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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...

Anonymous

commented on Dec 31, 2013

this is a good reading. c. p. hunt

Gordon Besel

commented on Dec 31, 2013

A sixth - Do not make the person the center of the sermon. Make Jesus and His death and resurrection the center because He is our hope in the face of death. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 reminds us not to grieve as people without Hope. Paul tells us to encourage one another with words of Christ's resurrection and our resurrection when He returns.

Jim Ressegieu

commented on Dec 31, 2013

And don't leave out the reality of eternity and the choice all who hear you at the funeral have: Eternity in the place Jesus described as a place where there is "Weeping and gnashing of teeth," or eternity with the Savior!

Rick Mays

commented on Dec 31, 2013

Let me also add - pronounce the families name correctly. I can't tell you how many times I've heard speakers miss pronounce first or last names. If i don't know it, I ask and if I have to phonically write it in my notes. I know this isn't a spiritual point, but you lose the right to speak into someone's grieving heart when you don't take the time to learn their name.

Andre

commented on Dec 31, 2013

The points are well taken and I want to thank the brothers for the last 2 as well. I have been thinking of this very thing and walked right into some very powerful spiritual information.

Charles Gibbs

commented on Dec 31, 2013

Don't forget to BE real!

William Milam

commented on Dec 31, 2013

John, what a wonderful article. I have attended so many preacher violate those most basic rules. I always seek to balance the present with future when I preach a funeral. The ONE we love is no longer physically present but they are most certainly emotionally and spiritually present. My mother died 13 years ago. She is still with me emotionally. So it is highly appropriate to refer to her both present and past and future. I would also add that making a MEANINGFUL FUNERAL is the most powerful healing part of grief. Contrary to the "six stages of grief", grief never ends...we just find a new place. A meaningful funeral helps a family find that healing place in God's great kingdom. GREAT REMINDERS...thanks!!!!

William Milam

commented on Dec 31, 2013

Let me add...when I stand beside the grave...I always read "where O death is your victory"...1 Corinthians 15!

Mark Magill

commented on Dec 31, 2013

Here's another thought: Don't assume all audience members have religious beliefs. When my mother died, the pastor doing the graveside service did a powerful preaching-style service, full of "Oh death, where is thy victory.." and such statements at a near yell. Said that my mother had gone on ahead (of dad) to "Check it out" and how they'd be together later. This hurt my dad so bad that he spent over a week writing personal apologies to everyone who attended the service. Yes, some who attended the service were Christians.... but others were just plain people who were grieving and needed to be comforted. I guess what I'm trying to say is: Know your audience. Don't always assume you're "preaching to the choir."

Ferdinand C Nnadi

commented on Dec 31, 2013

I can't agree with Mr Jim less. Making Jesus and the reality of eternity the centrepoint of funeral sermon will enable the minister avoid preaching canned messages or what people want to hear. The risk inherent in the foregoing is that the preacher might be passing comments or adulation that he or she is not a position to make. I believe that it is instructive to remember that at death human reckoning and evaluations are seldom ample enough. Instead of making statements that we can hardly defend, it might be more auspicious to pay more attention on the bereaved family who need encourage and fortitude.

Chris Hearn

commented on Dec 31, 2013

Don't say that the deceased is in Hell. Even if the person lived a life as an unbeliever, we don't need to pass final judgment. We don't know what transpired in the last months, weeks, days, hours, moments between that person and God.

Dennis Fite

commented on Dec 31, 2013

I agree with John's point and many of the comments. This is a time when we can speak into the lives of many that we could never get to show up at a normal church service. In John 14 Jesus relates that "where He is there we can be also." If the funeral is for a believer then "Where Christ is there is our loved one" and there any of us can be through faith in Him!

Daniel Baldwin

commented on Dec 31, 2013

Death is for the weary and unsaved to worry about. If the sleeping party was Holy Ghost filled, he or she is in a better place; no more worries to contend with. We Holy Ghost saints have the assurance of resting in Christ when we expire from this life!!! "HALLELUJAH THANK JESUS, I'M HOLY GHOST FILLED!!

Joseph William Rhoads

commented on Dec 31, 2013

Don't pretend you know the deceased when you don't.

Doug Torrance

commented on Dec 31, 2013

Thank you, John for this article! As the hubby of an ordained preacher, I am sometimes called to fill in for her...I need all the advice I can get! PTL!

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