(Do not miss the personal testimony of a pastor friend at the end of this piece.)
Why does my preacher not weep at funerals? Even his own mother’s?
In my case, by the time we laid my wonderful mama to rest, I was in my early 70s and she was nearly 96. She was so ready to go. If it’s possible to be ready to give one’s beloved mother back to Jesus, we were. And yes, we still miss her every day, and it’s been almost two years.
But there’s another reason for the lack of tears. Starting early—my mid-20s—I began doing heart-breaking funerals, one after another, the kind that will tear your heart out and stomp that sucker. Do enough of these, and after a while you run out of tears.
It’s not that you do not care, do not love or cannot feel. It’s just that you care and love and feel without tears.
Furthermore, by this time, the preacher has come to terms with the message of Christ and has settled once and for all that this is true, this is what I believe and I commit my entire life to it.
As a young preacher, he preached this stuff more by faith. In time, he comes to know it and as John said, to know that he knows. Knowing the gospel of Jesus is true means he will see his mother again, and that’s she’s doing just fine today. So, don’t be surprised if he cries very little.
Why does my pastor seem detached from the joys of our wedding or the sorrows of our funeral?
I’ll tell you one story from my ministry. One Saturday afternoon many years ago, at one o’clock, we held the funeral for Susan Edmondson at the United Methodist Church down the street because our sanctuary (First Baptist) was decorated for a wedding that would be held two hours later. Susan had grown up in our church, was a popular and well-loved young woman, the youngest child of her older parents, and had been the victim of a bizarre accident. Working in an art store in New York City, that day she had moved a huge piece of art—a heavy column or something—by “walking” it back and forth. As she turned and walked away, it fell on her, crushing her skull. She never knew what hit her. We were all devastated.
The church was packed out with heartbroken friends and family. I recall none of the details of the funeral, but will never forget the anguish I felt trying to be the family’s pastor that day.
Then, a short time after that funeral, we gathered in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church to unite Nathan Wright and Susie John in marriage. We did everything we could to rejoice with them.
It was one of the hardest afternoons I’ve ever known. When it was over, I went home and had trouble sleeping. The next morning, Sunday, I was expected to get up and function as usual, preaching two morning services and one that night. But my heart had been ripped out.
I knew then why some people turn to liquor or drugs. They have to have some relief.
A pastor does this a few times and learns to protect himself by not entering so deeply into the pain or rising so high with the joys.
Hold her in the road. Steady as she goes. It’s what a pastor does.
Why are all preachers nuts?
That’s the title of the following given by the pastor who wrote it. (Explanation: He and I were discussing this. He asked me to write such an article, and I suggested he write his story and send to me. I’ve edited it only slightly.)
“What I’m about to share is no different from 95 percent of all pastors. However, I believe the events we experience shape who we are and what we have become. If a pastor doesn’t have the ability to departmentalized, he won’t last long. Here we go ...
"My first funeral was for a lady named Violet Barr. She was a senior adult confined to a wheelchair. She died in a house fire. Her only relative was a niece. The niece’s fiancé died trying to save Violet. I had been a pastor all of four months. I have stood in the labor and delivery room and watched a mother hold the lifeless body of the child she just delivered. I did the funeral two days later.
"Over the years, I have done countless funeral for babies. Too many to remember. I recently did a funeral for brothers who drowned over Labor Day weekend. The boys were young enough to be buried in the same casket. I did the funeral of a man who was an invalid and died in a house fire. Seems to be my specialty. Drove to a church member’s place of work and stopped him from committing suicide. I had his wife stay on the phone with him till I got there. Took the gun away from him and took him to the hospital emergency room.
"By the way, I’ve done many funerals for those who have taken their lives ... some included overdoses ... usually teenagers. Was at a social event for junior high and high school students when we learned a popular student had been shot in a hunting accident. I was asked to tell the kids. Following the attacks of 9/11, the local school called and requested we come and counsel the students.
"Over the years, been called upon to talk to students following some tragic event such as the death of a student. Our church served as a shelter following Hurricane Katrina. We housed over 300 people in our family life center. This required organization and volunteers. I still have flashbacks of the people we helped. Could have been the most stress I’ve ever endured. Had to check my preaching professor from NOBTS into our shelter.
“In 2004, the day before Easter, my father-in-law died unexpectedly at the age of 60. Had to tell my wife. I preached the next day, and a few days later conducted his funeral. The next year, the day before Easter, my dad died ... I preached the next day, and conducted his funeral on the Tuesday. I did a funeral two days later for a church member’s father. Like many pastors, vacations, holidays and days off have been interrupted by church needs. I’ve done funerals on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and 4th of July. One Wednesday, I did two funerals in the afternoon. The last was at 5:00pm. I preached the Wednesday night service at 6:00.
“I’ve done two funerals and one wedding on the same day. I’ve had to go to the home of a church member and tell the wife her husband was killed in an automobile accident. I’ve helped identify bodies. I’ve had to tell countless family members their loved ones have died. I have counseled a family about a sexual abuse situation concerning a father and his 12 year old daughter. Father was arrested. Have also helped young ladies who have been raped. Along those lines, have helped families deal with teenage pregnancies.
“During my first six months at my last church, my mother died. I preached her funeral and then preached the next Sunday. My staff accused me of grandstanding. My wife was so sick she couldn’t get off the couch and ultimately had to have surgery. My oldest daughter had an emergency appendectomy on Saturday. I preached the next day. My youngest daughter’s car basically blew up. And my new staff didn’t like the way I conducted staff meetings. Made for an interesting year. It never got better.
“I have had to say goodbye to friends as we have moved to other churches and I’ve conducted funerals for not only other family members, but real, real close friends. I have been in the room of many people and watched life leave them, including my own Dad. I’ve helped funeral directors load up lifeless bodies and stayed to minister to grieving families. I have also stayed at the hospital with a dead body countless times till the funeral director could get there. I haven’t even touched on church politics, and counseling sessions. They are too many to list. Been called a dictator, visionless, son-of-a-bitch and a bastard. Was told one day by a man who deals in lumber ...'You’re the strongest man I’ve ever known!' As Forrest Gump would say ... 'I don’t know about that!'
So if you have decided that your preacher is different from most folks, there is a good reason. And, may I say, give thanks that he is different. Those not called by God would never do this, could not take it, would not endure it and would find it impossible to come out on the other side of such suffering still praising Jesus.
Thank God for faithful pastors.
Pray for your pastor.
Related Preaching Articles
By Ross Lester on Sep 9, 2017
Many people are intrigued but leery of using a preaching team approach. This article aims to provide some practical answers to the obstacles involved in the process.
By John Piper on Sep 8, 2017
"The forces of American culture are almost all designed to build the opposite worldview into our people’s minds. Maximize comfort, ease, and security. Avoid all choices that might bring discomfort, trouble, difficulty, pain, or suffering. Add this cultural force to our natural desire for immediate gratification and fleeting pleasures, and the combined power to undermine the superior satisfaction of the soul in the glory of God through suffering is huge."
By Lance Witt on Sep 15, 2017
"When it comes to our preaching, we live in the constant tension between pastor and prophet. On one hand, as pastors we want to encourage and care for the sheep. So, in our preaching we want to be uplifting and hopeful. On the other hand, as prophets we must sometimes say the hard things that the sheep don’t want to hear."