A few short weeks ago my brothers, sister, mother and I buried my father. He was a hero to me, a model man, and a godly advisor all my life. My siblings asked me to preach the funeral message, which I considered an incomparable privilege.
Though most attendees were long-time faithful believers, I knew some who as yet were outright rejecting or simply ignorant of Christ and the Gospel. So, I preached it! It was a thrill to me because I don’t get a lot of opportunities to share a straight-forward Gospel message to these relatives and friends. And, because I knew Dad would have been thrilled as well. Perhaps he was even cheering.
Because sickness and death are inevitable, pastors and leaders must be prepared to bring Jesus’ Good News to those who gather around.
Many pastors groan at the occasional requirement of visiting the sick. It’s time-consuming, inconvenient, sometimes awkward, and often seems a fruitless effort. In fact, if they can delegate the task to an assistant or lay leader, they will.
Brian Croft, in Visit the Sick, challenges that struggle. He lifts high these hospital and bedside duties as spiritual ministries of Jesus’ love, and in obedience to His direct instructions to all pastors, lay leaders, and every Christian. “We need to grasp how God is working out His purposes through sickness, disease, and suffering, all for the good of His people and His own glory.”
Croft brings to mind the “nineteenth century Scottish pastor David Dickson who writes, ‘On the bed of sickness the Lord ripens his people for glory, and to the elder himself it is often a scene of instruction and revival.’ God will not only sanctify the sick through sickness but also teach and encourage the healthy who offer care, prayer, and encouragement. My hope and prayer for you is that you will mature in your love for God and for others in the body of Christ as you answer God’s call to care for the sick.”
I venture to say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. ~ Charles Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry
This quote from the always quote-worthy C. H. Spurgeon sets the tone for Croft’s practical but challenging little volume. Having touched upon the need and motivation for visiting the afflicted in his Introduction, he establishes a thorough, and thoroughly helpful, theology of sickness throughout the Old and New Testaments and through Jesus’ own teachings and ministry. Croft calls for deliberate thoughtfulness the pastor must adopt for this crucial aspect of his ministry, having at the forefront of his mind its doctrinal ground work, and being in anticipation of the questions and interactions likely to come from the sick one and family members.
But also, Croft is intensely pragmatic. As an example, having encouraged the visiting person or layman, when at a loss of what to do or say, to simply read some Scriptures, he lays out suggested examples of the four categories he personally references:
- Passages of comfort: Psalm 23, Psalm 28, Psalm 34, Psalm 46, Psalm 62, Psalm 145, Hebrews 4:14-16
- Succinct gospel passages: John 11:25-26, Romans 5:6-11, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Ephesians 2:1-10
- Passages dealing with the purpose of suffering for the believer: 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7, 1 Peter 4:12-19
- Passages related to the reality and hope of eternity with Christ: John 10:27-30, John 14:1-3, Philippians 1:21-23, 1 Peter 1:3-5
He puts many useful tools into the hand of the pastor (the Appendices are worth the price of the book!), along with encouragements that God is working in and through every pastoral visit, both for the ill person, and for the obedient and faithful visitor.
This is an important resource for all pastors and lay leaders! It should be put into the hands of every young pastor and willing lay leader; and should be consumed by anyone who has not thought through the ministry to the sick.
Equally important and compelling is another rich yet practical book by Croft along with Phil A. Newton, Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals. In its Foreword, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Daniel L. Akin, writes: “Ministers have two unique opportunities to share the gospel – when there is a wedding, and when there is a funeral.”
So, what is a Gospel-centered funeral, and how does one incorporate the Gospel appropriately and effectively at such a difficult, often emotional time? The authors explain that “the aim of this book is to do more than inform you. Yes, we will cover the logistics, challenges, and practical matters of leading a funeral. But we want to also show you how to apply the power of the gospel in the midst of these unique challenges….
Be encouraged that the clear message of the gospel of Jesus Christ can and should be ministered at every funeral. Be faithful by clearly presenting the hope that Jesus offers us in his death and resurrection.”
Croft and Newton volley the chapters, Newton discusses having a Plan (Chapter 1), Croft how to Prepare (Chapter 2); then Newton on Preach (Chapter 3), and finally Croft Perform (Chapter 4). Each chapter is rich in theology and highly practical.
But, perhaps of most pragmatic value are the four Appendices, serving examples of funeral sermons, of fitting eulogies, of appropriate music, and of orders of service.
Who has not been to a funeral or memorial service which is confusing in content, or in which someone speaks inappropriately, or it is either too glib or too maudlin, or the Gospel is so muddied (or non-existent) that no real hope is offered? What a shame to lose that unequaled opportunity for Gospel power! It should not happen.
You need these two books, my friend. They will become a basic resource for your life of Kingdom ministry.
* * *
Have you considered the potential for the gospel to be preached or shared during the weighty moments of visiting the sick and conducting funerals? Have you thought through the theology of sickness and death? How you found visiting the sick and comforting families who’ve a lost a loved one shape you in your own walk of faith? Join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you!