Preaching Articles

Death gives perspective to life. Preachers know that. Chances are you have preached that from your pulpit. But here is another one of those areas where it is important to use a mirror not simply a microphone. That is, having told others how to live, it is important that we have lived that way ourselves. Therefore I suggest there are six questions every pastor ought to ask himself now.

These six questions cannot be asked too soon, but tragically they can be asked too late. I originally thought to title this "Five Questions Every Pastor Ought to Ask Himself Before He Dies," but that can clearly be the point where it is tragically too late, at a time of too many missed opportunities to minister to others. The time to ask them of ourselves is now, not later.

Are you an example or simply an exhorter with your people in evangelism?

That question does not merely come from the heart of an evangelist. More importantly it comes from the heart of God. Paul the apostle said to his son in the faith, Timothy, a pastor teacher, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Peter likewise says, be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Christians who have surrendered their lives to be His disciples should be “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). We ought to be examples for them to follow. 

The urgency for us to ask ourselves that question rises as you look at statistics. In one survey of an evangelical denomination, 96 percent of the church leadership said they believed their churches would grow faster if they were involved in evangelism themselves. But 89 percent of the same leadership said they did not give any time on a weekly basis to evangelizing the lost. The time to make a change is now. Otherwise we leave behind us people who did what we did—talked about the lost not to them. The problem is obvious. When we talk about the lost the lost stay lost. When we talk to the lost, it’s then that many meet the Savior. 

Have you purposed before God that you will finish well?

The reason is simple and sober. Most of the people who fell in the Bible fell in the last half of their lives, not in the first half. David, Samson, Solomon, just to mention a few. The beginning of their lives was a much better example than the end. It was toward the end when they got tripped up. In traveling as an evangelist and working with hundreds of church leaders every year, I have noticed the same. 

Those who began well don’t always finish well. If you do not purpose that before God now, chances are Satan will slip up on your blind side, and the end of your life will be more of a disappointment to others than a testimony. But purposing that before God may allow you to end as Paul did, saying “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

If you died today, would your spouse know where to find everything he or she needs to settle your estate?

Dr. Charles Ryrie shook me in seminary. Not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. I had already come to respect him highly. I guess that is what made his admonition so impactful. He said something you don’t always hear said to pastors and future church leaders. As we started class one day he asked, “If you died today, would your wife know what to do? Would she know where all the papers are and how to settle all the details of your will and estate? If you don’t, get that all in place tonight or don’t tell her that you love her!” 

It was the words, “Don’t tell her that you love her” that shook me. After all, doesn’t 1 John 3:18 say, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth“? At that point I was not married, but as soon as I got married I started putting everything my wife would need in one organized file with everything noted carefully. She may need the help of a financial advisor, but she knows where everything is that she needs to talk through with him. I got what Dr. Ryrie was saying—If I loved her as I do, I needed to relieve the pressure not add to it in the event of my unexpected death. Whoever handles the financial matters, the other spouse needs to know what to do with the details of the estate.

When you depart, will the work you’ve led fold or flourish?

Unfortunately many pastors lead churches that will most likely die shortly after they do. The reason is, as the church grew it became built around a man, not a mission. If the church is built around a mission the work continues, grows and even flourishes long after his departure. I know of one pastor who was begged by concerned people at the church to answer that question, “What will happen when God is through with you?” 

His answer was, “God will take care of that.” The problem? It ignores Paul’s admonition in II Timothy 2:2. There Paul said, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit them to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Paul’s ministry flourished without him because he had those prepared to step in his place. If as a pastor your work has been built around a mission, it will be seen in the way the work flourishes, not in the memorial service that is held for it as it folds.

What do you want people to carve on your tombstone?

By that I mean, what do you want your legacy to be? The question is not original to me. It’s one my mentor, Dr. Haddon Robinson, proposed to a group of us many years ago. He then said, “Decide now and then live your life backwards from there.” I pondered that for months and decided I wanted it to be “Here lies a man of grace who loved sinners.” 

That has affected everything I do. What will yours be? If we take the admonition of Psalm 90:12 seriously—to number our days—that is a most appropriate question to ask. I am convinced Paul the apostle did just that.  For that reason he could say, “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me”  (Philippians 3:12). Whatever he decided he wanted as his epitaph, he pressed on so that he could be everything God wanted him to be according to his divine calling in Christ. 


There are undoubtedly more questions you might want to ask yourself as a pastor before you die. But I assure you these five will help you finish your life experiencing reward, not regret. After all, doesn’t Paul’s admonition in I Corinthians 4:2 apply to these areas—moreover isn't it required in stewards that one be found faithful? What is even more exciting is the impact of their lives and ministries continue. There will be no regrets, neither on the behalf of the people to whom they ministered and the ones who led them in ministry. 

Dr. R. Larry Moyer is a veteran evangelist and a frequent speaker in evangelistic outreaches, training seminars, churches and universities around the world. Born with an inherited speech defect, Larry vowed to God as a teenager that if He would allow him to gain control of his speech he would always use his voice to declare the gospel. In 1973, Larry founded EvanTell, where he now serves as President and CEO. He has written several books on evangelism and frequently contributes articles to ministry publications.

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Clement Corimbelly

commented on Jan 11, 2014

it is true that we do not think much what will happen to our ministry after our death. I must admit that this was not in my mind. But, since a year and a half, when I began to feel some pains in the joints, some difficulties to stand up after having sat down for a long time, I realized that I would not be there eternally. So, my wife and myself began to pray and ask God for faithful servants who will take the flame and continue to preach the Word. Yes, just like the Bible teaches, I think we need to work as if Christ is coming soon. However, it is not an easy thing to find some one who would commit.

Mike Brenneman

commented on Jan 11, 2014

Wow! Homerun! Do we love our wives and congregations enough to ensure their well being after we die? And do we live the message and mission of Jesus to reach out to the lost. Well said in content and attitude. I would suggest a slightly different observation of Sampson: that he was for the most part ungodly all of his life until the end. Grace and peace to you. Please bring us more of your thoughts. --Mike

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

Thanks Mike. Where are you located and what are your thoughts?

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

Forgive me Mike. I meant what is your ministry?

Kenneth Mandley

commented on Jan 12, 2014

All great points. Like many other areas of life, it's easy to pay attention for a while and then move on to other things. I've periodically updated my 'if I die" file, but I realized recently, when helping extended family with similiar issues, that it has been quite some time since I've done so. As to the mission/man perspective, this has been much on my mind. My wife and I became church planters in my fifties. I am now in my sixties. The church is in a very small (approx 1000) community 85 miles from the closest major population center. We've grown through God's grace and blessing and have a congregation of about 140. But, I am concerned about the future. I am still not compensated on a full-time basis, and I am not sure that all the stress on 'mission' I can make will overcome the fact that many to most potential pastors can or will not be willing to come under those circumstances. I do not want to blindly stand on the "God will provide" platform, although I know He has, he does, and He will. So what is an aging, non-denominational pastor to do in a very small community that has little to offer in secular opportunity, employment etc to help the congregation prepare for the future?

Larry Moyer

commented on Jan 16, 2014

You might lay out a three to five year plan to step by step get the church to the point where it can support you full-time and leave you free to do the work of the ministry. People respond to vision and planning.

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