Church Communications resources and tips from Justin Dean

Celebrating Death in Worship

What song will you sing on your deathbed?

Now there’s a snappy intro.

Imagine that God, in His goodness, gives you almost a full century of life here. You have family. You have friends. You have followed Jesus for many decades and, as you come to your final days, you are surrounded by the ones who mean the most to you. All are aware that your time is coming, and as you pass from this life to the next, a song comes to your lips.

What song will you sing on your deathbed?

Not everyone will be so lucky. Old age is a privilege. Some will die young ? much younger than we would like. Some will die with many regrets, dreams left abandoned, destiny left floating away with an “I wish I had…” Some will die abandoned ? forgotten by the ones they love. Some will die never knowing the grace that Jesus comes to give.

What song will you sing on your deathbed?

As a worship leader, one of the most humbling and fear-inspiring parts of my job is that I am helping to form a congregation’s memory. They will remember the songs we sing at Christmas, the songs we sing at funerals, the songs we sing on a regular, average, not-so-special Sunday. As I choose songs and lead them in singing, I am helping to shape how they respond to certain things that God is doing.[quote]As I choose songs and lead them in singing, I am helping to shape how they respond to certain things that God is doing.[/quote]

As church leaders, we are helping our congregations form their understanding not only of who God is, but also of how they should respond to certain events and seasons in our lives. The kinds of songs we choose to sing for special occasions like Christmas, Easter, funerals, or celebrations help to shape how people in our churches see those events.

I am helping to shape their understanding of death.

The way we talk about life…the way we talk about heaven…way that we talk about suffering and perseverance and blessing and faithfulness all work together to help inform how our people think about death. The songs that we sing certainly reflect our theology (we sing what we know to be true about God) but they also shape our theology (we believe to be true about God what we sing).[quote]The songs that we sing certainly?reflect?our theology but they also?shape?our theology.[/quote] As church leaders, we all know the impact of the songs we use to lead our people. And so many of you take time to think and pray through the songs you are choosing. As you do this, remember that the theology you are reflecting and shaping will also be lived out in the lives of people in your church; during the ordinary days but also at moments of great significance such as preparing for death ? their own or someone else’s.

?While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.? Leonardo da Vinci

[quote]While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.[/quote]Many of our songs sing of the blessings that God has to offer here on earth. Life is hard, life is good, God is faithful, and we can certainly celebrate the goodness of God and the joy we find in the things He has to offer.

We also have lots of songs that talk about the life to come. We should definitely sing about heaven, about being in the presence of the Lord, about joining in with the eternal, ever-present song of worship happening around the throne right now. These are good things to sing about!

We don’t have many songs that talk about that moment where the body gives way, our lungs give out, and our time has indeed come. In the same moment, our faith will be made sight and the blessings we know now will pale in comparison to experiencing the full, real presence of God.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Those of you who have a part to play in designing worship services for your church community – how are you preparing your people for death?[quote]How are you preparing your people for death?[/quote] What songs will they sing on their deathbed? Think about their families and their friends. Will the songs you sing together this Sunday prepare your church for the inescapable reality we are all facing?

Whether you are a pastor, worship leader, creative director, staff or volunteer, doesn’t matter ? if you are in church leadership, part of your job is to prepare the people of your church to die well. Remind them of the blessings God has to give now, certainly. Affirm and celebrate that heaven is real and that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, Amen! But let’s not forget the heart-wrenching reality of what happens between those two worlds: we die. Nobody will escape that destiny. We may get old and frail and pass away quietly without much fanfare. We may go far too soon. But we are all going to go.

So I ask again:

What song will you sing on your deathbed?

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