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When Pastors Are Not Ready to Die

The headline was startling: “Most SBC [Southern Baptist Convention] Pastors Not Prepared to Die.” That headline should be a shock to any pastor or church member. While those pastors surveyed may have blessed assurance about their eternal salvation, this survey makes it evident that they have done little to prepare for those left behind. In fact, they may be leaving behind bewildered and confused family members whose lives can be victimized because of the pastor's neglect. The story was the result of a 2012 survey from LifeWay research that found that most Southern Baptist pastors have not done any end-of-life planning.

An old gospel song says, “I want to be ready, I want to be ready ” Here is what it means to be ready:

Get a proper will prepared by an attorney

At the time of this survey, 58% of pastors with children under the age of 18 did not have a will. Remember, if you have not written your own will, your state has one already prepared for your family and will implement it without hesitation.

The trauma of the death of a father, mother or both parents is tragic enough without the children being at risk. Siblings being raised in different homes, custody being awarded without parental guidance, arguments over who is best qualified to raise orphaned children can all result from not having a proper will. If life insurance proceeds are supporting the children, there may be more individuals than you know ready and competing to become the new parents.

Get a proper will sooner rather than later. Act while you are still healthy. Do not risk a do-it-yourself or a hand-written will. This document is too important to your family's future.

Get a living will

A living will is simply a document that states what medical care you want and do not want when you are dying. A living will is limited to deathbed concerns only. Every hospital will ask at admission if you have a living will. It is a key document and may be as important as having health insurance.

Remember, there is a great difference between being kept alive and being alive. DNR (or "do not resuscitate") sounds like an ominous threat. However, most of us believe and ("a natural death"), which means the same thing, is preferred. Loved ones may disagree about what to dono one knows for sure what you’re thinking unless you write it down. A hospital or your physician has a responsibility to protect life and maintain it, which may mean more medical treatment and procedures than you want.

Get a durable power of attorney for healthcare

There is a great possibility that at some point you may not be able to speak for yourself. Intensive care, certain types of treatment or certain injuries can render even the youngest pastor unable to respond verbally. At that point your durable power of attorney for healthcare names the person you have chosen to speak on your behalf. Your healthcare advocate can change doctors, change hospitals, review and reject treatments, medications and more. Be sure you choose at least one or two alternates for this important role, making certain they all know your desires. Whom do you trust when your very life is at stake? A power of attorney or your living will is little help when you are incapacitated. The durable power of attorney is your best protection.

Get a durable power of attorney for finances

A durable power of attorney for finance names the person you trust most to manage your finances if you are no longer capable of doing so. Remember, someone will need to take charge of your finances should one or both of you become incompetent due to accident, injury or a health crisis. Should you and your spouse both lose your life, the executor appointed has the financial authority to handle your estate and its financial affairs. Choose wisely and always choose alternates. Be certain not to select anyone who will benefit from your death.

Get the right kind of insurance

A pastor's family should be protected by life insurance. Nearly every family has automobile insurance and homeowner's insurance. What is most important, the car, home or those inside? Why would you not protect your family should something serious happen to you and take away your family's financial security? Term life insurance is very inexpensive for younger adults. Whole life or permanent life can be an advantage under certain circumstances.

Do you have a special needs child? Adopted children? Are you caring for elderly parents? Reviewing your life insurance needs and your current protection is important in end-of-life planning.

Plan your funeral or memorial service

Weddings and funerals are the two family ceremonies most often attended by the greatest number of family members and personal friends. A bride can take months, even years, to plan a wedding to be sure all the details are correct and the wedding represents the values, personality and the faith of the couple. And yet, when it comes to planning a funeral or memorial service, it is often left to a nonfamily membera funeral directorto plan one of the most intimate and personal ceremonies of your life.

A Christian funeral or memorial service should reflect what it means to die in Christ. It should make clear that a Christian goes to the grave as a victor, not a victim. Everyone who attends ought to hear a clear statement of what it means to have that blessed assurance which comes from God’s amazing grace. Here is where the pastor can lead the congregation to a deeper understanding of what Psalm 116:15 means when it says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."

The Psalmist also reminds us, “So teach us to number our days that we might apply our hearts to wisdom.” Psalm 90:12. Every pastor ought to demonstrate the wisdom that comes from numbering our days. Your family and every family in your congregation needs to be wise when it comes to end-of-life planning. There are attorneys in your congregation or in your community who would be pleased to help make all of these documents a reality for you.

Being ready to die and to live eternally is a spiritual treasure that our faith offers freely on behalf of our Lord. Being ready to die and to bless those who are left behind is an important part of our spiritual responsibility to care for family and to set an example for all of the family of God.

Stan Craig is a pastor, financial professional, author, speaker and the executive director of a non- profit foundation. His new book, "ForeTalk: 7 Critical Conversations for Living in the Season of Now" and the ForeTalk Seminar are the direct result of his personal experience when his younger brother died of lung cancer and Craig was unprepared to handle his brother's end-of-life planning.

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