By Kyle Bueermann
As a pastor, you will inevitably and regularly encounter death.
You’ll sit with church members as they take their final breath. You’ll enter hospital rooms minutes after a loved one has passed.
Often, you’ll find out about a death even before the extended family or the funeral home find out. You’ll walk families through dark days of mourning.
Becoming “comfortable” (or, at least as comfortable as possible) with being around death and mourning is essential to ministry.
But pastor—don’t miss this—some of the most powerful ministry of your life will happen amid the valley of the shadow of death.
Here are some tips to effectively minister to those walking through mourning and even who are dying.
1. Remind your folks that death is a part of life.
All of us are infected with a terminal case of life. There’s only one way it ends this side of heaven: Death.
Despite the modern advancements of medicine, statistics continue to show 1 out of 1 persons die. Eventually, every person will encounter death in this life.
Just last week, I had a conversation with a dear lady in our congregation who, barring a miracle, most likely has only a few months left of life.
Her husband passed away last summer, and she is, to put it simply, ready to be Home.
She’s currently undergoing an aggressive form of chemotherapy that has some terrible side effects and is ready to call it off and enter hospice care.
As you might imagine, she’s feeling a mix of emotions. There’s sadness that she won’t be around longer to be with her son, grandkids, and friends from church. But there’s excitement to see her Savior!
I was able to visit with her, pray, and remind her she’s walking through something that’s a part of this life. Death is something everyone experiences.
Therefore, it doesn’t do us any good to tiptoe around it. We must address it from the pulpit often, and we must remind our people that, eventually, death is coming for them.
2. Remind your folks that death is not “normal.”
Seemingly, this contradicts what I said before. Yes, death is normal for us, but it’s not normal.
It’s a part of life. It’s inevitable. But it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
Death was never a part of God’s original plan but is a result of the Fall. Therefore, the pain of death is real. It hurts.
While believers certainly have hope beyond the grave (more on that in a bit), let’s not minimize the genuine pain that death brings. To do so can be perceived as diminishing the value of what (or who) was lost.
Minimizing that pain will certainly risk alienating your people during some of the darkest days.
And along these lines, I’d also caution against the many clichés used during times of death and mourning.
- “God needed another angel.”
- “She’s up there looking down on us.”
- “I guess God needed him more than we did.”
Not only are these not helpful, but they’re also unbiblical. Instead, love them well through the grief process, then help them see death from a biblical standpoint.
Death is a normal part of life, but it was certainly never meant to be “normal.”
3. Remind your folks that death is not the end.
For the follower of Jesus, death is but a doorway to eternal life. It’s the final stop on our way Home. Therefore, for believers, death is victory.
As you walk your people through the days of mourning, don’t forget to remind them that Christ overcame the power of sin and death once and for all. This is monumentally important during funerals.
I always assume there’ll be people present at a funeral who 1) have no relationship with Jesus and 2) are asking questions about life and death in light of the deceased.
What a great opportunity, as these questions swirl, to preach the gospel. Give them Jesus!
A Final Encouragement
Walking folks through the valley of the shadow of death is an integral part of ministry. Don’t waste those moments. Instead, let the glory of the gospel shine through during the darkest of days.
KYLE BUEERMANN (@kylebueermann) co-authored Replanting Rural Churches and is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Alamogordo, New Mexico, director of replanter development for the North American Mission Board, and co-host of Not Another Baptist Podcast.