Should Pastors Preach the Gospel at Funerals?
Yesterday a modified version of my “Why 99.9% of Pastors Agree with Rob Bell … at Funerals” was featured on www.ChurchLeaders.com. That post stirred up a lot of discussion on my website and it’s doing the same over at Church Leaders, where, I was told, it vaulted itself into the Top Ten most read articles at Church Leaders.
It was truly an honor to be featured at Church Leaders and I was so glad for the discussion it sparked!
There’s been a theme in the reactions from pastors to this post (and, I should add, I have the utmost respect for pastors and the work they do). And the theme response is this: “I don’t preach anybody to heaven, nor do I preach them to hell … I JUST PREACH THE GOSPEL!”
Such a response sorta misses the point of the article.
The point of the article is to underscore that pastors will often preach a wider hope during death that contrasts both their attitude towards the lost and their theology. Ultimately, my intention was that they’d see this contradiction and be moved to question both their theology and attitudes in light of the wider hope they have at the funerals of unbelievers.
Yet, not only do some pastors miss the point of the article, I think “Just preaching the Gospel” misses the point of the funeral.
This is one of the more controversial topics that’s thrown around by families we serve. They ask, “Should we or shouldn’t we get a preacher who preaches the Gospel?”
Some families, even Christian families, are adamant that funerals are NOT a time for the preacher to use the death of their loved one as a platform for evangelism.
While other families are equally as adamant that funerals are a time to “take inventory” of the lives of the living.
Here’s my take on the whole thing: some Christian Pastors (and many of us Christians, including me) are losing touch essentially because we have a dualistic and individualist understanding of the Gospel!
How do I know we’re losing touch?
Because families, that would normally use a Christian minister are turning to other sources.
The Celebrant Movement is taking off, and quite honestly, they do an exceptional job in honoring the memory of the deceased.
Celebrants make the service incredibly community oriented, often bringing memory objects that help spur family and friends into sharing their thoughts and feelings for the loved one.
And that’s essentially what Celebrants do so well … they find a way to involve both the memories and voices of others in the service, creating a collage of memories by the voices of family and friends, all of which produces a great sense of life in the midst of death, as people are laughing, crying, hugging … all during the funeral service.
Some pastors are great at encouraging family and friends to speak (in fact, many in my community are really good at it), but others will take the funeral as a platform in disregard of the memory of the deceased.
The reason for Pastors losing touch is because their Gospel is out of touch with the present, as it’s so focused on the future.
As I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, we’re more worried about getting the individual soul to heaven than about bringing the kingdom to the world. We’re more worried about getting “decisions for Jesus” than we are about making Jesus disciples who will transform the world now.
In the context of a funeral, part of “transforming the world now” is addressing death as real, our grief as real, acknowledging the sorrow of God over death, and yet planting that seed of hope in the Kingdom come and resurrection.
It’s bringing our memories of this world together with our hope of the world that’s been inaugurated by Christ and is here, but is still not yet.
It’s not about emphasizing sin over grace, or grace over sin, BUT EMPHASIZING CHRIST IN THE WORLD … TRANSFORMING IT INTO SOMETHING NEW!
Should pastors preach the Gospel at funerals?
The Gospel isn’t about bringing somebody to heaven. It’s about bringing heaven to us. Wasn’t that the Good News … that the Messiah had come to dwell with humanity?
And if heaven can be brought to a funeral, through good memories, love, tears, laughter, correction, and the hope of Christ, than by all means preach it.