The Pastor and Funerals

By Dr. Charles Hebert

It is the privilege and responsibility of every pastor to bury people well. This subject I have been tasked with writing about once brought a level of fear and anxiety to my heart. Today, I recognize the unique opportunity a funeral offers to proclaim the glories of the Gospel, help people find comfort in the promises of Christ, and celebrate the eternal home that awaits all who love Jesus.

First, we will address the challenge of preaching a funeral for someone who did not live for Christ. One of the unfounded fears associated with preaching funerals is that the pastor needs to make a pronouncement concerning the eternal destination of a person’s soul. Jesus clearly teaches us in Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.” We are not called or qualified to make pronouncements regarding the deceased’s damnation; nor should we give false assurances regarding heaven. Only the Lord knows a person’s heart and whether or not the person is “in the beloved” Ephesians 1:5. We are called to give a good, sometimes short, account of a person’s life and compassionately turn everyone’s attention to the realities of eternity and their need of a Savior.

Most of the time, it will be our privilege to preach the funeral for a believer. The challenge is to help those in attendance—the family, Christian friends and those who have yet to follow Jesus undergo a paradigm shift. Most in attendance believe that the deceased has moved from the “land of the living” to the “land of the dying.” It is our privilege to proclaim just the opposite: he has left the “land of the dying” and is now home in the “land of the living.” That is precisely why the psalmist writes “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

Here are some practical suggestions to help you honor the deceased, comfort the family, and exalt the Savior. Call the family as soon as you learn of the death, offer your condolences and schedule a time to meet with the family. During that meeting, lead the family to select music that points people to Jesus and help them decide if a family member or close friend would like to give a brief eulogy. A well-given eulogy, given by family/friend, or incorporated into the message will testify to the deceased’s faith and lifetime contributions to society. Advise the family to speak kindly about their loved one—this is therapeutic for the family and will give you material for the message. Personal remarks in the sermon are necessary and helpful, but true and enduring comfort comes from the Gospel. Sin is sure and separates us from God; Christ’s death paid the penalty for sin and his bodily Resurrection assures us that “everyone who lives and believes in me, will never die” (John 11:26). James Aughey says it well: “Death to the Christian is the funeral of all his sorrows and evils, and the resurrection of all his joys.”

At the conclusion of this article, you will find a sample order of service along with passages of Scripture that are wonderful for funerals. Consider closing the funeral message with this statement. “If (name of the deceased) could speak to you today, I am not sure of everything he would tell you; but I am certain of this. He would tell you that heaven and hell are real. They are more real than the air filling your lungs or the pews in which you sit. He would say, “Choose Jesus. Follow Christ. You will not be disappointed in this life or in the life to come.” May our Lord bless you as you learn to bury people well.

Sample Funeral Program

Prelude

Seating of the Family

Welcome and Prayer

Song #1

Eulogy

Song #2

Message

Postlude

Funeral Scripture:

John 14:1–6; 2 Corinthians 5:1–10; Psalm 23, 116:15; 2 Timothy 4:7–8; 2 Corinthians 4:17–18; John 11:25–26 (graveside); 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; 1 Corinthians 15:50–57; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Revelation 21:5

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Dr. Charles Hebert serves as Associate Minister of Pastoral Care at Prestonwood Baptist Church.