I realize that some of you have never delivered a funeral sermon, and perhaps you never will.
But I also know that, at just the thought of delivering a funeral sermon, others of you will begin to get the sweaty-palm. Your heart beats a little faster at the thought of having to stand in front of a casket to deliver words that convey hope and life in a room full of death. And though you may not be able to envision ever having to preach a funeral sermon, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll have the opportunity at some point in your life.
In my short tenure as a pastor, I’ve unfortunately been asked to preach many funeral sermons. I say “unfortunately” because I don’t thoroughly enjoy the heaviness. Even so,through meeting with families, weeping with them, getting to know somebody that I will never physically know, and communicating hope in the midst of pain, I’ve learned a lot about preparing and delivering a funeral sermon.
Having a system in place is incredibly important. Without a system, you won’t know the next step to take when you get the call that says, “____ has just passed away, and I want you to preach at the funeral…”
Preparing and Delivering a Funeral Sermon
Meet with the family.
Weep with them. Ask questions that help them recall the good memories. In the process, take note of stories and defining marks in their lives. Try this question:
If you could describe _____ in one word, what would it be?
As the family is describing their loved one, feverishly take notes. Capture details from stories so you can better understand the life and legacy of the loved one.
Use this as a guiding question: What did _____ do as a hobby/for fun?
Listen for funny stories. If the family doesn’t offer any, ask for some. Likely, the family is sitting on them, not sure if they really have the freedom to share something funny in a setting like this. Humor (that maintains dignity and honor for the deceased) helps break the heavy tension of the service.
Try these guiding questions: Do you have any funny stories from ______’s life? What were some of _______’s nicknames?
As much as you can, incorporate the family’s wishes into the service.
I say “as much as you can,” because it could be that the family asks you to do something that contradicts your value system. But consider asking this:
Is there a verse, a quote, or a song that you would like incorporated into the service?
During the service, connect positive characteristics with a story from the person’s life.
Pick three or four defining positive characteristics of the loved one that you gathered from your conversation with the family and present them each with a story (or two). This helps paint a picture of a person’s life for those who didn’t know them as well, and it reminds family and friends of the good times.
Be honest, but not hard.
It’s okay to be honest in your sermon, but don’t use it as a time to bash the deceased, even if the family relationships were difficult or the person was an unbeliever. First of all, it’s not your place. Secondly, it’s not becoming. Ever.
Everybody in the room is focused on death, so utilize this as a time to connect people with the truth that this life is short, and the Gospel is the only hope of eternity with Jesus. If you don’t land here, you’ll leave people dry and miss out on a great opportunity to share true hope with hurting people.
Question: Have you ever had to give a funeral sermon? What did I leave out?
*I’ve also mapped out how I go about laying out a marriage sermon HERE.
* Photo credit: Creation Swap user Krist Adams