Monthly Archives: November 2012

Inspi(re)ality #12: Last Words


This is another post in a series for people who serve/volunteer/work in any kind of ministry setting. Inspi(re)ality is a year long series about the practical things we face in ministry, as well as why doing these things matter.  This is the final post in this series for this year, but look for more beginning in January.

The following is a guest blog by Eddie Sharp on how he goes about writing a funeral and caring for a family in the middle of grieving. For those of you who are not familiar with Eddie, he is a legend in West Texas. He is one of the best ministers I know of at doing funerals, and I’m so glad he’s willing to share some of the wisdom from his experience. Here’s Eddie:

Last Words

Writing about funerals calls for a bit of restraint and focus for me. I have buried a small town over the years. I think I did 500 funerals or so during my ministry with the University Church of Christ in Abilene, TX between 1980 and 2008. The funeral is a time for service in the name of Jesus. It is a time when the church can honor its beloved members, a time when faith finds a its feet to stand in the presence of loss, and a time when one can minister into the lives of those without faith caught up by the grinding surprise of mortality.

Some presuppositions ought to be laid out:

  • Every funeral you do is played out against the backdrop of your own mortality and how you have resolved your feelings about your own death in the presence of the cross and the resurrection. We have the right to do funerals as men and women who believe the tomb is empty. Hope and joy sing harmony behind all we do.
  • Doing a funeral costs you in your body and soul. You have no place to hide from the loss experienced by someone else. You have no right to hide behind your own denial or behind some structured funeral liturgy that offers to insulate you from the ugliness of death and loss.
  • The minister standing in the circle of death and mourning makes a promise to God and the family that he or she will not run from the sorrow of the loss, the dysfunction of the family or anything else about the situation created by the death. We will not run.

My first funeral was for an 80 year old granddad in Trent, TX. who took his 20 year old granddaughter on her first dove hunt. She followed the birds across until she took the shot into her granddad’s head. They called to see if the new preacher at the Church of Christ in Trent could do the funeral. They are were not members, but they needed a preacher. I was 20 and finishing my last semester as an undergrad Bible major at ACU. My mentor and father in ministry, Jimmy Jividen, had given me a template for working though a funeral process. It was what I had; it served me well enough. I can’t remember a thing I said that day, but I’ll never forget the glazed eyes of that granddaughter. I can’t remember what I said; I remember I answered the call and didn’t run away. Many of you reading this piece know exactly how it feels to be so alone in the moment and yet feel the presence of God empowering you. You know.

I have helped so many say goodbye to their loved and no-so-loved ones. I did the funeral for my best friend after 20 years of our daily conversations. I have said impossible words over the tiny caskets of babies. I have heard Taps echo over the scene of flag-draped casket and honor guard at attention out of respect for an old soldier surrounded by family and friends. And for wives. And for grandmas. And for elders. And for alcoholic plumbers. Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #12: Last Words

Names #3: People of a Name

Have you ever noticed how ugly names can be? I’m not talking about bad names like Hubert or Lance, but more about the ugly ways that we use them. Names can unite people, but they can also divide us. So I belong to group of Christians who traditionally didn’t want to be named anything, we started off as non-denominational (non-named) Christians. The only problem with that is that we named it “Churches of Christ” and then pretended like it wasn’t a name at all.

Which is the theological equivalent of saying something like “Oh that’s my friend Steve, he doesn’t have a name.”

But “Churches of Christ” has been moving along as a non-denominational denomination for well over a hundred years. And we really like our name. If you ever doubt that, just go up to one of us and ask us to change the church sign.

But having a name isn’t a bad thing. Everything depends on what you do with it.

I have a friend who’s a few years older than me, and until a couple of years ago he and his wife led what most of us would consider a pretty normal American life. But that was before they met Heather. Heather was a teenage girl who had come from a very broken home, she had been coming to the church they attended for the past few months, and they started to get to know her…then she started staying with them…then she wanted to be their daughter.

Now my friends hadn’t planned on adopting, but they loved Heather, and so they gave her a ton of options other than full adoption. They told her she could keep staying with them until she went to college, they would be willing to become her legal guardians, and if she really wanted they would legally adopt her, but she could keep her last name, and she could still make a lot of her own decisions and remain relatively independent.

But, my friends made clear to her, if you want us to fully adopt you and give you our name, then it’s going to be an entirely different situation. We are going to expect a lot more of you than we would just some resident.  If we give you our name we are going to ask you to live a certain way. So no more abusing alcohol or drugs or dating boys we don’t approve of. Because if we give you our name it comes at a price.

And Heather said yes.

Even though she knew changing her life this much would be painful, she wanted more than a roof over her head. She wanted a name that meant something to her.

So this is a short series on why names matter. But more specifically it’s a series on why the book of Genesis talks so much about names. For the longest time I’ve wondered about why Genesis is so preoccupied with the idea of naming and names.

One of the things that is interesting about Genesis is that when Noah names his three sons, one of them is named Shem. Which is the Hebrew word for name. I have a friend named Jonathan who teaches Hebrew at a seminary in town, and since both of our parents really nailed it in the name department, I was asking Jonathan what he thought. Here’s what he said:

Family trees in the Bible are pretty boring. Kind of like graduation pictures—just a lot of faces, all in the same monochrome robes. Or like those names on the Vietnam Memorial. You know, boring.

Obviously, I’m writing this tongue in cheek. Graduation pictures are riveting—when we are in them. If we can seek out a name we know on the Vietnam Memorial, it can be the most meaningful experience ever. And even family trees fascinate us—as long as it’s my own family tree. Continue reading Names #3: People of a Name

Names #2: Don’t Think of an Elephant

So this is a short series on why names matter. but more specifically it’s a series on why the book of Genesis talks so much about names. Because one of the greatest gifts that God gives to humans is create with Him, and to name that creation.

I’ve noticed that it’s trendy among younger Christians to use language that older generations find offensive. And I get that. After all, every generation stretches the boundaries of language. Otherwise we would never hear the word pregnant on television, and “sucks” would still mean what my mom thinks it does. But I think it’s important to not forget that the Scripture is telling a story in which the language we use, the names we choose matter very much.

And here’s why:

I have a friend who had been married to his wife for a decade when he found out that she had cheated on him…a lot. He remembers the night that he found out that she had really never been faithful to him, in fact, he discovered there was a very good chance that their kids weren’t even his. And so my friend had a choice. He knew that the marriage was over, in a sense, it had never really existed. But he had to decide what to do with the children. He could probably walk away from any responsibility at all, or he could get DNA testing to find out which ones belonged to him biologically.

But he didn’t. Instead my friend went to court and fought for everyone of his kids without qualifiers. It cost him a small savings, but he did it. And later, when his kids found out that there was a chance that he wasn’t their biological father, they asked him why he fought so tirelessly for them. He told them, “Because I named you.”

Which is an interesting answer isn’t it?

It implies that there’s more to creating a kid than a sperm fertilizing an egg.

Naming a child has something to do with what kind of child you have created.

A couple of years ago, I heard a story on NPR about how the Social Services had noticed the most popular names for children right now are Jacob or Isabella or Edward. Which sound like great names, until you realize that they are all from the movie Twilight. So it’s a bit like the naming version of getting a Justin Bieber tattoo.

I think most of us name our kids after stories we like, stories that have affected us, that inspire us, but be careful how you name. Because some stories can’t bear the weight of the names. Some stories are just too trivial to become names. Continue reading Names #2: Don’t Think of an Elephant

Inspi(re)ality #12: Delivering the Bad News in a Crisis


This is another post in a series for people who serve/volunteer/work in any kind of ministry setting. Inspi(re)ality is a year long series about the practical things we face in ministry, as well as why doing these things matter.  The following is a guest post by Dan Bouchelle, Dan has served as a minister for over two decades, most recently at the Central Church of Christ in Amarillo, Texas. Today Dan serves churches through the world and the missionaries they support through Missions Resource Network. Dan is a regular blogger, and as a former preacher and fan of ministers, Dan consistently posts helpful insights for church leadership and practical ministry tips. Look forward for more posts from Dan in this series in the future. Here’s Dan:

The policeman called me out into the front yard and asked if I would deliver the news to the family because “They will take it so much better from you.” I had just arrived about 20 minutes earlier after getting a 1:00 am phone call saying that one of our young adult church members had been shot. The family knew he was dead and wanted to know how this had happened. When I arrived there were half a dozen people from the church there including two couples who had lost young adult children in the past. Because I was the preacher, the cop asked me to tell the family that their preliminary investigation indicated that the shooting was a suicide.

Wow, I had all of 60 seconds to figure out what to say because the arrival of new policemen to the scene created an expectation of word regarding how the shooting happened. Everyone at the house saw the officer pull me out into the yard, so they grew quiet and looked up at me with hope that I was going to make sense of this madness.

With a tremble in my hands, I walked over to the semi-circle of would be comforters, got down onto my knees before the mother, took her hands into my own, looked up into her eyes with tears streaming from mine, and delivered the news the way best I could. Her son had shot himself. I will never forget the cry that erupted from her throat. “Noooooooo, it can’t beeeeeee!! Ooooooohhhhh God, Ooooooooooo Gaaaahhhhhhd! Noooooooooooooooooo!!

I’ve never felt more powerless in my life.

I’ve had other moments when I was called on to be the bearer of ill-tidings, but this was the most difficult. When these moments come, you are not prepared for them and handling it well it seems like an impossible goal. There is no good way to give bad news. But there are some ways which are worse than others. Here are a few suggestions from one who has been called on to give the dreaded bad news too often.

1. Don’t preface the bad news with lots of qualifiers thinking you can soften the blow. In crisis, peole’s imagination works at the speed of light and they begin to explore worse and worse scenarios as you warm the up for the hard truth. As soon as the person knows you are about to tell them hard news, their brain goes into hyper-fear mode and delays become torture which actually makes hearing the facts more difficult because terror crowds out the ability of the senses to take in information well. Don’t prolong this agony unnecessarily. You don’t have to be harsh or blunt, but be quick to the point. Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #12: Delivering the Bad News in a Crisis

Names #1: Naming Elmo


I’d like to begin a short little blog series today for just a couple of weeks about an idea that I’ve been rolling around in my mind for the past couple of months.  It’s nothing earth shattering, basically the idea is that, buried in our DNA we think that our names matter…probably more then we are even aware of. We work hard to have a good name, we give each other nicknames (I have a college friend who we still call Bad Brad), sometimes we even go to such extremes as to legally change our names. We care about names. And I think we have good reasons to care, but maybe we haven’t even realized what those reasons are.

For some reason, the Book of Genesis cares a lot about Names and naming. In fact, in Genesis, a lot is tied to this. In fact, the Bible starts off by God creating with language, and then God names the very things he’s created. The dark He calls Night, and the Light he calls Day. And then God turns this whole naming project over to the man he named Adam. He let’s Adam and Eve name everything else. God makes it, they name it.

He let’s them partner in the creativity of what he is doing, He let’s them join in as co-artists.

I read a few years ago, about a Sociologist who focuses on creativity, he’s a guy named Gordon MacKenzie, and for years he would go into elementary schools and ask them the question, “Who here is an artist?” In the 1st grade, almost every hand would shoot up. By the 2nd and 3rd grades only about 50% of the students would raise their hands, and by the 5th and 6th grade there would be only one or two kids that would raise their hands. So this Sociologist came up with a theory that in our culture, we like to do what he called Creative Suppression. We are afraid to create because creating almost always involves an element of failure. And what’s worse, according to this sociologist, we pass that fear onto our kids.

Next month, Leslie and I are scheduled to have our next baby, and we are now thinking through names for this new little life. We are in the process of naming, and naming…especially a new little life is a very difficult task.  How do you give a little person a word that she or he will hear to describe them for the rest of their lives? You have to worry about what the name might rhyme with, or how it might impact their psychological development, or social life. Someone, somewhere once made the mistake of Gertrude, and  Leslie and I don’t want to repeat that.

But I’ve discovered that one of the more difficult things about being the parent of children isn’t naming them, but allowing them to name as well. Eden and Samuel both love naming anything they come into contact with, and if we let them they would name and re-name everything in the house. But we can only name so many things after Disney Princesses, and our Golden Retriever doesn’t want to be named Mr. Pickles.

And this is why Genesis matters I think, God trusts His creation to name His creation. He could do it better, but he gives them a chance, he makes space for them to create. Because what God wants, more than perfection, is partners. Continue reading Names #1: Naming Elmo

Inspi(re)ality #11: Entering A Crisis Moment

Inspi(re)ality is a series for people who serve/volunteer/work in any kind of ministry setting. It is a year long series about the practical things we face in ministry, as well as why doing these things matter. Today’s blog is a guest post from Jordan Hubbard. Jordan serves as Senior Minister at the Belton Church of Christ in Belton, TX., he spent over a decade in student ministry before stepping into preaching ministry. Here’s Jordan:

“OK. That’s it. He’s gone. Time of death is 8:20.”

The hospice nurse said these words and at this moment, every eye in the room turned to the young minister in the room. What Louis’ family didn’t know was that the young minister was just as confused and stunned as they were.

“What am I supposed to do with THIS?” I asked myself.

I received my ministry training with some pastoral care training. I started ministry as a youth minister. The typical pastoral concerns for youth ministry involved counseling with parents and students about relationships, decisions, planning the future, processing hurts, and dealing with developmental issues. When I stepped into pulpit ministry, I moved to a small town with an older population. Now I dealt with a different set of pastoral concerns. Nothing in my youth ministry training and experience prepared me for one of the most pastoral ministries I would be called upon to perform: Helping people die.

Pastors and ministers stand in the gap representing Christ in some of the most difficult and crucial times of life. Dying is a time when individuals and families reach out for the presence of God, and often that means they will be reaching out to you. Here are some thoughts about how we can help people and families in the last days, hours and moments before death. I do not consider myself an expert in any way and so I am including alongside mine the thoughts of one of my friends and mentors, Joe Baisden, a veteran of over 50 years of ministry.

  1. Pray often– When entering a situation where people are close to death, there is no “right way” to do things. The best preparation for this is to rely upon the Holy Spirit to guide and lead. Silently pray and ask, “What is most beneficial to the person and to the family?”
  2. Put aside your agenda– This is difficult for ministers to do. Instead of coming in with a playbook, the minister must come in as a servant to the person and family. Do what is best for them, not what makes you feel better about yourself. It might be that the individual or family does not want you around. Do not stay if you are not wanted. In other cases, the family will want you to sit with them through the entire process. Respect their wishes and not your agenda.
  3. Listen– A conversation with the dying should be driven by them and not you. If they are ready to talk about death, you can ask the question, “How do you feel about going on?” It might be that they are not ready to talk about death. It is okay to listen to them talk about their family or about their life. Don’t be afraid to be silent. Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #11: Entering A Crisis Moment

An Election Week Prayer

Yesterday at the Highland Church of Christ, I shared this brief word of encouragement for how Jesus followers might enter this election week. I hope this breathes a fresh word of peace into our lives. May we not be fearful.

Henry Kissinger used to walk into the Oval Office and begin the meeting of the Presidential Cabinent by telling the people gathered, “Today, we will make decisions that will impact the course of human history!”

And they believed him. They felt the weight of the world on their shoulders.

And then Watergate happened. It was the scandal that rocked the nation, and a few of the gentlemen who were in that room, the ones who were making decisions that would change the course of history, went to prison. One of those people was Charles Colson, and it was in prison that Jesus found Charles Colson. He became a part of a thriving jail ministry, and after he was released Colson kept serving in a prison ministry where he saw thousands of people become followers of Jesus.

Decades later, Colson would make a trip to Rome, where he would walk around the great historic city and it’s cites. And he said as he walked around the ruins of the once great Rome, it slowly dawned on him that the Roman Senators probably started off their days with someone telling them “The decisions that we made today will change to course of human history.”

And the late Charles Colson realized that “Today that Rome is just a pile of rocks, but the Kingdom of God just keeps going on.”  Continue reading An Election Week Prayer

Inspi(re)ality #10: Doing the Graveside and Funeral Ceremony

This is another post in a year long series about both the nuts and bolts of practical ministry and how it relates to the reason we got into ministry in the first place. For the past couple of weeks Randy Piersall has been giving advice on best practices he’s seen with ministers doing funerals. In case you missed it, Randy is a local funeral home director and one of the best people that I’ve seen at entering into people’s grief and standing with them. He’s shared tips on how to do funerals with dozens of young ministers, and today I’ve asked him to give some practical tips on the actual funeral ceremony and graveside. Here’s Randy:

This is the last in my series of three blogs on funeral service and what a minister does for a family during this time of loss.  This last blog will focus primarily on the funeral service and graveside and will probably be a little more detail oriented and practical than my previous blogs.

When I began my career in this industry there were very defined traditions and nearly every funeral, regardless of faith had similar traits.  There would be a viewing or visitation, a service where the minister would have a “message” and where many times a final viewing would take place, and there would be a committal or graveside service and they would occur in that order, typically over a three or four day period of time.  Today, a family may or may not have a visitation and the body may or may not be present for that visitation.  The service is typically focused on the person’s life and if they had a faith, that faith is interwoven into the message about the impact that person had on others. (so the service is focused on the person more than providing a religious message)  Many times now there is a committal or graveside service which is more of a family affair than something for the community to take part in.  These aspects of a funeral can take place in any order and can occur all in one day or spread out over a number of days depending on the family.

All of that to say, families have more opinions and options than ever regarding how to handle the funeral service of a loved one.  As a minister it’s important that you have an open mind regarding the wishes of the family and understand that these decisions that are made about how to honor their loved one are incredibly personal.  I resolved early on in my career as a funeral director, that my goal was to make each service as unique as the life it represents and to honor the wishes of the family to the best of my ability.  So, my focus is not to guide a family in the direction “I” want them to go, but rather to educate them on the options they have and allow them to make informed decisions about what works best for their family.  I would encourage you as a minister to follow a similar approach. Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #10: Doing the Graveside and Funeral Ceremony