A Resume or a Eulogy?

In our work as pastors are we striving to build a resume or providing material for our own eulogy? Richard Kannwischer, pastor at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, recently referenced David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, in his sermon. In one of his columns Brooks wrote, “It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” The Moral Bucket List, NEW YORK TIMES web site, April 11, 2015.

Pastor Kannwischer said in his message that he’s been to many funerals, and the saddest ones are those where the deceased’s accomplishments are itemized but little if anything is said of lives the person touched. I agree. I’ve conducted probably some 500 funerals and the great funerals were those where family and friends reflected on how the person had impacted their lives, a real eulogy. The darker funerals were those where the best that could be said was where the person lived, worked, what sports they loved, and what they achieved, more like a resume.

We pastors can buy into the CEO model, a business approach, an achievement mindset, or a goal oriented work. Certainly there are good aspects to all of these, but they tend to fit into a resume more than into a eulogy.

I’ve shared something of this before, but I feel the need to reiterate the idea: When I retired in my 40th year of ministry at Mayfair-Plymouth Church in Toledo, Ohio, my wife and I were given a retirement party/celebration that was, in our opinion, over the top. What was interesting in people’s personal reflections of our ministry together was the lack of focus on any achievements that were, at the time, so important to me. What the reflections focused on were the times we went through things together, often tough times, but many good times as well. They remembered words I said in an attempt to be comforting or encouraging, most of the conversations of which I had no recollection. It was very little of the resume type stuff and a lot of what might be said at my funeral, except I was present to enjoy it!

Maybe a good way to sum this all up is to say that a pastor would do well to focus less on resume building in ministry and more on living among the people in such a way that they would have ample material for a eulogy for the pastor. Morbid? I don’t think so. It’s just that, as David Brooks wrote, it’s better to aim for eulogy virtues than resume virtues.

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