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A young preacher friend recently texted me. He was asked to preach a funeral for a family. It would be his first. And he wanted to know if I had any advice to offer him. I responded by mentioning a podcast I did on preaching funeral sermons: “Preaching Funeral Sermons.”

I also offered offered several pieces of advice. It was a text-message. Not the way to elaborate. Yet I shared this advice with my friend: Brief. Gospel-centered. Be sensitive to family. There are other important factors to consider when preaching funerals. But these three pieces of advice are a good place to start.

Be Brief.

Admittedly, “brief sermon” is generally an oxymoron to me. Of course, I know how to submit to assigned time constraints. But it can be challenge to edit down a message to present in a setting where I have less time. However, I feel no pressure about these time constraints when preaching funeral sermons. The funeral is not your Sunday morning exposition. It is a unique situation in which you have been given a special assignment.

In most instances, funerals will not be occasions in which you will have as much time to preach as your regular worship services. I dare say that even if you are given a full-sermon amount of time, you probably should not take it. Every sermon should be text-driven and truth-driven. Every sermon should also be venue-specific. Recognize what a funeral is and what it is now. And respect the occasion by preaching a biblical and Christ-centered, yet brief, message.

Present the Gospel.

Every Christian sermon should present the gospel of Jesus Christ. This includes funeral sermons. Especially funeral sermons. We live in a culture that desperate strives to avoid the reality of death. Death is all around us. But people mentally bubble-wrap themselves with temporary things to avoid facing reality. But death inevitably bursts our bubbles and forces us to face the hard truths of life, death, and eternity.

Funerals are times and places that cause people to ask big questions. Who am I? How did I get here? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Where am I going? Who is God? Is heaven and hell real? Funeral sermons should answer these big questions with the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t make assumptions. Present the gospel to professing believers and resistant unbelievers. Declare the good news of the blood and righteousness of Christ as saving grace for the lost and sustaining grace for the saints.

Be Sensitive to the Family.

The funeral may be about the person in the casket. But it is not for him or her. It is for the grieving family and friends that have assembled to pay their final respects to the deceased. We often call the funeral sermon a “eulogy,” which means “to speak well of.” But this often happens before the sermon, as loved-ones eulogize the deceased with their remarks. Moreover, a man preaches his own eulogy by the life he lives. If he was not a good or godly man, nothing anyone says at the funeral can the perception of the one who knows the deceased or alter the judgment that person will receive before God.

As you offer words of comfort, be sensitive to the family. This is another reason your message should be brief. But this applies more to the content of the message. Do not try to speak for the deceased. Avoid publicly sharing intimate moments you have been privy to in your pastoral care for the deceased and the family. Don’t get in the middle of family feuds. Be compassionate. Give the family room to grieve, even as you exhort them not to sorrow as those who have no hope. Make sure you only say those things that are consistent with sound doctrine. Consider what it means to sit where the family sits and minister both the truth and love of Christ to them.

What advice would you give for preaching funeral sermons?



H.B. Charles, Jr. is the Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, where he has served since the fall of 2008. He is primarily responsible for preaching-teaching, vision casting, and leadership development – along with all the other tasks that are a part of pastoral ministry.

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Mitchell Leonard

commented on May 19, 2016

Great advice. I recently attended a funeral where the message of the Gospel was NOT preached. The minister explained that he didn't feel that it was the right place. I saw it as a lost opportunity and a great disservice to the people there.

Scotty Strickland

commented on May 19, 2016

Thanks for this. I've been considering for awhile that I will likely need to speak at my own mother's funeral when the day comes. There's not enough space, or need, to explain it all, but I will likely need to be the speaker at my own mother's funeral one day. I want to communicate to those that will be there what Mom wants, which is actually what you say here....the opportunity to hear the Gospel, when my mother lacks every fruit of the Spirit to prove her own faith. She's a self-righteous narcissist and everyone knows it. But I promised my father I would do what is right by her, when he passed, and I know I have a responsibility to her. I want what I say to honor her as much as possible, honor God above all AND not sound like someone sitting in a phychiatrist's office blaming my mother for all my life's short-comings. Your article was short, sweet, yet very helpful with thoughts to consider.

E L Zacharias

commented on May 19, 2016

Bro Strickland, you are a good man who is not ashamed to speak the truth with love. When that time comes you might use a text that speaks to the brevity of life, perhaps from Isaiah, Peter or Ecclesiastes. In this way you can observe how your mom made the most of life, even if it was for herself and her family. However, like a seldom read book, you mother did not realize the importance and joy of the Gospel, that God has a remedy for our sin and the blessing of a new life in Christ. That Gospel, simply stated in John 3:16, proclaims a blessing for all who believe. Proclaim the gift to your family and call them to look to the God of mercy and grace, so that they may have joy in this life and the promised eternal hope, in Jesus' name. At the same time, keep praying for your mother that she comes to believe in the Lord and that you may have a message filled with joy.

Kenneth Anderson

commented on May 19, 2016

I have a funeral this Saturday for a matriarch of or church. I had occasion to talk with her in the hospital a few weeks before her death. She didn't want a memorial service but also realized that the service was to bring closure to her family. she told me her favorite scriptures and hymns and the service will be built around that. The scriptures she chose are 1 Corinthians 13 and John 3:16-17. In talking with her and the family I also learned things about her that will be part of the message. This time was a luxury that many don't have in preparing and I am thankful for it.

Tom Galovich

commented on May 19, 2016

I have always said you are there for three reasons 1. Remember the deceased. Talk about them as possible. 2. Remember the family and friends. They are the ones hurting. 3. Remember God's Word. Greatest object lesson in the world. Bible says it's appointed unto to man once to die.

Steve Sewell

commented on May 19, 2016

As a grief counselor and bereavement specialist and now as a speaker, I whole heartily agree. Our most important work during these times of sorrow is to be present while being genuine. The Gospel allows us to do that. It is during these times that, I believe, God does His best work. Thanks for the sound advice.

Edward Whitehead

commented on May 19, 2016

I've Heard Dr. Charles on several occasions and this advice is I believe is God given and Sound and I concur wholeheartedly with making the best of such a great opportunity to witness to souls at such a serious time ,

Andrew Moffatt

commented on May 20, 2016

Nice!

E Hatch

commented on May 20, 2016

When I meet with the family, I share the three goals I have right up front. First, I want the service to glorify God. Second, I want the service to honor the one who died. Third, I want the service to bring comfort to the family. Within these three goals, we mutually plan the service. I don't believe I glorify God if I don't share his great love for in giving us the greatest gift we can ever receive, eternal life. I have also seen funerals where the loved one has never been acknowledged. It leaves an empty feeling for the family. I have also heard of funerals where pastors unleashed a long, hard-hitting, insensitive message that did not bring comfort, but only anger to the family. We need to speak the truth in love and only speak what will build up Christ.

Karen Selby

commented on May 20, 2016

The articles and advice here are great. To SS just wondering about your view of your mother. The Lord provided a male counselor and a female sponsor and prayer partner for me to grieve many deep hurts I had sustained, many at the hands of my family. This healing allowed me to relate more positively to my parents, other male and females. Do you believe the label and belief you mentioned are how God sees her? Discovering how He sees and thinks of her might bring some positive interactions with her now, as well as better thoughts and ideas for the message the time of her passing.

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