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Prepare Your Congregation to Die

According to a study from Faith Communities Today, 33 percent of the members in the surveyed churches are older than 65. The 2020 census revealed that 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day. Our world is aging, and with it our congregations. As we look on the sea of silver filling our pews, we recognize that many in our congregations are closer to the casket than to the crib.

We’ve all heard the critique of believers “so heavenly minded they’re of no earthly good.” But we must ask, Have we become so earthly minded we’ve lost sight of heavenly good? As our congregations age, leaders must intentionally prepare every member for eternal glory.

First, we need to think about what eternal glory means. According to the apostle Peter, “the God of all grace” has called us to “eternal glory in Christ,” where he will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us (1 Pet. 5:10). Eternal glory is the glory for which the sufferings of this world prepare us. What great hope we have for the future. Dan Doriani says, “As God one day sets creation right and removes the sin that drives all suffering, he pledges to restore us too.”

Some may ask, since God’s work glorifies us, whether we even need to “prepare” for eternal glory. In one sense, we’ve already inherited this eternal glory if we’re in Christ: “Those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). And yet our glory’s full fruition awaits the day of Christ’s return: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

Because we have the hope of future glory, we can prepare spiritually and practically each day for glory. Let’s consider six ways we can prepare ourselves and those we lead.

1. Talk about death and dying.

We who know that our Savior “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10) should of all people be able to discuss death and dying.

Yes, death is frightening, but Christ has freed us from our fear of death (Heb. 2:15). In sermons, Bible studies, and prayer meetings, we shouldn’t avoid mentioning death or celebrating Christ’s victory over it.

2. Correct misconceptions about heaven, hell, and the new heavens and the new earth.

We shouldn’t avoid mentioning death or celebrating Christ’s victory over it.

If we casually surveyed our church members, we’d find many hold erroneous beliefs about what happens after we die. Let’s labor to help people understand that heaven hasn’t “gained another angel”—our future is far more glorious. We must address the secret fear harbored by many in our churches that heaven will be boring. On the contrary, it’s a place where Jesus will joyously welcome us and we’ll reunite with those who have gone before.

We need to discuss judgment: believers need not be anxious, for Christ has been punished for our sins; unbelievers must be anxious, for their sins will be punished and hell does exist. As we share the truth about hell and the judgment of sin, we implore those who don’t know Jesus to take refuge in his saving grace.

3. Offer biblical resources, workshops, and courses on practical preparation.

We love our neighbor by leaving what I call a “practical legacy”—the documents and information that will bless our loved ones in case we die or become incapacitated. Too many of us have seen family quarrels and heartache when someone fails to prepare a will.

We can urge each person we lead to prepare a will, an advance directive, a durable power of attorney, and a clear record of his or her digital legacy (passwords and online accounts).

4. Provide biblical guidance on arrangements for the body and funeral services.

If we don’t provide counsel on these things, our culture will. In a Modern Family episode, a character’s deceased mother is “recycled” into a tree; a New York Times article discusses modern end-of-life commemoration practices like having a party on the 18th green of the deceased’s beloved golf course. A Christian funeral should celebrate God’s redemptive work in the life of the deceased, help those present to grieve, and offer the hope of the gospel.

Whether we provide it through a Sunday School class, a yearly workshop, or a pamphlet, sound biblical guidance will help our church members leave clear instructions for their grieving loved ones.

5. Care for the sick and dying and care for their caregivers.

According to physician L. S. Dugdale, hospital patients without family or friends are labeled “unbefriended.” We in the church are called to care for the “least of these” (Matt. 25:45).

Yet we often do well at caring for the sick but neglect to pray for and tend to the needs of caregivers. Caregivers frequently experience anxiety, depression, fear, grief, guilt, shame, isolation, doubt, and poor health, so we must care for them and urge them to look out for their mental and physical health.

6. Help people to share a spiritual legacy.

The psalmist Asaph called the Israelites to pass down the stories of their faith: “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Ps. 78:4).

In the same way, we equip and encourage people to share their stories of redemption. A spiritual legacy can include stories, expertise, blessings, and wisdom. We can offer workshops that help people record their spiritual legacy in the form of letters, lists, stories, or audio or video recordings. We can also host events in which older people are interviewed and younger generations have the opportunity to hear how God has worked in their lives. As the aging population shares the wonderful deeds God has done in their lives, the next generation grows in faith, hope, and love.

As we pass on a spiritual legacy, the next generation of believers grows in faith, hope, and love.

As our church members age, we’ll become more aware of the harsh realities of aging, dying, and death. May we take the opportunity to invite those we lead to know the hope of glory.

Our hero, our heavenly Bridegroom, stands ready to take our hand, to bring us to the Father, to announce with joy, “Here is my beloved, your precious child.” Because of this great hope, we can confidently, calmly, and compassionately prepare ourselves and those we lead for glory.

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