Thursday, June 1, 2017

2 Basic Rules When Preaching a Funeral

Preaching funerals is one of the primary responsibilities of every minister. I would go so far as to say that if you are unwilling or uncomfortable with ministering to the bereaved, then do not enter the ministry. Souls need to hear the saving and comforting gospel of Christ at such troubling and difficult moments and it is imperative that their pastor be prepared to serve them with Christ's saving truth. A key portion of that mourning process is the funeral and the pastor is called to preach the funeral sermon. Knowing what to say in such settings can be difficult. Below is my two basic rules I follow at every funeral I preach whether I knew the deceased or not.

1. Preach the Who

The temptation of every preacher is to turn the funeral sermon into a memorial whereby the deceased is celebrated, stories are shared, and comfort is given by surveying what a wonderful person they were. There is a place for some of that, but that should not be the focus of the funeral sermon. At most funerals, a member of the family will provide a number of memorable tales and, frankly, will be better qualified than you are. They grew up with the deceased, remember them when they were children, etc. The pastor, typically, did not.

Instead of making the deceased the focus of the funeral sermon, it is imperative that the preacher focus on Christ. There is a general rule that must be followed here: you are no longer responsible for the deceased. You are, however, responsible for how you minister to those listening to you preach. Present to them Christ. The means by which you lead them to Christ may include stories and remedies from the deceased life. Yet let your focus be on Christ and him crucified.

This is especially helpful when preaching the funeral of someone you didn't know. In my experience, when a minister tries to force familiarity with someone he never met, it is awkward. Your obligation is ultimately to proclaiming Christ, so proclaim him, not the dead.

2. Preach the What

As you preach Christ, preach his gospel. In the funeral, it is imperative we explain what death is (it is unnatural and our enemy) and it is good to explore the future joy of heaven. Yet do not forget that not only does the gospel of Christ save, it also comforts. The Christ who suffers on the cross, suffered as our substitute. He was the God-man who wept at funerals and suffered on earth. The preacher should do more than explain heaven or death, but comfort his hearers with the gospel of Christ.

The preacher is a minister of the gospel first and foremost. Your calling is to Jesus and his gospel. As I have argued before, any minister who fails to proclaim Christ and his saving gospel should no longer be in the ministry. So when preaching the funeral, regardless of the circumstances of the service, preach Jesus Christ and his crucified.
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