Practical Tips for Preaching a Funeral

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Today (Monday) was an exceedingly sad day — I had to preach a funeral of a member who was of great encouragement to me. While I feel the immense privilege of preaching a funeral and being able to minister at such a critical time, I find that there are some lessons that I have learned in regards to preaching a funeral sermon.

First, spend time with the family of the deceased. There is no substitute for this. It’s not enough to simply preach a sermon during this occasion. There is pastoral work to be done. Be there at least by the day after the family members’ death — after the funeral arrangements have been made and other personal issues are in order. Go to where they are and just sit and listen. Some would say, “I don’t want to intrude on family time.” To that I say, if had the choice of erring on the side of a personal presence or no, I would err by risking intrusion. You will be able to tell in about 15 seconds if it is a bad time — but they will appreciate the gesture and may well give you a better time to come by. And when you do, be prepared to listen, to inquire, to go through pictures, read letters, hear wonderful stories. But most of all, be prepared to be the Lord’s presence to them at that time. Since you are a minister, you are an ambassador for Christ — and even the most pagan individual will see you as such (and may not understand why).

Second, when you preach keep it short — 12-15 minutes top — unless the family asks you otherwise. Yes, the family asked you as the minister to do the funeral — but this time is not about you or your sermonic skills or for you to take pride that the family asked you to preach at such a life-altering occasion. You are there to represent Christ and to give his Word — but take care. The family is emotionally, spiritually and in all likelihood physically drained. And listening takes energy. An economy of words would suit everyone well here.

Three, share the Gospel without fail. Yes, address the reason why you all are gathered in that place. Yes, eulogize and recall some fond memories. Yes, address the family and send your condolences on behalf of yourself and the church you serve. But shame on any minister of the Gospel who does not share the Gospel to people who are most open to hearing about this. Some would object and say, “This is manipulation! You shouldn’t take advantage of people in that state.” But death is what the majority of people are most afraid of, and the finality and mortality of this age is clearly front and center. And, as was the case with this individual’s funeral I did on Monday, this person dealt with some severe medical issues and remained resolute, the family and friends looking on need to know why. So tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give them the encouragement that the Apostle Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. [14] For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. [15] For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. [16] For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. [17] Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. [18] Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Fourthly, be the last one to leave. If you end with a graveside service, stay until everyone else is gone. Don’t say, “Amen!” then run to the car. Stay with the family until they leave. Walk out with the last family member if possible. Be the Lord’s ambassador right until the end. If there is a meal afterwards 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.

Lastly, touch base with the family one week after the funeral. By now you may be saying, “Matt, I thought this was about preaching a funeral.” Yes, and by you showing that you care outside the pulpit, you will give more credence to what was said in the pulpit. There is something to be said for living a sermon, not just preaching one.

Those are my tips. What about you? Any tips come across your mind?

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19 thoughts on “Practical Tips for Preaching a Funeral

    Pancake Syrup and Preaching « Unashamed Workman said:
    February 1, 2008 at 8:41 am

    […] Toolbox What Preaching Is – By DA Carson Practical Tips for Preaching at a Funeral CS Lewis – Not Evangelical?? Biblical Theology – Book By Book How To Meditate on God’s Word […]

    Caleb Kolstad said:
    February 1, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Thanks for these!

    Bob Smallman said:
    February 1, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks for the emphasis on a brief sermon at funerals. I would also emphasize simplicity and the “core values” of Gospel assurance.

    Rich Ryan said:
    February 1, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    I concur. I preached a funeral last week (Saturday) too. It was for my aunt so it held special stead in my heart. I was refreshed to see your exhortations here as i followed those details very closely but always wondering it it enough? Should I say more? Your words are comforting.

    I think many can and will benefit from your simple outline here.

    Press on!

    GUNNY HARTMAN said:
    February 1, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    Good stuff. Thanks!

    Any particular format you use or favorite Scripture passages or other readings?

    […] February 13, 2008 funerals , preaching Given the nice response I received from posting Practical Tips for Preaching a Funeral, I would like to follow up on this post with an answer to Gunny Hartman’s question found in […]

    Catherine Whitehead said:
    March 9, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    My brother Elder James Miller the third died on Feb 28, 2008. He was found dead in his apartment. He had a heart attack on his way to the bathroom the way it looked. His funeral was preached by people who barely knew him. The repast was so far out that those of us who don’t have cars couldn’t make it. His wife of 55 years was given all the praise and glory. They did not mention my brother’s name but twice and that was once by his second son and once by his son’s pastor.

    The family have been in that church for fifty years, James left there about fifteen years ago when he and his wife split up (yet he spend weekends and holidays at home with them). At some point he back slide but before he died he repented. God said He forgives all sins, all in all his wife said that the son they had that is an alcoholic stand a better chance to getting in heaven. How is it that I can not find this in the scriptures? If it’s there then I have been preaching a false doctrine. 1 John 1:9

    My brother was seventy four years old. This is the first time I have ever been to a funeral and no one was asked to say anything but the ministers (mind you visiting ministers)and the first lady. His son Glenn was appointed to speak for the family. The church was packed. There are eleven of us left. My brother and I being ministers was not acknowledged at all, while the First lady spoke of Mother F. Miller and how well she had trained her children. I stand to be corrected maybe/ possible, but I did not hear anything about my brother other than he was the father of ten children and how loyal and devoted they all are with a fern mother. I thought the eulogy was to be about the deceased.

    This is the fourth funeral I have been to that have done this. What about those that flew in from out of town and the siblings of the deceased. I can only hope to be spoken of half as well as my sister in law for she is a wonderful person and they truly did a great job on the children.

    James was found on a Monday and buried on that Friday. Half of my relatives didn’t get to come because of the short notice and given the wrong date. Their reservations was for that Friday night due to information given that everything would take place on that Saturday. Had I not called my nephew I would have missed the funeral also.

    My relatives all asked me did I pay any attention to what was going on. All I could say is the truth yes we all paid it attention. We all came prepared to speak on our brothers behalf but wasn’t given the chance instead people that got up and said “It is a pleasure to be here today and to be asked to speak at this outstanding homegoing”; “Now I understand why so and so is such a respectable upstanding young man and woman”; When I first met Mother F. Miller I had never been in a house where you could eat off her floors with so many children in the house”. It went on and on like this until the ending. We all waited for a word about our brother but received none.

    No matter what was said we left empty as far as hearing anything positive or negative about our brother No one got angry and said anything, but so many of us was disappointed. It would have been nice to have my children and grand children to know what a wonderful person their uncle was.

    My daughter did a documentation in college with him a few years ago, maybe I can make copies and give my siblings for their children to see and hear him for their self. Should I also send his wife/family one?

    Blessings unto you,

    Rev. C. Whitehead

    deldobuss said:
    October 7, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Thank you. This has been very helpful.

    catherine said:
    May 16, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    It’s been over two years since I was last here. 2008 to be exact. Since then Aunt Maydell,”93″ Uncle Alford,”95″ Uncle Leroy,”75″ Aunt Susie, “94” Cousin Robert, “24” Sister N. Law Dorthy,”65″ Cousin Williams, “72” Brother Jim “63”and many more have gone home. As each went home I came to this site. and I want you to know that this site have been of great encouragement to me. It’s helped me to grow and understand death. s you state “death” is what the majority of people are most afraid of. Now when i have to do a funeral I can come from the Word and the Heart. Thank you for sharing with me.

    Craig said:
    June 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    “But shame on any minister of the Gospel who does not share the Gospel to people who are most open to hearing about this”

    I’m sorry, but at some funerals this is completely self-serving and wrong.

    An analogy for you. If the deceased and his friends of 30+ years were very religious people, how appropriate would it be for an Atheist to speak for 10-15 minutes at the funeral on why Christianity is wrong?

    I recently attended a funeral and the minister went off at length about the decline of Christianity in America and how even though the deceased was not on the “path to the lord”, there was still time for people in the audience to be on the correct path. My friend was not religious, nor were about 75% of the people in attendance. Due to the fact that his somewhat distant family are very religious people, the funeral was designed as they chose, rather than what our friend would have wanted.

    The minister used my good friend’s death as an opportunity to spread his beliefs. This was the first “bait and switch” funeral I’ve ever attended. It was completely delusional of him to think he could turn people towards the Lord, especially at this time. All he did was push people away from the Lord even more.

    I felt like my friend died all over again. Rather than have any sort of closure, it just made things worse. Hence, this is why I’m on your page trying to understand why a person of religious faith would use the death of my friend for his own gain.

      Matthew R. Perry said:
      June 25, 2010 at 2:10 pm

      Craig:

      I’m sorry that you had a bad experience at this funeral. But would you really expect a preacher of the gospel, whose entire reason for preaching is because the God of heaven gave hope in the afterlife through Christ–would you expect him not to speak on the Good News of Christ? If his convictions, which come from the Bible, make something clear about how the consequences of this life matter in the next, would you expect him to swallow that, really?

      Granted, the one who had already died had died. But given the truth of his conviction from the Scriptures, he would have been gutless and foolish not to provide the hope of Christ, even if those in the congregation feel him to be foolish in his beliefs.

      And if I went to a funeral knowing an atheist was leading it, I would fully expect him to state his beliefs, even if I disagreed with him.

      Tony V. said:
      January 23, 2012 at 6:25 pm

      The feeling of “bait and switch” is an interesting phrase, not one hears very often… it sounds like you and the friends of the deceased were not very appreciative of the ministers remarks during the memorial. I wasn’t there to discern, yet it sounds like it was a railroading experience… Maybe my thoughts and comments here may help?

      When a minister shares at a memorial, most often it is at the request of the family, and if the minister has any ministerial etiquette, due diligence is taken to understand the wishes of the family in relationship to what is shared during the memorial “message”. Some do not wish for a presentation of the gospel, some do. I would concur that it would be a shameful thing if the minister preached a verbal gospel message at a time when he was expressly not asked to preach in such a way, this may still turn out for good, as God tends to do that, yet it could also provide a sense of betrayal and people typically do not feel the Love of God in those moments of feeling betrayed and frustrated by a railroading preacher.

      I must comment though, that if the family requested a gospel presentation, particularly because of their knowledge that most attendees may benefit eternally from such… then you may want to rethink who is providing the “bait and switch”, the preacher may have been a pawn in their desire, and some preachers actively desire to be a pawn in those situations… nevertheless. I concur somewhat with Mr. Perry, in that a gospel presentation (if provided by the unction and under the anointing of the Holy Spirit) is presented at such an event, it would attend to the greatest need of every person there… yet, the sensitivity to comfort at such an event (2 Cor. 1:4) would be best kept in mind and (IMHO) would also be beneficial for use in attending to the second greatest need at such an event – feelings of loss.

      The mystery/fear for many of death, and the feeling of loss are both present at a funeral and could quite appropriately and sensitively be attended to… without having to pull out our railroad car and run over everyone.

      I would also be remiss to not comment about the “own gain”, if a preacher of the gospel is genuine, he would hopefully not be preaching for his “own gain”, but for the gain of each person who is hearing their message… the gain of something incredible – the gain of peace with God through a relationship with a Just and Loving God (Rom. 5:1), the gain of eternal life with Him (John 3:16), the gain of a new life here on earth (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:17) – where a person may experience the love, hope, joy and peace found in and through Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

      Thank you for the opportunity to share…

    Elvina said:
    February 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Oh!You are Indeed a HUGE Blessing to me.I’m so Inspired.May Father Bless You.Thanks Só much!

    Rev. Price said:
    August 19, 2011 at 3:26 am

    Thank you much. I am preaching my first funeral this weekend. This was sooooo valuable, I really appreciate the sound advice.

    Rev. Psalms Kalauli said:
    September 16, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Mahalo, your words are very encouraging. God’s Blessing to you.

    encouraging bible verses said:
    March 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Just wish to say your article is as amazing.
    The clearness on your submit is simply cool and that i could assume you’re a professional on this subject. Fine with your permission allow me to clutch your feed to keep updated with coming near near post. Thank you one million and please continue the gratifying work.

    Gregg Shaw said:
    July 23, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Wonderful tips! This is my first child funeral! Very difficult in my mind but thank God for the Holy Spirit

    […] Practical Tips for Preaching a Funeral […]

    Weekly Recap: 6/14/2014 | Gazing at Glory said:
    June 14, 2014 at 5:08 am

    […] Practical Tips for Preaching a Funeral […]

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