Random pastor/funeral thoughts:
- Spend an hour or so with the family early on – during that time, plan the service, but also let them tell you things – take notes – use some of what they said in the sermon.
- Always open the service yourself. Introduce yourself even in your own church – this isn’t your Sunday crowd. Welcome people and on behalf of the family and your congregation thank them for coming.
- Be in charge. Do an order of service and give a copy to everyone. The Funeral Director will appreciate it too.
- If you have guest clergy assisting, invite him or her to read the obituary and then offer personal remarks.
- Take a text and preach a real sermon as described in the previous post.
- In a traditional funeral, stand at the head of the casket as mourners pass by.
- At the cemetery, walk ahead of the casket to the graveside. In some places, the pastor is expected to ride in the hearse. Otherwise, drive behind it to the cemetery. You are, in a sense, the “spiritual guardian” – no, I can’t explain it, but people are equating you with Jesus, walking with their loved one to the grave.
- Make the committal short, thank people for traveling this last mile – then, if you have a boutonniere, remove it and place it on the casket. Then, go to each primary family member and assure them of your prayers for them and their family.
- If you are offered an honorarium, don’t make a big deal out of it. Just say thank you and that it was an honor to serve.
Here’s my advice to young pastors concerning funeral sermons:
- You need to develop at least five different sermons…although some can be just variations of another
- A sermon for a saint who lived long and well
- A sermon for a younger person who lived for the Lord but died too young
- A sermon for a person who had no testimony
- A sermon for a person you never knew personally
- A sermon for a person who died tragically
- Those sermons, though, basically use just two approaches
- We celebrate the victory we have in Christ over even death and our hope of resurrection
- We point people to the comfort that is ours in Christ
- Not all funeral sermons can operate at the celebration level but all should offer comfort
- Don’t make the person’s life your text. If you can preach about our victory in Christ – make the sermon about Jesus. If you emphasize comfort in grief – make the sermon about the Lord’s willingness to comfort even in times of loss.
- Do use the person’s life in illustrations – include some heartwarming memory or some conversation or something that connects them to your sermon. Caution: don’t make the sermon about your relationship with the person. That does more to impress people that you’re a wonderful person than it causes them to remember that we have a wonderful Lord.
- Remember that a funeral sermon is an opportunity to minister to people who are thinking about life and death – and often they are people who don’t hear many sermons. If you can point them to Jesus as our hope and comfort you might move them a step closer to coming to Christ.
Over the years I’ve preached my share of funeral sermons. Funerals are unique on the church calendar because they trump everything else. One time I left on vacation following the Sunday morning worship service and drove 300 miles to a commercial campground. I had just gotten settled in when someone from the office knocked on the door to inform me that I had an emergency phone call. The next day I ended my vacation and drove 300 miles home to officiate at the funeral of a dear lady who had called me “pastor.” I wouldn’t have had it any other way; still, it’s an example of how funerals trump everything else. They offer the pastor an unprecedented opportunity to minister at a level and to individuals who the pastor would have little opportunity to impact with the gospel.