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"What Do You Want on Your Tombstone?" (and Five Other Urgent Questions)

Death gives perspective to life. Preachers know that. Chances are, you have preached that from your pulpit. But here is another one of those areas where it is important to use a mirror, not simply a microphone. That is, having told others how to live, it is important that we have lived that way ourselves. Therefore, I suggest there are six questions every pastor ought to ask himself now.

These six questions cannot be asked too soon, but tragically they can be asked too late. I originally thought to title this “Six Questions Every Pastor Ought to Ask Himself Before He Dies,” but that can clearly be the point where it is tragically too late, at a time of too many missed opportunities to minister to others. The time to ask them of ourselves is now, not later.

Are you an example or simply an exhorter with your people in evangelism?

That question does not merely come from the heart of an evangelist. More importantly, it comes from the heart of God. Paul the apostle said to his son in the faith, Timothy, a pastor teacher, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Peter likewise says, be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Christians who have surrendered their lives to be His disciples should be “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). We ought to be examples for them to follow. 

The urgency for us to ask ourselves that question rises as you look at statistics. In one survey of an evangelical denomination, 96 percent of the church leadership said they believed their churches would grow faster if they were involved in evangelism themselves. But 89 percent of the same leadership said they did not give any time on a weekly basis to evangelizing the lost. The time to make a change is now. Otherwise, we leave behind us people who did what we did—talked about the lost, not to them. The problem is obvious. When we talk about the lost, the lost stay lost. When we talk to the lost, it’s then that many meet the Savior. 

Have you purposed before God that you will finish well?

The reason is simple and sober. Most of the people who fell in the Bible fell in the last half of their lives, not in the first half. David, Samson, Solomon, just to mention a few. The beginning of their lives was a much better example than the end. It was toward the end where they got tripped up. In traveling as an evangelist and working with hundreds of church leaders every year, I have noticed the same. 

Those that began well don’t always finish well. If you do not purpose that before God now, chances are Satan will slip up on your blind side and the end of your life will be more of a disappointment to others than a testimony. But purposing that before God may allow you to end as Paul did saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

If you died today, would your spouse know where to find everything he or she needs to settle your estate?

Dr. Charles Ryrie shook me in seminary. Not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. I had already come to respect him highly. I guess that is what made his admonition so impactful. He said something you don’t always hear said to pastors and future church leaders. As we started class one day, he asked, “If you died today, would your wife know what to do? Would she know where all the papers are and how to settle all of the details of your will and estate? If you don’t, get that all in place tonight or don’t tell her that you love her!”