Preaching At A Funeral

Preaching At A Funeral

The first year that I was in ministry was a surprise in many ways.  I learned that what I had learned at seminary didn’t always apply to the real-life experience of the pastor.  One of those areas where I hadn’t learned much was in regard to preaching at a funeral of someone in the community.  In my first year of ministry I had 9 funerals.   The first call requesting that I “do a funeral” came from a member of my church.  However, the funeral wasn’t for him or his immediate family.  It was for a relative that I had never met.  And, to top it all off, the relative had never shown any interest in spiritual things.

I realized quickly that I didn’t know much about creating a meaningful funeral service, and even less about preaching at a funeral of an unbeliever.  I scrambled at that first funeral, and the next, and the next.  I’ve learned some things about funeral preaching, and that is what I want to share in these next few posts.

It’s Unique

There are several unique factors to preaching at a funeral.

You won’t know people

First of all, you likely won’t know many, or most of the people there.  In an early post in this blog, I suggested that good preachers read their audiences, and even get feedback from their audience on how and what they should preach.  But in a funeral setting, you don’t have the opportunity.   In fact, you may not even know the person who died.  In my first year in ministry, as I said, I had 9 funerals.  I only knew personally one of the people whose funeral I officiated at.

Short preparation time

Secondly, you most often only have a short time to prepare.  Families are pretty bad at choosing someone to preach at a funeral until the person has died.  That means that you usually have only 3 or 4 days to prepare.

In the midst of your busy life

Thirdly, if my experience is any indicator, it’s usually a pretty busy week when you are asked to do a funeral.  Anda preacher's busy life so, the request to preach at a funeral is in addition to everything else you are doing.   This usually means that you will likely have to cram in study and preparation time in between preparing for Sunday’s message, caring pastorally for the congregation, making sure administrative tasks are done, and all the other tasks of ministry.

Therefore, it can be a pretty stressful week.  I remember agreeing that I would be preaching at a funeral in a few days just as I was about to leave to go golfing with a man that I was hoping would become a friend.  We went golfing, but it was a horrible nine holes for me because I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing, or on this interesting person I was with.  My thoughts constantly turned to what I was going to say at the upcoming funeral.

People in the stress of grief

The stress of grief

And fourthly, those who will hear you are under a great deal of stress as they deal with grief.  Therefore, you have to be particularly sensitive to what you say, because they will be.  Way too often the cause of death is a tragedy, and so there is deep pain in the audience that you are called to care about as well.

Family tension

Often, there will be family disagreements along the way that are dividing the group to whom you are preaching.  I think of one funeral that I officiated at that was held in a funeral home.  The family requested, and the funeral home director agreed to having a big curtain down the middle of the chapel so that family could choose sides to sit on that would allow them not to see the other side of the family.  Needless to say, that was a unique situation. Tension in families, though, is not unique.

family tension at a funeral

family tension at a funern families, however, is not so unique at funerals.

The Opportunity For Preaching At A Funeral

Having said all of the above, I do also want to emphasize that preaching at a funeral is a tremendous opportunity.  People who are grieving are dealing with the ultimate questions of life.  And you have the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ coming to die for sins.  And you have the love of God for hurting people that you can proclaim.

In the next post, we’ll begin to explore some themes to use when you are preaching at a funeral as a part of your ministry.   Here is an example of a funeral sermon, just to whet your appetite a bit for more.