DO work with the family and the funeral home director in planning the funeral service. If you know the family is challenged financially, let them know they don’t need to prove their love for the deceased by over-spending on the funeral.
DO inquire of the family regarding their desires for the service itself and seek to accommodate accordingly. It is important to be aware of the musical selections made by the family.
DO try to visit with a variety of family members before preparing the service. Each will have a different perspective of the deceased to share with you. It can also be helpful to invite family members to write a personal note about the person. Some of these comments can then be included in your remarks.
DO check on the correct pronunciation of all names to be read from the obituary (clergy record).
DO arrive early for the funeral. Make sure all participants in the service are present and aware of their responsibilities. Provide each participant, including the funeral home representative, with an “order of service.” Make sure all parties clearly understand the order of events and the logistics of the service, including the dismissal.
DO make the service personal. In addition to sharing God’s Word, reflect positively, genuinely, and realistically about the deceased.
DO endeavor to add a light moment somewhere in the service if appropriate. It is sometimes helpful to share a warm, funny memory about the deceased, something that will bring a smile and a warm remembrance to the family and friends. This can help break the tension, create a more rounded picture of the deceased, and let people know that it’s OK to smile and laugh again.
DO validate feelings of loss. Let people know it’s all right to cry and feel sad. A significant loss has taken place, and such feelings are normal and natural. In the midst of sorrow, we have the Comforter and access to supernatural grace and hope. Both elements (sorrow and comfort) are real. This is why we “sorrow not…as others which have no hope.”
DO speak personally to the family during the service, but make sure you don’t leave anyone out if you do so. For example, talking about the deceased’s relationship with one child while ignoring another child can cause hurt feelings. Be consistent.
DO let those attending the funeral know that their love and support is very appreciated by the family. Also, encourage them to remember to support the family in the months to come.
DO have the church provide a meal for the family at the church or at their home after the funeral. The healing process for the family is facilitated when they have such an opportunity to fellowship and reminisce.
DO follow up on the family periodically after the funeral.
DON’T preach long at a funeral. Share the Word, but keep your comments short and sweet. People have come to pay their respects to the deceased and to show their support for the family, not to hear a lengthy sermon. While there may be some variation depending on cultural expectations, 45 minutes is typically a good length of time for a funeral service (the church or chapel portion).
DON’T preach a person into heaven or hell if there are questions about their spiritual condition. Simply commit them to a merciful and just God and minister to those present.
DON’T convey expectations that inhibit the family from experiencing or expressing their sorrow. They shouldn’t feel pressure to project “victory.” On the other hand, don’t play on the emotions of people in an attempt to make the service a “tear-jerker.”
DON’T use worn-out clichés that offer little comfort and may even be unscriptural. For example, saying, “God took John to a better place” implies that God is responsible for the death of their loved one. It is better to say that God “received” John and “welcomed him home” when his life on earth ended.
DON’T say to the bereaved, “I know how you feel.” Even if you experienced a similar loss, it is important to remember that different people experience grief differently. Every person is unique, and that uniqueness should be respected.
DON’T be opportunistic in sharing the gospel at funerals. This is not to say that the gospel should not be shared or that people cannot be invited to receive Jesus, but we it must be remembered that people attending funerals are often from varied backgrounds and are at different levels of spiritual receptiveness. If guests at the funeral feel like the main purpose of the funeral was to convert or proselyte them, they may leave feeling betrayed and exploited. It is recommended that the gospel be presented positively and in good taste, but not in a “hard-sell” type of way. Remember that Proverbs 25:16 indicates that a little honey is good, but too much will have an adverse affect.
A Final Thought
Though you don’t want to over-use quotes, stories, or illustrations, they can be very effective when used properly. Here are a few to consider…
When Benjamin Franklin was about to die, he asked that a picture of Christ on the cross should be so placed in his bedroom that he could look, as he said, “upon the form of the silent sufferer.” He wrote in advance the epitaph to be on his gravestone: “The body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer, like the cover of an old book, it’s contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here…yet the work itself shall not be lost; for it will, as he believed, appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by the Author.”
John Pawson said, “I know I am dying, but my deathbed is a bed of roses. I have no thorns planted upon my dying pillow. Heaven is already begun.”
Dwight L. Moody said, “Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone higher, that is all—out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, a body that sin cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned into His glorious body. I was born in the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die; that which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”
A few hours before entering the Homeland, Dwight L. Moody caught a glimpse of the glory awaiting him. Awakening from sleep, he said “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.” His son was standing by his bedside and said, “No, no, father, you are dreaming.” “No,” said Mr. Moody, “I am not dreaming. I have been within the gates. I have seen the children’s faces.” A short time elapsed… and he spoke again, “This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! It is glorious!”
When the great Christian and scientist, Sir Michael Faraday, was dying, some journalists asked of his speculations for life after death. “Speculations!” he said, “I know nothing of speculations. I’m resting on certainties. I know that my redeemer liveth. and because He lives, I shall live also!”