In June, my former pastor paid me a visit. Now retired, Bob Macfarlane lives 728 miles from his former parish church. We don't see each other often anymore.
After dinner, Bob cast a backward glance. "If I had it to do over again," he said, "I think I'd preach a lot more about heaven." We talked about the preacher's resources on heaven, from ancient Scripture through Dante's 1321 Paradiso through Richard Baxter's 1650 The Saints' Everlasting Rest to Pope Benedict's 2007 encyclical Saved in Hope and N. T. Wright's 2008 Surprised by Hope. After Bob returned home, I telephoned him and we talked more.
Why preach about heaven? Bob was unashamed to confess: "The most cogent reason in my case is age. As one gets older, one begins to think there is not much of this life left," he said. "Thinking about heaven is a faithful response to the running out of the string."
Teaching about heaven is an important ministry to believers who are getting older. Most pastors know that focusing on the aging does not pay back readily in congregational or budget growth. Instead, a focus on young adults and families often marks the church geared for growth. It is a reality of the religious marketplace. But preparing for death and for life in the presence of God is not something the old should do by themselves. Children, youth, and young adults also need to participate in these realities in order to understand the scope of Christian hope. Creating what CT editor at large Rob Moll recently called in these pages "a culture of resurrection" is foundational to full-orbed multigenerational ministry.
Teaching about heaven is also a good way to keep our vision of justice in perspective. You can't talk about paradise—the time-place where ...1