shook my hand, pulled me close and said,
“Pastor, thank you for preaching the gospel.”
Then, he turned around and walked away. A gift from God was this man. In an environment you expect to anger some people, God was so gracious to bring this bearded burly man to minister to my soul in that moment.
Pastors, my challenge to each of us is this: ”What words do we long to hear the most?” I will be the first to admit. I like hearing strangers praise me for speaking well or creatively represent a man I did not personally know, or that I articulate words of which were easy to listen. Yet, these all point to us and fed our ego often times in an unhelpful way.
Although my pride is always tempted to be fed in these moments of encouragement whenever they come, I can honestly say, by far the most meaningful words I heard came in the form of a really hairy servant of Christ who reminded me what really matters in those moments when the sting of death is so real and Christ is all we have.
Pastors, honestly, what words do you long to hear the most after a funeral or even after you preach on Sunday?
Now, in a smallish town, approaching a decade of funerals, the message needs to be presented in different ways.
Can’t just preach one sermon a couple of hundred times. Can’t recycle ten outlines over and over with some tweaking, the way you are (justifiably) able to in big cities.
The same people keep turning up. They’ve heard it before.
But every time the reality of the comfort God offers by trusting that Jesus has settled our rebellion against God by receiving God’s punishment needs is affirmed.
In slightly different ways, and in ways they’ve been unlikely to have heard it before.
And then, afterwards, not every time, someone will come and say ‘Thankyou for sharing the Gospel.’