When pastors preach at a funeral, they should make sure they have knowledge of the deceased, the family members and friends who are in attendance, and never preach them into heaven or hell, according to Brian Croft.
The senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky writes in an op-Ed on Church Leaders.com that pastors should remember to “focus on remembering and celebrating the life of the deceased,” because the funeral service is for those who attend. “Only when we can personally have confidence in a person’s conversion should we feel comfortable to speak of the heavenly reward he/she has now received,” he states, adding that the gospel must be preached clearly through the sermon.
Unless pastors are 100% sure that the deceased was a faithful follower of Christ and know for certain what his/her future holds, “it is best to focus on the gospel for your hearers and resist the temptation to provide a false comfort that you have little or no basis to give,” continues Croft.
The author of “Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness” believes that a funeral sermon should not last longer than 20 minutes and pastors should include verses from Scripture to expound three basic categories:
1. Accept and point out that the deceased’s relative and friends need time to grieve.
Remember that in John 11:35, even Jesus, who knew that Lazarus would be raised again to life, wept when confronted with the wailing and sobbing of Mary, Martha and the other mourners. He wept with compassion for His friends, according to Croft.
“Don’t ever presume that people realize that grief is appropriate or that they know how to work through their grief by simply talking about their deceased loved one,” writes the regular blogger at Practical Shepherding. “In actuality, many do not want to talk about them because of the hurt felt in loss. Many pastors know that often, years later, people learn the value of this process, eventually working through the grief with some pastoral guidance.”
2. Demonstrate clearly that the mourners can find hope in the pages of the Bible.
The second and third parts of a funeral sermon should focus on Christ’s person and work, according to Croft. Make sure you preach clearly from the gospel that the reason man is deserving of judgment for his sins is because God is Holy, and Christ works atoningly on our behalf for those who believe in Him to obtain forgiveness and eternal life.
3. Don’t just preach the gospel to those present; make sure you call them to respond.
“To do so appropriately and effectively, you must prepare by knowing as much as you can about your hearers as well as the deceased. You should assume Christians and non-Christians are present,” writes Croft. “You should assume they all have come with a preconceived understanding on how we receive eternal life. For example, I have done a funeral where 90 percent of those in attendance were devoted Catholics, another who were Mormons, and another where no one in the building had ever stepped foot in a church.”
Depending on the preconceived notions of the Bible, pastors should call upon those present at the funeral service in different ways, while still clearly pointing out that they must believe and trust in Christ and repent of their sins. The author of “Test, Train, Affirm and Send Into Ministry” concludes, “Exhort them to grieve. Preach the gospel clearly and simply and help them understand their need for Christ as death is before them.”