5 Proven Ways To Make Funeral Sermons Personal
Pastors, let’s be honest. Church members, nor their loved ones, ever die at a convenient time. Sunday is always coming. Staff meetings are always scheduled. Appointments are on the calendar. Our children’s ball games and practices happen ’round the clock. Funerals don’t happen every week, but they seem to happen during the craziest of weeks. Am I right? But let’s also be honest about something else. Before, during, and after a funeral are when we have opportunities to be MOST pastoral. We won’t find a more ideal time when people we serve are leaning into the things of God than when they have lost a loved one.
Below are five tips I have learned that help, not only with time, but also in making the funeral message meaningful and personal.
#1. Contact the Family ASAP.
As soon as you learn that a loved one of a church member has passed away, find a way to talk to the one most impacted (spouse, child, parent, etc.) as soon as possible. Each situation is different, of course, but you will be surprised how much a one minute phone call will make as soon as you learn of the news. What does this have to do with preaching the funeral? It lets you know right away how the family is doing. Everyone grieves and processes death differently. Contacting the family is not only good pastoral care, but it will help you know how much or how little to be involved in the coming days.
#2. Set up a time to meet with the family.
This will prove to be gold for you. Spending 30 minutes to an hour with the family will save you tons of time preparing the message itself. It removes the questions. It makes the message personal. It lets the family know you really care. Ask questions like, “What were some of his favorite Bible passages?” Or, “What did you love most about her?” Or, “What are some of the best memories you have?” Or, “Tell me about when he trusted Christ?” Or, “Would any of you like to share anything at the funeral?” Or, “What are some ways I can help make the service personal for you?” After you ask some of these questions, listen. With pen and notebook in hand, write voraciously. What you are hearing is the funeral message you will be presenting.
#3. Use the Bible of the deceased.
This isn’t always possible. But when it is, it will help you in preparing and delivering the funeral message. Oftentimes the deceased will have written in his or her Bible or left notes from messages or articles that carried personal meaning. You can learn alot about his or her “biblical interests” by combing through the Bible. It helps when delivering the message because it simply makes it more personal. Every time I am able to say, “I am reading from (name of the deceased) Bible,” you can almost feel the room lean into what you are saying.
#4. Connect the Dots.
After spending time with the family and combing through the Bible, begin to identify key themes of the person’s life and truths of Scripture. What Bible stories come to mind? What truths of Scripture begin to emerge? How does the deceased remind you of Jesus based off of what you have heard? How does the deceased demonstrate godly wisdom or character? Attach Scriptural truths to several of the themes you picked up from information you have gleaned. Three to five connections are usually enough. The last thing the family needs on the day of the funeral is a preacher who rambles on and on. I would aim to make the sermon part of the funeral around 15 minutes. Go for quality of words, not quantity.
#5. Conclude with a Gospel-oriented, “First-person” Plea.
Here’s what I mean. When you preach a funeral message, you are standing over the casket of the dead. The people you are looking at are the ones that person in the casket knew and loved most. By the time you preach the message, the person would have been in heaven or hell for two to five days. What would the person in the casket want to say to the people you were looking at? TRUST CHRIST! Don’t go into “revival preacher mode.” Be calm and be very pastoral. But be willing to say something like, “I don’t ever want to put words in (the name of the deceased) mouth. However, if he could audibly speak to us this morning I have a pretty good feeling what he would say. I am looking at the people he knew and loved most. I have a real good idea he would say, ‘Put your hope in Jesus! He did everything for you to be right with God and to live forever with Him! Trust in His life, His death, His burial, and His resurrection and follow Him!'” Saying this almost forces everyone in the room to think about, not only where they will be when it’s their time, but also how they can honor the one they came to pay their respects to. It gives everyone in the audience something to really think about throughout the day.
Funerals never come at a convenient time. But they are times when pastors can really be pastors and love families well. Hopefully, having these tools in your toolbox will help your schedule when you learn of the passing of a member of your church. What are some other tips you have learned? Please share and let’s help each other!