We have had several (approximately ten) deaths in our church over the last four or so weeks. As part of the process, I’ve been teaching one of our younger pastors the ministry of death.

If that’s of interest to you, read on. If not, feel free to scroll on by:

1) This isn’t comprehensive.

2) This isn’t in order of importance…just some initial things that come to mind.

3) Some of these suggestions are cultural so won’t work where you are.

4) Not really interested in fighting if you think I’m wrong. Just FYI.
However, if you have good faith recommendations and practices, share them at the end of the thread so we can all get better.

Sound good?

Okay. Here’s a few thoughts and practices I’ve learned thus far in my 27 years of pastoral ministry:
1. The first ministry in the grieving process (and the dying process) is the ministry of presence. It is *not* the ministry of theology. More on this in a second, but your theology is (likely) not needed initially. Show up. Sit down. Pray. “I am so sorry,” is your line. Be quiet.
2. After that, you really don’t say much. At all. You should be available. Get coffee or a meal. Help with logistics. But being connected through texts/calls/visits is your first and best ministry in the initial phases of diagnosis or death. This is the pastoral response.
3. If people are hurting and grieving, silence is a good place to start. When *they* are ready to talk, *now* you can bring theology to bear on the situation. Speak of the hope of the Resurrection of the dead, union with Christ, an eventual reunion. But wait until they are ready.
4. The pastoral response in grief is *with-ness* first; theology second. Theology is useless until the heart is ready to receive it. Weep with those who weep first. Then, when folks are ready to talk about theology, then bring truth to bear. This may be immediately. Or months.
5. With many of these families/individuals, you will be with them prior to death and immediately after death. If you want to shepherd well, you will circle back after the death (as best you are able). Setting calendar reminders with death anniversaries is a good practice.
6. If you are with someone when they are dying, if you have yet to do so, be sure to share the gospel. I have been blessed to lead some older saints to faith in Christ on their deathbed. But don’t be belligerent. Share Jesus and then give space for response.
7. If possible, sing and pray with individuals as they approach death. I have read the Psalms over dying saints. I have prayed with families as their loved one lay unconscious. The goal is to remind them of the comfort and peace found in the Spirit.
8. At the funeral, always share the gospel. Always give room for response. How you choose to do that will depend on the individual and their relationship to you and the church. As you visit with the family and the grieving, you will discern how to proceed.
9. If possible, meet with loved ones prior to the service. Ask personal history, faith, etc. I like to ask for the Bible of the deceased to look for verses underlined or highlighted. If possible, I try to preach from that passage. This isn’t always a reality, but it is helpful.
10. If I do not know the individual well, I have three funeral sermons I have written that I use, depending on the circumstances. These are helpful, because it is not uncommon for a pastor to be called upon, even by a family who has been away from church for a season.
11. Each sermon focuses on eternity and the Resurrection of the dead—the promise of Christian hope found in Jesus. If you do not point to Jesus, then you have given no hope. You may have consoled. But you have not given hope.
12. Some possible points of emphasis: eternity, a reunion for those in Christ, the glorified body, the ceasing of pain and tears, the Heavenly city, the meeting with Christ (1 Thess 4), etc.
13. Many choose cremation these days. If you oversee a committal at an urn garden after a funeral: Scripture reading (ashes to ashes), two minutes of hope in the Resurrection, and prayer.
14. Burial/graveside: Read the 23rd Psalm. Point out that the Lord is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death, so we need not fear. Tradition says we are buried facing the East so we can meet Jesus when he returns face to face. Hope in the Resurrection of the dead.
15. Burial/graveside (cont): If they struggled with addiction, suicide, or chronic disease, I note the old inscription requiescat in pace (Rest In Peace), reminding us that they are now no longer in pain but in Christ. Pray. Give the family space to grieve. Be brief.
16. Two days after the burial, if possible, someone should call or visit the family. See how they are doing. Do they need food? Help with legal matters? Theology questions? Counseling? Pray with them.
17. What if the deceased is not a believer in Christ? I speak of how they are loved by their family at the service, their life, etc. Then I transition to sharing the gospel and the hope in the Resurrection of the Dead.
18. One of the things I learned from an older pastor twenty years ago: If you can create a grief calendar with death anniversaries, then sending a card on the one year anniversary of a significant loss is appreciated.
I’m sure there are plenty more. Feel free to drop them here at the end of the thread for others to read and share. Together we are smarter, etc. Just wanted to share a few ideas in case any younger pastors out there need some guidance. Blessings, Tweeps. Grace and peace.

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