Would you please send us any material that could be helpful to other pastors relative to conducting funerals? Any tips or suggestions? Is there a helpful story or illustration that you’ve found to work well at funerals? Do you have any funeral message outlines you’d like to share (please remove names)? Whatever you send us this month, we’ll add to the “Funeral Resources” section on our website.
FUNERAL SERMON: Download here
Open with Prayer and Condolences to Family
Listen to the words of Jesus recorded for us in John 14 beginning in verse 1. He says:
John 14:1-6 (KJV)
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
- In these short verses Jesus tells us some very comforting and amazing things that are so relevant when we face the passing of a loved one and they all are about Heaven.
Our Weird Views of Heaven
When we think about heaven often times our thoughts are amusing.
- We think that when we get to Heaven we are going to have wings and become angels.
- We think that we are going to be transformed into chubby little cherubs that play the harp (and to me that’s not that wonderful of a thought because I thought we all get svelte bodies in Heaven and that we don’t have to worry about chubby anymore).
- Or we think that we are going to be dressed in pure white (which of course no body other than Jennifer Hudson can pull off and only after weight watchers), but nevertheless we thing we will wear these long white choir robes and be a part of a never ending church service.
- As a pastor, I know first-hand that, that’s a horror for some people who start starring at their watches just 30 minutes into an earthly church service.
- If you grew up in my generation you think that God looks like George Burns and smokes a cigar and if you grew up in this generation than he looks like Morgan Friedman and has a really great voice.
That’s Why Jesus Gives Us John 14:1-6:
- When we think about Heaven, most of us have some pretty funny, pretty strange views.
- And it’s with that in mind that Jesus gives us these words in John 14 which in many ways stand in stark contrast to our thoughts about heaven.
- So, let’s look together at just a couple of things Jesus tells us about heaven that can comfort our hearts and give us hope for our lives.
1. Heaven is a Real Place
- It’s not a state of mind.
- It’s not a figment of our imagination.
- It’s not some disembodied condition where we just float around without a body after we die.
- It’s not nirvana.
- It’s not nothingness.
- It’s not a dream like state.
- It’s not something intangible or ethereal.
- It’s not a feeling.
- It’s not made up by the feeble minded.
- Notice again the word of Jesus, he said “I go to prepare a place for you!”
- Heaven is a real place.
Well, what’s it like?
2. It’s a Place Beyond our Wildest Imagination
When our children were little, Lisa and I decided to take them to Disney in Orlando for the first time. And in the weeks and months leading up to it, we tried to explain to them what it’s like. We tried to paint a picture with our words of what Main Street USA is like and what it’s like to stand at one end of that street and look straight down and see Cinderella’s Castle. And the kids did show some excitement. You could see their imaginations beginning to run wild.
But, when we actually arrived and we literally walked through the gates of Disney and they got to see for themselves what we tried to explain and what they tried to conceive in the imagination, suddenly they got it. Their eyes opened up like giant saucers and their mouths dropped — it was beyond their wildest imagination.
- In another place in scripture the Bible tells us “no eye has seen, no ear has hear, no mind can conceive what God has prepared for those who love him.”
- Heaven is a real place that is beyond our wildest imagination.
Name of Person Who Passed On Eyes Lit Up Like Saucers:
- And just a few short days ago I can assure you that _____’s eyes opened up like a kid seeing Disney for the first time and he said to Jesus — this is the place you prepared for me, it’s beyond my wildest imagination.
- It’s better than I ever thought it was.
- And I can hear Jesus saying — I had you in mind when I created it. It’s a place prepared for you!
3. What’s it Like — it’s a Place of No More!
- In speaking of Heaven scripture tells us in Rev 21 beginning in verse 4:
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, no more sorrow, no more crying and there shall be no more pain for the former things have passed away.”
Heaven is a place of no more.
- Think about what bothers you, and what hearts and in your heart say — no more.
- Think about your back aches, your arthritis, your high blood pressure, your diabetes, your cancer and in your heart say — no more.
- Think about your worries, your fears, your stress and in your heart say no more.
- Think about whatever ails you or pains you and in your hearts no that there is a place of no more.
- That’s what Heaven’s like.
- No more poverty, no more disease, no more genocide, no more aids, no more hate, no more hanger — no more.
- That’s Heaven.
Can you see why Jesus said, “Don’t let your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you!”
- Heaven is a real place.
- Heaven is a place beyond our wildest imaginations.
- Heaven is a place of no more.
4. Heaven is a Place Where Jesus Is.
- Once again take note of Christ’s words, “he says — that where I am you may be also.”
Jesus, Makes Heaven Heaven!
- Some people talk about the streets of gold and say that’s what makes Heaven, Heaven.
- Some people talk about the mansions and say that’s what makes Heaven, Heaven.
- Some people talk about the crystal sea and say that’s what makes Heaven, Heaven.
- But for me what makes Heaven, Heaven is that’s where Jesus is.
Tell the Story of Fanny Crosby:
- You may not know who she is, but Fanny is known as America’s hymn queen.
- She wrote over 10,000 hymns which are sung weekly in America’s churches — perhaps most well-known is Blessed Assurance Jesus is mine, oh what a fortaste of glory divine.
- Her hymns brought her before Senators, heads of state, world leaders and Presidents.
- But Fanny’s story is not as glamorous as it may seem.
- Just a baby
- Eye infection
- Charliton Dr
- Hot mustard compresses
- Burned out both cornia and blind for the rest of her life.
- It was after the blindness that with the help and encouragement of her parents, her faith, and her overcomers attitude that she wrote all those hymns and became famous.
Conversation with the Pastor…
- “If at Birth I could have asked God for one thing it would be that he would create me blind at birth.”
- “Why?” said the pastor.
- Because when I die and go to Heaven the first face that I will see is that of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”
Fanny knew that what made Heaven, Heaven is Jesus is there!
Personalize for Person Who Passed On:
- Some of what Heaven has in store for us is a mystery and will remain so until we pass on from this life, but one thing I can tell is that when ________ closed his eyes on this side of eternity and opened them up on the other side the first face that greeted him was that of Jesus Christ!
- And to ______ everything else grew strangely dim.
There is a hymn called Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus and it says:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
- Be of good cheer, ______ is looking on the face of Jesus in the greatest place there is—Heaven!
When I have my graveside service where I commit the body to the grave, I like to convey to those in attendance that all we are doing is burying the loved one’s body, and not the real person.
In order to do that, I perform a Dove Ceremony. Attached is a sample of that ceremony, along with the following committal service.
DOVE AND COMMITTAL OUTLINE: Download here
Doves, in the Word of God, symbolize the Holy Spirit, peace and the spirit and soul of a person. Psalm 55:6, “And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest.”
We have gathered here to place the body of John Smith to rest, but his spirit has been with the Lord when he breathed his last breath.
So in remembrance to you of God’s great love and promise to John of everlasting life with the Father, we symbolically, in the form of a dove, commend his spirit to the God of Heaven through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Release Dove]
Let us now commit John’s body to the grave.
And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
…because I live, ye shall also live.
1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
John Smith is not here—He stands in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The body that lies before us is but the earthly tabernacle, the house in which he lived among us for a time.
It is tenderly and reverently that we commit this house to the grave.
The body returns to the earth, from which our bodies came.
The spirit returns to God who gave it, waiting for the day when both spirit and body shall again be united at the coming of the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
For the Lord himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
We thank you this day for Jesus, for His precious gift of eternal life and for the comfort of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of our natural sorrow, we thank You for Your supernatural grace. In facing death, we thank You for the assurance of eternal reunion.
We thank You for John’s life here on this earth, and we recognize that the body before us is not John but is merely the house, the tabernacle in which he lived. We acknowledge that John is with You now, rejoicing in Your presence and enjoying the blessings of Heaven.
We thank You for making Your presence very real to each family member and that You will especially strengthen and sustain them in the days, weeks, and months to come.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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, or what the proper protocol was. 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 who 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 to go to 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 their peace with God.
Funerals are 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 life that people relate to will help greatly.
- If you really didn’t know the people, don’t pretend that you did. Those who really know 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.
MEMORIAL OUTLINE: Download here
Our priority is prompt ministry to the family. Initially this will be at the hospital, home, or care center. The pastor’s presence brings peace and the Word and Spirt gives comfort and direction. Don’t try to answer the questions of, “Why…?” Our attention now is Heaven and the “Blessed Hope we have” even if family is unsure of their salvation. There might have been someone who prayed with them just days, hours, or minutes before they passed. Arrangements can be made later and should include others who would like to be a part.
This is very brief, but it is purposeful and meaningful. The family may not remember what you said, but they will remember if you were there and how you said it to them. The highlights a family will remember: baby dedications, baptisms, weddings and funerals. Families will often gravitate to the pastor who connected with them personally in these previous personal times.
The best advice I ever received was in class at Rhema. Pastor Cooke shared that the most important thing you can do, and the thing that people will remember most is the simple fact that you were there. You don’t have to have all the answers, and it is not the time to correct people’s theology.
As far as the actual service is concerned, you are expected to share a few scriptures and share a few stories about the deceased. There are many scriptures that can be shared. I don’t share many. Revelation 14:13 says, “blessed are those who die in the Lord.” The one thing that I have found to be very beneficial is that I ask people who knew the person to share stories personally. It really helps people get closure and it is more from the heart. I usually ask them for a memory that they could think of, if they say something appropriate I ask them if they would like to share it.
The most important thing in this process is to over communicate with the family; ask them for suggestions. I’ve had people that wanted a full service with worship, altar call and everything else. Others have asked to have it not too churchy.
With that said I would like to share a couple of experiences.
I was asked by a neighbor of ours that I have known my whole life to do the funeral of her husband. Here was the tricky part, he was Jewish. She said he would be so honored if you would do it. I did it. Once again I want to point out the importance of communication. I told her I didn’t know how to do a Jewish service that mine was more geared towards Christianity. She understood and wanted me to do it. I started by sharing generic things about God. I shared about a creator that loved us so much. Then I said, as Christians, we believe that God demonstrated that love by sending His son. I was able to share the gospel briefly. The family was blessed.
Another time, I had a friend that wasn’t exactly the model Christian. His dad passed and he didn’t want anyone to know. His dad belonged to a crime family. A mutual friend told me about the funeral in case I wanted to go. I showed up just as the minister was starting the service. The minister had been drinking and wasn’t making sense and finished in about five minutes. Needless to say the family was crushed. They believed their father deserved better. My friend told them that I was a minister. They summoned me out back. Knowing the history of this family, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was questioned (interrogated) and assured them I was capable and would be honored. The response was kind of “you better or else.”
Until this point, as a young minister, I only had assisted in a few services but never officiated one on my own. I shared a few scriptures and opened it up for people to share some memories. The family was so blessed to hear about how many lives he had touched. He received the Lord on his deathbed, so I was able to assure the family that God’s mercy and grace was sufficient.
The last story I’d like to share is to remind you that you are a carrier of God’s peace. I went to a funeral with a friend who’s cousin had passed. I was staying in the house of the parents whose daughter had passed. The next day she shared with me at the moment I walked into the funeral she felt so much peace. She said she felt a peace in her house while I was there, and I was able to lead her to the Lord.
I know it’s said many times that funerals are the least favorite thing that a minister does, but I know, because of the things I’ve learned at Rhema, I know how to believe for the peace of God and share information that will be most helpful, so I am honored to do it.
FUNERAL SERVICE: Download here
The Funeral Service
- Opening Prayer
- Thank everyone for attending.
- Scripture 7:1-2
With comments—a good reputation is better than an expensive fragrance and death is better than birth when you know Jesus.
Comment – we are living in the land of the dying and when we die we go to the land of the living. Where we spend our eternal living is determined by what we’ve sown in the land of the dying.
Our Threefold Purpose for Being Here
- To pay a final tribute to the one who has departed.
- I have the family fill out a questionnaire if no one is willing to speak and I don’t know the deceased.
- I open the floor for anyone who would like to share a memory or an adjective describing the individual.
- To offer words of comfort and encouragement to the bereaved.
- I always emphasize that only Jesus is qualified to give us insight on life, death and eternity.
- Jesus taught death doesn’t mean cessation of life–the rich man and Lazarus.
- You can see your loved one again-the Rapture. Comfort one another with these words.
- I emphasize the gain experienced by the deceased if they know Christ, and how knowing their loved one is well taken care of should comfort their hearts.
- To prepare the living for the inevitable.
- I define “prepare:” The process of action by which we get ready for a test, duty or occasion.
- I use King David’s comment when his infant son died and he said he can’t bring him back but must prepare himself to go be with him.
- I share motivations for being prepared.
- Test – Taking a driving test at age 16. 1st – you really want to drive, and 2nd to avoid embarrassment for failing.
- Occasion – a wedding reception. No one calls a caterer on the day of the wedding.
- Duty – our government prepares soldiers for war or people die!
- Spiritually speaking I use three powerful motivations: the brevity of life, the certainty of death, and there’s no second chance.
James 4:14 & Hebrews 9:27.
- Jesus said we must (not could, not should) but must! I then explain God’s love for us and lead in a sinner’s prayer.
- 37 years ago when I officiated my first funeral service, an elderly woman approached me and said she accepted Christ when I gave the invitation. She said she never thought she would find him at a funeral service. She concluded by saying, “And I’m Jewish!” Needless to say, that inspired me to always include a sinner’s prayer.
In my thirty plus years in the ministry as a pastor, I’ve been asked to officiate at numerous funerals for those who have passed into eternity. The deceased were from every age group, religious affiliation (churched & unchurched), and died from various circumstances, consequences, or illness. Many of these funerals were for relatives of a member of our congregation, and not part of our church family.
Due to these variations and relationships, each funeral service required a unique approach. I found myself searching for appropriate resources that would help comfort the family and friends, without compromising my beliefs about the nature and character of God the Father.
Obviously, my first resource was the Word of God. A Bible with a good concordance or reference system can give direction to meaningful words of comfort. The other resource in my library I generally use is Life After Death by Rev. Tony Cooke. I’ve turned to this book many times to help navigate the challenges associated with grief, and staying focused on the hope of the resurrection. I’ve also recommended Tony’s book to those who had further questions, and needed something in the days ahead.
When looking through reference material, I’m always mindful of certain traditions and doctrines that might create potential problems with the family. Many years ago I ran into difficulty with the husband of a young couple who lost their child. When we met and prepared for the service, he insisted that I say something indicating that “God took their child” from them. I made it clear that my message would focus on God’s love and character, and that God did not “take” their child from them, but rather, God the Father is the one who “receives” our loved ones, and especially the “little ones,” as recorded by Jesus three times in the Gospels (Mt. 19:14, Mk. 10:14, Lk. 18:16). I did my best to explain that a funeral service was not the place to “blame” anyone for their loss, and especially not God.
When preparing a message, and searching for specific material that could be used during the funeral service, there are a few books in my library that I browse through for reference material or quotes that might address the specific situation. One of those is a small book entitled Deeper than Tears, published by Thomas Nelson. It has numerous stories, illustrations, and quotations from various ministers and sources.
I believe one area where we can improve is to follow-up with those who are dealing with grief and loss. It might take weeks, or even months, for some family members to process the loss of a loved one, and they will need someone to stay connected with them during that process. I’ve found that it’s best to gather the contact information of family and friends when meeting to prepare the eulogy and order of service. Then use that information to follow-up with them, expressing your love and concern.
For example, my wife recently lost her younger sister to cancer. A couple weeks after the funeral, the pastor of my sister-in-law’s church sent my wife a book entitled A Time to Grieve by Kenneth C. Haugk. I realize it’s a cliché, but it really is true that in times like this, it’s “the thought that counts” more than any words that are spoken. Receiving this book in the mail was a thoughtful gesture, and really touched my wife as she processed the sudden loss of her sister.
Finally, the greatest resource for those who grieve will be you. Many times, all a person needs is someone else to be there and listen to them. The Psalmist said it best when he declared…
Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted. ~ KJV
Other translations have it this way…
Show me that you care… ~ CEV
I am lonely and hurting… ~ NCV
I am helpless and overwhelmed… ~ TLB
I’m all alone and in big trouble! ~ MSG
If they’re feeling alone and in big trouble, a phone call can be helpful, but it would be best, if possible, to be in their presence. I know we live in the age of technology, but please avoid posting your words of encouragement on Facebook, or through a Text! Besides, we’re not required to have all the answers, and should never feel pressured to “explain why” things have happened the way they did. Our connections and follow-up should be private, thoughtful, and personal!
WAKE SERVICE: Download here
FUNERAL SERVICE: Download here
Here are a few things we have learned over the years.
- When we first started the church, a funeral home contacted me and asked if I would do funeral services for those who had no church or minister. When I do not know the spiritual condition of the person who has passed away, after extending my condolences, I speak about the Lord who created the deceased person; His love, and that the Lord is not the author of death and how they who are in attendance can know that they will go to Heaven when they pass on. I never speak about the person who died, since I did not know if they were saved or not. The funeral home is very appreciative of these services and the people who attend a service seem to be as well.
- We always give an altar call and an opportunity for those in attendance to say the ‘sinner’s prayer.’ So often, if we are doing a memorial service for someone we do not know, they almost always will say they are Christians. It is a very broad term, so we never take for granted those in attendance who might not be saved.
- We do not charge members of the church for wakes, memorial services or graveside services. We have started to charge those who call us and desire to conduct a service for a deceased person at the church. I always try to do these services for those we do not know so that they can hear the gospel. We charge them because of the expenses the church incurs and the time allotment. So often those we do not really know become very comfortable in the friendly church atmosphere and the service can go on for too long of a period of time. Setting a time for the service to end is a good idea.
- We try to accommodate, within reason, any music they may desire.
- When family and friends share about the deceased, I always listen carefully and kindly correct any erroneous things that are said about the Lord. I have never had any ‘flack’ because of the correction.
I’ve used this story in numerous situations and found it helpful—I pray it can assist you, too.
A wise Shepherd needed to lead his beloved flock to a pasture which lied beyond a difficult crossing of a river. After several unsuccessful attempts and much effort he had one last idea and decided, because of his love for this flock, that it was worth another shot. So the Shepherd picked up one of the young lambs and laid it across his shoulders and crossed the river, carrying the little lamb all the way and setting it safely on the other side. The little lamb, now separated by the seemingly impassable river, had the attention of the entire flock. At first the flock was in chaos. The bleating of the sheep could be heard for miles, but eventually, one by one the sheep began to approach that impassable river and make their way across.
It appears as though we’ve lost one of our little ones today. The chaos and pain of separation seems unbearable. But if we look closely, we will realize that the Shepherd has carried them safely across to the other side, where they’re waiting for us to join them. An investment, if you will, has been made into Heaven. Let’s make sure that we prepare ourselves to cross to the other side.
I use the Christian Ministers Manual. This has a variety of outlines that you can make your own and it has various topics for other needs. It also comes with a CD so you can install it on your computer, which makes keeping records easy.
The cost was around $39.00.
About funeral resources, we—Pastor Rose and I—graduated from Rhema in 1994 and they had printed, “The Ministry of Helps” manual in 1993. It has been very helpful throughout the years. It covers such things as music, youth, children’s, Sunday school, prayer groups, hospital visits, ushers, secretary, bookstore, weddings and funerals.
These have been very helpful to us.