These 3 Elements Should Be in Every Funeral Sermon

"A funeral sermon should not exceed 20 minutes and should highlight these three categories, preferably expounded from a text(s) of Scripture" - C.Leaders

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's a good short list. There's nothing biblical about the idea that a funeral should be all joy and no grieving. Read Philippians and you find that joy and sorrow co-exist if we're looking honestly at life in a fallen world. Believers who have lost loved ones may need to have their grief validated--or they may need to be challenged to be honest about their pain, after having been wrongly encouraged to see sorrow as an inappropriate response to death. They're going to feel sorrow anyway, and some will also feel guilty about feeling it. That's a pity.

I have usually kept funeral preaching to 15 minutes or less. Often 10.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jonathan Charles's picture

1.  As far as the advice, "Don't preach them into heaven," that's true for the nominal Christian or non-Christian who has died.  I have seen pastors undercut their gospel presentation by declaring for certain that a person who was not known as a Christian is in heaven because he had some information that the person once prayed a sinner's prayer years ago.  However, when a person's faith in Christ had solid evidence, I love to declare that the person is with the Lord.  As far as a lost person, I don't say anything about where the person is, other than the implications the audience might get from the gospel presentation.

2.  Know your audience.  If it will be a funeral attended by mostly unsaved people, I quickly deal with 3-4 main points about death and what comes after, using Ecclesiastes 7:2 as my jumping off point.  If it is an unexpected death of a believer, I use John 11.  If it is the expected death of a believer, I use 1 Thessalonians 4:13f.  Unless the funeral is at church with a lot of saved people, almost no one will have a Bible.  You have to keep that in mind if you are preaching on a text.

3.  Don't always give in to an unsaved family's wishes.  One told me the day before the funeral that they didn't want talk about "going to hell."  I told them I would tactful in what I said, but that I would do the service the way I typically did, and that if they wanted they could get someone else.  Others will hand you dumb poems to read about death like "Death Is Nothing At All."  Preview it and give it back to them for someone else to read if it is contrary to the truth about death, heaven, and hell.  

Fred Moritz's picture

I'm guessing the book is out of print by now - but Dr. Lee Roberson had a book of funeral sermons entitled Death and After. In it he had one chapter on "The Ideal Funeral Sermon." I don't remember all the points, but among them he stressed that a funeral sermon should contain instruction about the Bible's teaching, warning about eternity and judgment, comfort, and the Gospel. I don't have the book any more, but a manuscript of that sermon is worth the reading if you can find it.

WallyMorris's picture

Our county has 4 funeral homes. I have officiated funerals at all of these, particularly the largest one which asks me to officiate funerals for families who do not go to church but wish a pastor to speak. I also help them out occasionally at other funerals with parking, etc. Preaching to the unsaved at a funeral requires tact, kindness, and ability to work with very secular families who have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel. These people need to know that you care about them, but they also need to be carefully challenged with the gospel. At these funerals, the Bible-believing pastor is given an opportunity to help these people think about what they would rather not think about. As long we present the Bible tactfully and clearly, and use some carefully chosen humor, most people will listen.  One disturbing trend is that, usually after about 5 minutes, the teenagers and young adults (when they come) are not listening anymore. Sometimes it's because of a boring speaker. More often it's because they don't want to hear what the pastor is saying. My funeral messages are usually 20 minutes. 10 minutes is not enough time. My purpose at funerals where the majority are not saved is to challenge their assumptions about life, remind them that 100% of people die, show them that not all pastors are idiots, and give them enough of the gospel for the Lord to work. Jonathan's and Dr. Moritz's comments are very good. I don't see how you can do that adequately in 10 minutes.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

One of the things I accepted early on with funerals--and with preaching in general--is that my drive to communicate significantly exceeds listeners' drive to listen. Almost always. So another thing I accepted fairly early on is that when I have an opportunity to speak I don't have to say everything.

It's a good truth to meditate on for funerals. You can communicate the fact of universal death, our hunger for meaning and acceptance, our fallenness, our need for something graciously given and unearnable, all within 10 or 15 minutes. But even you can't, it's OK. God knows we can't say everything we'd like to say--and that hearers can't hear everything we'd like to say.

It's OK. Though preaching is very important on those occasions, it's not everything God is going to do if He chooses to draw someone. He will use other events and people and inner struggles, etc.

You don't have to say everything. It's better to focus on saying a few very high quality things that are likely to be well heard. Trust God to bring others along (or maybe you but on another occasion) to say more.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

WallyMorris's picture

I never say everything I would like to say in funeral messages for unbelievers and their families. However, 10 minutes is not nearly enough time to give even basic comfort and help to those families. If you choose some carefully chosen verses, comments, illustrations, and tactful humor, you've given the Lord something to work with. You can help "listeners' drive to listen" by choosing carefully what you say, give them something they haven't heard before or thought of before to challenge their assumptions, and make eye contact, especially with the younger people. But 10 minutes? Don't think so.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

TylerR's picture

Editor

Lots of good advice, here. I've always "enjoyed" funeral sermons (to the extent they can be enjoyed) as gospel opportunities. There's always been a receptivity at funerals I've not experienced anywhere else. My last funeral sermon was from Ecclesiastes.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The ministry of comforting the grieving does not begin and end with the funeral sermon.

In addition to all the prayers and conversations before and after the funeral, the event hopefully includes Scripture reading and, certainly in the case of believers, hymns. Many of the services I've been involved in included sharing of memories and testimonies as well. These are often a ministry of the Word as well, in their own way, and more meaningful because of their relationship to the deceased.

These elements are not just packaging for the sermon.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

WallyMorris's picture

No one here has suggested that the ministry of comforting the grieving begins and ends with the funeral sermon. The other aspects Aaron mentions are certainly helpful and, at times, essential, "not just packaging for the sermon". However, if done properly, the funeral message brings everything together and gives meaning and context to the entire service.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com