If you want to continue using the old site, you still can here.
  • Favorites
  • Print
  • Rate Me

preaching article 5 Funeral Blunders to Avoid at All Costs

5 Funeral Blunders to Avoid at All Costs

based on 10 ratings
Aug 29, 2013
Scripture: none
(Suggest Scripture)

Nothing makes me shrink back from holy ambition and the good fight of ministry like preaching a funeral. I wrestle for days and nights on not only what to say, but also how to say it.

If I'm enjoying an encouraging season of life, I struggle to enter into the suffering of the grieving. Who am I to represent the feelings of the hurting family as they watch me attempt to honor their loved one? But much changed for me when I preached my dad's funeral last August. God gave me the insight of not just the preacher, but also the family member.

This moment is never casual or easy. It takes much courage and help from the Holy Spirit.

As we ask for God's help in prayer, we must not be careless with any of our words. What we say is powerful in such a vulnerable situation, and we should tread carefully.

So here are five things we must avoid when preaching a funeral.

1. Do not refer to the departed saint only in the past tense.

Part of our duty as the preacher is to honor the Lord by talking about how this child of God loved Jesus and gave his or her life for his glory.

However, too many times we can carelessly speak of the person in past tense. If we believe the deceased is alive in Christ and in his presence, we must refer to him or her also in present and future tense.

In this way, we remind family and other listeners of the hope of the gospel.

2. Do not forget God's perspective.

We're taught in Psalm 116:15, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." God is glorified when his children come home.

Being in the unveiled presence of God is the highest joy a believer can ever receive. It is the end of the long struggle of sanctification and the beautiful beginnings of glorification.

3. Do not ignore the lost.

The lost are always around us. They may not lie in the casket, but they are dead in their sins.

The lost need to be reminded that death is a reality of life, a transition we will all make one day. If there is any place for preaching the seriousness of sin and the grace of Christ, it is when preaching over the body of a saint into the eyes of the lost. Plead with them to repent and enjoy eternal life with the Savior.

The honored saint is more alive than anyone can ever imagine.

4. Do not say or imply the deceased was perfect.

Real people are encouraged to hear about real life. And real life is full of both joys and sorrows.

The honored saint has finished the race and fought the good fight of faith. We can learn from the life of anyone united with Christ.

5. Do not leave out the reality of heaven—expound on it.

The church needs to keep hearing and studying from God's Word about our future home. Lack of talk about heaven reveals our lack of faith, hope and joy in it. This dearly departed child of God now enjoys God and the riches of his kingdom.

For at least a few moments, we can pull people out of their "here and now" perspective that shrinks the joy set before them in Christ. Remind them that Christians are always surrounded by grace and have nothing but heaven in front of them.  

John Pond is pastor of students at West Jackson Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.

Talk about it...

Justin Ford avatar
Justin Ford
0 days ago
Excellent article, John. Exactly the kinds of things that no one tells you in Seminary or before you get up to do that first funeral.
Clay Gentry avatar
Clay Gentry
0 days ago
Good thoughts. I agree with each point. I addition to speaking in the present tense I also speak to the deceased person at the end of my message. family and friends tell me this is a very touching moment. Additionally, I would add two don'ts: 1) Don't talk about yourself. I've been to funerals where the preacher talked more about his feelings and loss that N the families. 2) Don't tell jokes.laughter is good, so tell funny stories involving the deceased but do not tell punch line jokes. I've seen happen and it's terrible inappropriate.
Bev Sesink avatar
Bev Sesink
0 days ago
If I may ask, how do you speak to the deceased person at the end of your message?
Clay Gentry avatar
Clay Gentry
0 days ago
I will turn to the coffin, (around here the coffin is usually to the right of the speaker) and say something like, "Frank there's a lot of people here today... We love you... You've left large shoes to fill in the church... you will be greatly missed... Thank you for your godly example... etc. etc." It's usually something short, a few sentences. I realize there's nothing there but an empty body. However, part of my responsibility is to help those grieving and I have found it is helpful. Just as John said in his article, speak about the person in present tense. This is just a different angle on that point.
Brian Wilson avatar
Brian Wilson
0 days ago
Thank you very much for an excellent, very helpful article.
Bev Sesink avatar
Bev Sesink
0 days ago
Excellent thoughts. Thanks for the reminder. At the end of each funeral message I also share a few thoughts about what people should say/not say and do/not do with regards to those who are grieving. I believe many who are grieved have found this tremendously helpful so that friends and acquaintances won't say or do things that are unknowingly hurtful.
Hilda M. Campbell avatar
Hilda M. Campbell
0 days ago
Yeah, like for your 14 , 15 yr old. God just wanted some beautiful flowers to decorate )His garden. I want to scream then give one of yours. I also ask the family if theres anything particular they think I should say or that they want known abt the loved one.
Bev Sesink avatar
Bev Sesink
0 days ago
Here are some of the comments I share with others at the end of the message (taken from an actual funeral). As we prepare to finish our time together I want to briefly also share a few thoughts with you, family and friends of Wilf. With any death comes much pain, and understandably so as Wilf was loved and appreciated by many. And therefore I want to leave a few brief comments with you which I hope will be helpful on this journey. There are always two parties to a death; the person who died and the survivors who are bereaved. And the only way for you to heal from this death is to mourn, to grieve of your loss. You will need to talk, to cry, to do what is necessary in order to heal. And it will take time, not days, not weeks, not even months, but probably several years before this deep ache in your heart lessens to where it does not continually pain you. Nonetheless you will always have a spot in your life which Wilf occupied. And how can we as friends help, by being active listeners, being there when others grieve. My experience has been that the best way to support those who grieve, is to close your mouth and open your ears, and your heart! And so it is important to avoid clichés, trite comments, which are simple solutions to difficult realities. Comments like, “You are holding up so well,” “Time will heal all wounds,” “Think of what you still have to be thankful for” or “You have to be strong for others.” These comments tend to shut down people’s pain and therefore are not constructive. Instead, they hurt, and make a person’s journey through grief more difficult. Give them permission to express their feelings without fear of criticism. And never say, “I know how you feel.” You don’t, unless you have gone through the exact same thing. Think about your role as someone who “walks with” them. Allow them to experience the hurt, sorrow, and pain that he or she is feeling at the time. And recognize tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the loss. And don’t be afraid to mention Wilf’s name. It will be comforting and it confirms that you have not forgotten him, who was so much a part of many people’s lives. And so may we comfort each other in the days ahead.
Clay Gentry avatar
Clay Gentry
0 days ago
Sage advise my friend.
Mike Fogerson avatar
Mike Fogerson
0 days ago
I have also found it very useful to practice the names of the family on the obituary before the service. It never fails that if I butcher a name, I can preach a great message, but the only thing the family will remember is how I mispronounced a nephews name. And I always know when I have mispronounced the name because the first two rows in front of me whisper to one another. In my opinion this is a pretty big blunder that is somewhat easily resolved if I write difficult names out phonetically on the obituary before I read the names. Just a thought
Keith  B avatar
Keith B
0 days ago
And what if the person you're doing the funeral for is known to be an unbeliever? I did one last month for a guy that was most likely NOT a believer.
Kevin Wenker avatar
Kevin Wenker
0 days ago
I will not conduct a funeral for an unbeliever. Oh, I know what many will say: The funeral is for the living. Yes...BUT...when a Pastor conducts a funeral for someone, he is saying - implying - that the person was a believer. Unless, of course, you are willing to say "Don't be like old Joe here, who did not believe and went to hell."
Mike Jacobson avatar
Mike Jacobson
0 days ago
How do you really know they are an unbeliever?. A lot can happen in those closing moments in someone's life. I realize for some, it might seem pretty clear...but you just never know. Don't forget the thief on the cross.
Kevin Wenker avatar
Kevin Wenker
0 days ago
The thief on the cross spoke up for Jesus without any prior hope of salvation. He defended Jesus as innocent and acknowledged his sin. The idea that we can lead a willfully sinful and faithless life and then at the last moment say "I believe" in order to escape the consequences of judgment is nowhere taught in Scripture.
Mike Jacobson avatar
Mike Jacobson
0 days ago
You clearly do not understand the grace of God...And we must be using different Bibles as well. My Bible is full of examples of people turning to God when all hope has been lost. I willfully sinned and lived a faithless life until I came to Christ and believed.
Keith  B avatar
Keith B
0 days ago
I'm a pastor of a small country church. There is no one else here in town to do a funeral. If not me...who else? You miss out on an incredible opportunity to preach the Gospel to the unsaved. The couple of funerals I've done here, I have not said they're in heaven--but instead presented the Gospel and allowed for "hope" that they understood the Gospel.
Rev. Dennis Wright avatar
Rev. Dennis Wright
0 days ago
As a minister it is not my job to judge - it's God's job. I do not know the person's heart; only God knows a person's heart. I will not preach a funeral as though the unbeliever is going to heaven, but I preach God's Word to support the believers who are attending and I preach God's Word so unbelievers attending will hear about the hope they can have in Christ Jesus and also the consequences of sin. Doing a funeral for an unbeliever may be more difficult, but it is an opportunity to plant the seed of faith in the family and friends of the so-called 'unbeliever'. Preaching to the already converted is much like preaching to the choir - there is no opportunity to stretch yourself or your thinking. We are called to evangelize to the lost - not the saved. It is a shame you won't conduct a funeral service for the unbeliever because you are wasting a God given opportunity to reach others on behalf of Christ. This is just food for thought.
D. Mitchell Mullenax avatar
D. Mitchell Mullenax
0 days ago
Kevin, you are missing an opportunity to show God as the God of all comfort. Conducting a funeral of someone who is lost implys nothing however it does say you don't care. You may very well want to consider a different line of work.
Kevin Wenker avatar
Kevin Wenker
0 days ago
Well, after 37 years, I will give due consideration to your advice. We do not judge hearts, but we do judge lives and the witness a person's life gives.
Kevin Wenker avatar
Kevin Wenker
0 days ago
God is the God of all comfort though Jesus Christ. Apart from him there is no comfort and no hope.
Carlyle E. Johnson avatar
Carlyle E. Johnson
0 days ago
Our task is not to be the Judge (Jesus alone is) but rather our task is to preach the Gospel... if there is evidence of faith... sure we can share that... but if not... the promises of God in Christ is for all who believe (and let God (Jesus) be the judge of that.)
Regan Russell avatar
Regan Russell
0 days ago
All of your points assume the person was saved. What do you say about someone who wasn't?
Shield Faith avatar
Shield Faith
0 days ago
Very good for practical preaching. Refreshing perspective.
Hilda M. Campbell avatar
Hilda M. Campbell
0 days ago
Thk for info abt joke. I wanted to tell one at last funeral at my old church. The dead guy n the eulogist both were jok esters , but I resisted.
Kevin Wenker avatar
Kevin Wenker
0 days ago
Do not neglect the reality of the resurrection. That is our absolute confidence, that we shall be raised glorified as our Lord is risen and glorified. Scripture talks far more about the resurrection - in the Old Testament as well as the New than about Heaven, per se. So should we.
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
To elaborate on that point, there are only a very few texts in the NT that could suggest the idea that believers who die go immediately to heaven, the most notable one being Philippians 1. And even there, the language is somewhat ambiguous. There's really not much in the NT to support this teaching, which is simply assumed by most Christians I know. On the other hand, as you pointed out, the resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of Christ is clearly taught throughout the entire NT. And when Paul told the Thessalonian Christians to "comfort each other with this words," he was referring to the resurrection, not that those believers who had died were now in heaven. Although I am not a pastor, I have been asked to speak at a few funerals on occasion, and the hope of the resurrection is always what I use to comfort the family.
Alan Montgomery Hutchens avatar
Alan Montgomery Hutchens
0 days ago
Kevin, you have hit the nail on the head. Why am I reading (both in the article and in the responses) almost nothing of the resurrection of our Lord? It is not so much the Heaven which now is (as wonderful as that is) which is the great hope of the believer. The blessed hope is that we shall one day be both LIKE Him and with Him! Glorified, as He has been since His bodily resurrection! "Because I live, ye shall live also." The fact of the resurrection is THE hope of the dying, the dead, and the living! We cannot -- cannot -- overemphasize the resurrection of our Lord during a funeral service, whether it is the funeral of a saved person or of a lost person.
Bev Sesink avatar
Bev Sesink
0 days ago
If the person was not a follower of Jesus or it is uncertain, I simply choose to not address his/her spiritual state unless the family asks me to do so, and even then I am carefully as to what I would say.
Bengt Kraft avatar
Bengt Kraft
0 days ago
D. Mitchell Mullenax avatar
D. Mitchell Mullenax
0 days ago
John, This a great article. I am a pastor who has worked in the funeral industry. May I print your article and give it to a few funeral homes to place it in clergy packs. It could prove to be a real blessing.
D. Mitchell Mullenax avatar
D. Mitchell Mullenax
0 days ago
John I am a pastor who has worked in the funeral industry. May I print your article to give to a few funeral homes for clergy information packs? It could be a real blessing.
Kevin Kleinhenz avatar
Kevin Kleinhenz
0 days ago
Here is a few thoughts for those reading. I have never heard of a pastor who would not officiate a funeral for a lost person. (Yes I have heard of those who will not do weddings for the lost but funerals?) I think it is a serious mistake to not use the opportunity to share the gospel of hope. I never actually refer to "where" they are since I really don't know. (But what I do say is this: "If Joe were able to come back and spend a few moments with us today there are many subjects he would not be interested in talking about, his main concern would be talking to you about eternity and not just this life." I feel regardless of whether a person was in heaven or hell they would have one focus for their loved ones. "Prepare to meet thy God". Next I think it is really goofy to say that because a person was a dedicated Christian that you are "preaching to the choir". Are you telling me that they had no "unsaved" loved ones? That is so rare, and the fact is that in most cases at least half of those in attendance for the godly person's funeral wll be totally ignorant of the gospel. I love preaching a funeral for a man or woman of God that I had first hand knowledge of their "fruit". It gives us opportunity to tell the audience the difference between a Christian in "name" and someone who lives it out. I would also add that you need to be genuine and understand that it's o.k. if you yourself need to cry. When I am doing the funeral for someone I know or a baby or child I almost always cry. How can you not especially when you have children of your own. Paul did not say that we "do not sorrow", he said, "we do not sorrow as those who have no hope". It is the absence of that person that leaves a void in the lives of those who are left. Thank God if they are in His care, but do not expect me to rejoice because someone I love has left me. Paul said "for me to remain in the flesh is more needful for you". It hurts to loose someone whether they were saved or not.
Tom Smith avatar
Tom Smith
0 days ago
Excellent observations. I almost always do the same. However I would like to add a 6th blunder. I recently attended a funeral for a person i have known, and another pastor (Retired) was asked to officiate. It was hot, and most of the family members were elderly. It was not a great time for the family and the others in attendance. This Pastor went on and on till the assembled grievers were very uncomfortable. I know there were lost souls in the onlookers, and he never got to The Gospel. I was saddened at the lost opportunity. Please get to the Gospel. Get to the lost before they are left to the world. The worst thing in the world is to let the lost go, and not tell them about The Love Of Christ. Don't loose your audience, simply because they are turned off by the service.
Bev Sesink avatar
Bev Sesink
0 days ago
I also give a audio CD to families who are grieving. It is an absolutely great deal at Christian Book Distributors. It is called "An Invitation To Comfort", and it is only $1.99 each. It is an excellent investment into people's lives. You can check it out at http://www.christianbook.com/an-invitation-to-comfort-cd/pd/CD94885?product_redirect=1
Bev Sesink avatar
Bev Sesink
0 days ago
I see the HTML tag was not allowed (sorry about that). Just go to cbd.com and type in "An Invitation To Comfort CD".
Bev Sesink avatar
Bev Sesink
0 days ago
If the family is in agreement, we also put on each chair, a business size card that on one side has the imprint of The Hope website (type in The Hope Project on the web and you will find it), and on the other the imprint of the Grief Journey (again type in The Grief Journey on the web and you will find it). In this way the gospel is presented and an excellent grief support website with lots of written, audio and video resources.
Barnita Bynum avatar
Barnita Bynum
0 days ago
In NC most Clergy refer to a funeral as being for a person who was not living the life that shows he/she was a Christian , we use the term Home going celebration for one who has lived the life that implies he/she died in Christ. We know that all people are not saved and that some are going to die and go to hell and that is just that.My thing is regardless of where we think they are going be sensitive, because they are still someone's loved one. These are some great points and as a Co-Pastor I will remember them.

So, what did you think?


Thank you.