Brian Croft

  • Preparing Your Heart for a Funeral

    Because there are so many elements to plan and logistics to prepare for, it is not uncommon for the pastor to have all his words prepared, service planned out, everyone in place, processional details checked off, and realize an essential element had been neglected—the pastor’s heart. Do not become enslaved to the tyranny of funeral preparation, only to stand and conduct with an empty, drained, and calloused heart. Do not underestimate the emotional and mental drain in comforting the grieving while preparing and performing a funeral. Thus, there are three areas for the pastor to take time and prepare his heart, mind, and soul.

    1)  Prepare for the unexpected. Just when you think you have seen it all—the next funeral reveals you haven’t. Even if you have seen fights break out, arrests made, uncontrollable wailing, family members and pallbearers fainting, caskets dropped and knocked over, shouting conflicts between families and funeral directors, or funeral attire that would make most people blush, these experiences do not mean at all the next funeral will fit these experiences. Because of this, prepare to see anything. Prepare to get the craziest response to something you say. Prepare to watch families at their worst. This will allow you to think clearly and wisely when the unexpected happens.

    2)  Prepare to minister God’s word. Though there is much to manage, administrate, and facilitate, you are not the concierge of the funeral. You are a minister of God’s word and a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Prepare your heart, mind, and soul however you must so that when you stand before people at the beginning of the funeral service, you stand to minister God’s word, trusting God will work mightily through his word.

    3)  Prepare to extend the hope of Christ. You are not there to solve the family conflicts or to help the funeral home learn how to function more smoothly. You are there to clearly present to each person the hope we have from sin and death because of Christ. You can best prepare by thinking about who will be at the funeral service. Consider what kinds of questions you could ask the family to surmise their spiritual condition as you talk with them. Prepare questions ahead of time from the words you have prepared to share, so that gospel opportunities might show themselves in those conversations.

    Wearing your administrator and facilitator cap through the process is necessary. It will serve you as a helpful companion to maneuver through all the details and demands that always accompany funerals. Nevertheless, you are ultimately a pastor and evangelist who is called upon by the Chief Shepherd to prepare and conduct funerals of dead men as “a dying man preaching to dying men.” Prepare and conduct funerals knowing the grieving are hurting, longing for tender care, and must look to Jesus as their only hope.

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

  • Shepherding a Weaker Brother

    The progress of sanctification is typically slow for everyone. This is even more the case for the weaker brother (Rom. 14:1–2; 1 Cor. 8–10). Shepherding the soul of the weaker brother requires a lot of time and effort. It can become frustrating to have the same conversations over and over again. It may feel like no ground is being made in their struggle. Yet that may be what is required.

    So then, patience is an essential quality for a pastor to shepherd the weaker brother in his congregation.

    Patience is not only a part of the fruit of the Spirit, but is also an invaluable asset to the pastor as he cares for these individuals in the church. A lack of patience when ministering to the weaker in the congregation is not a confirmation they are not learning and growing, but an indictment on the pastor that his timeline is in contrast to God’s timeline. Pastors are never guaranteed that growth in their own life and the lives of those they shepherd will happen at a certain rate.

    The most empowered and victorious Christian still battles sin, the flesh, and the devil every day of their life in this fallen world. The disheartened and the weak are in the same battle. They just appear to have fewer weapons in the fight. A pastor who remembers this spiritual reality will be a more patient pastor. If that doesn’t increase his patience, just remember how patient God is with each of us. God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, even when we are most undeserving of it. Remembering the patience of a kind God towards us will always be the right fuel to cultivate patience towards others.

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

  • How Do I Prepare a Sermon for a Funeral?

    The most helpful advice I ever received about preaching at a funeral for someone I didn’t know is this: “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.

  • Should Pastors Try to Unite Two Churches that Split from Each Other?

    One of the most painful and heartbreaking times in our church’s 80 year history was the church split that took place in the early 1980s. The pastor at the time took half the church and planted another church just a few blocks from our church. Church splits are very unfortunate and painful experiences anytime they happen, but what made this split that much more tragic was the reason for the split.

    One of the main issues I have been told that caused the split was disagreements over spiritual gifts. It is important that we realize that our church is not the first to be divided over spiritual gifts, as this was the reason Paul wrote a portion of the letter of 1 Corinthians to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 12–14). As the stories go, I am told the split at our church was so nasty and painful that families even divided.

    That was 30 years ago…

    Although these gifts can divide, God in his sovereign grace has his ways of doing what Paul says to the Corinthians these gifts should actually do—unite God’s people. After half the church left, our church continued on, and the church that split off began that new work just down the street. About five years ago, the newest pastor of that church and I, in God’s kind providence, became friends.

    We began to discuss the histories of our two churches and wondered if we now had a responsibility to get these two churches back together since they split over something that was supposed to unite. We determined for different reasons that bringing the two churches back together as one would not be the best thing to do, but we did decide to have a joint service together as a symbol of that unity that is supposed to exist and could now still exist among our two churches.

    About five years ago, the church that split off from us came to a joint Sunday morning service at our church. The new pastor from that church and I led the service, and we asked Don Whitney to come and preach. It was an amazing moment. We watched people who hadn’t seen each other for 25 years embrace and reunite. It remains a highlight for me as a pastor and my ministry at our church.

    The church that split off from us continued to decline, and all that remained was a few older members and a large building largely unused. A few months ago the church that split from us joined with a healthy and growing church plant in the area. This church plant had a thriving young, internationally diverse congregation, but no older people and no building. The church that split from us had a few elderly members left and a good sized building. As a result, the split of our church over 30 years ago is no more.

    It is now a part of this church plant that is a strong healthy church led by a faithful pastor who is taking great care of those few faithful elderly members that remained. Now all those folks, old and young, diverse in many different ways are being united around a love for Christ and a love for each other. What a powerful display of the gospel and God’s kind providence to God’s people.

    May the wounds continue to heal. May these churches never divide again over that which should unite. May the gospel be displayed in the multi-generation, multi-ethnic congregation that now meets at that same place—just down the road from us.

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

  • About 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.