A young preacher friend recently texted me. He was asked to preach a funeral for a family. It would be his first. And he wanted to know if I had any advice to offer him. I responded by mentioning a podcast I did on preaching funeral sermons: “Preaching Funeral Sermons.”
I also offered offered several pieces of advice. It was a text-message. Not the way to elaborate. Yet I shared this advice with my friend: Brief. Gospel-centered. Be sensitive to family. There are other important factors to consider when preaching funerals. But these three pieces of advice are a good place to start.
Admittedly, “brief sermon” is generally an oxymoron to me. Of course, I know how to submit to assigned time constraints. But it can be challenge to edit down a message to present in a setting where I have less time. However, I feel no pressure about these time constraints when preaching funeral sermons. The funeral is not your Sunday morning exposition. It is a unique situation in which you have been given a special assignment.
In most instances, funerals will not be occasions in which you will have as much time to preach as your regular worship services. I dare say that even if you are given a full-sermon amount of time, you probably should not take it. Every sermon should be text-driven and truth-driven. Every sermon should also be venue-specific. Recognize what a funeral is and what it is now. And respect the occasion by preaching a biblical and Christ-centered, yet brief, message.
Present the Gospel.
Every Christian sermon should present the gospel of Jesus Christ. This includes funeral sermons. Especially funeral sermons. We live in a culture that desperate strives to avoid the reality of death. Death is all around us. But people mentally bubble-wrap themselves with temporary things to avoid facing reality. But death inevitably bursts our bubbles and forces us to face the hard truths of life, death, and eternity.
Funerals are times and places that cause people to ask big questions. Who am I? How did I get here? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Where am I going? Who is God? Is heaven and hell real? Funeral sermons should answer these big questions with the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t make assumptions. Present the gospel to professing believers and resistant unbelievers. Declare the good news of the blood and righteousness of Christ as saving grace for the lost and sustaining grace for the saints.
Be Sensitive to the Family.
The funeral may be about the person in the casket. But it is not for him or her. It is for the grieving family and friends that have assembled to pay their final respects to the deceased. We often call the funeral sermon a “eulogy,” which means “to speak well of.” But this often happens before the sermon, as loved-ones eulogize the deceased with their remarks. Moreover, a man preaches his own eulogy by the life he lives. If he was not a good or godly man, nothing anyone says at the funeral can the perception of the one who knows the deceased or alter the judgment that person will receive before God.
As you offer words of comfort, be sensitive to the family. This is another reason your message should be brief. But this applies more to the content of the message. Do not try to speak for the deceased. Avoid publicly sharing intimate moments you have been privy to in your pastoral care for the deceased and the family. Don’t get in the middle of family feuds. Be compassionate. Give the family room to grieve, even as you exhort them not to sorrow as those who have no hope. Make sure you only say those things that are consistent with sound doctrine. Consider what it means to sit where the family sits and minister both the truth and love of Christ to them.
What advice would you give for preaching funeral sermons?