North Phoenix Baptist Church, like many American churches, lost a congregant this month. In this case, the late church attender was John McCain, a former POW, a longtime US Senator, and one of the most beloved and respected American politicians in recent decades.
Thursday, August 30, 2018, the church hosted a memorial service for McCain, and its lead pastor, Noe Garcia, delivered the opening and closing remarks. Garcia, who has been on staff for three years, recently shared with Christianity Today about the difficulty of balancing funeral logistics with spiritual responsibilities, his convictions about pastoring celebrities, and why he’s excited to preach the gospel to everyone tuning in to the service.
What is it like to prepare a memorial service for one of America’s leading political figures?
It takes a whole lot of organization. There are a lot of moving pieces. There’s working with Homeland Security and Senator McCain’s office. I have to make sure that we as a church are here to meet any needs the McCains have during this difficult time for their family.
Then there’s the spiritual portion. We understand there will be a lot of eyes and ears watching and listening to this funeral. We don’t want to shy away from a gospel response in this time.
I’m doing the invocation and benediction. Having a well-thought-out, gospel-centered prayer in the opening is important for me.
Tell me more about what you’re thinking as you put the invocation and benediction together.
I asked the family, “What do you want me to say?” They said, “Say whatever you want.”
I have a two-fold goal: honoring Senator McCain and his family while at the same time giving people the hope of the gospel through the welcome and through the close. I’d love to begin the service with 1 Thessalonians 4 and end the service with the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thankfully, McCain professed Christianity. This is a great time for me to share with people why this service is a celebration of life. I’m going to go into the gospel very clearly—Christianity 101.
We sometimes make evangelism harder than it is, and we forget that the gospel can speak for itself. It doesn’t need our help. If I read John 3:16, that will be powerful enough.
Some say funerals aren’t the best venues for evangelistic messages—that we should focus on honoring the deceased. Do you feel that tension?
No, there’s tension in me not sharing the gospel. I’m going to be very tactful in how I do it, but I would have a more difficult time if I left this funeral service and realized that millions could have heard the gospel, but I was too afraid to share it.
A recent study from Barna ranked the most and least “Bible-Minded” American metro areas. Phoenix is ranked 89th out of 96 cities—one of the lowest in the US. There will be about 3,000 people in the sanctuary, and it’s likely that many have never heard the gospel.
When did you first meet John McCain?
Actually I never met him. He was close to our former pastor, Dan Yeary, who was here for about 25 years. Dan constantly confirms that Senator McCain was a believer in Jesus Christ.
We have a handful of celebrities who attend our church. To be honest with you, we try to leave them alone. Since I’ve been here, Senator McCain was part of the congregation on Sunday mornings several times. I never chased him down to meet him. Whether you’re a celebrity or high profile person, I want you to walk through our doors and feel like this can be your church home and place of worship, where you don’t have to worry about being bothered because of who you are.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Morgan Lee