Conducting a Funeral for an Unsaved Person

Question: What is your purpose, strategy, philosophy, etc. in conducting a funeral for a person who was not necessarily saved? 




John Carter – East Syracuse, NY

I always keep this in mind when preparing funerals: The primary purposes of a funeral/memorial event is to create an environment for family and friends to


(1) remember the departed honorably,

(2) grieve the loss authentically, and

(3) provide hope for the future. 


In that order. 


I do not believe the primary purpose of a funeral is evangelism – although that may occur as a result of doing the first three well. 


When a believer departs, the challenge is often to not allow the people to pass from purpose (1) to purpose (3) without allowing a real experience with purpose (2). But when we fail to grieve authentically, the impact of purposes (1) and (2) become less effective and cause the service to feel shallow. Especially to those who are in grief. Without grief being given its proper place, we diminish the heart’s capacity to heal. 


When a person dies without Christ, the third purpose becomes the challenge, as purposes (1) and (2) are typically present, naturally. It is never advisable to comment definitively on the final state of the departed. Christ alone knows those who are His and the conditions of a person’s heart in the moments before and during their death are a sacred secret between them and God. 


I have found it helpful to say something like this, 

“When ________ left this life, they went immediately into the Hands of a perfectly righteous and loving God who deals with sin justly and loves to show mercy to sinners.”


Then in the comments that follow, I point towards Christ’s love for fallen people and focus on the promise that He is the “Resurrection and the Life. If we live and believe in Him, we shall never die…. And when we die, yet shall we live…”  I state that ______’s life is over. But ours is not. Will you and I believe this promise and receive this gift of eternal life?  


Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia

So much of a funeral for a saved person centers around the reality of heaven, and the reunion of believers one day in our future. Because of these Biblical realities, we can help family members to “grieve with hope.” There is a true and glorious hope. Yet, for someone who dies without Jesus, there is no hope, no reunion, and no place where sorrows cease. For the unsaved departed, sorrows have multiplied, and are permanent for eternity. I cannot forget these truths and cannot lie to the family that their loved one is “in a better place.” They are not.


But what I can do as a pastor is to minister healing to family and friends. Jesus was and is anointed for the brokenhearted, and life for living continues after their tragic loss. I try to focus my words to them, and that God is a present help in times of trouble. I remove all mention of the resurrection, joy in heaven, or any indication that their loved one was received by God into their eternal home. I ask God to help me to be kind, empathetic, and loving. God shows up in our darkest moments, and I try to represent His heart to them.


It will be likely that unsaved people will attend the funeral of an unsaved friend. I briefly present the gospel message, with a challenge to all – are you ready for your funeral? I invite lost people to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior and make heaven their home. 


Josh Payne – Troy, PA

We see people come to Christ at almost every funeral we do. Our primary purpose at a funeral is threefold: First and foremost, we are there to celebrate the life lost. Second, we are there to comfort the grieving. Third, we extend hope to those who are alive by clearly articulating God’s path for eternal life. We are sensitive to the temperature of the family and most of all the Holy Spirit on “how” we give an invitation. Sometimes that is straight forward just like a Sunday service. Other times we go all the way through the appeal and then let everyone know that if they are unsure about eternity, we will be down front to talk and pray after the service. For many families, they rejoice and take great comfort in witnessing others come to Christ at their loved one’s funeral. It is redemptive for them in feeling like their loss has brought someone else new life. We also have Brother Cooke’s “Life After Death” book available for family and friends. 


Rick Jolley – Yakima, WA

Oh, what an awesome subject! Well, here goes.


I’m sure we’d all rather do funerals for folks that are for sure and for certain Heaven-bound. With that said, it seems the purpose is more or less the same: to try and bring some comfort, maybe even direction into what is possibly the most emotionally stressful time possible to us humans.


Strategy? PRAY. Meet with as many family members and friends as possible and TAKE NOTES. I find that meeting helps TREMENDOUSLY at helping lighten the mood when necessary. Hopefully there are Believers in that group who will help determine how we can help. Believers or not, I always let them know we will do our best to help celebrate a life while still offering eternal life to those in attendance.


Final thought: while family and friends are looking to YOU during this time for help and comfort (and you CAN help and Comfort), I find it VERY helpful to lean on Funeral Directors as much as possible. They do this every day and have great wisdom to bring to bear.


Kevin Berry – Lansing, MI

My thoughts on funerals for the unsaved:



Show compassion like Jesus.

Give people the opportunity to be born again. 

Show compassion like Jesus. 


Jesus cares about the anguish of people’s souls… so should we.


Alan Wachob – Ontario, Canada

While this is an uncomfortable position for an officiating minister to be in, it can still be an opportunity to minister encouragement to those present. If the deceased is not saved, a funeral service would not be the time to declare their eternal fate and make that the focal point. That would obviously discourage and add to the grief of those attending, especially the family. However, after honouring the person’s life and memory within the sermon, this would be a good opportunity to share about the fleeting nature of life and mortality we all must face (this is all through Scripture). Then, share on how God made us for more than this life and how much He loves us. He is our Creator who also became our Saviour. You can share how eternal life is freely provided for us through Jesus and share the Gospel without referring to the one who just passed. Make it about those who remain. Make it about God’s love. Give everyone hope. Tell people that now is always the best time to receive God’s love by believing in Christ.


Personally, with the family at another time, you may have to answer tough questions about where their loved one is spending eternity. When we help people grapple with this, we must do so without compromising Scripture. One thing I have said in the past is that God alone is the Judge when it comes to eternal things, and only He truly knows what decisions people have made regarding eternity. Sometimes, we never really know for certain. If we don’t know, we leave it with Him. I have also told people that we must remember that God the Judge is the same God who gave His Son to suffer and die for us, so we could be saved. If anyone should be entrusted with eternal things, it should be God Himself. If He did this much to save us, then we can trust Him with righteous judgement. He cares more about our loved one than anyone on earth possibly could. We leave it with Him. This can bring a measure of comfort to those who are grieving the loss of an unsaved loved one. I then remind people that for those of us who remain, we should not delay our own response to the Gospel, we should settle it now. When we place our faith in Christ in this lifetime, we have the assurance of salvation that only He can bring.


Jon Albrecht – Superior, NE

I have had to conduct funerals for people that I didn’t even know. I try to make the funeral as personal as possible. I ask family members for fond memories or even humorous ones. It helps to break the tension. I focus on Jesus throughout the service and always give those at the funeral a chance to pray and receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I avoid making statements that they are in Heaven or with Jesus if I don’t know that to be a fact.


John Lowe – Warsaw, IN

I do funerals of the lost and those who are in question. It may be the only chance we are given to reach their families.


  1. I make sure I learn as much as possible about the individual.
  2. I make clear to the family that I will present the Gospel and an open prayer of salvation.
  3. I share the memories, stories etc., I have learned, then I share what I call the Sweet 16: (a) Mark16 – preach the gospel, Heaven said go. (b) Acts 16 – the lost are asking for help, Heaven said come (c) Luke 16 – man in hell does not want his family there. I take time to delicately explain this. Hell says please prevent my family from coming here.


Wendy Preston – Aylesbury, United Kingdom

My thoughts are always geared toward family and friends at such times. Celebrating the life of the departed one is very important. Memories such as photographs that include those present at the service always add warmth, and it keeps the door open to subsequent casual visits that hopefully will allow an opportunity for the Gospel.


Gentle humour goes a long way with a genuine appreciativeness for the deceased allows for friendships to grow.


I have performed several funerals for the unsaved and I’m always warmed by the openness of family and friends. It’s a day to celebrate an individual and doing that is yet another warm heart memory for those left behind. Interestingly, on some occasions I have come to find out after-the-fact that the one we assumed was unsaved did actually become a Christian in their final moments. Everybody is special and the secret things belong to the Lord. 


Gregory Carr – Nanuet, NY

I see my role in funerals as one who brings comfort to the family. There is nothing we can do for the one who transitioned.


I’ve had to do two or three of these types of funerals and they were all with members of my family. When I was questioned because they didn’t think the loved one was saved, I simply share along these lines.


Deuteronomy 29:29

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.


We don’t know what type of encounter our loved one had before he or she transitioned. That’s between them and God, so let’s go with what we do know.


God said He so loved the world that he sent His Son, to give people the opportunity to be saved.


Jesus said knock and the door will be opened. He didn’t mention that you had to knock at a specific period of time before you transition.


Then I ask if they believe God is merciful. Since that answer is yes, I share that we can then be sure that God did everything possible for their loved one to be saved before they transitioned.


At the funeral, I don’t dwell on it. I preach life and hope at the funeral and do an altar call.


I share that for the people there, that while they may have questions about the loved one, let’s choose to believe he/ she received before leaving. But we can make it a sure thing for those who are still present.


I hope this helps.


Jim Graff – Victoria, TX
Funerals are a wonderful time to help friends and family members of the deceased taste and experience the goodness of God and the love of His church. I have found the following to be helpful: 
1. Build a funeral team of hosts, ushers, and ministers wisely. Also, a dinner host for those desiring a fellowship meal following the service or burial. People come in an emotional state where they can be turned on or turned off very easily. It’s wonderful to see broken hearts being ministered to well the moment they enter our church. And immediately following the funeral too.
2. Goal one is to honor the history of the person and the potential of the family. I like to have our funeral service director give families the opportunity to have their loved one’s favorite scriptures, songs, poems, sayings, or memories shared. We also allow 15 minutes in the service for the person to be eulogized by ministry leaders or peers in the church as well as by friends and family members. In addition, I call the family member in charge before the funeral to comfort them, discern the spirit of the service, and to become aware of a story or two that will bless everyone as I share.
3. I root the spirit of the service in a scripture that is supportive of the funeral’s goal. At some point, I share another scripture that makes the hope and pathway to eternal life clear within the message. I take pains to preach the good news and work to make sure it settles in hearts that way. It is easy to do once everyone’s heart is warmed by everything else. We see many give their heart to Jesus and some join our church family each year through funerals.

Rennie Ohl – Warner, OK
I put them in God’s hands and believe for the best. When I do a funeral like that, I think about the thief on the cross. That helps me a lot.

Sam Smucker – Lancaster, PA
In my 45 years of ministry, I have officiated many funerals of people where there were questions about their salvation. I usually would talk to the family and ask about the person’s life and good points. Point those things out but then also make an extra effort to proclaim the gospel to the people in attendance. I usually do not think a funeral should be an evangelistic service. I am careful to not say the person that died is in a better place if it is not known of his or her salvation. The love of God should be proclaimed to everyone there and the importance of having a personal commitment to Jesus.

Tim Gilligan – Ocala, FL
My approach for any funeral is that a funeral is “about” the person who has passed, but it is “for” those who are present.
I would always encourage that the family, friends, and minister give the honor that would be due and celebrate the memories made. This is not the setting to disparage the deceased.
I would prayerfully consider how to tactfully mention that the deceased now has a quite different view of eternity. Without graphic detail, I would then pivot and minister “to” or “for” those who present, regarding making the rest of their lives count with eternity in mind. This must be handled with great care and perhaps with the consent of the close family if they are in fact believers. The strongest truth to be presented is that God is a righteous and merciful Judge.
Also, and very importantly, a funeral is a vital event to officially begin the healing process. Properly grieving must take place and a funeral helps to signal that beginning.
As with every funeral, there are many unique considerations, depending upon the individual who has passed, and the spiritual condition of the family that remains. Prayerfully endeavor to be discerning and compassionate, never approach it as “one size fits all.” The Holy Spirit, who Jesus introduced as the Comforter will guide and be present throughout this process.

Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
Every funeral is an opportunity. We have the honor of respecting those who’ve gone and restoring those who remain. While no two situations are the same, every funeral is filled with great potential to minister to the hurting. Believers and nonbelievers, alike, are all looking for hope, help, and healing during moments like these.

I attempt to focus on meeting the needs of the present, while honoring the life of the past. Introducing the hopeless to the Prince of Peace is my number one focus. Their response to Him, at that moment, is not a metric I choose to focus on. While it’s always wonderful to witness immediate response (which is extremely common), it’s good to remember that we’re planting incorruptible seeds.

Although the daily tasks of ministry always require prayerful preparation, nothing compares to “being ready” for the funeral. Attempting to find the perfect one-liners and witty poems isn’t the best investment of our time, here. These moments are made for pressing into the presence of God.

Remember Jacob? Sleeping with his head on a rock, he found the peace to rest even while being in a hard place. Hard places always precede High Places! While he rested, he dreamed. He saw a ladder reaching into heaven and angels ascending and descending. John 1:51 informs us that Jesus IS THE LADDER!

Taking a firm grip to our ladder (Jesus) and stepping up, climbing into His Presence, is the only guarantee that you’ll have anything with the power to heal. Bringing The Kingdom to the hurting is the one and ultimate goal of performing the ceremony that matters.

Find a place to rest. A moment to dream. Even in the hardest of places you can see what you’d never see, had you not taken the time to rest. When you can see what you hadn’t seen before, you can go where couldn’t go before. When you can go where you couldn’t go before, you can reach those you couldn’t reach before.


Tony Cooke – Broken Arrow, OK

I found all of the above answers encouraging and helpful. As I read the remarks, it made me appreciate the love and compassion these ministers have displayed over many decades, and the wisdom they have accumulated through their respective journeys.


More than one mentioned that we don’t necessarily know what an individual did in their final moments, and sometimes people made decisions the family doesn’t know about. I know that is not always the case, but I recall being asked to visit an older man who rarely attended church (he is the one that requested my visit). He was a very private individual, and he prayed willingly that day to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior. 


A few months later when I received a call from his widow telling me that he had passed, she expressed sorrow concerning his spiritual state (he had not lived for God during his life, nor had he shared with her about his decision and prayer a few months before). The widow was tremendously relieved when I told her of his open heart and his confession of faith.


I realize that not every case is like the one just mentioned, but we must keep in mind that we don’t know everything that happens in a person’s life, and as others have indicated, we must commit people who pass “to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). 


It would be wrong to assume that everyone goes to heaven, or that everyone makes a last-second decision for Christ, but here is something I wrote in my book, Life After Death: Rediscovering Life After the Loss of a Loved One. I have also shared this on an occasion with surviving family members when I felt it was something they could receive:


People who don’t go to heaven have a strong desire for their living loved ones to accept God while they have the opportunity. The rich man (Luke 16) realized there were things his brothers could do to change their destiny so theirs would not be the same as his. This brings to mind a question that is often raised in pastoral ministry: People are often distraught when a loved one who died gave no evidence or indications of having accepted Jesus. Instead of assuming the worst, we must realize that we don’t necessarily know what a person did in his final moments or seconds of consciousness—this means there is hope! The thief on the cross placed his faith in Jesus shortly before his death, and Jesus accepted him and assured him that he would be with Him in Paradise.


When it comes to the funeral or the memorial service, there are important considerations that have been well addressed in the remarks above. It is important to keep in mind that the memorial service is really not for the deceased, but for the living. Therefore, we want to honor them and express God’s love to them. 


In a service for a known believer, it is easy to intermingle elements of the gospel in with the eulogy—the personal remarks about the person. In other words, the pastor honors the person’s life (what he or she meant to others, their accomplishments, etc.) and is able to talk about how their faith impacted the overall course and events of that person’s life.


In a service for a person who was not known to be a believer, there will still be a eulogy and a message, but the two may not be able to be interwoven. In other words, I might have all of the eulogy and even remarks shared by others early in the service, and then have a definite break, perhaps by a song. Then, when I share the message, I make it about God and what he offers to the people present without necessarily connecting it to the life of the individual who passed away.


I was taught very early in ministry that if there is uncertainty, don’t try to preach a person into heaven or into hell. Honor the person’s life, comfort the bereaved, and share the love of God.


Four Punctuation Marks and a Funeral

Note: This message is somewhat designed for the passing of a non-elderly believer but can be modified for other situations.

You might think it strange that we would be talking about punctuation marks at a time like this, but the four symbols you see on the screen actually represent the four points of my message today.

  1. The first symbol you see is a QUESTION MARK (?)
    I am leading with this because people have questions when they are confronted with death.

    The reality is that we live in a fallen world, and we ultimately must recognize that (a) life is full of challenges and that (b) we don’t understand everything.
    It can be challenging sometimes to navigate the paradox that (a) life throws all kinds of crazy, unexpected things our way, (b) but that God is still Good!
    I would never tell you not to ask questions at a time like this… people are curious about life, death, and eternity.

    I would encourage you to look to God’s Word, and the wonderful things it teaches us about God’s love and His amazing plan for our lives.
    Yet, among the great things the Bible teaches is this statement: “We know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9 NKJV).
    We don’t know everything.
    Deuteronomy 29:29 (NKJV)
    29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
    Proverbs 3:5 (NKJV)
    5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
    And lean not on your own understanding…
    Sometimes faith means acknowledging that we don’t know everything and then moving beyond the question marks.
    2. The Second Symbol is a Period (.) 
    A period marks the end of a sentence. That phrase is complete—it is over.
    Some people look at death that way. That death speaks of finality. Just like a sentence comes to an end (with a period), so death puts an end to a person’s life.
    In a very limited sense that is true, but only in the sense of a person’s life on this earth.
    In terms of ultimate reality—in terms of the big picture—death is not really a termination, but a transition.
    That’s why I like this third symbol better.
    3. The Third Symbol is a Comma (,) 
    A comma says this sentence is not over… there is a slight pause, a bit of a break, but the sentence is not over. There is more to come.
  1. We understand that ______________’s earthly life has ended, (comma) but ______________ will live on for eternity.

For the Christian, it is not a mere cliché when we say of the departed, “They are in a better place.”

  1. Those who loved ________________ will miss him/her deeply, (comma) but those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will see _______________ again

The comma means the sentence is not yet finished.
Right before Jesus proclaimed that He was the way, the truth, and the life, He said:
John 14:1-3 (NKJV)
1 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.
2 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.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
Beyond our lives here, and beyond the comma, there is another part of the sentence. Jesus really has prepared a place for us.
One final punctuation mark, and this is what we really believe for _________________.
4. The Fourth and Final Symbol is an Exclamation Point (!) 
An exclamation point is something you include when you really want to emphasize something.
If you wrote a friend telling them you had been given a million dollars, you would probably end that sentence with an exclamation point.
Though the Greek of the New Testament did not utilize exclamation points (or other punctuation marks), I think the following types of statements could merit bold emphasis in our language today:
2 Corinthians 5:8 (NKJV)
8 …to be absent from the body… [is] …to be present with the Lord.
Philippians 1:23 (NKJV)
23 …to depart and be with Christ… is far better.
Revelation 1:18 (NKJV)
18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.
John 14:19 (NKJV)
Because I live, you will live also.
These can all be read with the exclamation of faith!
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!”
I hope you’ll remember…
(Question Mark) It’s OK to have questions, and it’s OK not to know everything. We can trust God anyway.
(Period) Death may be the end of our earthly life, but that’s not the full picture. There is more to life than our earthly existence.
(Comma) Death is more of a transition than it is a termination. There is more to come…
(Exclamation Point) When our faith is in the Lord, there can be a joyous declaration that life is greater than death and the hope is greater than despair.

Better Funerals

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.

11 Great Stories About Going Home by Tony Cooke

Story #1: Certainties
When the great Christian and scientist, Sir Michael Faraday, was dying, some journalists questioned him as to his speculations about life after death.  “Speculations!” he said, “I know nothing about speculations.  I’m resting on certainties.  ‘I know that my redeemer liveth, and because He lives, I shall live also.'”

Story #2: Arrived
There are Christians from a certain tribe in Africa who never say of their dead “who die in the Lord” that “they have departed.”  Instead, speaking as it were from the vantage point of the gloryworld, they triumphantly and joyously say, “they have arrived.”

Story #3: The Revised Edition
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.”

Story #4: In My Father’s House
It is said that when one of his church members was dying, John Watson, the Scottish preacher of Edinburgh, would kneel down and whisper in the person’s ear: “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Then, with a contented sigh, the person would “slip away” – entirely unafraid.

Story #5: Dwight Moody’s Homegoing
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!”

Story #6: Reville
Winston Churchill had planned his funeral, which took place in Saint Paul’s Cathedral. He included many of the great hymns of the church, and used the eloquent Anglican liturgy. At his direction, a bugler positioned high in the dome of Saint Paul’s, intoned, after the benediction, the sound of “Taps,” the universal signal that says the day is over. But then came the most dramatic turn: As Churchill instructed, as soon as “Taps” was finished, another bugler, placed on the other side of the great dome, played the notes of “Reville” – “It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up in the morning.” That was Churchill’s testimony that at the end of history, the last note will not be “Taps,” it will be “Reville.” The worst things are never the last thing.

Story #7: Both Sides of the River
The story is told of old Bishop Warren Chandler, after whom the school of theology at Emory University was named. As he lay on his death bed, a friend inquired as to whether or not he was afraid. “Please tell me frankly,” he said, “do you fear crossing over the river of death?” “Why,” replied Chandler, ” I belong to a father who owns the land on both sides of the river.”

Story #8: Waiting
There is a woman who is buried under a 150-year-old live oak trees in the
cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana. In accordance with this woman’s instructions, only one word is carved on the tombstone: “Waiting.”
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew

Story #9: The Fork
There was a woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her things in order, she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discus certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him the songs she wanted sung at her funeral, the scriptures she wanted read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. Everything seemed in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

“There’s one thing more,” she said excitedly. “What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply. “This is very important,” the woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.” The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. That surprises you, doesn’t it?” the woman asked. “Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.

The woman explained. “In all my years of attending church socials and pot-luck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, “Keep your fork.” It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming, like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.”

The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears as he hugged the woman goodbye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She knew that something better was coming.

At the funeral, people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing, her favorite Bible, and the fork in her right hand. Over and over the pastor heard the question, “What’s with the fork?” And over and over he smiled. During the message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died, and explained the meaning of the fork. The pastor told the people he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to either. He was right. So the next time you find yourself reaching for the fork, remind yourself that the best is yet to come.

Story #10: It’s Day Here
Leighton Ford is an evangelist, who, for many years worked as an associate to Billy Graham. His son, Sandy, died an untimely death, and in spite of his strong faith, Leighton struggled with that loss.

Even though he fully understood that he could not literally communicate with his departed son, Leighton kept a journal in which he wrote imaginary “conversations” with his son; it was his way of expressing things that were on the inside of him and bringing proper closure to the relationship.

In one of these imaginary conversations, Leighton wrote:

“Sandy, I sure do miss you. I think about you more now than I did when you were here on earth.”

“I know you do dad, and I hear those thoughts”

“I guess I’m just afraid that as our time goes on here, that I’ll lose the sense of nearness we once had.”

“But why?” Sandy responded, “It’s just like one big long day here, dad, and besides that, you’re not moving away from me, you’re moving toward me. And the wall between us is so thin, you would laugh if you could see it.”

“Thanks son, it’s getting late, I’d better get to bed. Enjoy the stars.”

“It’s day here dad, enjoy the light.”

Story #11: The Waterbug Story (Great to help children…)
Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of waterbugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun. For many months they were very busy, scurrying over the soft mud on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in a while one of their colony seemed to lose interest in going about with its friends. Clinging to the stem of a pond lily, it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more.

“Look!” said one of the water bugs to another, “one of our colony is climbing up the lily stalk. Where do you think she’s going?” Up, up, up it slowly went… Even as they watched, the water bug disappeared from sight. Its friends waited and waited but it didn’t return…

“That’s funny!” said one water bug to another…
“Wasn’t she happy here?” asked a second…
“Where do you suppose she went?” wondered a third…
No one had an answer. They were greatly puzzled.

Finally one of the water bugs gathered its friends together. “I have an idea. The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk must promise to come back and tell us where he or she went and why.” “We promise” they said solemnly.

One spring day not long after the very water bug who had suggested the plan found himself climbing up the lily stalk. Up, up, up he went. Before he knew what was happening, he had broken through the surface of the water and fallen into the broad and free lily pad above.

When he awoke, he looked about with surprise. He couldn’t believe what he saw.

A startling change had come over his old body. His movement revealed four silver wings and a long tail.

Even as he struggled, he felt an impulse to move his wings… The warmth of the sun soon dried the moisture from his new body. He moved his wings again and suddenly found himself above the water.

He had become a dragonfly. Swooping and dipping in great curves, he flew through the air. He felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere.

By and by the new dragonfly landed happily on a lily pad to rest. Then it was that he chanced to look below to the bottom of the pond. Why, he was right above his old friends, the water bugs! There they were scurrying around, just as he had been doing some time before.

Then the dragonfly remembered the promise.
Without thinking, the dragonfly darted down.
Suddenly he hit the surface of the water and bounced away. Now that he was a dragonfly, he could no longer go into the water…

“I can’t return!” he said in dismay.
“At least I tried. But I can’t keep my promise.
Even if I could go back, not one of the water bugs would know me in my new body.
I guess I’ll just have to wait until they become dragonflies too.
Then they’ll understand what has happened to me, and where I went.”

And the dragonfly winged off happily into its wonderful new world of sun and air…

Do’s and Dont’s for Funerals by Tony Cooke


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!”