I went to social media to listen to pastors. It is always rewarding and instructing to hear from these church leaders.
My question was simple: What are some do’s and don’ts for preaching funerals? Several hundred pastors responded. I have attempted to rank the responses in order of frequency. Here are the top twelve.
1. DO preach the gospel. This response was an overwhelming number one. Pastors view a funeral as a unique time to talk about eternal matters. Many of the pastors had recommendations on how to preach the gospel in this setting.
2. DON’T have an open microphone. I did not expect this issue to be so pervasive, but it was a clear second recommendation. One pastor told the story of having to pull someone away from the microphone. The speaker was both inebriated and incoherent.
3. DO talk with the family before the funeral. The pastors emphasized how important it is to get to know the deceased through the words of his or her family.
4. DON’T make the funeral about yourself. A number of pastors expressed frustration when other pastors use themselves as the focal points of illustrations or as best friends with the deceased.
5. DO mention the deceased by name on several occasions. The pastors reminded us how much the family appreciates hearing the name of their loved ones. It is both assuring and comforting.
6. DON’T mispronounce the deceased’s name. It only takes a few minutes to confirm with family members exactly how his or her name is pronounced.
7. DO keep the message brief. Most of the recommendations were in the range of ten to twenty minutes. One pastor reminded us that a funeral is not the place to try your latest sermon.
8. DON’T preach the deceased into heaven. Many pastors admit they are often unsure about the deceased’s relationship with Christ. They emphasize that pastors should not attempt to frame the sermon as if the person was a Christian if they are unsure.
9. DO show up early for the funeral. Showing up late can be a sign of disrespect for the deceased and the family. Show up early, the pastors encouraged, and spend time with the family.
10. DON’T assume the funeral details are perfectly planned. Check with both the family and the funeral director about the order of the service and the specific requests of the family.
11. DO make personal comments and share anecdotes about the deceased. Again, it is best to get these from the family. Honor the deceased and comfort and respect the family.
12. DON’T read the obituary. Many of them are long. Most of them are boring. Incorporate key points about the deceased into your funeral message.
I am appreciative of the hundreds of pastors who shared these points and many others. I would love to hear from you about some additional insights.
Posted on January 31, 2022
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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Here the expectation is to read the obituary. All of it. Being in a culturally diverse area, I see a lot of names that are challenging to read. Even though I practice saying the names, every once in a while I have to ask a family member how to say it. I’ve found that they appreciate the effort to get it right.
A few of those I think are pretty situational. I think reading the obituary can be a good idea when many people didn’t know it the deceased. Also, maybe not a truly open mic but especially when the deceased was a believer that can be a rich and inspiring time when their impact for Christ was shared. I usually coach families ahead time for that time not completely open to anything. .
DON’T use a funeral to plagiarize someone else’s work. If you want to read The Dash, don’t present it as your personal thoughts. I was appalled at the visiting pastor who asked to speak and did exactly this.
DO tell the truth about the deceased in a loving way. If the deceased had addiction issues or served time in prison, you can say they had a life often marked by bad choices. For the one who alienated friends & family, you could say they experienced difficulty with relationships.
And for the love of God, if the deceased completed suicide and you believe they will go to hell, please ask someone else to do the funeral. The family and friends present are experiencing their own hell and don’t need it heaped upon them as they grieve.
In regards to the do’s and don’ts of funerals, I try to find a Bible character that I can compare the person’s life to. I try to make the service as personal as possible. And, I also use the Scriptures to comfort the family and friends, as well as share the Gospel. There’s no need to read the obituary because it’s already been printed in the memorial folder and everybody’s read it. It doesn’t matter whether the person was a Christ follower or not, I want to give the people in the audience hope. Hebrews 6:19 – “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us…” Christ is our hope. Cling to Him in the days ahead.
Lots of good suggestions. However, if moving to a new community, I would check with funeral directors about whether it is customary to read the obituary. If it is customary and is not read, it might lead to some not hearing what you share in your funeral message. You can certainly edit the published obit if it is long, but be careful about omitting the names of those surviving and those who are deceased.
I agree with all of these… but #12 surprised me. I’ve been to hundreds of funerals. I have done nearly a hundred myself. And, in the south, reading the obituary is ALWAYS a part of the funeral service. I’ve never given much thought as to whether it should or should not be read, it’s just always read. And most of the family present at the funeral are named in that obituary.
Focus some on carrying on the good work of the deceased. The rabbis always taught that people’s works live on after them. Rarely does someone begin or end a project in its entirety, and repairing the world did not begin with anyone alive today nor will it end with those alive right now.