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preaching article Preach a Funeral Like You'll Never Be Invited Back

Preach a Funeral Like You'll Never Be Invited Back

based on 7 ratings
Feb 7, 2014

I am rarely in attendance at a funeral where I am not conducting it. I was recently. Though I wanted to speak to the man who led the Christless love fest, circumstances disallowed it. So, here is a letter to him and every other impostor who seduces unbelievers with human kindness while disavowing themselves of the responsibility to preach Christ – though it is at the heart of their call:

That was a really nice Christian funeral service you just led Pastor. All except one thing – you forgot Christ. You had the cross on the wall in the building but it couldn’t be found in the sermon. You talked about a great man in the eulogy, but that was when you talked about what a great fisherman ol’ Earn used to be. There was no mention or allusion to Christ. Here is why there should have been:

1. Preach Christ at a funeral because many of the people attending will not otherwise gather anywhere in any place to hear someone preaching Christ and Him crucified. A bunch of non-churchgoers just gathered in a Church. Call me crazy. I don’t know much. But perhaps you should tell them about Jesus?

2. Preach Christ because only He is a source of lasting hope. While I appreciate your attempt at psychological healing techniques for grieving, the hole that you described in the heart that is created by loss won’t be adequately filled with memories of our loved one, poems, or banquets at the Moose Lodge. The only thing that can fill the hole in our heart that is exacerbated by present grief is the hope of Jesus Christ.

3. Preach Christ because He is so much better than all that other junk you got. Why rely on vague sentimentality's like quotes from the movie “Sleepless in Seattle” or “The Wizard of Oz” when you have Christ and Him crucified? It would be one thing had you tied those illustrations into scripture and proclaiming Christ. But you didn’t. You told me Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks could hook a brother up with some soft words to sooth my soul. Guess what? It didn’t. Why rely on anything less than the Gospel when it is both powerful and at our disposal? It's like choosing to turn a screw with a butter knife when you have a power drill in the next room. It’s like an astronaut trying to fly a kite to the moon.

4. Preach Christ because we can't control what others will say or do at a funeral. We can’t control what songs will be played or all the other details. At funerals we have this narrow little sliver of a window where a little glimpse of the light of Christ can possibly shine through a fissure of grief onto someone's soul. We can’t stop crazy cousin Eddy from breaking out in song three keys out of tune. We can’t stop the wife of a deceased liar and cheat insisting her husband was saved because one time she thinks she heard him singing “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. We can’t control the spiritual circus that a funeral can become. But we can preach Christ and Him crucified to a crowd gathered to hear us speak. Pastor, you and I should be doing this thing called preaching Christ's way on Sunday morning, Wednesday night, and yes, oh yes, at funerals.

5. Preach Christ at funerals because when we don’t, we waste the opportunity when the veneer of self-reliance is peeled back more palpably than perhaps at any other time in a person’s life. You cannot manufacture timing like a funeral. People are very likely to be thinking about their own limited humanity and what happens after they die. Why not preach to them?

In addition to shepherding the flock as Pastor of Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Chris Surber is also Founder and Director of Supply and Multiply in Montrouis, Haiti. 

Talk about it...

Andre  avatar
Andre
0 days ago
I was checking my mail this morning and saw your posting. What a wonderful article. I am going to a funeral shortly and I will see if that is exactly what happens. I agree totally. I will check back shortly. Thanks
Robert Sands avatar
Robert Sands
0 days ago
I can?t let this one go. I have preached at well over 1800 funerals and in some of the worst situations you could possibly imagine and from what I see aren?t equipped to handle. The funeral is a connecting point. As a result of letting people know God is not mad at them, it?s okay to question and he will be there no matter how angry they are, many have come to Christ. You want to be so offensive that you won?t be invited back? You are acting as if you are their last great hope to meet Christ. You aren?t. God is in control of that. Your job is to start where they are. Furthermore, don?t forget that when Jesus did the miracle in John 2, he and the disciples were ?invited? to the wedding. People actually wanted Jesus around them. Which is more than I can say for some pastors and believers.
Dana Gatewood avatar
Dana Gatewood
0 days ago
thank you
Robert Sands avatar
Robert Sands
0 days ago
you are welcome.
Chris Moore avatar
Chris Moore
0 days ago
We actually don't know exactly why Jesus was invited to the wedding. It could have had everything to do with the statement, "the mother of Jesus was there..." What we do know about the event is that up until then, Jesus hadn't yet begun his public ministry, and if fact said to his mother, "What does this have to do with us? My hour has not yet come." It seems to me that perhaps a better parallel would be Jesus at a 'funeral' when Lazarus died. I think Jesus made a pretty intentional effort to use the event as a means of revealing Himself as the Resurrection and the Life. In every circumstance I find myself, I can always come up with some reason why I wouldn't preach Christ and Him crucified. "There's always some person who might get offended." "Maybe people won't understand." "I don't want to drive anyone away by sounding too religious..." But there's always a BIGGER reason to preach Jesus passionately and COMpassionately: because he alone is the way, the truth and the life. I think the article is a great reminder to, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful."
Robert Sands avatar
Robert Sands
0 days ago
You think you can't be faithful by starting where people are and leading them to Christ? Sounds a more like preaching and less like Jesus.
Chris Moore avatar
Chris Moore
0 days ago
I guess if it sounds like preaching, then it isn't an entire failure, as I firmly believe that that is exactly what I'm called to do. As to your question, needing Christ is exactly WHERE they are. Paul walked into the Areopagus and effectively declared to a group of non-believers--completely unaware of the person and work of Jesus-- the truth of the resurrection based only on the connection of a statue to 'an unknown god.' If we can not find a way to bring the person of Christ into the setting of a funeral where people are most in need of the Psalmists declaration, "I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and for His word do I hope," then when ARE we preaching "Christ and Him crucified"? If the presence of death is not a place where we are comfortable in proclaiming the very greatest reality of life, then there may be a need to revisit our purpose and/or our message.
Mr. Loren D avatar
Mr. Loren D
0 days ago
Amen Brother!
  avatar
0 days ago
Thanks Pastor for your challenging words. I have been in ministry for about 14 years now and have conducted many a funerals during this time, and every time I prepare a funeral homily I ask myself "to whom am I preaching?" Am I only preaching to Christians or non Christians? My experience tells me the crowds at funerals are a mixed bunch of people and they all need to hear the Good News of God's love and the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. I remember doing a funeral for a gentleman whose family members were not from Christian background and I spoke about the love and acceptance, hope and assurance that we have in Christ Jesus. After the service a family member came to speak to me with tears in his eyes saying " I want to know this Jesus about whom you spoke." It was a joy to share with this mourner about Christ Jesus and the hope that e offers. I believe God has called us to preach Christ in and out of season, no matter where we are. If we are to be the light of the world, let us use every opportunity available to us to let others know 'the true light' that has come in our midst, and let us not be side tracked in preaching the crucified and resurrected Lord, the hope for hopeless........
Simon Loghod avatar
Simon Loghod
0 days ago
This is an article that is great by all standards. I pray that pastors and preachers alike will not forget to link their respective messages to Christ where it matters most, not only on funeral services but every opportunity gotten to direct people to Christ. Bless you.
Steven Nestor avatar
Steven Nestor
0 days ago
Awesome article, and I couldn't agree more. My mother recently passed and we are having a Celebration of Life Service on February 22nd. She taught Sunday School for 44 years, and had a passion for seeing people saved. I have asked the pastor to preach an evangelistic message, knowing that many who will be there would never step inside the church for any other reason. I think many pastor's are so afraid of offending, that the thought of preaching Christ at a funeral actually offends them.
Tom Smith avatar
Tom Smith
0 days ago
Right on, and a great eulogy of your mom. Keep on preaching The Word.
Roger Lewis avatar
Roger Lewis
0 days ago
Robert, doing so many funerals has made you a little quick to judge maybe. I think Chris is using a literary technique called using a title that catching your attention. He would not disagree with anything you have said is my guess. We'll see if he responds. Certainly, preach Christ in a way that gives hope and opens the door. We know that God is in control, but we should not fail in giving hope to preach the Gospel not just parts of it.
Robert Sands avatar
Robert Sands
0 days ago
I was quick to judge?
Milan Weerts avatar
Milan Weerts
0 days ago
God used me as a child to deliver a similar message to a pastor who forgot Christ at a funeral. I grew up in a rural area of Nebraska and I was in school so I could not attend the funeral of our neighbor, but my dad did. When I got home I asked my father about the funeral and his comment was, "The pastor didn't say anything about Jesus." That Saturday I sat in the barber shop waiting my turn when they started talking about the death and funeral of our neighbor. I piped up and said, "My dad said the pastor didn't say anything about Jesus." I did not know it, but sitting in the barber chair was the very pastor (we did not attend the church where we served) who had omitted Jesus. Someone else in the barber shop told me that is who he was. My father's message and our heavenly Father's message got to him though a mouthy kid.
Richard Scotland avatar
Richard Scotland
0 days ago
Superb!
Robert Sands avatar
Robert Sands
0 days ago
That's fantastic! I bet that Pastor is now on the straight and narrow since that visit to the Barber shop.
Drdebra Brooks avatar
Drdebra Brooks
0 days ago
What a great article. It really hits home.
Douglas Hallman avatar
Douglas Hallman
0 days ago
Praise the Lord for your encouragement! What a missed opportunity if a pastor only does a liturgy or only talks about what a nice person the deceased was. The people who attend might think the person was a scoundrel! Bring people to the Cross, show them their need of salvation because someday they too will pass this way and don't forget the resurrection and rapture (or return of the Lord if you are not Dispensational from 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Thess 4. Right on brother!
Douglas Hallman avatar
Douglas Hallman
0 days ago
Praise the Lord for your encouragement! What a missed opportunity if a pastor only does a liturgy or only talks about what a nice person the deceased was. The people who attend might think the person was a scoundrel! Bring people to the Cross, show them their need of salvation because someday they too will pass this way and don't forget the resurrection and rapture (or return of the Lord if you are not Dispensational from 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Thess 4. Right on brother!
Russell  Sparks avatar
Russell Sparks
0 days ago
The man said preach LIKE you won't be invited back, not in such a way that you won't be invited back. Big difference! His point is that at a funeral, probably more than any other time we must turn aside from pleasing people and be sure that we are preaching the message of Christ's death and resurrection, and the salvation he offers to the people.
Sheldon Boyd avatar
Sheldon Boyd
0 days ago
Excellent point I think Mr. Zimmerman missed that. I attended a funeral service for a young man who ended his own life with a shotgun blast after a drunken stupor. I was dumbfounded to hear the pastor speak of how this boy made people so happy. Seriously was this pastor looking around the room? Certainly we have to be considerate but we must also preach the truth. E. Stanley Jones once said "Love without truth is brutality but truth without love is hypocrisy."
Gayle Young avatar
Gayle Young
0 days ago
Amen!!!!
James Zimmerman avatar
James Zimmerman
0 days ago
Perhaps I'm misinterpreting what you're saying here, but I find this somewhat troubling. Certainly one should let people know that true hope is only found in Jesus Christ. But this is a funeral, not a revival service. I don't think it's appropriate to take advantage of people in such a setting just because you have a captive audience. I've been to funerals where the pastor might as well have been preaching his Sunday morning sermon, because he never mentioned the deceased. I don't think that's helpful either. Surely there needs to be some sort of balance here.
Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia avatar
Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia
0 days ago
We live in a multi-cultural society where loving caring Christians may well have loving caring friends from other faiths. And these loving caring friends may well be at this funeral. They know we are Christians and it is not right that we should denigrate them by pushing our faith to them in this captive audience. As Christians we live a life by example and will show that example to others but not force them to listen to what they may not want to hear at a funeral. Certainly the family needs comfort, caring and closure and so do their friends but at their pace not a fervent pastor's pace however well meaning.
Phil Goward avatar
Phil Goward
0 days ago
The pastor would never leave out a life honoring eulogy, but preaching Christ and Him crucified is of utmost importance as well. That's the balance. If you truly believe that those who do not choose Christ will spend eternity in hell, then how much do you have to hate them not to preach the path to salvation?! We are His witnesses to take part in His plan to save this world--no matter how uncomfortable some might be.
David Ridge avatar
David Ridge
0 days ago
"comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" -- let's see, attendees to a funeral: "comfortable" or "afflicted"? Do you seriously think that standing before a gathering of saddened people and blasting them with your unwanted point of view (and THAT'S what it is - a pov) is convincing? Ministerial abuse by any other name is still abuse. Save your diatribe for those that CHOSE to come to hear you.
Tom Smith avatar
Tom Smith
0 days ago
How wrong can you get. Let them go to hell to make them think that they are OK? Even if they are going to Hell? Telling them meaningless platitudes is the real abuse.
Jerry Flury avatar
Jerry Flury
0 days ago
One can present clearly the truth of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior without "blasting" them. Christ did not blast Nicodemus but clearly told him of his need of salvation. Likewise, the woman at the well. And then there's Lazarus's sister Martha sorrowing over her brother's death. Christ drove home the point with a heart filled with compassion that He and He alone is the way to eternal life. Do do less than give the clear clarion call of the Gospel is ministerial neglect.
Tom Smith avatar
Tom Smith
0 days ago
Good point. I have unfortunately done more funerals than weddings. If the deceased was known to me as a Christian, we have a graduation ceremony for her/him, after all Heaven is the ultimate goal of our education here on Earth. However if he/she is known to have never made a commitment to Christ, I read the standard eulogy, and then open my message with, "If ______ were able to come to us today, and tell us about his/her experience in the after life, this is what the are most likely to say". Then I present the Gospel in a kind and loving manner. And guess what? The family is usually impressed with that, and I have been asked to do the same for others in the family. Do not under any circumstances give any false hope. Preach "The Word" in love, for after all it really is UN-loving to let them think that they all will go to Heaven no mater what they do here on Earth. Let the controversy begin.
James Zimmerman avatar
James Zimmerman
0 days ago
Once again, this is a fine line. It dishonors both Christ and the deceased to assure the congregation that they are in heaven if all evidence suggests the contrary. On the other hand, God has not called on us to make the judgment on another person's eternal destiny. God knows a person's heart; we do not.
Byron Sherman avatar
Byron Sherman
0 days ago
Thanks Chris et al. I'm not alone! Lives lived(eulogy) should be remembered with dignity, but a dignified declaration of life in Christ is a necessity. The Gospel or 'Good News' is needed by the grieving...as well as for every other.
Tom Smith avatar
Tom Smith
0 days ago
Amen.
Fr Ellis avatar
Fr Ellis
0 days ago
Thank you so much for your timely reminder to all who have the opportunity to preach at funerals,this is a free evangelistic crusade which you the preacher did nothing to bring the crowd in and until you are done with the service, you have all their attention and time, funeral service is not the dead but the living who must prepare whilst alive to meet the Just Judge and they must hear the free salvation message of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Robert Johns avatar
Robert Johns
0 days ago
Jesus always began where people were and immediately invited them to move into a new life that is filled with hope and love. If hope and love don't belong in a funeral, then why even have one. Just hold a wake and let everyone deal with death on their own. But if one wants a funeral to be a celebration of life and and proclamation of hope in the face of death then Jesus needs to be there to help us all move into that hope.
Tyrone Liggians avatar
Tyrone Liggians
0 days ago
I think this article was right on point. Where else would you find a group of individuals confronted with their own mortality. No other place than the funeral, in my opinion, are individuals brought face to face with permanence of death and the realization that we are not guaranteed tommorrow. What a perfect opportunity to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Jim Ressegieu avatar
Jim Ressegieu
0 days ago
There is rarely a SUNDAY that my congregation doesn't hear, someplace in my sermon, the plan of salvation. Someone that Sunday may have been sitting in that pew for 60 years but something touched the heart and the Spirit convicted that person to get right with God. So do you think at a funeral when some there haven't put on the suit they are wearing since the last funeral or wedding they attended that they aren't going to hear the plan of salvation? Do you think I'm going to let them take that step, as we all are should the Lord tarry, that step into eternity with the Lord or to eternity where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" without hearing, maybe for the last time the importance of being saved. Preaching at a funeral is not for the person in the casket or urn--they already know what eternity has for them--it's the live ones sitting there who need to hear!
Joe Mckeever avatar
Joe Mckeever
0 days ago
Chris, there are no words to say how strongly I agree with you. And I am stunned at some of the comments here. One of my professors used to say, "When you are standing at the graveside and all eyes are on you, preach the gospel, friend, because you have the only Word in town!"
Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia avatar
Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia
0 days ago
We live in a multi-cultural society where loving caring Christians may well have loving caring friends from other faiths. And these loving caring friends may well be at this funeral. They know we are Christians and it is not right that we should denigrate them by pushing our faith to them in this captive audience. As Christians we live a life by example and will show that example to others but not force them to listen to what they may not want to hear at a funeral. Certainly the family needs comfort, caring and closure and so do their friends but at their pace not a fervent pastor's pace however well meaning.
Phil Goward avatar
Phil Goward
0 days ago
How does this sound to you Alexander; I care so much for you and your friends of other faiths that I'm NOT going to share with you Who I KNOW to be "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." The One in whom we gain salvation, not to mention peace, comfort, and joy. How dare I share the best news going with those who are "friends of other faiths," Yes I truly see how bad this is! (tongue firmly planted in cheek). I've been to, and officiated, many funerals, and never have I seen a pastor who chooses to share the gospel do so in a manner that is uncaring or without compassion for the family and friends of the deceased. We love these people too much, to withhold the Truth.
Chris Moore avatar
Chris Moore
0 days ago
I guess I'm surprised most of all that somehow preaching a funeral message that displays both the love and hope of Christ to a people to a people most in need of hearing that news is understood by some as 'denigrating'. As I see it, the one thing that denigrates a people at a funeral above all else is failing to gracefully give them the one message we have that is different from everything else they will hear from the world. As David said, "Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions." The only compassion we have to offer people is the consolation of forgiveness that comes through Christ alone. If I'm not going to offer that message, then I might as well leave the service to the funeral director, as I have nothing else to give.
Dane Whitcomb avatar
Dane Whitcomb
0 days ago
Why don't you just say "burn in hell 'cause I'm too lazy or scared to share Christ or step on toes!!"
Matthew Amos avatar
Matthew Amos
0 days ago
Amen!
Matthew Amos avatar
Matthew Amos
0 days ago
Amen!
Mitchell Leonard avatar
Mitchell Leonard
0 days ago
When preaching a funeral I find that the family of the deceased feels somewhat like they owe the pastor for his time meeting with the family, time preparing the message, and time speaking at the service. Most ministers, like myself, do not charge nor will accept payment for this service we do. Therefore I believe we are owed their attention and I believe if we do not bring the Gospel, the good news, we have missed a great opportunity given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Gayle Young avatar
Gayle Young
0 days ago
You are a rare breed Mitchell. In the South, preachers are often paid and it's "understood" that payment is for a "good job" making the deceased appear saved, sanctified, on their way to Heaven, honest... you name it. Chris Surber was on point with this article. I am glad to know there are ministers like you who still believe that the Gospel is always the best news.
Moses Radford avatar
Moses Radford
0 days ago
I will only say a few words. Preach Jesus Christ at the funeral because the family needs to be reminded that their comfort is in Him. Preach Jesus Christ at the funeral because the friends need Him. Preach Jesus Christ at the funeral mainly because there may be sinners present and they need to know that they must be saved and salvation only comes through and by Jesus Christ. Preach Jesus Christ at funeral because there too many preachers that are not. You my brother must be more concerned about the soul of the lost than you are about hurting someone's feelings. Preach Jesus Christ at funerals.
Ed Rexroad avatar
Ed Rexroad
0 days ago
Amen, brother
Moses Radford avatar
Moses Radford
0 days ago
I will only say a few words. Preach Jesus Christ at the funeral because the family needs to be reminded that their comfort is in Him. Preach Jesus Christ at the funeral because the friends need Him. Preach Jesus Christ at the funeral mainly because there may be sinners present and they need to know that they must be saved and salvation only comes through and by Jesus Christ. Preach Jesus Christ at funeral because there too many preachers that are not. You my brother must be more concerned about the soul of the lost than you are about hurting someone's feelings. Preach Jesus Christ at funerals.
Mark H. Stevens Thd avatar
Mark H. Stevens Thd
0 days ago
Great article and so true, however don't forget that your role as Pastor is not only to share the Good news of the Savior BUT to share His love to the family of the deseased, warm words and hugs are very much needed as well.
Dennis Fite avatar
Dennis Fite
0 days ago
You have certainly struck a chord. The antithesis of the funeral you went to that motivated you to write this article is one I went to years ago where the preacher took an inordinate amount of time to try to preach us all out of hell. The only problem was that most felt that Hell would have been like a resort compared to what we were enduring in the moment. Compassion has to rule when conducting any funeral. I do my best to speak as well of the departed as I possibly can. When I don?t know personally of that person?s faith in Christ I let the word ?IF? help me through expressions of Faith. When Jesus gives His comforting words in John 14 He qualifies all this comfort with ?I am the Way, the Truth and the Life . . .?. Compassion dictates that we share the Gospel regardless of the audience present. I believe that is our calling. Compassion without His truth may bring temporary comfort but it will lead many to everlasting death. Thanks, Chris, for confronting us!
Donald  Peters avatar
Donald Peters
0 days ago
There nothing more to preach, but Jesus Christ and His love and saving grace. AMEN!
Donald  Peters avatar
Donald Peters
0 days ago
Amen, and Amen!
Michael Putman avatar
Michael Putman
0 days ago
It troubles me that although you were not able to meet or talk to this minister that you could discern that he was an imposter. What harsh words. Maybe he was adhering to the wishes of the family. Jesus comforted many people without getting up on a stage and preaching. Funerals are about the family and their wishes. If you're going to preach Christ because you have a captured audience then you should do it when your in dining out, at ballgames, business meetings, etc. Funerals are a time to act like Christ.
Danny Brightwell avatar
Danny Brightwell
0 days ago
I agree wholeheartedly with you, Michael.
Danny Brightwell avatar
Danny Brightwell
0 days ago
I agree that the totally neglecting the promise of heaven through Jesus Christ would have been a shame. However, I have been to several funerals where the minister took the opportunity to preach a full sermon. I believe that these were the worst funerals I have attended. In the south, most attendees at a funeral already consider themselves Christians. Those who aren't Christians feel as though they have been taken advantage of because they are a "captive audience." I think this results in more resentment than repentance. I believe it's best to comfort the family and friends - give reassurance that the departed Christian is in the hands of a forgiving God - and assure the unsaved that there is hope for them, too.
Donald  Peters avatar
Donald Peters
0 days ago
I believe that we can do both, share in the family wishes, and bring comfort but also share that the Lord salvation is there as well. With the Lord love and compassion, we have nothing. But without His gift of salvation we have even less.
Christiana Narteh avatar
Christiana Narteh
0 days ago
yes I agree, because there may be someone sitting at the funeral grounds who only needs to hear the words 'JESUS LOVES YOU'
Bethel  Pentecostal avatar
Bethel Pentecostal
0 days ago
Great article but I would suggest a title change - "Preach Jesus so you WILL be invited back - into hearts, and homes as the words shared will be experienced afterwards. As pastors, our ministry goes beyond the funeral. We don't want to be offensive but make the most of every opportunity (Col 4:5,6)

So, what did you think?


Thank you.