It looks like I will be doing my first funeral as a pastor in the very near future. I’d love to hear from some seasoned pastors about what they’ve learned from their experiences in conducting funerals? How can I most effectively minister to the family and those in attendance? Are there some do’s and don’ts I should be aware of in conducting funerals? I’d also be interested in hearing the experiences of pastors who’ve had to do “difficult” funerals. Thanks for the tips and advice.
Pastor Kevin Berry – Lansing, MI
The first funeral that I officiated was for a 15-year-old girl who had been killed. You could still see where they attempted to cover up the bullet hole in the side of her head. She looked so young. I discovered that she ran away with a 29-year-old “boyfriend” to Detroit, Michigan, and this little girl ended up in the middle of a drug deal that had gone bad. Tragically, her life was taken from her.
The family, of course, was filled with emotion and the deep grief of losing their little girl. I didn’t know much at all about what I was supposed to do, what I was supposed say, what was the proper protocol. I just knew that I was supposed to be strong for the family, so I did my best. However, after everything was over and everyone had gone out of the room, I burst into tears. The thought that haunted me was, “What would have happened if this little girl found genuine, Christ-like love and acceptance?” I think it may have saved her life. I think it could have kept her from running away looking for love. I think she would be alive today.
Several funerals and years later, here are some thoughts I hope you will find helpful:
- Every funeral is a tremendous opportunity. It’s an opportunity to represent the kindness and compassion of God to those that are hurting. It’s an opportunity for people to become born again. There’s a reason why King Solomon said it’s better to go to funerals than parties. Funerals cause us to think about what matters—certainly what matters in life and how we relate to each other—but more importantly, funerals cause people to think, “Am I ready to pass from this life to the next?” I always give people an opportunity at a funeral to make peace with God. Funerals are also an opportunity for people in the community to get to know you and your church.
- Realize the people you are talking to are vulnerable. Some are in need of a healing. They need to know how to process grief and mourning, and you can help them with that!
- There will be times when you don’t even know what to say, but your presence alone during those times will speak volumes. You don’t have to explain why what happened, happened…you just have to care.
- Understand that after the funeral is when much of the feelings of loss will settle in for the family. Be strategic in keeping channels of communication open after the funeral, not just before the funeral.
- Be extremely warm and compassionate.
- Offer hope.
- I’ve found that celebrating the great memories and even the funny times is healing to the family. Laughter is good like a medicine. Weaving in a few funny stories about their loved one that people will relate to will help greatly.
- If you really didn’t know the person, don’t pretend that you did. Those who really knew the person who passed away are keenly aware you have no clue what you are talking about.
- Remember, God is with you, in you…and He is going to give you the words to say. Just listen. The words you speak will sustain the weary. You will have the right words, at the right time, for just the right people (Isaiah 50:4). You are not doing this on your own!
- You represent Jesus in moments like this. What an honor!
Pastor Virgil Stokes – Tucson, AZ
I love to do funerals! There will be people in attendance who may never come to church for anything else. In addition, the one truth that we all must recognize is painfully clear at that moment: we will all die. Eternity is on their mind, and I get to talk with them! We are famous for our memorial services. We put emphasis on them and involve as much of the church family as we possibly can. It is service to our members and outreach to our community. In the case of well-known church members, we have even used our midweek service as a memorial service.
A few things we have found helpful:
- In the case of church members, be sure they have someone with them at the funeral home to help them through the process. If they have reliable and level-headed family, that is great. If not, one of our pastoral staff shows up. Not to indict the undertaking profession, but they are in it for a profit, and they often have emotionally raw, sometimes guilt-ridden prospects in front of them. Be there to provide a little fiscal sanity.
- As early as possible, spend some time with the family members. Encourage them to talk and reminisce. If you are in their home, notice your surroundings and ask questions. “Tell me about that diploma.” “Who won that trophy?” Listen for stories that give you insight into the character of the deceased. Ask how they would like people to remember their loved one, and make notes of what they say. Quotes are a powerful tool in your homily.
- Always inquire about preferences of the family for all aspects of the service. People have many expectations that they acquired in their life experience. My job is to bless them, not fit them into my comfort zone.
- If I have questions about the salvation of the deceased, I let the family members tell me about the individual’s “religious” beliefs and history. My goal is to get them as close to Heaven as I can without lying. I want everyone to leave the service comforted, but I also want them to know the simple plan of salvation. I look for stories from life that allows me to connect to some aspect of God or the gospel through scripture. You would be surprised how many unchurched folks have favorite scriptures or favorite hymns that give a place to talk about the Lord. One gentleman had never darkened a church door, but the family talked about his gentle nature and his love for the outdoors. I took that opportunity to talk about how God revealed Himself in nature, and that Jesus was meek and lowly in a way that drew people to Him. Another seemingly reprobate fellow was a veteran of the civil rights marches with Dr. King. His favorite song was “Precious Lord.” The service wrote itself.
- Include family and testimonies if they want, but don’t open the microphone unless they insist. It can get ugly and lengthy. I usually ask if there are specific people who the family wants to speak, then I approach them and give them a time frame. I try to include the following: Opening prayer, music selected by family (For church members, we use our praise team and sing favorites), or that reflects the deceased’s tastes, a eulogy read by a family member or friend, testimonials from family and friends (not more than 3), and a reading of scripture that lines up with the message I am planning. If the deceased or his family has favorite verses, I use them. This is a good place to recruit loved ones to take part by reading. The homily should be kept short, 15 minutes is a good guide. Every point should be illustrated with a vignette from the life being celebrated. The closing should give the way of salvation and some hope for the family if at all possible.
- Food and drink is a great way to help people grieve. We always have coffee and water available after service, and some light finger food snacks if the situation warrants. A time of fellowship and sharing is good for folks, and is also a great opportunity for members and staff to meet and minister to people one on one.
- If there is an elephant in the room, I try to graciously address it. For instance, we had a young man who committed suicide. Rather than beat around the bush, I hit it straight on. It was a powerful service. In our day of mix and match families, drug and alcohol addiction epidemic, sexual profligacy as social norm, and church-hopping as a lifestyle, this can be challenging. Finding that place of grace without sabotaging truth is an art form, but we have the Artist in us.
Memorial services can be some of your most memorable moments as a church family. Give them the attention they deserve. Your people will love you for it.
Pastor Phil Curtis – Franklin, IN
Here are a few things that I’ve practiced over 34 years of pastoring.
- I get to the service early enough in case there are changes, but not too early that I’m sitting around looking like I have nothing to do.
- I try to share as much as I can about personal things, even humorous that are appropriate. People are there for the person in the casket, not me.
- I include scripture, but honestly, people aren’t there to hear a sermon. If the person was saved I include how they served the Lord. If I’m not sure of their conversion, I don’t give false hopes.
- I keep the message short, and if I know the person and feel emotions rising, I allow myself to express them. Of course, as the minister, one has to keep control to some degree. People like knowing that the person was dear to me also.
- I personally don’t give altar calls. I used to until I discovered that most were “emotional conversions” instead of genuine conversions. I usually share how to receive Christ as Lord and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.
- After finishing my message, I stand by the head of the casket and stay there until the funeral director dismisses the family and then stay for the closing of the casket. I then walk ahead of the pallbearers as they carry the casket out.
Please feel free to contact me if I can be of help in any way.
Pastor Walker Schurz—Lusaka, Zambia
For a variety of reasons, our church does quite a number of funerals and we have seen God present to help people in marvelous ways. My general feeling is that the funeral service and burial is primarily for the family and close friends, regardless of who else attends. I prepare my sermon largely based on their condition and needs. I also take into consideration the circumstances of the funeral. I have done funerals of those murdered and those who committed suicide. These are very specific situations and unique issues should be addressed. The funeral of a child is quite different from that of an elderly person who left a marvelous testimony. So, there is not a one-size fits-all sermon.
Regardless of the circumstances of the funeral, God’s word must be paramount. There will be a variety of emotions, opinions and perspectives. Many times, I speak about those to help relate to those who are hurting and confused. Yet, the perspective that will help people and give them life is God’s viewpoint as made clear from His word.
Many Christian’s greatest question around a funeral is “why.” I have seen pastors blame God and others vigorously defend God during a funeral service. I think both do not help people with their greatest need—they hurt. Our ministry should help bring love to the broken, not try to win a theological argument. It is better to focus on what we do know: God’s care for the hurting, the reality of Heaven, and the hope we which remain have. Too many try to become crime scene investigators to figure out who to blame.
I like to find out specifics about the deceased person and sprinkle those stories into the message. We tend to always have a reflection at the end where those who want to personally receive Jesus as their Lord can do so during the service. I typically tell the audience that your loved one would have an over-riding message if they could speak today: give your heart to Jesus so that you can come to this wonderful place where I am.
Scripture tells us to weep with those who weep. In some charismatic circles the idea of grief is not understood and people are told to rebuke it or avoid it. Jesus said that grief is what precedes comfort. While Jesus was and is the Prince of Peace, he cried at a funeral. I don’t think a funeral should just be a “celebration of their life,” but a time where God is honored and the very real needs of people can be met by the God of all comfort. I am very comfortable identifying with the loss and pain that others are going through.
Make sure you have a good working knowledge of the contents of Tony Cooke’s book, Life After Death. It has fantastic wisdom, scriptural references and illustrations to use during this vital ministry time. We have given out many, many copies to those grieving and many have in turn given out the same book to friends when they face a loss of a loved one.
Pastor Bill Anzevino—Industry, PA
Thirty-five years ago I officiated my first funeral service as a young pastor. After the service, an elderly woman told me she had been to many churches since coming to America, and never dreamed she would accept Christ at a funeral home. She also told me she was 80 years old and Jewish! That experience influenced the way I conduct funeral services ever since.
I believe the funeral service should be threefold:
First, pay a final tribute to the deceased. This would include giving family members and friends the opportunity to share thoughts and memories they might like to share. It should also include remarks about the investments the deceased made in the kingdom of God, in their family, in the lives of friends, and if he or she served our country, in devoted service and sacrifice for our nation.
Second, offer words of comfort and encouragement to the bereaved. “If” is a big word at this time. “If” the person is saved, or “if” you don’t know the spiritual condition of the person, “if” enables you to express Biblical truth without being offensive. Our goal is to comfort all and with anointed, penetrating words, get the lost saved.
Some suggestions include:
- Death does not mean a cessation of life (LUKE 16:19-31). I don’t read the verses; I just explain what happened when the rich man and Lazarus both died.
- You can see your loved one again “If” he knew Jesus (1 THESS. 4:13-18).This is their blessed hope that gives comfort.
- To die is gain ( 1:21).Our loss is their gain. They’ve gained God’s presence, a Heavenly abode, they’ve ceased from their labors, they’re experiencing renewed acquaintances, interacting with the patriarchs, and sitting at the feet of Jesus. There’s no more sorrow, sighing, dying or woes!
Third, prepare the living for the inevitable. To prepare is the process or action by which we get ready for a test, duty, or an occasion. No one has to tell us to prepare for a wedding reception, or driver’s exam when we’re 16. Our government knows the importance of preparing soldiers for battle. Nothing is more important than being prepared for our departure from life on earth. Three powerful motivations include: the certainty of death, no second chance (HEB. 9:27), and the brevity of life (JAMES 4:14).
I conclude by explaining how to be prepared and leading everyone in a sinner’s prayer. I encourage those who prayed to get into a good Bible-based church and to grow in their Christian experience.
My tips for “difficult funerals”:
- Walk in love.
- Don’t compromise truth.
- Be sensitive to the people’s needs.
- Be prayed up before ministering.
Any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Pastor Dan Morrison—Farmington, NM
Years ago, I was assisting a family in their funeral arrangements at the funeral home when I overheard one of the funeral directors say, “There’s no pastor in town that officiates a funeral like Rev. So-and-So.” I recognized the name of this minister and made it my goal to find out why this minister had such a reputation. I happened to know the music minister who served under this pastor and asked him to call me the next time they had a funeral at their church. The day finally came and I slipped into the service and observed a message and delivery that changed my perspective of conducting funeral services forever. I was smart enough to know that I had to take what I observed that day and apply it to the way that God had designed me and my style of ministry and communication.
Here’s what I observed:
1. A simple three point message that ministered not only to the immediate needs and questions of the family, but a message that gave expectation for the future.
I determined that I would never again preach a message in a monotone voice. I determined that I would share a message that would lift the spirits of others at a time when they needed something tangible to hang onto.
The essence of the message that day was, “I would sure feel better about Robert’s passing if you could assure me that someone was taking care of him—A PERSON. And could you assure me that he’s really in a better PLACE? And if I knew there was a person and a place, could you PROMISE?” The simplicity of the message was profound but it was also unforgettable. Any of us could take those three points and expound in our own style.
2. I observed a pastor that day who did not refer to his notes—not even once. He knew the message by heart which allowed him to make eye contact with the family and the audience. Because of his connection through eye contact, the audience was engaged and literally hung on every word spoken.
My goal from that day was to truly minister a message from my heart and to purposefully make eye contact with the audience. I have yet to memorize my funeral messages, but I sure look up more than I look down. Although I have preached hundreds of funeral messages over the years, each one has been slightly different in emphasis because I have tried to stay sensitive to the needs of the family and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
3. I observed a pastor who mentioned the person many times by name and included testimonies, remembrances, victories, and personal encounters with the person.
Since that time I have realized the comfort that it can bring a grieving family to include real stories and remembrances. Although the Word is our foundation for comfort and hope, we must never forget to minister to the real emotions of the family and friends.
I have never forgotten that day when I experienced a simple yet unforgettable message, a pastor who looked into my eyes and met a real need, and a pastor who remembered the person as well as the message. Through the years, I can honestly say that I have experienced a greater tangible anointing of the Holy Spirit conducting a funeral than any other time of ministry. You can, too.
Pastor Bernie Samples—Barstow, CA
My personal thoughts and experience is to always remember that, the main thing is to minister the love of Jesus to the immediate family in level and measure that they can receive. Of course we want to honor the life of the deceased loved one, but the ones still living are our primary assignments. When I meet with them for planning the service, I try to locate them spirituality and see how strong they want to go on the gospel side of things. I always preach Jesus is the only way to Heaven, born again, eternal life, etc., but some families want to have an altar call type message also. If it’s a person and/or a family I don’t really know, I find out as much about the deceased as I can (job-career, hobbies, personal family memories) and work this information into the eulogy, always keeping in mind the main goal is to minister the love and anointing and grace of God to the living—not to be long-winded and preach my favorite Bible doctrines and show how much I know or prove what a good preacher I am.
As far as a difficult type funeral. I had one once where the person very obviously lived a non-Christian life style. The week before he died, I was privileged to lead him to Christ. At the funeral home right before the service, a very menacing group of his friends cornered me and took me into a side room and told me in no uncertain terms that,” You better say good things about our friend…” I assured them that “I would because I had nothing but good things to say!” In my sermon, I told everyone that,” I didn’t know the same person you did because the man I knew received Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior last week and he’s in Heaven now with Jesus. But, if he were here, I know he would want me to tell you about Jesus and Heaven.” I then preached John 14 and had a wonderful response! They all cried and shook my hand and thanked me for the good things I said about their friend! Love never fails!!!
Pastor Monte Knudsen—Mt. Pleasant, IA
I have always gone by this mantra: If you win the hearts of a family during a death, you win them forever. If you offend the family during a death, you most likely lose them forever. It is a very critical time for people.
First, see the family immediately at time of death. When contacted—go. No matter the inconvenience, you must go to them ASAP. No matter how close you are when you arrive, hug them and let them know how sorry you are. Conversation should be thoughtful and caring not teaching or preaching. Depending on circumstances, you may need to help them contact an emergency number or a funeral director. Before you leave them, you must absolutely pray with them for comfort, strength and peace. Do not try to determine if their loved one is with Christ at that moment. It is way too sensitive and hurtful.
Second, schedule a time to return when you can talk with one to three family members and do a kind interview of the deceased. Ask questions like, how long were you married, what was your fondest memory, did they have a favorite hobby, love to travel, have a favorite sports team. Let them answer fully and take some notes. You are getting to know the deceased through their eyes. It is invaluable for the message at the ceremony you will give.
Third, funeral plans. This includes music, any others they want to share or sing, how many will attend a lunch, etc. You want to help them plan. For legal issues, let the funeral director handle all these. They are trained for it.
Fourth, the service itself. You should try keeping it at a maximum of 1 hour. That is a long service. Only famous people will have longer memorial services. Forty-five minutes will usually suffice. Be sincere but not morbid. Find the one thing the family talks about more than the rest and focus on that trait. Maybe it was their love of grandkids, or a special hobby they loved, or a cause they were involved in. Highlight it. By doing so, you earn the right of everyone who knew them to speak to them about the gospel. Make sure you are to the point and short-winded.
Finally, always show respect for the deceased. Things like walking the casket down the aisle, leading the casket out the church, standing by the hearse as the body is loaded. Make sure you are standing by the head of the casket at the cemetery. It’s always to the west facing east (Jesus comes from the eastern sky).
In both the funeral and the burial, use scripture to validate you message and your love for the family and the dead. It is the power of God unto salvation.
Quick review: Be present, learn about the deceased from family, plan the service, and don’t go too long. You’ll do great.
Pastor Tim Kutz—Bartlesville, OK
I lost count of how many funerals I have officiated years ago. Well over 100; probably many, many more.
Last month I officiated a funeral that, naturally speaking, should have been one of the hardest type that anyone could ever do. My youth minister, who was also my niece and the daughter of one of my board members, passed away in her sleep at the age of 23. By the grace of God, I was able to keep my composure and give honor to her life, above and beyond what I was thinking, and what many others were thinking that I could.
The first funeral I conducted was two weeks out of Bible school. The man who passed away, from the way he was characterized by every one that I talked to, was definitely in hell. I would say the same for almost everyone else there, except for my younger brother’s friend, who asked me to do the funeral. With him as an exception, everyone that I talked to hated the deceased. They were all very glad that he was gone. Wife, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, all were thrilled that this man had died. I could not find one friend who would give me something good to say about this man. This was a graveside service only, most everyone was drunk, and there were open chests of ice filled with varied brands of beer. The majority of people were drinking during the service. Several finished their drink, made their way to the chest, and helped themselves to another beer. One young man, who didn’t look old enough to be drinking, crushed his empty can and threw it at the casket.
Another funeral was of a 6-year-old son of one of my board members. The man decided to go fishing one Sunday night on a very large, nearby lake, and took his son. They were fishing about three miles from launch, but very close to shore. A fast moving storm came in, and instead of beaching the boat, they tried to make it back to the boat launch. Their boat capsized and they both went in the water. They were both wearing life jackets, but the water was very cold. The man held his son and tried to get to shore. After about two hours, the boy looked at his dad and said, “Daddy, I want to go and get my flying body.” His father told him goodbye. With those words, he passed away in his father’s arms. The man came close to dying of hypothermia himself, but he recovered. This funeral hit our church very hard.
I am white. I love people, and that includes all races!!! At the time, I had the largest multi-racial church in town. I was asked to co-officiate at a funeral of a young black woman in a church pastored by someone else. She had shot herself in the head. She had some very precious children who were well-liked in the community. As I opened my mouth and allowed the Lord to use me, the entire assembly of predominately African Americans stood to their feet and gave a lengthy applause to some statements that I made. I have never seen that happen, nor has it ever happened again.
First of all, let me say this. Every man or woman who is pastoring needs to have a shepherd’s heart. If you don’t have one, find a mentor who does, ask God for supernatural impartation from the Holy Spirit and from this mentor, and get one. Without a shepherd’s heart, funerals, and everything else that you do as a pastor will be like “washing your feet with your socks on.” The thing that will help you do funerals well, and if I may say it this way—the thing that will make you shine at this time when people need you so much—is that you have first, previously given your life for them. If everything that you do comes from that heart, you will be excellent at officiating funerals.
Second, realize that the more revelation that you have of Heaven, and the more real it is to you (not just doctrine and teaching), the better you will do at funerals. This CANNOT be underestimated, and partially only comes with age. If you are young, give yourself much to meditating on Heaven if you want to do good funerals.
Remember that a funeral is just an “event”—part of a process. Accidents aside, the process starts with a person on their deathbed. Much could be said here about preparing a family for the passing of their family member. But once a person passes away, things move rather quickly. Be there for people, but most people do not want a continual influx of visitors. It is hard for many people because they think that if they don’t show up, people will think that they don’t care. Part of what you can do is protect people from being overwhelmed by well-wishers, yet providing an avenue for well-wishers to show their care. Then, ALWAYS go to the funeral home with the family. If they don’t invite you, just ask them what time they would like you to be at the funeral home. If they try to put you off, please understand that they are in shock and do not understand how much they need you there. Don’t force yourself on people, but be graciously persistent where this is concerned. You will know if they DON’T want you. If you don’t know that, then be there!!!
You are there for two reasons. First, to comfort them through this process, and secondly to be a voice of reason when guilt kicks in for not buying the best for the deceased. Funeral homes are a business that are there to provide a service, but they also wish to make as much money as possible. Try to get a feeling of the financial where-with-all of the people who are involved in paying for the funeral before you go to the funeral. Keep your ear open for hints of this. At the funeral home, if there is a lack of funds available, compliment the looks of the lower priced caskets. Assure the people chauffeured service from church members instead of a limo. Do everything that you can to save the people money.
Then, if a cemetery plot is not already purchased, go to the cemetery with them for the same two purposes. You are there for the same two reasons. You can save people several thousand dollars in this process, and they may not show thanks immediately, but you will make this process much easier, and they will recognize this as time goes on.
Set aside time when “ALL” of the family, and as is proper, certain friends, can get together and reminisce about their memories of and with the deceased. Try to write down everything that is said. Turn on your phone or tablet recorder in case things are moving too fast. You will be using this meeting to formulate most of the eulogy that you will present. In most cases, the eulogy is more important that the funeral sermon where the family is concerned. Many times, this meeting cannot happen until the night before because of those who are traveling great distances and are arriving the day before the funeral. Prepare yourself for a long night, the night before the funeral. Try to get a grasp on when people can meet before you go to the funeral home to make arrangements. If you know it will be a late night, the night before the funeral, try to graciously steer the funeral service for an afternoon start. Many ministers think that their sermon needs to be perfect, but making the eulogy the high point of any funeral is something to be strived for. Yes, we need to preach Jesus, but your focus is on honoring the memory of the person that just went to be with Him.
Pastor Jesse Zepeda—Pflugerville, TX
I would not do a “generic” funeral—someone I did not know—unless the Lord would direct me to, and then I would trust Him on how to do it. Because of this reason, I would be more sensitive to minister to the family that I am familiar with.
I would remind myself of my personal experiences with family funerals and how the Lord ministered to me during those times of grief.
There is personal time with the immediate family first, and then there may be time to minister to guests.
One important thing to remember is that this is not about me, my church, or my ministry. This is about a family that has been separated from a loved one. They are the reason that I am ministering.
Do not bring up similar funerals. This family may not be interested in what happened to someone else. This is their grief, their sorrow.
There are some difficult funerals: babies, children, young adults, and even ministers.
Some people will always question, “WHY?” You don’t have to try to answer every question. The people may not be ready for the answer, and sometimes no answer is the best answer.
Pray with them and allow the Lord to minister to them. He knows their hearts.
P.S. After I did a funeral for our Worship Leader, the Lord said, “Now you are a Pastor.” I had dedicated babies. I had performed marriages, but I had never done a church member’s funeral. Now, I was a Pastor!
Death is part of life and funerals are part of ministry. Trust the Lord and the service will be memorable.
Pastor Duane Hanson—St. Paul, MN
I’m going to begin with the following endorsement: I would highly recommend that every Pastor obtain and read the book Life After Death by Tony Cooke. I certainly could have used the wisdom and insight from this book in my early years of ministry, and I keep it handy in my library for reference and review whenever I’m faced with another funeral and grief stricken family!
I’ve learned that people will rarely recall the words we say, but they will remember the emotional support that we provide in those trying times. They will primarily remember that you were there, and that you were a source of comfort and stability during a difficult time in their lives.
In my thirty years of pastoral ministry, the most difficult funerals have always been those involving young infants or children. Funerals for the elderly, those we know who have given their life to Christ and have reached the point that they were “satisfied” and ready to go home, can actually be a joyful celebration of life. However, in regards to the passing of an innocent child, dealing with the difficult questions can be a real challenge if we’re not prepared with the truth.
The most challenging aspect of these funerals is dealing with the relatives who are unbelievers, or family and friends who were brought up with Christian teaching that hold God responsible for everything that happens in life.
We must continue to stand firm on the truth that God, by His very nature, is good. Sadly, when the traditions and doctrines of men that place the blame on God have taken root in someone, it’s difficult to get them to receive any comfort from the One they hold responsible for the death of their loved one. One of my primary responsibilities is to make sure that people understand that the Holy Spirit is our Comforter, and God’s heart is always leaning towards us, and never against us!
We had a family in our church experience a devastating accident involving one of their young sons, who was crushed under the tires of an eighteen-wheeler. The boy was playing with his older brothers, and they had gone into an industrial area near their house where they had been instructed not to play. The accident was just that; an accident. No one needed to play the “blame game” when it comes to something this tragic. Fortunately, the parents had become established in the truth of the Gospel to the point that they knew their Savior was not the One who caused this tragedy. In fact, I was so amazed (and blessed!) to watch as the parents comforted their relatives and friends at the funeral service. They made it clear to everyone present that they knew that God “was good,” and He would never be the cause of something evil!
In most situations, we do the best we can to keep the funeral service “short and sweet” and explain the plan of salvation in simple terms. I avoid trying to “push” an evangelistic message during a funeral, and focus instead on the reality of eternal life, and the need to know Jesus. In my experience, it’s a rare occasion to be asked to officiate a service for a person who died that was an unbeliever.
A number of funerals I’ve been asked to do involved a relative of a family member in our congregation who did not have their own home church. Many of the people attending the service may be “unchurched” or unbelievers and will need to experience God’s love and comfort (more than hearing a long sermon on Heaven and hell!). In those situations, we must be sensitive to the needs of “the living” as they process the reality of the death of their loved one.
My best advice to any pastor regarding a funeral service is simple: Let your words be “seasoned” with grace, and let them be as few as necessary. Just be present and available for the family, allowing them to grieve a loved one’s passing as best they know how, and help them celebrate a life that passed into eternity!