Defining Moments in Care - Weddings, Funerals, and Visitations


I was asked to consider and to think about, I guess what one of the days, I'm not sure exactly, which one, titled Defining Moments in Care. I think the defining portion of that is some of the practical conversations we can have about weddings, and funerals, and visitations. Before we jump there, I want to talk about care in general, and not assume that caring for people or what that looks like is something that all of us have as a value.

My experience, because I was a young pastor and some people might even say, "You're still a young pastor," in my thirties. I would confess that I've very rarely heard young pastors aspire to be a minister whose major impact is in quite simple moments of presence with people who have needs. The most of the time, when we imagine, and we dream, and we go to the conferences and we think, "I'm going to be like X, Y, or Z," our heroes are people who are using spectacular gifts in spectacular ways in big meaningful moments.

My assumption, or my guess, is that for a majority of us, God needs to do work in us to a place of conviction down deep in our soul that says that to be like Jesus and to walk in the calling that He's given us, means that we need to not only be willing to but embrace and love the fact that God would use us, and not for our spectacular gifts, but for our willingness to be present, to be personal, and many times even to be silent, that it's not going to be some spectacular gift that we use.

I'm going to take a little bit of time, and hopefully at the beginning here, try to make a case so that we could all maybe be on the same page for the conviction that we ought to have for pastoral care. Before we can meet people in defining moments of their care, I think we need to be convinced that God's calling us to do that, so that's the first thing.

I had a moment recently where I thought a lot about what this would look like for me and it convicted me. I was back home in North Dakota. I got a call the weekend before. I was supposed to go on a pastors' retreat with some of my best friends in the world, that I really looked forward to. We got a call about midnight from my best friend's wife. My best friend has been struggling with stage 4 cancer for two years. He is in his late thirties and to the point where he is just completely wasting away. I visited him a couple different times. I made a trip to go be with him as he did an experimental chemo thing in Houston at one point. Now, he had been taken to the emergency room and they weren't sure if he was going to make it through. Despite being very strong and having a big support team there, his wife called and said, "You know, I know we've never asked you this before, but I think that if you could come, we need you to be here".

We made the decision at that point we were just going to drop what we could, and we were going to go. We told them and committed that we wanted to be there. In one way, I was acting out this, "I want to be present and I want to be there." What I didn't know is that over the next couple days, I was going to be struck by the ministry of and the presence and care of a man that in my mind did far more for my friend and for his family that I would have ever guessed. We were sitting in the emergency room and I was listening to my friend as he dropped in and out of consciousness on morphine, and trying to care for him and talk with him there.

It was a Sunday, right? It was a Sunday and he'd said, "Why don't you come over because I'd love for us to study scripture together or do something meaningful." I remember I was just paralyzed, I woke up that morning and I thought, "I don't know what to say to this. I don't know how to do this and ..." Sometimes it's an odd thing, you can be super powerful spiritually with strangers or at a context where it's your job. Maybe this is my experience with my wife, with my kids and in this case with my best friend, sometimes I feel completely inept. I don't know what to do.

I'd spent the day and just sort of fumbled around, we'd done nothing spiritual. I'm feeling guilty about it and I'm sitting there with my friend, and the emergency door slides open and in walks ... I say walk generously. In waddles a nearly 80 year old couple of open heart bypass surgery, minister of the gospel, with a collar, of this little Lutheran Church in the small town of three hundred people that we grew up in.

He comes in and he knows us by name, and he gives us a hug. Immediately he begins to pull out a little travel communion set that he brings with him. He just sets it up and over the course of the next few minutes he opens catechism, he invites us to pray the Lord's Prayer with him, and right bedside in the emergency room with my friend and his wife, and my wife and myself, this humble, quiet man in 10 minutes, I think, enacted one of the most powerful moments of ministry that I've ever been privy to in my entire life. I would say that in those 10 minutes, he spoke his own words from his own personality that he would have had to make up maybe 10% of the time. Some of that 10% was just saying things like "Hey, it's so great to see you. I love you guys, I care about you." The rest of the time he simply read with passion and care and kindness words that Jesus would have given us to pray in the Lord's Prayer, words that would have been written by Luther hundreds of years ago in a catechism, words of the institution of the supper. He simply prayed for and gave these things out, and then he turned and he left.

My wife and I both sat stunned, and we talked about it many times since then. What an amazing thing it is that this man was able to do in less than 10 minutes, nearly none of his own words, something that I felt was so meaningful and he could do within that 10 minutes something that I'd felt like I'd struggled for days to do for my best friend. What struck me about it the most was the fact that anyone could have done it.

In some ways I felt, that was the most powerful thing. This guy was humble enough and caring enough to show up. He was powerful not because of who he was but because he was there, not because of what he said, but because he used other words that needed to be said. He wasn't afraid. He had no care in the world that somehow he needed to be unique, that he needed to do something that was going to be powerful. I don't believe that in that moment he was thinking to himself, "Man, you know what? I just need to say one thing they'll remember forever as he goes to his last days."

In that particular moment, I thought to myself, I want to commit myself. I want to have a conviction for my soul that some of my pastoral care in my ministry is that I would be dedicated to being present, I'll be dedicated to doing the things that anyone could have done, but the things that are the most vital.

I realize in my own soul--and I have a working assumption, so I don't want to assume about anybody here--but I've been working assumption that for many of us as we've entered ministry and you get involved in the mix of it, and all of us love preaching and we love doctrine. We love music and songs and the things that weren't part of. I have a working assumption that many of us underestimate the importance of meaningful presence in the simple moments with the actual people that God has given us in our churches, that it's more important. We underestimate it, and at the same time as we underestimate it, I think that when we think about it, we have probably not taken stock of the reasons why it's so difficult for us to do that.

It's difficult for us to actually be meaningful present in people's lives, so I want to start with why I think meaningful presence, pastoral care, defining moments of care is more important than most of us think. That if you take stock of well, what's going to be important for me to be successful in a ministry life? Most of us put pastoral care, being present, far down, maybe not even on the list.

Andy, you tell me it's one of your seven pastoral principles at your church. You guys are winning. That's awesome, so not Andy. Maybe your assumption, maybe you're out of the assumption, but for the rest of us, I don't think we aspire to when we're 17,18,19,25, 30 thinking like "Oh, man, I'm just going to kill the pastoral presence game. I'm just going to be there, just there. Not say anything, but knowing that I love them."

I think that when we start to dive in and think about this thing, we're going to realize why it's difficult for us, and I want to uncover some of that. Let me just give a few different reasons. The first reason is we ought to have a conviction of pastoral care. This is the thing that leads us to decide to get better at weddings. It's the thing that leads us to say, "I'm going to dive into funerals as much as I can." It's the thing that leads us to not overlook or think of invitations to be with people, to visit people as somehow an interruption in the rest of the busy awesome things you're doing, but actually run with them.

I think it starts with a conviction of [pause 00:08:42] to do, and what I should be doing. The first thing is just simple incarnation. All of us want to be Jesus. He's the model for every single thing that we do. Again, I think we sometimes overlook the fact that one of the most significant things, the starting [inaudible 00:08:58] gospel, the good news of what it meant for God to reach out to people, is in the name of Jesus. The announcement comes for his birth, and the announcement comes to the people. He says, get this, get this, get this, "His name is going to be Emmanuel, God with us." The staggering fact that God would gift to the people with his presence, just merely that he's going to be here, would have been enough for everyone to say, "Hold on, do you have more good news? That's going to be great. We'll celebrate that then, but let's have a party right now. God's going to be with us."

Simply being with the people was the starting point of the good news. I've heard a ton of people describe this.  Christmas is coming, right? If you're not working on your advent seriously, what are you doing? Everybody knows man, we got an nail this. What does it mean? God came and is incarnate. Okay, I'm going to get after this. Then if you're really edgy, and you're missional, you start to think about incarnation we [inaudible 00:09:54] in our city. We can't be so spiritually minded. We need to like smoking and [pause 00:10:01] reclaim all that. I've heard a ton of incarnation speak when it comes to being [inaudible 00:10:08]. If you get that far, it is a great place. What's interesting is I think as pastors, as people in church, we often overlook the obvious fact that to be like Jesus means that we ought to know what does it mean to be incarnational with our own people? Are we present with the people that we're actually pastoring?

I remember one time complaining to an older pastor when I first kind of residency, part- time job sort of things--complaining about some of the [inaudible 00:10:40]. He stopped me. He stopped me right off the bat. He wasn't going to have any of that. He said, "I want to tell you something Lance. At one point you just have to come to a conclusion, and you have to be convicted about something. You never get to the pastor [inaudible 00:10:50] there. God knows what he's doing, and he's providential, and you only get to pastor the people that you actually have."

It was in that moment that I felt like well, what am I doing wrong here? What he was calling me to, what this older pastor was saying is, event [inaudible 00:11:05] the incarnational present actually with who you have, with your church. One of the [inaudible 00:11:13] have to be like [inaudible 00:11:14] the present. How many leadership manuals or books that people have in ministry actually help to tell people how to protect themselves from having to be too present with their people? Presence, we need to be [inaudible 00:11:29]. If you're called to pastor a church, if the word [inaudible 00:11:31] is what you put [inaudible 00:11:32], then to be like Jesus means you are committing that the standard, the bare minimum, the thing that you're to do is to live amongst the people, to be with them as much as you possibly can.

Jesus, his ministry was recorded in the Gospels, and then commented on and explained of course in rest of the Epistles, but over the course of his life of ministry the normal stuff was that he was with his disciples. That would have been the dominant factor. He wasn't always turning loaves and bread into a feast. He wasn't always walking on water. It does seem like he made a practice of being with them. In fact, how much [inaudible 00:12:04] when he withdrew from them, that's what they commented on. Jesus actually withdrew and was by himself, which I think gives me an indication that the normal thing was, he'd let himself be with them nearly constantly. Incarnation is one of the first things that's going to lead us to a conviction to have pastoral presence with people.

The second thing--not all of us in here probably are there, but there's a sense that we need to define our call in a particular way. Specifically, if you are called to be an elder in a church, if you're called to be an elder in a church, then you must [inaudible 00:12:37] the fact that shepherding is not a negotiable aspect of your call. In fact, I would say that for the most part, shepherding is the over [inaudible 00:12:45] and any other gift that you bring to the table simply allows you to get at that in a better way.

So many times--and I'm just going to read of the passages of the scripture--I think we [inaudible 00:12:54] knowledge of our flock, knowledge of [inaudible 00:12:58]. The kind of knowledge that only comes with listening well and being there, and noticing and paying attention is the absolute call to elder. You cannot shepherd apart from knowing the flock. It was quoted in one of the many [inaudible 00:13:09] that we've had. John 21:15, 16, and 17, Peter is being restored by Jesus, and Jesus tells him to do, "Feed my sheep, feed my sheep, feed my sheep." He doesn't say that. That's what I wish he had said. Feed my sheep. I just write some blogs, I preach the sermons, I give him all the content, I just want them to be well fed.

Now Jesus says, "Feed my sheep." The second time says "Tend my sheep." Goes back to feed. I don't want to make too much of that. [inaudible 00:13:40] point out that for those of us who love to be expositional about the Greek meanings of all the words, it's pretty easy to neglect the fact that he does say tend. He says the word poimen which means to shepherd, to be with. Right? Then I think that's borne out in the way that the elders interpreted this call the elder for beyond the [inaudible 00:13:58]. Verse 28, Paul [inaudible 00:14:04] to the elders back [inaudible 00:14:04] be careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers." Careful [inaudible 00:14:12]. It's hard to pay careful attention to the flock, unless you are with them, unless you have a kind of [inaudible 00:14:18] with them.

Paul had actually used an example of his own [inaudible 00:14:22]. He taught them in public, he said in verse 20, as well house to house. This means that in a certain point, your experience of church in the New Testament could have been that the Apostle Paul himself sat in your living room and talked to you about Jesus, which is absolutely fascinating. I think it's [inaudible 00:14:41] that we have so lost. It would seem so odd for many of us to make home visits and to sit with people and disciple them in their homes.

Anybody ever read The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter? The thing about that book is that a huge portion of it comments on, describes the motivations for, and helps us to get better at home visitations of the people. The majority of his ministry life, which I think was not at the time [inaudible 00:15:08] weekly house to house catechisms of the families in his church. Knowledge of the [inaudible 00:15:16] being there with the people was something that he [inaudible 00:15:22].

This is what Baxter has to say about [inaudible 00:15:24], and I think in application of Paul's decision he said his apostleship in ethicist was to go house to house. Baxter says this. He said, "We must labor, we must work to be acquainted not only with the persons in our church but with the [inaudible 00:15:38] of our people, with [inaudible 00:15:38] congregations. Which sins are they most in danger of? What duties are they most apt to neglect? Which temptations are they most liable to? If we know not their temperament or disease it is unlikely that we would prove to be successful physicians. We have to know the people. 1 Peter 5 [inaudible 00:16:00] says I exhort to be an elder that would shepherd [inaudible 00:16:05], the idea of us knowing the people and being there.

Should I think we can all probably agree that it needs to be part of it.  I think the other part of our calling- One, it's a command, right? We're supposed to be with them, among the shepherd in the flock. The other part of our calling [inaudible 00:16:23] and whether it was commanded to be them or not, part of the calling to be an elder in a church, if that's what you aspire to, you're going to be held accountable for the souls of people that you're out [inaudible 00:16:35].

Again, Baxter commenting on the foolishness of so many elders and pastors who aspire to huge ministries. To him, he wanted to take on only the number of people that he could actually know well because he was terrified to be held accountable for people that he could barely remember their names. Quoting this he said, "How could you, for I know I could scarcely commend the prudence or the humility of that elder, of that pastor no matter how great his gifts. How could you to man his humility or prudence if he would try to undertake to gather in all the harvest of the whole country to himself, and he would do this upon pain of death for his own damnation and judgment."

Which is again, Scripture is so clear on this. Not many of you should seek to be teachers. You'll be held to a strict account.  Shepherd the flock that is among you, among you whom you'll overseeing. [inaudible 00:17:31] 13 says that you'll give an account to God [inaudible 00:17:34] of the people who are under your care.

He says I could never command the prudence or the humility of that laborer who would take the whole harvest upon himself, even upon damnation or pain of death, but actually would earnestly contend for that privilege, that the person would actually [inaudible 00:17:53] huge task of our people. I think the majority of us, the idea of the thing that's going to want to be involved in the defining moments of care for people is first and foremost a conviction of what we're actually called to do. This I think will temper and will help to limit one of the biggest tragedies in the church for so many people, is that their gifts take them further in ministry than their character can sustain them,  that our gifts are highlighted to the point where shepherding and being present among the people is barely even a question.

I read something like the stuff from Baxter and it makes me shocked. I think in incarnational ministry, we want to be like Jesus. We should be with people. We should consider our calling must be with people. It's commanded and there's no way that you want to give an account for a soul that you don't know their name. Right? We don't ... Now that seems like the bare minimum. let's just start with, "Hey, can we have coffee? I think I'm going to have to give an account for your soul. I'd like to know your middle name or I'd like to know where did you grow up?" That kind of thing, right?

Last, context, the thing that will lead us toward defining moment there is I think our context and this is what I mean by that. A majority of us are in younger churches. We're not at the place where somehow we can offload all these things. This is somewhat of a practical thing, for me, maybe even a little bit of a rant, but you can decide that for yourself. I've heard so many young pastors. I have talked with, and attempted to help, and prayed with so many young pastors who like from the moment [inaudible 00:19:32] attempt to implement the sort of old wise adage of you can't be everywhere at once. You can't be at [inaudible 00:19:41].

From the beginning, the thing [inaudible 00:19:43] is how do I make sure? How do I make sure that I'm not the one that's responsible to be at everything or to do everything? How do I make sure that I'm a little bit insulated? How do I make sure that I sort of guard and protect myself? Every single time I look at them and say, "You have forty people. Be everything for everyone. This is the moment. This is the context. Before you can feel the weight and strain off load and get other shepherds, you need to lean into and shepherd yourself in the particular moment."

I would say that for a majority of churches, until you have more than 150 people or so you're given to this full time. A lot of people, full time, 50, 60 hours of your week let alone just making friendships in the church the kind of unity the [inaudible 00:20:30] mornings. You should be able to by God's good [inaudible 00:20:34]. I love that I get to be the shepherd that personally knows and is present with all of these people. Then I hear people from the beginning saying, "You know, I read this book and it was so helpful. This [inaudible 00:20:47] he needed to make sure that he wasn't expected to be at everything."

They're reading wisdom and leadership input from guys who have a church of two thousand people who learned the lessons of having to offload, felt the weight of real shepherd at some point in their ministry. You can't shortcut this. In fact, I would think that for the most part the major factor that's going to grow your church, your preaching. My preaching is probably not that great, but it's amazing how much better preaching gets when you know the heart of the person you're teaching. It's amazing how much better your application, your [inaudible 00:21:23], your love is when you look out at people and your thinking to yourself I counseled with them on Thursday. You were in my living or months Saturday. I was at your kid's baseball game on Monday. Relational teaching is I think one of the most precious gifts that God gives to small churches in order to build them.

Again the idea that somehow the power of your gifts, of your leadership ability is somehow going to supersede and overtake the need to be present with your people seems absolutely insane to me. Network like ours,  we're  young. Our church is trying to grow. My advice would be in your context you should [inaudible 00:22:04] at being present with them as much as you possibly can until you're about to die from it and then only because they're lost from your dead cold fingers would being present with people be ripped from you. Unless your elders come to you and say, "[inaudible 00:22:20]," so well when you pu-, like they hear your, hear it all the time. We must give up a couple of these things. Help us to shepherd with you because we want to release you to be able to teach more powerfully or to write or to go to that thing and help and serve other people.

I think a lot of [inaudible 00:22:39] has of who we imitate because our heroes are the book writers of thousands of people churches. We immediately want to imitate and think we should have a ministry that should only be reluctantly taken on by us so. We want to be like Jesus, so we want to care for people be present. What of our calling? It's command and it should be sobering to say, "Wow, I have to take care of somebody's soul," and then context. I think that many of us under estimate, like I underestimated the ten minutes for the guy at the hospital room, you could build a church on being present with people. It's rare that someone's going to be building a church based on the idea that you are ... I messed up?

Speaker 1: It's cutting in and out.

Lance: It's all my fault. I move too much.

Speaker 1: You're good. Stick that.

Lance: No one's going to want to listen to this but go ahead.

What a faithful servant. It's cutting out. No one's going to care. You care, though. Thank you. You care. That guy cares. What a great guy. We all need guys like that.

All right, so we walked through all the stuff. Build a church on presence, that's the whole point. I would tell anybody, "Like you want to be effective in the ministry you have? Ask yourself a few questions.  Who's here, who are my people, and how can I run at them as hard as I possibly can? This means simple things. like I was telling somebody when we had our church stuff, "The moment I'm driving out of the church property anyone who's doing anything or [inaudible 00:24:06] personal ownership.

I possibly can be present. That means I see the guy setting up the cones in the parking lot thing. The next day I'm writing a personal note to him, "Joe, man, I know that we haven't spent much time together. I saw you set up the cones. thank you so much for being [inaudible 00:24:24]. I'm so glad you're here," and send him the letter. I guarantee that for Joe and for his family, feeling the presence [inaudible 00:24:33]. That is going to last for years longer than any one bit of information or exciting rhetoric that I give from the pulpit for him. He doesn't remember a stinking sermon that I've ever spoken to him, but he remembers in that moment I stopped. I talked to him. I sent the letter. I was present. I cared.

Your context should mean go for it. A couple reasons why I think this is difficult for us.  I've sort of run at them. These are reasons why we should run at them and maybe to be more important a couple reasons why I think they're difficult. This one's just going to get some idols and I'm just going to go ahead and throw it. We don't want to be present and care for people [inaudible 00:25:08] not a good place for our idols to grow.

We have ego.  Ego is the reason that we don't want to be present with people. I'll just say it. Presence with people is difficult because it takes all of our person and almost none of our personality. For pastors who believe that their gifts are what's going to carry them to success and a significance, that is a difficult pill to swallow.  Presence [inaudible 00:25:34] all of you. A ton of the times, the moments that are to be significant for other people you think [inaudible 00:25:40] time for them is when they sit and listen to your sermon.

Most of the time, they don't really care. What's significant of them is when you show up and sit quietly in the side of the hospital room. What's significant to them is when I go and I ride around in a golf cart picking out the funeral plot for a prematurely born child. You think I have anything significant to say, "Hey, well, you know, actually the Greeks would pick out one on a hill." It was their mourning and their grieving and I'm just there. You know what? It takes my whole day. It takes all of my person and very little of my personality. I think all of us [inaudible 00:26:16] I think that wants to be more special than that.

I don't ever be the guy who walks and only says the Lord's Prayer, and only [inaudible 00:26:25] the catechism, and only gives the ten minutes in the hospital room because I think like I want to be more cool than that. I mean, anybody can do that.

Another reason that we don't. This is a real thing. We are limited, but I want to turn this on its head for a minute. It is true you might feel busy. you might say to yourself, "This season I can't be with everybody. I don't know what to do," and so we give up. We just think it's too hard but I want to remind you of something that's sort of counterintuitive. It is true that you cannot be everywhere at once. You cannot be all things for every person. Which is exact [inaudible 00:27:02] and for them. 

In your pastoring, it'll be very difficult you to ever communicate something more loving than showing up because everyone implicitly knows you could be anywhere. You could be with anyone. Merely by your presence you are saying, "I'm here and I'm with you." It is precious and it is valuable. It communicates a kind of love that can't be gotten any other way because everyone knows I could have been anywhere. You know that. I could have been anywhere, but I'm taking time out of my life and I'm here. I'm limited but my limitations are directed at you right now in this moment. That's the kind of powerful thing that comes off as an actual shepherding of actual care for people. Again, I think for us that's difficult because we put flip out and say, "I can't be everywhere, so I don't want to be there," or we feel like we have more important other things to do.

I'll just say one other thing. On the ego side of it, I'm just going to say consumerism. And I'll just say this from the shepherd side for ministries. It is so easy for churches to complain about the people. you know, Christians these days. They just church shop all they care about is just getting a religious experience. It's a checklist. They're shoppers in a store. I think sometimes we need to turn that around on us and ask ourselves have we created a context where we kind of like the shopper to store model.

Flat out, honestly it's easier for me to write a blog post. It's easier for me to pastor internet folks who don't require anything of me. I kind of love, something in me kind of loves if crowds of people would come on Sunday mornings and all they want is my teaching. Boy, that's a clean exchange. Here's the data. I thank you. See you next week. I think sometimes consumerism on the part of pastors and ministries and churches wanting to be a deliverer of goods and services helps to perpetuate this idea that people want to be there. I don't know if that's you, but I definitely know it can be me. I love to produce all of the things that can be delivered early in a clean way without my much follow-up. It just turns out that our calling is much deeper than that. It just turns out that our need in our people is much different than that.

All that to say I think what's going to happen- I think it's going to happen is that we have a conviction of this, when we repent of this, that we're going to start to ask ourselves not what is most significant to me in the way I want to pastor my people but what is most significant to them in the most moments of presence that I can love them in the way they need to be loved? That's going to lead us to the sort of sub-

Well, not today. What we're trying to get at, weddings funerals, visitations, whatever you want to call them, we're going to talk about that for just a second. Any comments, any questions, any pushback, any no, that's dumb at all? I'm sorry. I get freaking out and there's no way to erase anything.

Speaker 2: I have a question. I know you mentioned ego is the hindrance that we don't feel important when we spend our time there. Do you think the opposite of you kind of shared with your friends, of being like what good would me being here be? What do I have to offer? Kind of a lower view of self, of thinking. Of all the people that could be with you, why would you even want me there? Have you encountered anybody, any pastor struggling with that as, "I have nothing important to offer you. Even my presence is [inaudible 00:30:44].

Lance: Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree and I actually think that that's ... I think that's a built in thing. I think that that level of dependence is a kind of faith built in thing. It's a revaluing and reorienting of values, and it's happening in the moment that you believe that. It might be true. Sometimes, the reason we want to get practical and say, "Let's make sure we do weddings well and funerals well and visitations well, because sometimes we really are bad at those things. Who knows the actual percent mix?  if you're feeling like what's my presence doing here? This is terrible. It might be that you do need to say, "I’m going to be better next time."

The little man that waddles in with the collar, you need a collar, is what I'm saying. No, you don't need the, but something better, right? He comes in and one of the striking things was like he was just so free of self and so confident that he just was like I'm just prepared. I know my purpose here. I know what I'm going to do.

He was prepared. He had the little communion set. I didn't bring that. He had the catechism thing for the Lord's Supper. I didn't have that ready. He knew exactly how to and said exactly the stuff of, "Let us pray the Lord's Prayer together." I didn't have that. You could feel bad because you need to get a little better, which I hope we do.  Convictions should lead us to say, "I want to get better." We'll talk about that minute, but I think the rest of it is actually just good. I would just run into it. If you feel that moment like what is my presence here? This doesn't even make any difference. I think that's a great invitation to your soul to be like, "Yeah, God, remind me. Remind me that I'm really not that special but I'm human and I'm here, so I don't know."

I actually had a conversation this morning with a friend, who pastors in north Florida with us, who said that he'd been in a church for only six months and he got a call to go over to hospital in a terrible circumstance. A wife's husband had died in an accident that they were in together. She was coming too and delirious. She didn't know what was going on and she's crying out, "Where's my husband? Just stop talking to me. Just where's my husband? I need to talk to him," and he passed. He said that. He just said, "I wanted to run away. I felt ..." He felt profane almost, like why am I in the room right now? I don't even know them, that kind of thing.

Again, that moment not only maybe get better or maybe feel like oh, wow. Then in the sense of that, too, it goes back to our thing of calling [inaudible 00:32:57], to feel the weightiness of this moment. It is true. I wanted to say to him, "Like buddy, like Ryan, what a profound thing we do. You've been there six months. You get to be in the room. Wow, that's insane. That's crazy." I don't know. I think the invitation there, that's a struggle. It's a struggle, but it makes me think God must be doing something there and there's some kind of spec [inaudible 00:33:21]. I'm not even sure if you ever get ... Maybe I'd be arrogant. If I ever walked in on one of those things like ... You walk into [inaudible 00:33:32]. "Yeah, I'm here. I'm here, everybody. It's fine. I'm here. I should be here.  So glad you called me."  I think something went really [inaudible 00:33:40] when maybe someone could be like that. I don't know.

We have like five minutes. I want to walk through just a couple things to think about and then ask all Q&A and you guys can [inaudible 00:33:51]. I already said it and I think it's true. For most people in the church, their experience of the church, it's not a terrible [inaudible 00:33:58]. It's not a bad thing. The thing about the Protestant Reformation and then our continuing is that we have de-ceremonialized many church functions. We're all singing, we're all singing, "God gave you more than a song," or whatever. What's that song? Remember that cheesy worship song?

Speaker 2: Heart of Worship.

Lance: Heart of Worship? Right. We're all coming back to the heart of worship and all and all of us love to just hate on people who are like, "Oh, you're going to get married [inaudible 00:34:21] church?" That's good. Long live the reformation. Luther till we die. All that stuff, right? I also think that sometimes we can miss opportunities to realize it can be a good thing that people still want to reach out and they still want a little bit of ceremony. Guess what? You get to be there. If you ask most people, even un-church people who are not regenerate, they're going to say the [inaudible 00:34:40] significant points when I need a pastor. If I need an elder or a  church, it's going to be because I'm in a wedding, because someone sick or dying or is dead, or someone's in the hospital or there's something that I need to have a visitation for.

For the majority of us, that [inaudible 00:34:53] do we want to do these things.  If I [inaudible 00:34:56] active, I'm even pastor. [Inaudible 00:34:59] for a long time, just started a congregation a few years ago. I find that weddings are a major where I get to practice presence with people. That's one thing. It's just a couple of outlines for me. Here's the things that I have that I find. I find I have some of the most presence with a couple before the wedding, not the wedding itself. I think if we say, "What are our moments of care there?"  I think that as a church and as pastors we should say to ourselves, from the moment a couple leans toward you and says, "We just got engaged," then we ought to have a process and a mentality and a mindset that reaches out to them and grasps them, and says, "We're with you. We're walking. We got this path. Let's do this. Most people don't know what they're doing and you can have significant presence in a couple. I also find the wedding is the best time you have [inaudible 00:35:45].

Some of the most hardened guys or some of the most aloof women who want to meet with me and want to continue to get there because they know they want their wedding to be significant. Sometimes, depending on the need for the people, I think I haven't got a chance to get to know this couple very well. I'm going to put a twelve-week premarital counseling thing in place and pretend it's the most significant thing ever, when really I just want to be there with them. I want to know them. I want to get to know them better. I want to be significant. I will take on personally--and this is something every church needs to struggle with, every pastor needs to figure out--I will take on weddings that are more messy than some other people that I know simply because I embrace and love and want to run at the moment of presence part of the wedding. That would mean the couple who comes--and I've had couples come to me flat out and be like, "We're not Christians but my grandma wants a church building." We heard some cool things. I met you one time of this thing and that was fine. Is there any chance you would officiate our wedding?

I know a lot of pastors who from a conviction immediately say, "No way. God's house will not be profaned. This is not just a special pretty place." I don't know. If you run down that thing I guess you could have a conversation over, whatever. I'm the total opposite. I say, "You know what? What an honor and a gift. I can't believe you're asking me. Let me see how I can serve you, and I would love to meet." I will take the next five weeks and I'll talk about the wedding for ten minutes and the gospel for thirty. Right?  I just say, "What made you want to the church thing? Why wouldn't you want to? I know your grandma wanted to, but why wouldn't you want a church?"

That is a significant moment of presence for the wedding. Even Christian couples who are great. They want to do things right.  It's just My experience before the wedding, times of presence with couples, there's such an attentive spirit there it's nuts. You can say anything you want to them because they feel the weightiness of a marriage. [Inaudible 00:37:28] itself I think is a significant place. All of us know you can preach the gospel there.

I tell couples before I get into a wedding, "There's three things that I will absolutely do nonnegotiably. I will make you exchange vows." Some couples say like, "We wrote a little poem for each other." You listen to the poem and you could have wrote it to like a good hot dog at a stadium. It's like, "You changed my life. I felt so good when I ate ..." It's just dumb. There's no promise here. There's no vow.

I tell them like, "A wedding is this ... This a vow. God's listening and this is something so vows are nonnegotiable. I'm going to pray for you. I'm invoking the name of Christ and I'm praying for you."  We talk about grace and why they need that, and the Holy Spirit's doing to be in their wedding. Then I say, "I'm going to preach the gospel there because a wedding, marriages only exist because of the gospel, so I'm going to preach the gospel. Those are all points that we can talk about. In the wedding ceremony, think about that. Then after the wedding as well."

Josh, you had a good interaction with a buddy. What did you want to tell me about wedding stuff, what he had to say about ...

Speaker 2: This guy who had, who had stepped down from his church and he was reflecting on just the way that he had interacted with these types of moments and how he thought about his presence, and the pressure he felt from the church to be a professional. He said one of his big regrets was not was not going to every single wedding reception because he had to go back and finish when he got his sermon, what a missed opportunity that is to really feast and celebrate with people and reinforce the value of enjoying those best moments of your life together and how ... That was just encouragement to me was don't do that. Don't give him that[inaudible 00:39:00]."

Lance: Yeah, because it's the innate and the normal thing to just be like well, the sermon's more important, no being there for the hour. That was a convicting thing for me because last week I had two couples come to me and schedule weddings that are in the next four months. I'm going to be a part of them and I gave the same speech that I've given for the last year because I had so many weddings going on, "Hey, I just want you to know. I can't wait. We're going to start premarital counseling. I'm going to the ceremony but I just want you to know I probably won't be of much else because my family, my kids and last week there was [inaudible 00:39:28]. You can imagine the calendar."

I give the whole speech like almost victimized. Oh, I'm so busy. It's crazy. The next thing [inaudible 00:39:40], what are you doing? They're inviting you to their celebration, to their feast so this thing, and then you just think no, I need one more hour to what? To worry? One more hours to like nail down the way that transition is going to go?  Not [inaudible 00:39:53] more and again. Who does that? That's stupid. Be there. Be present. Obviously weddings are one.

Funerals, there's no way we can settle this all in ten minutes.  I'm not great at them. In fact, I would say for a network like ours in most of our churches we probably need to do some work where we go and we talk to other people. I just befriended and went out a couple weeks ago. There was a man in north Florida who's in his late 80s. He was pastored ... He's been a preacher. I was talking to him. I said, "What should I call you?" He said, "You know what's funny? All you people call stuff ... When I was growing up, we were preachers, as a preacher man."

I met the preacher man and I thought and I was thinking to myself when I left time with him I want to ask him some stuff and one thing I want to ask him is tell me about funerals because he's done obviously more way than me.

Funeral stuff, I'm going to ask you guys in a minute what you think or what you learned from them. I'm going to give you one application, one application that I've been struggling with the last three weeks and I've been thinking this really for me. I was seventeen years old when I felt called the ministry. I was kind of embarrassed to say it. I didn't want to tell my friends.  I wanted to be an optometrist but I knew I knew, but I knew God was stirring something. I began to teach a little bit. There was always a little bit of fruit, some encouragement.  I enjoyed it I thought this is great. Because I had a conviction that preaching the Word of God in a local church context was going to be what God called me to do. I did some things. I said, "I'm to get better at this. I do not want to be terrible at this.  I took every teaching opportunity I was ever offered for like ten years. I made a conviction.  I said to my wife, my friends ... She was my wife at seventeen. We're not Amish or I don't know who does that, but we're not. 

I just said, "I'm always going to say yes." This found me teaching 4H Girls Clubs for third graders, the school chapel for the ...  The weirdest contacts, but I just knew hey, it's a conviction in my soul. I'm always going to say yes to teaching. The second thing I did in teaching is everywhere I could, I would get it recorded and within twenty-four hours I did the terribly painful thing of listening back to everything that I'd said. You ever have to listen yourself speak? It is the most miserable, horrible ... Sometimes even a video of it, and ridiculous but here's what I said.  I said to myself you know what? Not only want to do this a lot but I know I'm going to be terrible and everyone else ... My grandma is too nice to me to say it was bad. Nobody's grannie's like, "Lance, seriously, you said um so many times and that illustration never landed. You were horrible."

Which is what's true so I made a conviction, an application point, I'm going to say yes every time. Within twenty-four hours I'm going to listen and  I'm going to be brutally honest with myself.  I would take notes on it, cringe, times where you just have to shut it off after thirty minutes and come back later because it's so bad.

Now that I think about it, I think I did the same thing with leadership.  I'd reach out to people who I think are effective leaders. I'd sit down with them.  I asked them, "I have a series of questions. What do you do well? What do you do bad? What's the hardest thing? Where do you think I need to grow." Reading endless leadership books. I'd jump in cohorts because I want to learn all about leadership.  You know why? Because it's a conviction for me. I want to be, I want to do better at those kind of things. I want to do better at those kind of things.

Here's the struggle the last few weeks. Never once have I intentionally applied or thought to myself I want to get better shepherding and being present with people. Avocation for me is I want to talk to my wife and figure out what this would look like. I just think to myself what would it look like if I just said over a six-month or nine-month or one year period?  I'm always going to say yes to being present with people, always. Someone's having a baby, I don't play the well, they'll probably be out tomorrow card. I just don't know.

Hear someone in our church who is an accident. They're going to the hospital for surgery. I don't try to triage the thing and think you know actually that community leader could go better. I'm kind of busy and I'd rather be over there. I'm just going to say, "I want to run. I want to run to ... I want to run to it," because I don't want to have the situation where I walk in and I feel like why am I here? I'm terrible at this. I want to get better.

Scripture actually gives this command to go to funerals as much as possible. Ecclesiastes tells us the heart of the wise in the house of mourning. Even if you're not the one ... See, pastors love to do this and I'm so guilty of it. I'm not sure the last church services that I've willfully gone to if I'm not vitally [inaudible 00:43:56]. Every time you're not vitally involved in leading something, you take that as an invitation to be like, "Oh, good.  I get a break. I'm [inaudible 00:43:56]."

I think to myself what would it look like for nine months or a year to just go to funerals. That sounds so morbid, just go to funerals. In 2006, my wife... My wife ... My brother and his wife made 2006 the year of concerts for them. They love music. They live in Phoenix. They were like, "You know what? This is just the year," and so all of us were pumped. I live vicariously through them. it was a great, leading up November and December before it started. They were just getting their calendar out. They had this big chart on their wall in their kitchen. They just went to as many concerts as they could because they knew life was going to change. They were going to have a kid the next year and all that stuff.

I just thought what if 2018 is the year of funerals and I just go listen to that 80-year-old guy who's buried 29 of his friends and is acquainted with grief and death. I can learn. I've never done this, I think partly because it's never been of value for me. It's been the thing that I had to get through and do until I could train some elders to do all that stuff for me so I could just do a better job preaching.  I've been convicted about these things. I've done it with all these other areas and I just wonder what that would look like for me.