For many elders, preaching a funeral is one of ministry’s most challenging experiences. Although it is an immense privilege to preach a funeral and minister at such a critical time, there are some lessons we can learn in regards to preaching a funeral sermon.
SPEND TIME WITH THE FAMILY OF THE DECEASED
There is no substitute for this. It’s not enough to simply preach a sermon for this occasion; there is pastoral work to be done. Be there as a spiritual church leader at least by the day after the family members’ death—after funeral arrangements have been made and other personal issues are in order. Go where family members are and just sit and listen. You may think, “I don’t want to intrude on family time.” To that I say, if given the choice of erring on the side of a personal presence or not, I would err by risking intrusion. You will be able to tell in about 15 seconds if it is a bad time—but the family will appreciate the gesture and may suggest a better time to come by. And when you do, be prepared to listen, inquire, go through pictures, read letters, and hear wonderful stories. But most of all, be prepared to be the Lord’s presence to them during this difficult time. Because you are a spiritual leader, you are an ambassador for Christ.
WHEN YOU PREACH, KEEP IT SHORT
Yes, the family asked you as a church leader to do the funeral, but this time is not about you or your sermonic skills. You are there to represent Christ and share His Word—but take care. The family is emotionally, spiritually, and, in all likelihood, physically drained. Listening takes energy. An economy of words would suit everyone well here.
SHARE THE GOSPEL WITHOUT FAIL
Yes, address the reason why you all are gathered together. Yes, eulogize and recall some fond memories. Yes, address the family and send condolences on behalf of yourself and the church you serve. But shame on any minister who does not share the gospel with people who are most open to hearing it. Some readers will object and say, “This is manipulation! You shouldn’t take advantage of people when they are grieving.” But death is what the majority of people are most afraid of, and this is the time when finality and mortality are clearly front and center. So share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ and give them the encouragement that the apostle Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
BE THE LAST ONE TO LEAVE
If you end with a graveside service, stay until everyone else is gone. Don’t say, “Amen!” and rush to your car. Stay with the family until they leave. If possible, walk out with the last family member. Be the Lord’s ambassador right until the end. If there is a meal afterward for the family and they invite you to stay and partake, stay and partake. Some very pastoral and teachable moments happen on such occasions that would not happen at any other time. So take advantage of the opportunities God brings your way.
TOUCH BASE WITH THE FAMILY ONE WEEK AFTER THE FUNERAL
By now you may be saying, “I thought this was about preaching a funeral.” Yes, and by showing that you care outside the pulpit, you will give more credence to what you said in the pulpit. There is something to be said for living a sermon, not just preaching one.
As you preach a funeral, remember the promise: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
How good it is to know that pain cannot and will not exist in the atmosphere of heaven. In the home of the redeemed, there will be no tears, no funeral processions, and no badges of mourning.
General Conference Ministerial Association