10 Tips for Doing Funerals

1. Keep it short. After a loss and a couple of days of viewing hours and company, the family is exhausted. Say what needs to be said and not more.
2. Prepare. Get the service and the meditation ready and down on paper. I can often wing prayers and preach off of just a few notes but during funerals I write it all out. I don’t want to get wordy or get caught up in the emotions of the funeral. I want to be crisp and be free to focus on the family.
3. Remember (and remind the family) of the purpose of the funeral. The funeral is not really for the person who has passed. They aren’t really there. It is to comfort those left behind. I have had to coach families about this as we talk about the service. It is not a big “ode to the deceased” either. The real purpose of a Christian funeral is to praise God for the gift of the life of this person.
4. Get 1 or 2 short eulogies. I like to have those picked ahead. I tell them 2-3 minutes figuring they will go over. I also suggest they write it ahead so I can read them if they are unable. This also helps keep them shorter. This also helps me not have to do a eulogy myself (especially if I don’t know the person) and lets me focus on the sermon.
5. Avoid open microphones. These can be disastrous. I like to have a luncheon and encourage stories to be told there. If you have to do an open mic time then don’t let go of the mic or leave the pulpit. That way you can take it back if needed.
6. Be aware of non-Christians but not hyper-sensitive. I figure that if you ask me as a pastor to do the service then you are going to get the faith stuff. I can tone it down for more secular families, but I don’t do that very much. This is a time when even non-Christians expect a Christian pastor to say Christian things. This is not really a time for evangelism either. That can be manipulative.
7. Leave your theology at the door. The funeral is not the place to develop or expound on your view of salvation, heaven, or predestination. This is not a seminary paper. Also, don’t get too locked-in to your preferred Bible translation. Funerals are a great time to check The Message or the Jerusalem Bible to see if they might be more accessible to those in grief.
8. Error on the side of hope and grace. Sometimes in a funeral I can’t always tell if the person had a genuine Christian faith. Are they really in heaven? I choose in those services to talk and preach as if God has done a work to save that person even if I am not sure they every bought into that.
9. Get the right tone. A funeral is partly sad because there is a loss. But it is also a time to celebrate the life of the person. Normally by the time the funeral arrives people have cried enough and they are ready to celebrate the life a little more. Acknowledge the sadness but also try to move people toward gratitude for the spouse/parent/child/friend that they had. Don’t underestimate the power of music to help you set the tone.
10. Own these 2 books. They are great resources. The Funeral Encyclopedia is a little dated but is so good. The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach: Help from Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times is a book of sermons for difficult situations. It has given me a lot of ideas for funeral meditations and inspired some of my funeral prayers. 

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