This month my 80 year old father performed his first funeral. He teaches the oldest men’s class in his church, and a classmate asked him to lead his funeral service. My first thought was, “Why not?”
Then, I began to ponder the potential upsides of lay-led weddings, baptisms, and sermons as well. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on funerals. Whether you are a pastor or a lay leader, consider with me a few advantages of funerals led by non pastors.
1. Pastors are overwhelmed with ministry demands.
The current avalanche of Bridger and Boomer funerals is not going to let up any time soon. Although pastors love helping people through the scary valley of death, they sometimes get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of funerals.
My dad is a former baseball pitcher and coach, so he knows the value of both giving and getting the signal for a relief pitcher. Once the pitcher’s arm is exhausted, the right thing to do for both the pitcher and the team is to put in a new pitcher.
In Acts 6, we see the whole team of original disciples depleted. They stopped devoting themselves to prayer and ministry of the Word to referee a widow war and wait on tables. When these pastors stopped growing, their church in Jerusalem stopped growing. That same sad cycle happens today in our churches when pastors do all of the heavy lifting.
I’ve personally experienced funeral fatigue after a string of tough funerals. Looking back, I should have asked for help, especially with non-member funerals.
2. Members need to be equipped for ministry.
Among those who benefit in the scenario of lay-led funerals are church members like my dad. Not only do they get an opportunity to use their gifts to serve God, but they also get to help their pastor and comfort mourners.
Secure pastors will not hog all of the ministry to themselves because they are called to be equippers, not enablers.
Stephen and Philip were not pastors, but they were still called by God, commissioned by the Church, and entrusted by the Apostles. Do you have lay people in your pews who are more capable of leading than you have given them credit for?
3. Mourners need the comfort of God’s people.
This whole idea may seem far-fetched for the pastor or member of the normal-sized church, which has less than 100 in attendance. I have pastored smaller churches before, so I understand the dynamic well. When a pastor inevitably leaves a church, gets sick, or goes on vacation, people will still need to get buried and married. Will anyone in the pews know what to do when no pastor is available? It’s important to have members who are prepared to step into that gap when the need comes. I have a beneficial tool that can help you equip them.
A Helpful Tool
A few years ago my childhood pastor Paul W. Powell asked me to co-author a collection of funeral sermons, so we wrote Shepherding in the Shadow of Death. In addition to the messages, there are some practical tips on what to do before, during, and after a funeral. For the purposes of this post, LifeWay just dropped the price to $9.99. It has a classy hardback cover so that you, or someone you called from the dug-out, can easily use it in a funeral setting.
Pastor, the next time you are tempted to shorten your family vacation to lead a funeral, consider deputizing a deacon, elder, or teacher to do it. Prepare them today for that call tomorrow because any believer can be an instrument of healing in the valley of the shadow of death.
Want to see more from Mark? Check out some of his other LifeWay Voices posts:
Check out Mark’s book Shepherding in the Shadow of Death.