Preaching at a wedding, a funeral, a baptism, a baby dedication or some other special occasion is a great opportunity to preach to people who would normally not be sitting in the church. Here are 10 pointers to ponder.
1. It isn’t about you – Don’t try to draw attention to yourself. At a wedding, people are there for the couple. At a funeral it is about the deceased and their family. It isn’t about you. Don’t try to draw attention your way. Gracious service to others goes a long way.
2. It isn’t the time to be clever – Don’t preach in character with a costume at a funeral. Don’t attempt a complex science demonstration for an illustration in a wedding sermon. There are times to preach with creativity and originality, but the special occasion is not one of those times.
3. It is a good time to communicate the gospel, gently – Unless strongly invited to go strong, the best approach is prayerful gracious gospel presentation. People typically need more than one exposure, so it probably isn’t the moment for an altar call, but it is a key moment for those who are present. Remember that pushing too hard does not increase the effectiveness of the gospel, but it might increase the negative impact for those who do not respond.
4. Your regulars don’t need originality – If you need to say things that are familiar to regulars, so be it, they will know what you are doing.
5. Don’t come across as a sales pitch – We meet at this time, we have good snacks, we’d love to see you next Sunday, etc. Cringe. Serve the people getting married, burying a loved one, getting baptized, or whatever; don’t look like you are taking advantage for the sake of the church.
6. Graciously demonstrate that this is not a service for hire – Visitors may assume that you are speaking because they paid a fee and therefore you showed up. If you know the people involved, by all means let some humanness come through so visitors know that you know the people involved.
7. Personalize where you can – Was there a favorite passage or hymn for the deceased? Does the person getting baptized have a favorite passage (less likely with infant baptism!) I spoke at a baptism for a lady and asked about this—she loved James. So I gulped and preached the gospel from James. It set her up for conversations on familiar territory with the multiple guests coming to see her baptism.
8. Recognize the uniqueness of the occasion – You may do a lot of weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc., but this is a genuinely special occasion for all involved. Pray accordingly. Preach accordingly. Do not have one funeral sermon to squeeze into any funeral. Don’t speak as if a known sinner was a secret saint. Don’t preach about marriage to a “golden years” couple as if they are in their twenties.
9. Watch the length of the sermon – It is generally wise to be shorter than you would be on a normal Sunday, but it is not as simple as “be shorter than visitors expect.” If they have limited exposure to some church backgrounds then anything over six minutes is too long. But recognizing that caveat, generally it is better to preach for 15-20 minutes than 35-45 on a special occasion.
10. Undermine expectations wisely – They may expect formal; this doesn’t mean you should try to shock with your attire or vocabulary. However, a genuinely heartfelt message with warmth and sincerity may rock their world. Do it.
There is much more that could be said here ... feel free to add your experience, observations and thoughts in the comments below.