Brian Croft

Brian Croft

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  He is the husband of Cara and adoring father of four children, son, Samuel and daughters, Abby, Isabelle, and Claire.  He has served in pastoral ministry for over fifteen years and is currently in his eighth year as Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church.  He was educated at both Belmont University and Indiana University receiving his B.A. in Sociology.  He also undertook some graduate work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He is also the author of Visit the sick: Ministering God’s grace in times of illness (foreword by Mark Dever) and Test, train, affirm, and send into Ministry: Recovering the local church’s responsibility to the external call (foreword by R. Albert Mohler Jr.). Both of these volumes are published by Day One in their pastoral series designed to serve pastors, church leaders, and those training for local church ministry.  Brian has also published Help! He’s Struggling with Pornography and Conduct Gospel-centered Funerals (co-written with Phil Newton).

A Faith That Endures: Meditations on Hebrews 11 is Brian’s newest book, released in fall of 2011. His next book on The Pastor’s Family, co-authored with his wife, is due to be released by Zondervan in Fall 2013.

Brian is also a guest blogger at both The Gospel Coalition and 9 Marks.

To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

5 Powerful Ways You Can Encourage Your Pastor

Based on the emails, notes, and phone calls I continue to get, trust me… your pastor needs encouragement. He needs to know that what he does week in and week out means something to God as well as those for whom he labors. Here are 5 suggestions to accomplish this:

1) Share appreciation for how hard he works

Maybe the most hurtful words a pastor and his wife can hear are not “bad sermon” or “that was a dumb decision” or “I don’t like the way you do that.” Rather, words that imply this message can be the most hurtful: “You are lazy.” Because of this, some of the most encouraging words a pastor and his wife can hear are words of gratefulness for how hard he works to preach faithfully and shepherd their souls.

2) Give specific feedback to a sermon

I’m not talking about the slap-on-the-back, “nice sermon” comment. Instead be specific: ”That insight into the text was really helpful” or “That application really met me where I am struggling.” Don’t underestimate how impactful just one thoughtful, specific comment about your pastor’s sermon can be to him… especially on Monday.

3) Acknowledge the sacrifice of his family

This will encourage his wife and children, but it will also be very meaningful to the pastor. The pastor knowing you are thinking of his family can often mean more than you thinking of him. Some of the most meaningful encouragement to me has been efforts like a card or gift to my wife and children thanking them for their sacrifice in allowing me to do what I do. My kids especially always remember those things.

4) Reveal how you have spiritually grown under his ministry

This is one thing a pastor labors to hear and hopes is taking place all over his congregation. Stop keeping him in suspense and tell him so he knows. The Lord can also use these words to help a pastor learn what he needs to change or adjust in the way he is preaching or caring for people.

5) Tell him how you specifically pray for him

Your pastor of all people should know the significance of prayer. The most meaningful thing I hear isn’t, “I prayed for you,” but “I prayed that your sermon would be powerfully preached and eagerly received” or “I prayed God would protect you and your family from the enemy through this important week.” Write your pastor a text or email today and tell him what you prayed for him or how you will be praying for him this week.

If not in these ways, find some way to encourage your pastor this week. Never underestimate how meaningful and well-timed it can be when God would so lead you to do so… especially on Monday!

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Does a Busy Pastor Plan His Daily Schedule?

Everyone is busy. This is the reality of our modern culture. There is work that needs to be done, a family to care for, a house and car to maintain, friendships to cultivate, doctors to visit. There are kid’s activities to schedule and guests to host. For those of us who are Christians, you can add to the normal busyness of life attendance at church, possibly volunteering once a week. Life in the twenty-first century feels like an unending rat race. We only slow down when crisis and sickness force us to take a break.

Those who pastor God’s people experience many of the same pulls, pressures, demands, and responsibilities as other Christians. And because a pastor is called to be involved in the lives of the people in his congregation, he must learn to juggle his own schedule with the busy and hectic schedules of his church members as well. Their busy lives create additional tension in ministry, setting many pastors up for failure—even before they begin.

Many pastors fall into two traps here…

In some cases, a pastor quickly realizes that he cannot provide adequate care for his congregation, so he doesn’t. Even with a smaller congregation, it’s not possible to be at every surgery, ball game, funeral, doctor’s visit, home invitation, church work-day, and counseling request. Discouraged, some stop trying altogether. A pastor may choose to focus more broadly on administrating large activities, managing busy programs, and overseeing the general functioning of the local church, leaving the work of “ministry” to others—or neglecting it altogether.

On the other hand, some determined pastors recognize that they can’t do it all, but they commit to pushing through the pain. They set an ambitious hand to the plow and hope that with enough effort they will at least please some people. This approach has its own dangers, though. The pastor is now enslaved to the demands and needs of his church. The congregation, whether directly or indirectly, largely determines how his time is spent. His ministry faithfulness and fruitfulness will be based on how happy his congregation is with his efforts, and while some will be pleased, there will always be people who can never be satisfied. Satisfying people becomes his way of measuring faithfulness, yet this will leave him feeling exhausted and empty.

To read the full article click here…

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Do You Counsel a Wife Whose Husband Struggles with Pornography?

Last week, I referred to 6 ways to counsel a husband who has harmed his wife with his pornography struggle. What about the wife? Although many are harmed by a husband’s struggle with pornography, no one is harmed more than his wife. How does a pastor care and counsel a wife who has been harmed by her husband’s struggle. Here are 6 suggestions for hurting wives to help her husband as well as find forgiveness:

1)      Embrace that you play an important role of accountability for your husband.

The wife may be tempted to distance herself from helping her husband and, thus, rely on other men to play that role. However, the wife is an (if not the) important source of accountability for her husband. She knows him better than anyone, cares more than anyone that he overcomes this struggle, and is the object of the husband’s greatest affection. Urge the wife not to be afraid to play this role. She becomes a great asset for her husband to overcome this struggle.

2)      Know that this is not your fault. (It really isn’t you; it’s him.)

Ironically, when a husband chooses to sin in this way, a wife will often blame herself. She was not attractive enough, did not show him enough attention, or did not see the warning signs. The fact is we are all responsible before God for our own sinful hearts. An unhealthy marriage can be a breeding ground for this struggle for a husband, but the wife should never feel the responsibility for his sinful decisions.

3)      Share your hurt with him.

Encourage the wife not to hesitate to share how his sinful actions have made her feel. It will remind the husband of one of many reasons why he should never allow this destructive pattern to return. In turn, it also acts as a healthy and good way for the wife to grieve through the hurt and find forgiveness.

4)      Seek counsel and care from another godly woman.

If possible, put the betrayed wife in the care of another godly woman who has walked through this struggle with her husband, or a similar one. Choose carefully, however, as this is meant to help the wife find empathy, grace, and forgiveness towards her husband, not an opportunity to fuel the fire of hurt and bitterness that already exists.

5)      Guard your heart from bitterness.

Bitterness is an all-too-common response to the offenses of others against us. The best way to guard a wife harmed by sexual sins against bitterness is to remind her of the gospel and how God has forgiven her sins. Keep her need for repentance and the promise of forgiveness from God before her, and God will provide the grace needed to forgive her husband.

6)       Pursue regular sexual intimacy with your husband.

The best thing for a hurting wife to do is the last thing she feels like doing after being hurt in this way: pursue sexual intimacy with her husband (1 Corinthians 7:5). This intentional intimacy acts as a safeguard for this particular struggle in a husband and will break down the barriers to intimacy that the enemy wants to keep up as long as possible.

Pastors, may the Lord give you grace as you attempt to care for a wife who certainly needs care after this sort of betrayal. Remember, the gospel is powerful enough to restore any marriage from the deepest damage caused by sexual sin and God powerfully uses the local church to care for those affected. There is hope.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

The Stunning Truth that Allows Us to Endure

One of my pastoral teachers and heroes, Bill Hughes, said goodbye to his beloved wife of over 60 years this past week who met her Savior in glory and is no longer suffering. Bill spent most of his long and faithful ministry serving in Scotland. Thinking about and praying for Bill this week reminded me of a simple, but profound truth I learned from him about how to endure through the constant struggles of pastoral ministry. In an exposition of 2 Corinthians 4 I once heard Bill Hughes preach, he made this observation to answer the nagging question, “How do I endure through the difficulties of pastoral ministry?”

“Never forget the debt to mercy we owe.”

See what I mean? Simple. Stunningly true. Yet when measured against anything we might face as pastors, it produces endurance in every trial, struggle, and difficulty. Bill instructed that when we remember who we once were and the amazing debt to mercy we owe to our Savior, we will be more patient, gracious, and merciful to even the most stubborn and petty of conflicts and complaints we experience in the church. Likewise, if we forget who we once were and presume upon this debt to mercy in the gospel, those same petty people and issues will eat us up and will destroy us and our ministry.

Dear brothers, if you find yourself discouraged, angry, wondering why some of your people do and say what they do and you can’t take it any more… do not forget the debt to mercy you owe. It is a debt greater than you and I could ever pay back. It is a debt that should weigh heavier on our joyful hearts than the most difficult person in our church. Apply this truth that was so powerfully taught to me by this sweet and faithful man and see if you, then, find the hope and perspective you need for that struggling person or circumstance you face in your ministry.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Do You Counsel a Husband Who's Struggling with Pornography?

Every pastor already faces this. Unfortunately, I fear the problem will only become more common in the future - that is, marriage counseling as a result of a husband’s struggle with pornogrpahy. The work to restore trust and intimacy within a marriage deeply affected by this sinful struggle is only possible through the gospel and applied most effectively within the local church; having said that, consider six practical ways that husband can reestablish trust and intimacy with his hurting wife:

1)      Be patient towards your hurting wife.

Men are known to deal with something, then move on. A wife, especially one sinned against by pornography will not move on so quickly. A wife does not get past this offense in the same amount of time a husband often expects she should. Encourage the husband to be patient with his wife as she tries to find forgiveness and reestablish trust. By God’s grace it will happen—but in time.

2)      Understand the seriousness of your sin against her.

Sexual sin hurts a wife more deeply than most other sins against her. A husband needs to realize that the reasons this sin stings so much is that it seems to confirm almost every doubt and insecurity most women already battle within themselves. Understanding the seriousness of this sin and the pain it causes will help cultivate patience and prevent a reoccurrence of it.

3)      Look to your wife to play an important role of accountability.

It is easy to seek the accountability of another man when it comes to this struggle because, we say, “Only another man knows what the battle is like.” Yet, you do not have to sleep next to that man every night. You do not have to look into his eyes knowing the hurt you caused. You do not have to be as patient and gracious with your buddy through this like you must with your wife. It may need to be in the context of regular counseling for a while, but convince him his wife will be a great asset to establish his new patterns and protection from falling again.

4)      Consistently and creatively romance your wife.

A husband should have already been pursuing his wife romantically as a regular practice. Now, he must understand this pattern must be established to restore his marriage. Sexual sin attacks a wife’s confidence and security that her husband loves and desires her. This confidence is a must for a healthy marriage and remains so for one to be restored.

5)      Affirm your physical attraction to her.

It should surprise no man that when he looks at other women in lustful ways, it will communicate a sharp message to his wife that he does not find her attractive. Most men would confess that is not what drove them to pornography, but it is inescapable that this is how a wife feels because of it. Encourage the man verbally to affirm his physical attraction to his wife. Then, he must back it up with his actions.

6)      Realize the battle never ends this side of eternity.

The gospel is powerful to free men from this bondage and to establish new patterns in their lives, but the fences of accountability must always remain. Most of the men who slip up in this area do so just when they start getting confident that they no longer struggle with pornography (1 Corinthians 10:12). The guards come down. The wife has forgiven. The accountability partner has not asked about the struggle for a while. The gradual decline of these forms of accountability should act as a warning sign and a reminder that this struggle in our sex-saturated culture will only end when the perfectly faithful husband, Christ, gathers his bride to himself (Revelation 19:6-9).

Pastors, may the Lord grant you wisdom as you work with husbands who struggle in this way so that the patterns would be broken, marriages would be mended, and the power of Christ would be credited.

Electronic or Hard Copy of Scripture?

It is safe to say the Reformers never had to tackle this question. However, it is certainly one we face now and has important implications to the fruitfulness of a pastor’s ministry today. As this question has forced its way on the scene as a result of our growing technological advances, so have strong opinions on this matter. Many of these opinions are nothing more than preferences. And yet, there are still some pastoral issues that need to be considered if we as pastors in this technological age desire to avoid any unnecessary distractions so to be most fruitful and effective. Here is a basic template for every pastor to consider in determining the kind of means we would seek to minister God’s word to God’s people:

1)  Consider your audience. The age of your congregation matters a great deal in discerning these issues. A pastor could sit at the bedside of a sick person and read God’s word from an electronic device and be found to do so with someone under 40 years old much more than someone over the age of 40 years old. That is not always the case though. Just because a younger person will probably be more “tech-savvy” does not mean reading from an iPod could not also be a distraction for them like it would be for an 80-year-old.

2)  Determine your level of confidence. These decisions need to be made on your confidence level relationally with the person of which you go to minister. How well do you know them? How well do they know you and will they understand, even expect you, to whip out a Kindle when you go to read God’s word to them? I suggest always erring on the side of caution. If you are visiting an 80-year-old widow who does not own a computer of any kind and still does not know what the Internet is (trust me, they still proudly exist), it is probably best to always take a hard copy of God’s word to read with her. She may think you are trying to pull something over on her if she cannot see “Holy Bible” printed on the front.

3)  Know your surroundings. Making this decision is not just based on the engagement of the person, but the places you minister where others might be around. I think hospitals, funeral homes, and similar traditional settings where many different kinds of people with different backgrounds and ages will be involved and present needs to be properly evaluated. Pastors need to realize some might interpret your gadget you brought that “acts as a Bible replacement” as a distraction. Think of unbelievers in the room who may be wondering what are you reading. “You could be reading anything from that thing. How do I know it is the Bible?” On the other hand, in your small group Bible study with your crew of college students where everybody is reading off a Kindle or iPod… a physical Bible might look even strange to them.

4)  Guard from legalism. As many pastors possess their own “soap boxes” on this matter, each of us need to guard from being legalistic about this issue. God’s word is no less God’s word in printed form inside a really snazzy colored cover with a giant cross on the front, or on the really tiny print on your smart phone. Let’s keep this from becoming the next “King James only” controversy and just call it what it is: a preference. As long it is a credible translation of the Bible and a credible, untampered printed or electronic copy of that translation (of which there are many)… it is God’s word. Don’t make more of an issue of this than it should be.

5)  Trust the source. Our effectiveness to minister to our people ultimately has nothing to do with from what means we read, as long as it is the inerrant, infallible, powerful word of the living God. God, by his Spirit and through his living and active word, is what changes and effects people. Minister that word and do not rely much at all on the “mechanics” of what you read from, but do so in a discerning way that avoids any distractions from God doing what he does through his word in the lives of his people when his shepherds faithfully bring it to bear on souls.

Lately, I find myself doing regular Bible reading off my Kindle Fire, yet you will always find me with a hard copy of God’s word when entering a funeral home, hospital room, or home of an elderly saint. At this point, you will not find me using my Kindle when I preach, not out of any theological principle, but because of my fear of trusting technology that much. Each pastor needs to determine his own comfort level to embrace the blessings of technology as we should, yet mindful of any unhelpful perception that might exist that could hinder your efforts to care for souls.

What Weddings Should a Pastor Perform?

I am consistently asked about the circumstances surrounding weddings. What makes it permissible or not to conduct a wedding in ”this or that” situation? I am very aware that there are strong opinions and lively disagreements about whether an evangelical pastor should marry Christians, non-Christians, and everything in between. The debate does not end there. Then you have to determine if it is wise to marry two Christians in “this particular circumstance” as opposed to “that particular circumstance.”

Here is my effort to serve in this discussion and try to answer the regular calls and emails I receive that have piled up on this matter. It comes in the form of these suggested boundaries I set within these 3 common templates:

1)  A Christian marrying a Non-Christian. Most are in agreement, as I am, that this is not permitted in Scripture, nor is it wise. Although, many of us know of examples of this where the other spouse is eventually converted, I would never encourage a Christian to marry an unbeliever, thus would never encourage a pastor to conduct a wedding where a Christian marries a non-Christian. Yet, if you find yourself shepherding a Christian spouse married to an unbeliever (as I do), 1 Peter 3:1-6 is a powerful word on that subject for them.

2)  A Christian marrying a Christian. The ideal scenario is for a pastor to marry 2 Christians within their church, those whom he knows well, is able to do adequate pre-marital counseling with them, and can then shepherd them through the first years of their marriage. I am conducting a wedding this weekend under this scenario. Where it gets tricky and wisdom and discernment is required is when two Christians ask you to marry them, but they are not plugged into a local church, nor connected to a pastor who has taken responsibility for them.

Regardless the scenario, if you marry two Christians the ceremony needs to be seen as a worship service where the gospel is preached and you know the lives of this man and woman well enough that you can point to them in that public moment and exhort them to display Christ’s love for his church through the way they relate to one another (Eph. 5:22-33). If a couple is living in open, habitual, and unrepentant sin (such as living together and being physically intimate) that would be one reason to prohibit doing the ceremony, for in that instance, I cannot stand and commend these public witnesses to watch their life as professing Christians.

3)  A Non-Christian marrying another Non-Christian. This is the one that many love to debate. All I will say is that if you decide to marry two Non-Christians, I think the biblical warrant comes from Genesis 2 as marriage being an institution of creation of which God is glorified when it is according to his design (one man and one woman), even though it does not fulfill God’s ultimate redemptive purpose (Eph. 5:22-33).

If your conscience allows you to marry two Non-Christians, make sure it is not conducted as a worship service, but simply a ceremony that allows you, a pastor, to join this man and woman together with these witnesses present. This can also be a strategic opportunity to preach the gospel, but I would make that part of the agreement with the bride and groom before committing to marrying them.

OK, there you go. Do not hate. These are simply some general boundaries I have used in the past that have helped me discern so many unique case by case situations to determine whether my conscience could marry a couple, or if it was even wise to do so.

Just remember, you should not feel forced to do any wedding, regardless the pressure you may be feeling from family or church members. If you have concerns whether two people should be married, listen to your conscience, allow the Scriptures to guide you, and seek counsel from other pastors who have possibly walked in the same place you dare to tread… an unclear, complicated wedding decision.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Does a Pastor Get Rid of the Unnecessary Filler?

Umm…Lord we just…you know…(lip smack)…Father God…uhh…and we just…Father God…(lipsmack)…umm…Lord we just…uhh…(deep breath)… you know… Father God…umm…you know… that we all have them. They come in different shapes, sizes, and expressions, but we all have them. Those who claimed to have never had them are in denial and probably are still unaware they have them. Those polished, seasoned preachers who appear to have none of them, once did.

They are such a part of our natural communication style that they can be difficult to identify and overcome, but there is hope. Here are a few ways I have tried to face my own unnecessary speech fillers and helped others identify and overcome their own:

1)  Create an environment in your local church to be critiqued. Whether it is someone preaching, praying, or leading a public gathering in our church, we have tried to create an atmosphere of humility and teachability in regard to each of us growing in these areas. This kind of effort can become hyper-critical and unhelpful very quickly, so we want to always maintain a spirit of grace and patience in this process.

A service review with those involved in the service has been a great way for us to facilitate these discussions where men come with a desire to grow. See these previous posts for more info on the purpose and process of a Service Review. If you have someone unconvinced of what you have observed, the next best option is to mention it to them, then challenge them to go back and listen to their own sermon in light of it.

2)  Ask those you trust to listen and give feedback. If a culture is not present to already be listening for these things, approach a few godly, gracious, but wise and discerning, men to try to observe you in these roles and see if they notice what your fillers are. It is amazing how noticeable they are when someone tries casually to listen for them for your benefit.

3)  Receive the thoughts of others with humility. We had a service review where it was brought to a man’s attention who had prayed that morning of an obvious repeated phrase he uses, of which he was completely unaware. He was surprised that it was affirmed by a few other men in the room, but he received it with humility and began to consider the thoughts of others.

So he did what most men do when they hear a critique they are oblivious to, he asked his wife later that night, “Hey, have you ever noticed that I repeat this phrase in my prayers?” His wife’s response was, “Yeah, you do it all the time.” He was amazed that he had not observed in his own life what others so clearly saw. He received that very well and quickly developed desires to improve on it.

4)  Try to prepare knowing which fillers you struggle with. Although this man was totally unaware of his unnecessary speech filler that had existed for a long time, he modeled how someone should respond to it. He received it in humility and teachability; then he instantly made efforts to try to overcome it. The very next time he prayed publicly, he cut his use of this filler at least in half. He hardly used it at all in his next sermon he preached at our church. It is amazing the progress we can make over our unnecessary speech fillers once we own them and begin to focus on working ourselves out of them.

I have watched these kinds of successes through the years. We really can make progress on these matters, but we must be aware of them, own them, then without putting too much focus on them, try to cut them out of our prayers and sermons, realizing perfect oratory skill is far from the goal as we preach God’s word and lead God’s people.

However, that does not mean we should not try to grow in all aspects of our preaching and public leading, including this one. My biggest speech filler for years was “Umm.” Although it still shows up most of the time in my casual conversations, this formula has been very helpful to me personally through the years.

So, own it. What was or is your greatest unnecessary speech filler?

4 Steps to Honestly Evaluate Your Sermon

This might surprise you, but one of the most dangerous times for a pastor are the hours following his Sunday sermon. You step down from the pulpit still wired and juices flowing as you greet those leaving from the service. Then, like after a good jog, you begin to calm down, your body starts to return to “I’m not preaching mode,” which then brings a temporary, but real emotional let down with it.

These reasons are enough not to trust our instincts and discernment in these moments. Yet what we also inevitably face during this emotional tailspin are the encouragements, comments, questions, and criticisms (or lack thereof) given from those who sat under our sermon. Needless to say, how objectively and honestly to evaluate our own sermon in the midst of all this can be a bit of a challenge. Here are 4 suggestions I have found helpful:

1) Receive the encouragements now

Nothing lifts the spirit in the emotional spiral of post-sermon fitigue like a warm, honest, specific comment from a church member about how the sermon was helpful to them. Those are a gift from God by His grace. Receive it immediately, but receive it humbly realizing it was only the work of God to help that person, not the craftiness or eloquence of your sermon.

2) Store away the criticisms for Tuesday morning

Any criticisms you hear need to be received, graciously acknowledged, and then honestly considered, but not one hour after your sermon. Most of us who have just poured our hearts out in preaching are not at a good place to evaluate criticisms. Always graciously receive all comments. However, those comments that may be particularly hard or even harsh to hear are better evaluated after two good nights of sleep. Write them down. Leave them on your desk. Try to forget about them until Tuesday. I have not always been able to do this, but when I have had the discipline to do so… it is worth it!

3) Look forward to Service Review later that evening

If you do not have a process in place to evaluate the services and sermons for the day with other pastors and those training for the ministry, I would strongly encourage you to do so. About 4–6 of us meet for an hour on Sunday evenings after the evening service to discuss these things. It is very helpful to try and evaluate your sermon among trusted, discerning brothers in your church who desire for you to grow. See these previous posts for more info on the purpose and process of a Service Review.

4) Recognize your work is done

The best thing to do a hour after your sermon is to realize your hard labor from the week that peaked in the pulpit a few minutes ago is now over. For better or worse, you were faithful. Find great joy and encouragement that God will do the rest through his Spirit being at work in his people who heard the Word of God preached. How peaceful we rest Sunday night as we lie in bed depends much on how much faith we have that God and his Word does the work and even my disappointing sermon I just preached does not change that.

Consider these suggestions as you set your hand to the plow this week that will culminate in the pulpit on Sunday.  I hope this helps you evaluate your sermons in a more fruitful manner.  There is one thing better than being willing to evaluate your sermons honestly and that is knowing “when” is the most fruitful time to do so.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

3 Necessary Elements in Every Funeral Sermon

I was contacted last week by a pastor asking this question and thought there might be others asking it also. The most helpful advice I ever received about preaching at a funeral for someone I didn’t know is: “Don’t preach them into heaven. Don’t preach them into hell. Just preach the gospel for the people who are there.” This principle captures our task regardless the kind of funeral we do. Ironically, though we focus on remembering and celebrating the life of the deceased, the funeral service is ultimately for those who attend.

The sermon is where the gospel must be preached clearly. Only when we can personally have confidence in a person’s conversion should we feel comfortable to speak of the heavenly reward he/she has now received. If there is any doubt in your mind, it is best to focus on the gospel for your hearers and resist the temptation to provide a false comfort that you have little or no basis to give.

A funeral sermon should not exceed 20 minutes and should highlight these three categories, preferably expounded from a text(s) of Scripture:

1)  Acknowledge the need to grieve 

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11) is particularly helpful as there seems to be a legitimate time of grieving for those present and sorrow for those who are experiencing the separation that death brings, including Jesus who wept (John 11:35). I often share of the time my father sat my wife and me down, once we found out we had miscarried with our second child, and exhorted us to take time to grieve over this child, instructing us how to do so.

Don’t ever presume that people realize that grief is appropriate or that they know how to work through their grief by simply talking about their deceased loved one. In actuality, many do not want to talk about them because of the hurt felt in loss. Many pastors know that often, years later, people learn the value of this process, eventually working through the grief with some pastoral guidance.

2)  Make the hope of the gospel clearly known

True hope in grief cannot come apart from the hope of the gospel. This is why the second and third portion of a funeral sermon focuses on Christ’s person and work. Whatever text you choose to preach, make sure you are able to focus on the clear elements of the gospel from it: God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness and deserving judgment, Christ’s perfect personhood and atoning work to save us, our essential response to repent and believe upon Christ.

3)  Call your hearers to respond to the gospel

To do so appropriately and effectively, you must prepare by knowing as much as you can about your hearers as well as the deceased. You should assume Christians and non-Christians are present. You should assume they all have come with a preconceived understanding on how we receive eternal life. For example, I have done a funeral where ninety percent of those in attendance were devoted Catholics, another who were Mormons, and another where no one in the building had ever stepped foot in a church.

In every case, I explained the gospel clearly, called my hearers to repent of their sins, believe upon Christ, and trust in him. Yet in each of these different situations, I approached calling them to respond to the gospel differently, depending upon their preconceived understanding of the “good news.”

Exhort them to grieve. Preach the gospel clearly and simply. Help them understand their need for Christ as death is before them. Call them to repent and believe.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

A Unique Ministry for Stay-at-Home Moms

There are so many different kinds of people in the local church who provide a helpful service for the pastors to care for elderly widows, but I have found a specific group that shows to be especially valuable. It is a group in the church that often “flies under the radar” in regard to being called upon to play such a role. Yet this group possesses particular qualities that prove to be very useful to the pastors and meaningful to widows, especially older widows. This group of folks in the church…

“Stay at home moms”

Here are 4 reasons why this unique group of ladies seem to be especially fruitful in this type of ministry:

1)  Availability:  Although stay at home moms are typically on a set schedule when their kids are little, this provides open times for them to go and visit widows and take their children with them at a time that is convenient. This schedule also provides open slots of availability during the day, which is typically the best time to visit elderly widows.

2)  Kids bless widows:  One the greatest gifts you can give an elderly widow is to take a child with you to visit them. Most elderly widows love children. Many of them have children of their own who maybe live far away, which means visits from children and grandchildren are infrequent. They love to just watch a child. Talk to them. Play with them. Hear you tell stories about them. Interacting with a child often becomes an elderly widow’s most precious and memorable weekly moment.

3)  An opportunity for a younger woman to care for an older woman:  Elderly widows appreciate care from anyone in the church, but they seem to love to be especially cared for by other younger women. Not sure if it is the feeling of a daughter’s care or what, but my experience shows a clear meaningful distinction from visits by young mothers than any others.

4)  An opportunity for an older woman to instruct and encourage the younger: On the flip side, these interactions provide an opportunity for a young mom to potentially gain wise instruction from an older mom. We have an elderly widow in her mid-nineties who had 7 children (one set of twins). As you can imagine, this woman is an endless resource of wisdom and insight for young moms. Young moms should love to learn from these kinds of ladies. These elderly widows love their many years of experience to be utilized to serve Christ’s people.

Pastors, so often we hesitate to call upon stay-at-home moms because of the stress and challenges that come with this noble, godly task. Yet I encourage you to see their value by assisting you in this role and the personal benefit they will receive from it.

Stay-at-home moms, you play a most important role and don’t allow anyone to demean this noble, God-honoring calling. Yet I pray that you will see serving elderly widows as a way to remove yourself out of a daily life that can become inwardly focused and seize a wonderful opportunity to use your gifts, time, and resources (children) to serve a dear elderly saint in your church. I am confident if you will make the time and step out of your comfort zone to engage in caring for elderly widows, you will be as encouraged as that widow will be by the gift of your fellowship.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Does a Pastor Conduct the Funeral of Someone He Did Not Know?

I am preaching a funeral today. It is someone I did not know. I have no idea what her spiritual condition was. A local funeral home contacted me and asked if I could help. I have probably done a 100 of these types of funerals in the last 10 years. How does a pastor know what to do and say for a funeral service like this? These 4 elements below can and should be applied in both this scenario, as well as the funeral of one of your most faithful church members:

1) The unchanging character of God: You have all kinds of people who come to a funeral who are evaluating this death (and God’s role in it) in all sorts of ways. We must use the objective truth of God’s Word to cut through all the different subjective conclusions and judgments about God that are being drawn in the minds of people. I accomplish this by allowing the first words out of my mouth to be Psalm 145:17-21.

2) The hope of the gospel: This is our hope in life and certainly death. Therefore, the gospel must be clearly preached at every funeral you conduct. However, the setting of a funeral demands it be done clearly, yet sensitively. The best advice I ever received for funerals is this: Don’t preach the deceased into heaven, don’t preach them into hell, just preach the gospel for the people who are there. This is most helpful when conducting a funeral for someone with whom you didn’t know or doubted their eternal state. Regardless, it is a reminder that the gospel is the most important truth we can hold out to those looking for hope in the midst of death.

3) A call to respond to the gospel: If our focus is to preach the gospel to those who remain, then there must be some call for them to respond to the gospel. I hope we all agree that you cannot accomplish this in the setting of a funeral by some “hand-raising, music-manipulating, pleading to come forward during the 12th  stanza of Just As I Am” type of response. We can, however, plead with these people to respond in repentance and faith once the gospel has been preached in a similar way we should be pleading for sinners to turn to Christ every Sunday we preach. In both contexts, we trust in our sovereign God to awaken sinners to see their need for Christ and turn to Him as the gospel is faithfully proclaimed.

4) Instruct those present how to grieve: This is often overlooked as an essential for funerals, but one we must take seriously. Though the gospel being preached is the most important thing we can say, we also have the task to help these people know how to grieve over this loss. We accomplish this by walking them through the importance of talking about the deceased, sharing the things they loved about them, the impact the deceased had on them, and the important things they learned from them. This provides times to laugh and cry, which gives a helpful formula to walk through the grieving process. I think you will find the family of the deceased most grateful for your effort to instruct them in this way. As a result, I have found them more receptive to the other “most important and essential” elements that I share.

Pastors, consider how you would approach doing a funeral for someone you did not know. How would you handle it? How would you extend care to the family not knowing them or the deceased? Would you say yes if a funeral home called you with the same request? I submit to you it is one of the most fruitful and unique evangelistic opportunities we can have as pastors. As you consider what you would do or say, pray for me as I go and preach this funeral today.

For further book reading on this topic, go here.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.