5 Lasting Lessons from Aretha’s Funeral

5 Lasting Lessons from Aretha’s Funeral

Aretha. The first name is enough. Like Martin and Malcolm, they stand as originals in an age of copies.  Songwriter, civil rights leader, amazing singer, women’s rights advocate, loving daughter, strong single mother. Little wonder that her funeral was a cultural touchstone. An event for the ages.

It was attended by the famous and infamous alike. Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Sharpton, Tyler Perry, Jesse Jackson, Omarosa and Farrakhan. It was a many-colored affair at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit.  But one thing was absolutely clear. It was a black funeral!

Now if you’ve never attended a black funeral, it’s important to do your homework. If you’re looking for staid, somber, super-serious service, you’re probably in the wrong church. That would be the John McCain funeral. Go straight on Martin Luther King Blvd, right at the Masonic Temple, and 535 miles to D.C.  You’re welcome.

But if you’re looking for a celebration that’s colorful, spiritual, irreverent, cathartic, lengthy, loud, and at times tacky-welcome to a traditional black funeral. Franklin’s funeral was certainly not representative of all black funerals, but more than some would like to admit. They are called “home-goings” for a reason. For many they are a celebration of family members crossing over into a better place. And yes, there may be dancing!

So, let me identify 5 lasting lessons from Aretha Franklin’s funeral, especially for those black funeral novices.

Number One: If you’re attending a black funeral – bring a lunch.

I’ll spare you the anthropological and cultural distinctions of African time consciousness. Let me sum it up it up in 4 words. We-take-our-time! And we don’t mind taking your time either. That 8-hour funeral was long, but not uncommonly long.  I routinely attend funerals that exceed 4 hours. So, I am familiar with the local Subway shops and take my own intermission if necessary. So, bring a lunch…and maybe some Depends.

Number Two: If you’re singing at a black funeral –  bring a dress.

Black folk are funny. They might be sitting in church looking like they just left the club or an Easter parade, but they have “standards’ for those up front. I’ll get to Bishop Ellis in a minute, but Ariana Grande’s outfit was too revealing. Too short. I’ve NEVER seen Minister Farrakhan smile that much!  And spare me the “victim shaming” comments. Was she a victim? Yes! Was she inappropriately dressed? Yes! The two are not mutually exclusive.

Number Three: If you’re feeling touchy-feely at a funeral – bring your wife.

It was the talk of the funeral. The way- too-close encounter of Bishop Ellis and Ariana Grande. It was already bad enough that he insulted the Hispanic community and embarrassed his daughter with his Taco Bell joke. What happened next dropped it another level.

I have observed Bishop Ellis for years. He is the son of an amazing pastor, charismatic leader of a Detroit megachurch, passionate community activist, and formerly the President of a Pentecostal denomination in the holiness tradition.

But his comments and cuddling of Ariana Grande were inexcusable. Forgivable, I believe, but inexcusable. His actions laid bare a long-ignored culture in black churches that at times explains away unacceptable familiarity between clergy and members. We have our own “Me Too” movement, but our collective pathology at times blinds us into believing those are “white folk” problems. This is a teaching moment.

Number Four: If you are a pop-star at a black funeral – step up your game.

Two words. Faith Hill. It was painful! I was happy she attended. Appreciated her effort. But it was a swing and a miss. What Faith Hill and other “super star” singers don’t realize is that at a black funeral, there are probably better singers in the choir than they will ever be! Where do you think Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, the Clark Sisters, and Jennifer Holiday learned their craft!

And in case you think I’m being hard on Faith Hill because of her race, someone please forward this advice to Chaka Khan…and her fan.

Number Five: If you are eulogizing at a black funeral – bring a eulogy.

I could see it coming. I’ve listened to Jasper Williams for years. He’s a classic old-school whooper in the tradition of Aretha’s father, C. L. Franklin. Distinguished pastor and passionate champion for underserved communities. But he’s a child of his era. Much of the “counsel” he offered the black community in his message was well-intentioned but painfully simplistic. It advanced the short-sighted myth that the dissolution of the black family and black businesses is solely the fault of black people. Ridiculous. I know his time was limited and the hour was late. But if you can’t appropriately develop an argument, don’t deliver it.

And worse, it was a personal platform masquerading as a eulogy. The Franklin family said as much. If you’re doing a eulogy, do a eulogy. It is a fond remembrance of the life of the person who died. It is a spiritual encouragement to the bereaved family. It is not a launching pad for personal advancement or opinion no matter how important they may be. It’s not the place.

So, there you have it. My reflections on the Aretha Franklin funeral.  Those are my top five. Comments? What about your list?

Young Pastors: The Church’s Scapegoat

Young Pastors: The Church’s Scapegoats??

Let me state my bias up front. I love pastors and I loved pastoring. For close to 30 years I pastored churches large and small. Churches so large that I had multiple pastors and staff. Churches so small I had to wash my own feet at communion! And today I spend a significant amount of my time training pastors, from undergrad to grad school to continuing education.

Complaints about pastors are nothing new. Like death and taxes, they can’t be avoided. But over the last several years, complaints about young pastors -and “young” can be relative- have been growing. If I had a dollar for every time I heard some of these complaints I’d be rich:

  • “All they want to do is preach.”
  • “They don’t do evangelism.”
  • “They don’t visit.”
  • “They don’t preach the doctrines.”
  • “They change EVERYTHING!”

Any truth to the charges? Of course. There is not one of these criticisms that is not true of certain young pastors. And perhaps they are truer of this current generation than past. I don’t know. But frankly, many of those charges are standard fare. I’ve heard them for as long as I can remember. Every generation has its own particular challenges, but there’s nothing new here.

And to be fair, young pastors make up a fairly small percentage of our pastoral workforce. A recent review of pastoral demographics reveals that 50% of Adventist pastors are within 10 years of retirement. So, if you’re having a problem with a pastor, it’s probably not a young one. And frankly most of the challenges our churches face, have been in place for years before most of these pastors were born:

  • Our members left the neighborhood, years ago.
  • Our evangelism fell off a cliff, years ago.
  • Our young people started leaving the church, years ago.
  • Many of our members were mean, years ago.

So, this idea that the problem with today’s church can be laid at the feet of young pastors is quite simply, scapegoating. And it’s interesting that often the same leaders and churches who complain about young pastors are generally requesting those same pastors for their camp meetings and open churches. And the same leaders who complain about young pastors, complain that their older pastors are just floating to retirement.

Now some of the complaints are absolutely on point. Many times young pastors are unaware of how much they mirror the characteristics of this crazy generation. So here is some quick counsel to young pastors:

You Don’t Know Everything

You may be the leader the conference sent, but you’re not automatically the leader the people follow. That comes with time and relationships. Every officer in that church has been there longer than you. They have a perspective that you don’t have and sorely need. Resist the urge to make changes before you’ve taken the time to understand the church and the community.

Prioritize Pastoring

A common complaint about this generation of pastors is that their priority is preaching. That’s often true. There are a number of reasons for that, including the instant access to powerful preaching online. But in this impersonal, broken age, people need shepherds more than they need speakers.

Yes, there are some things that only the “foolishness’ of preaching can do. But there are some problems that preaching can’t solve. If you prioritize pastoring, even your preaching sounds better to the members.

Love the People

Paul told Timothy in I Timothy 4:12 not to let the members “despise” or think less of him because of his youth. But his remedy for that was not to be a better preacher or more skilled leader. His answer was to be intentional about his integrity and demonstrate real love for the people.

Now that I’ve addressed the young pastors, let me offer some counsel to the members of young pastors.

Be Prayerful– Always make your pastor and family the object of prayer.

Be Patient – It will take time for your pastor to learn to juggle all the responsibilities of ministry. Some things just take time.

Be Respectful – Your pastor may be significantly younger than you, but both of you are younger than God. And God says if you disrespect the pastor, you disrespect the office he holds and the God he represents.

Be Supportive – You might not like the young pastor’s plan, but practically any plan will work if you work it. Support the pastors plans and ideas as long as they are biblical and ethical. And where there are disagreements, take them behind closed doors.

Be Protective– Think of the pastor as you would your son or daughter. Get in front of issues that might hurt. Protect the pastor’s family. Members will tell the pastor to put his family first but expect the pastor to put their family first. When you protect the pastor and family, you literally protect yourself.

So, there it is. What do you think? Are we supporting our young pastors enough? What can we do? How do you deal with the ones who won’t listen?

How To Be A Christian At Work

How to Be A Christian At Work

Let me begin with a fact that might not be obvious to all. Work consumes the time of most Christians and non- Christians alike. Most of us spend 60% to 80% of each weekday in some work-related activity. We are either going to work, working, or coming from work. And if you have a job you don’t like, you can hardly enjoy the weekend for thinking of Monday morning.

Given the amount of time that Christians spend at work, you’d think the church would offer more training on how Christians should conduct themselves in the workplace. Nope. The church will provide regular training for members who sing, pray, and teach for a 2-hour worship service one day a week. But the same church will provide little guidance on how to best function as a Christian from 9 to 5, five days a week.

So, let’s explore a few important keys to being a good Christian at work

Be Excellent

It’s important to remember that when Christians go to work…. they go to WORK! They don’t go to preach, to pray, or to proselytize. Do that on your own time. The greatest witness to the faith that you have, is the job that you do. Do it with excellence and it will reflect the excellent God you serve. People will notice.

Be On Time

That’s the first step to an effective witness in the workplace. Make sure you set a tone of excellence by being punctual. It will endear you to your supervisor and set a great example for your coworkers.

Be Nice

This one falls under the banner of common sense, but common sense is not as common as it used to be. It’s impossible to be a good witness with a bad attitude. Remember that your unseen employer is God himself. So, act right, even when you don’t feel right.

Be Dependable

You should attempt to set the standard for dependability at your job. The willingness to do a good job, when no one is around. You might not be the most gifted person in your workplace, but you can be the most dependable. Develop a reputation for follow through and dependability. A lazy worker is a bad witness.

Be Ethical

Stealing office supplies and removing copy paper might be ok for a child of the world, but it’s off limits for a child of God. Clocking in on time but then relaxing in the locker room might be fine for others but it’s not fine for God’s children. Covering up for dishonest co-workers might be a sign of loyalty to your buddies, but it’s a slap in the face of a righteous God.

It’s not easy living ethically in an unethical world, and sometimes things are not always crystal clear. But it’s worth the struggle. For years surveys have shown that the quality that most people desire in leaders, is integrity. Same for the marketplace.

Be Prayerful

“As long as there are tests there will be prayer in the schools.” That old saying is true. You can’t prevent private prayer in schools and it can’t be stopped at work. Private prayer is powerful prayer. I Thessalonians 5:7 says that we should pray continually. In the sanctuary of your heart you can send up prayers for your co-workers and workplace every chance you get.

Be Quiet

James was right when he wrote that the tongue is a small but it’s out of control. More damage has been done by the tongue to churches and workplaces than we can every imagine. Develop a reputation for a tame tongue at your job. Develop a reputation for confidentiality. Develop a reputation as an encourager. Resist the temptation to speak and spread gossip. The best approach is to: limit what you say, watch what you say, and do what you say.

Be Prepared

You might not be able to publicly share your faith at work, but you can answer questions. People are watching you and the Spirit is moving on them. If you pray, God will make your paths cross with people who need your witness. The more prepared you are, the more competent and comfortable you are when your respond.

So, there you have it. Some ways to be a good Christian at work. What do you think? Is it harder or easier these days for Christians in the workplace? Has anyone ever asked you a spiritual question at work?