Preaching the Funeral of an Unbeliever
If you pastor long enough, you will eventually be asked to preach the funeral for someone who died without Christ. No funeral is easy or fun. Knowing you have to speak to the family and friends on behalf of one who passed into eternity without Jesus can be excruciating. However, it can be a unique and effective time to do real, raw Gospel ministry.
When this opportunity presents itself, keep these 3 thoughts in mind:
1. Honor the deceased and comfort the family.
This is a primary goal of every funeral you preach, believer or unbeliever. The deceased was made in the image of God. There are characteristics about his/her life that can be honored and cherished. Draw them out. Ask the family about them beforehand. Pray for the family. Do what you would do before, during, and after any funeral in this regard.
2. Don’t try to preach them into heaven.
If there was no sign of faith in Jesus, no evidence or history of ever trusting in Christ, don’t force it. Don’t try to make this person a Christian based off of assumptions or wishful thinking. On the one hand, it would be a lie. On the other, you don’t want your listener’s to think you can get to heaven by being a human. My advice would be to stay away from any words about the afterlife of this person during the funeral service. For the one in the casket, what has happened has already happened and you cannot change that.
3. Speak Gospel truth to the living.
What you can do is help those attending the service think about where they will spend eternity when their time comes. Let the hearers know that everyone will die and everyone will spend eternity in heaven or hell. Proclaim the Gospel, pleading with them to trust the One who loves them and accomplished everything for them. Tell them that you don’t know why God allows death to happen to people when and how it happens. But assure them that He has His ways and purposes and one purpose may be to help them think about where they will be when they die.
When the preacher stands over a casket, it is prime Gospel proclaiming time. Everyone in the room is there because someone passed on from this life to the next. Though a deceased unbeliever cannot change their fate, the preacher can be used of the Lord to help others not be found in the same situation when their time comes.