Thoughts on a Funeral at Christmas

In the midst of a season of the anticipated appearing of the Son of God, I attended a funeral where we reflected upon the sudden disappearing of a minister and friend. These two feel juxtaposed. But maybe not. Maybe the two are connected in some glorious way.

This funeral was unique in its apparent tragedy. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 64, just as he was retiring from pastoral ministry to begin a new season of mentoring young church planters. This was his true passion. Why now?

While the family mourned the loss of their husband, father, and grandfather, I left sorrowful yet deeply edified at the same time. That may seem a bit insensitive, considering what the family was experiencing. But I think a good funeral should do exactly that. And, knowing the family, I suspect that they might be encouraged by the impact of the funeral on non-family attendees. I am confident, as this pastor watched on with that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, he was heartened as well.

What stood out?

1.     The auditorium the church rented was filled to capacity with hundreds of people, many who did not attend the church he pastored. His ministry reached far beyond the four walls of the local church he led.

2.     On the Friday night, just after his death on Thursday, I was one of several hundred members of the local church who gathered to mourn and share some thoughts about his ministry. What struck me was who came forward to share. To a person, they shared how this man made them feel welcomed and loved. It was eerily Christ-like in the way he ministered to all people without favoritism.

3.     The local church he poured his life into mobilized the care team to provide meals and childcare, plan a glorious funeral and host a large reception in a short few days. In addition, other churches provided volunteers so those who were members of this pastor's church could attend the funeral.

4.     The participants on stage were made up of a dozen younger pastors who said they had entered ministry because of him. These young men were just a representation of many more pastors and church planters who were in ministry because of this pastor but were not able to attend.

5.     The service began with hope, moved through moments of grief, punctuated by humor, and then ended with comfort, hope, and renewed tenacity to be about the work of the kingdom.

6.     The pastor and his legacy were rightly celebrated but everyone connected this legacy to someone other than the pastor. This someone was this pastor’s Redeemer and King. We had an opportunity to get a glimpse of Jesus through the life of this man.

7.     At least 2 of the funeral participants confessed that they had been unkind to this pastor and went on to speak of how he had offered forgiveness and grace.

8.     In the midst of the celebration, the pastor’s foibles, sins and weaknesses were mentioned appropriately but not in a way that overshadowed God’s gracious work in his life. I left sensing that he was a normal human being, not a super saint that was beyond reach.

As a pastor, I have officiated many funerals and attended even more. For the reasons above, I left strengthened in my faith instead of questioning why God would take a pastor in his prime. I woke up the next day thinking about areas in my life where I need to personally grow in grace and how I might best use the gifts God has given me to point others to Christ.

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.