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Many pastors have a difficult time determining whether—or what—to preach at a funeral. Here are four "shoulds" and two "should nots."

We Should:

1. Preach the gospel. Funerals force all in attendance to admit their mortality, including their eventual death and judgment. Although we hide ourselves from death continually (do you see animals die, do you bury your own dead, etc.?), funerals force us to look mortality in the eye. Whenever we admit that death is real, understanding that it’s “the wages of sin” is just one step further. God is the one who has judged sin temporally through death; however, He has crucified His Son so that sinners will enjoy Him forever through Christ. Christ’s death propitiated God’s wrath toward sinners. Sinners simply must repent, placing their trust in Christ alone for their salvation. Hopefully, this “face-to-face” meeting with mortality will send your hearers running to the cross for salvation.

2. Accommodate. Some of you may disagree with me on this; however, I will gladly read poems that speculate concerning eternity if the family of the deceased requests it. I will, however, qualify what I’m about to read by saying, “The family has asked me to read this poem titled __________.” Just because you read it does not mean that you necessarily approve of all the theology that it contains. Although I will not read a heretical poem for anyone, I will gladly read a poem that I disagree with that is still in the realm of orthodoxy.

3. Preach the truth concerning heaven and hell. There are more sermons on heaven than on hell in today’s pulpits. As pastors, however, we should emphasize both places since the authors of Scripture emphasized both. You should not allow this rare opportunity to pass you by to preach the result of trusting in Christ: heaven, and the result of rejecting Him: hell.

4. Preach the gospel from the deceased’s perspective. Something interesting that the Scriptures teach is that both heaven and hell are full of entities with a desire for evangelism. Peter says that the heavenly angels desire to look into sharing the gospel (1 Peter 1:12), and Jesus says that those in hell wish someone would share the gospel with their loved ones so that they wouldn’t have to come to such a place (Luke 16: 27-31). Bring this reality up by saying, “If the deceased could be here today, he would tell you to place your trust in Jesus Christ; for he knows today more than ever that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one gets to the Father but by Him (John 14:6).”

We Should Not…

1. Correct theology beyond the gospel. If the gospel does not hinge on the theology that is believed or being presented by someone else at the funeral, then you have no need to correct it at this time. The gospel should be the emphasis, not 100% correct theology. Basically, whatever is in the realm of orthodoxy should be tolerated. Only come against what you know to be 100% false, and don’t be arrogant. After all, you should not be as sure about eschatology as you are about the resurrection of Christ.

2. Speculate about the deceased’s location at this moment: heaven or hell. Regardless how godly or ungodly a person was, we do not know 100% whether this person is in heaven or hell at this moment. We must be careful not to preach people into heaven or hell. Instead, we must seek to be vague about what we do not know, and instead, focus on the power of the gospel for those that believe. Your sermon is not for the deceased (he’s not there) but is rather for those present. Emphasize the fact that all those who trust in Christ will be reconciled to God through Christ, absent from the body and present with the Lord until the day Christ returns, and their bodies are raised from the dead and join their spirits to rule and reign with Christ, forevermore exalting God. Oh, happy day!



Jared has served in pastoral ministry since 2000. He is the pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Hustonville, KY. He is the author of 10 Sacred Cows in Christianity That Need to Be Tipped. Jared is married to Amber and they have four children. He is a teaching assistant for Bruce Ware at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and a  PhD Student in Systematic Theology at SBTS. You can take Jared's Udemy Course, "How to Enjoy God Through Movies, TV, Music, Books, etc." with this link for 43% off. Engage popular culture with Scripture. Enjoy God through popular culture.

 

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Stephen Summers

commented on Mar 6, 2012

Great article. Not sure that I fully understand the meaning or purpose behind the first part of this sentence, “Instead, we must seek to be vague about what we do not know, and instead, focus on the power of the gospel for those that believe.” Seek to be vague? I think we should just be clear. Saying I don’t know is not being vague but upfront and honest without any type of speculation. If we do not know if a person accepted Christ while living then we should be direct and say so and as the author suggested…Preach the Gospel to the living.

Ernie Mclean

commented on Mar 6, 2012

I guess I am from the old school. Offering comfort for the family used to be in there somewhere didn't it?

Jim Ressegieu

commented on Mar 6, 2012

I too comfort the family and I also preach the plan of salvation--not to the person in the box or urn--their eternity is sealed before I even get into the pulpit. But funerals are the perfect setting along with expressing comfort to the family for presenting that the ONLY way to eternal life with Christ is to repent and believe in His Name.

Jim Woldhuis

commented on Mar 6, 2012

Funerals are for the living, not the dead. Preach the hope of the Gospel to the living. There is no comfort apart from Jesus. Never speculate on anyone's eternal destiny, preach Jesus. I make clear to all who ask me to conduct a funeral that the Cross of Jesus will be central to my message.

Dr. Raymond Grabert

commented on Mar 6, 2012

Remember that a funeral is about honoring the deceased and bringing comfort to the grieving family and friends. We should present comfort from God's Word while recognizing the life we are there to honor. Regardless of whether that life was one of greatness or one that was not so great, we are responsible to help the family and friends honor that person. We have opportunity before and after that service to evangelize, teach, and preach. Let's not enter into a highly emotional family with mixed motives. They are looking for comfort. Tell the truth? YES! Be loving? YES! But, a funeral is not the place for us as preachers, it is a place for us as PASTORS! Loving a family will present us with more opportunities to share with them. If we are so concerned about their salvation then let us get with it and visit them before death grips their lives. Then the funeral service can be what it should be, comfort and not a revival tent meeting!

Keith B

commented on Mar 6, 2012

Great article. I did a funeral recently where the deceased's daughter, a Christian, asked me to present the Gospel. I had never met the deceased, but all indications were that he was not a churchgoing sort of person and probably did not know Christ. I didn't have it in me to say he was "in a better place". They did hear the Gospel from me in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way though.

Stephon Rhone

commented on Mar 6, 2012

Good article. I do think our ministry is to the grieving family and to offer words of hope and comfort to the living. I do agree with Stephen, I not sure what is meant by being vague...I do think we should be clear and to preach the hope of the gospel to the living.

Danny Daniels

commented on Mar 6, 2012

As a Hospice Chaplain and Pastor I have increased my understanding about funeral protocols as the years go by. I recognize my mindset from earlier years in the article. Today, I understand that funerals serve the purpose of remembering and honoring the deceased. They are for the loved ones. Faith has a part for sure. When I speak at a funeral I speak about the life and loves of the person. Their quirks, their habits, their goals and accomplishments. Who they were and why they mattered. It is a tribute. I speak of their legacy and the lessons their life has taught us. I speak comfort from the heart of God. I remind people that death is not the finish line but the starting gate. I point them to Jesus but I don't cram Him down their throats. Funerals can bring healing or they can prolong pain.

Robert Sickler

commented on Mar 6, 2012

Excellent advice. I would add that, for the small town preacher, there is a very good probability that they personally know the deceased and/or the family. At such times it is good to interject positive memories into the sermon. I believe that it is our duty to portray the love of Jesus in comforting the family.

David Magnet

commented on Mar 6, 2012

There's an old saying that says "If you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Too many preachers see everything as an opportunity to preach. I agree with Dr. Grabert - funerals are a time for PASTORS not PREACHERS.

Michael Morton

commented on Mar 6, 2012

There are three reasons for a Christian funeral. Honor the life of the deceased, comfort the family and talk about death and dying. Personally I have always thought altar calls at a funeral are very inappropriate. When I have heard altar calls at funerals they always play inappropriately on the emotions of family and friends who come to support the grieving family not to hear a revival. Many preachers do not know how to be a pastor. Danny Daniels speaks well.

Peter Walters

commented on Mar 6, 2012

Thank you for the article. I agree we need to be sensitive to the circumstances we find ourselves in. However, if we do not see we have a great opportunity for evangelism than we are missing something. I even tell the congregation that as a pastor I have a small window to talk to them about eternal matters. If the person left a Christian witness then I say something like "Let me tell you about the hope that ____ had which is beyond this life." and then give the Gospel message. If there is no Christian witness then I speak a lot about how God wants to bring comfort in this time of grief. I am always conscious of not preaching people into heaven.

Wendell Ray

commented on Mar 6, 2012

At the end of most every funeral I do... I talk about the last gift a person gives... the gift of grief. I then talk about how difficult it is to change. It usually takes something big or bad to give me the strength to change. I then suggest that the best way to honor this person is to allow your pain in your loss to be used by God to draw you closer to him or to make you into a more godly person etc.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Mar 6, 2012

When I do a funeral I always ask close relatives and friends to give me one word that they would use to describe the deceased and the reason for that word. I then incorporate it into the service through one or the other passages I use. I begin with Revelation 21:1-4. An example would be the time I did my uncle's funeral. When I got to the part about no more "pain" I pointed out that he was a diehard Cub's fan, so he truly knew what pain was. People loved that. We are there to celebrate their lives. I then use Psalm 23 as my main text and it is very easy to insert the thoughts the loved ones gave me in there. I do of course present the gospel and I then at the end ask for heads to be bowed and I ask who would like to accept the Lord and I lead a prayer (explaining that the prayer isn't what saves them but the trust and repentance in Christ) then I ask for a show of hands for those who accepted the Lord. I have only done one funeral where someone didn't claim to accept Christ as their Savior. So it is easy to honor and celebrate the deceased, bring comfort to the family, and present the Gospel. After all, people are face to face with their own mortality. I would feel very convicted if I did not give an opportunity to those at the funeral who I will never see again and may never darken the doors of a church or come into contact with a Christian, to trust in Christ. I would feel I had blood on my hands. I also give people an opportunity to come forward and share something about the deceased or I will read a memory for them if they don't feel they can give it themselves. Just a few things I do during a funeral.

Harrison Samuel

commented on Mar 6, 2012

Excellent article, I must also add that Funerals is a people want to hear good things of the deceased and an opportunity to morn, to vent their grief. Some Ministers prevent family members from crying and to express grief. Funerals are sometime cold and without Love.

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