What I Tell Grieving Loved Ones at Funerals
Let’s discuss what I, as a Pastor, tell grieving loved ones at a funeral.
Funeral Services Are Difficult for Everyone
Without doubt, the most difficult part of my calling is preaching at funerals. Whether conducting the service for one of my loved ones or someone else’s, it is still equally as challenging.
Many things go on at a funeral service that have nothing to do with ‘process’ itself.
For instance, the funeral follows a certain programmatic flow but there are other things much more important which the officiant must notice. Family dynamics, whether loving or tense, almost always comes into play.
If the family is close, I can feel the peace although they are grieving for a loved one. When there are family splits, that is also equally as apparent. We must not always believe “grief” causes “animosity.”
Experience dealing with families has shown me family animosity is NEVER born “at” the funeral – it walked through the front door.
Grief, itself, is not a negative thing. One of the often-quoted funeral sermon text encourages us to do grieve (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4):
Furthermore, I reject anyone who shames people into believing that a funeral must be viewed as: “a celebration of life.” No, funerals are not “denials of death” rather acknowledging life’s limitations.
Nevertheless, those of us charged with conducting the service and delivering a message feel a certain amount of obligation. As a Pastor, I admit to taking too much on myself with respect to wanting to comfort loved ones of the deceased.
Although it was taught that we are to deliver words of comfort, I reject that notion. Delivering a sermon or eulogy, is about seed planting. In the kingdom of God, seed planting isn’t doesn’t always run along a parallel track with ‘comfort.’
Seed planting is less about comfort than about preparation for further growth.
Truthfully, I openly encourage people to grief at funerals rather than acting as if everything’s okay. How can losing a loved one, even if they are going to heaven, not be painful?
What a bunch of religious, deceptive, nonsense which should be openly rejected and rebuked!
The point is, when preparing to minister at a funeral, I am always truthful, and you must be as well.
Remember scripture teaches: “no lie is of the truth.” You are never comforting anyone by not being truthful. The situation is difficult enough and it is only the truth of Jesus Christ which will someday comfort the grieving.
Preparing for the Sermon/Eulogy
What I tell grieving loved one’s is part preparation but mostly Holy Spirit guided. We must make a distinction, however, between a sermon and a eulogy.
I have conducted more funerals than memory recalls but very few times have I technically eulogize someone.
A eulogy is a “recounting” of someone’s life, legacy, and what they meant to those present. The bulk of my time speaking is spent sharing wisdom and biblical words with the family, friends, and various other loved ones.
In the model of funerary service I use, eulogizing is typically done through “memories of family and friends.” This is a time, typically two minutes or less, when loved ones speak about the life of the deceased.
Those who conduct funeral service be warned: it is theft to forgo sharing the salvation message in favor of recounting someone’s life accomplishments from the pulpit.
What a strong statement so let me qualify.
That person, even if it is your loved one, is dead and not coming back in their current form. Unless it’s a family member, a close family member at that, do you even know them well enough to eulogize their life?
There is something else which must be taken into consideration as well. There is no other time in our ministries when so many lost people are in a church as with funerals.
You and I, as preachers, will be held accountable for every time we’ve withheld the good news of Jesus in lieu of “making people feel good.”
Never forget we are speaking to those that are alive, and in front of us, and not the deceased. If you know enough about the deceased to speak well of them, that is a beautiful thing! However, if you don’t know them well enough, that is okay too.
God knows them, knows those present, and will send words the living need to hear.
As you prepare to deliver funeral sermon, you must be in prayer and supplication.
Allow God to move you, and the Holy Spirit in you to move those present.
Speak About the Value of Life
There is one thing that everyone will have in common: all have struggled with self-identity at one time or another.
Funerals are the perfect setting to remind them that although loss is evident, their life still has purpose.
When I deal with immediate family (spouses/children), it is almost impossible for them to imagine what comes next. Much of their life, and personal identity, is defined by the deceased.
Moving forward without that patriarchal or matriarch is going to be difficult. Confirm this struggle openly and forthrightly!
Jesus Christ set you and I apart to speak truth no matter the setting. Your faith will provide you the strength to stand and change lives!
This becomes important because although it will be difficult, it is not impossible. One thing to remind those present of is what their loved one means to them; they mean to someone else.
Let me explain.
When my foster mother passed away, I was devastated. However, and it took me years to realize this, her life mostly revolved around preparing us “for life.” (Read that again)
When you speak about the value of living, remind them that their life is preparing somebody else to go on with life after they pass-away. This will not only give them truthful encouragement but will also put into perspective what their loved one meant to them.
Each close relationship we have has molded an aspect of our personality. These don’t have to be long term relationships either. It is false to believe that someone must be in our life continually, over a number of years, to influence us.
Nothing is further from true!
One of the five (5) most impactful relationships I ever had was with a man I only knew for several months. This man, my Marine Corps boot camp Senior Drill Instructor, formed me into the mentally strong man I am today.
This Drill Instructor, Sgt. Luster, I only saw one other time after boot camp graduation.
The point is, deliver the message in such a way that everyone present remembers that their loved one’s life has impacted their life, which will then impact others.
There is another word for this: legacy.
Remind Funerary Participants of Purpose
Now that we’ve spoken about reminding people that their loved one’s life prepares them for life, this is a perfect moment to mention their “purpose.”
Now, we are not there to speak about individual gifting or what they should do with who God called them to be.
Remember that God said (Ephesians 2:10):
As was said prior, this time is about encouraging and seed planting.
However, whether a mature believer or someone lost in their sin, every soul has purpose in God. Whether they realize it, or never do, we must remind them to search for it.
Some relationships are so close that those yet living have their own identity totally wrapped up in the deceased loved one.
For instance, there are unhealthy spousal, parent, or other lifelong relationships which are consistent. Consistency often brings a form of intimacy, and intimacy identity.
Healthy relationships are not totally dependent on someone else for personal identity.
Unhealthy relationships, however, produce a form of spiritual abuse whereby one person has molded someone else into their vision of who they should be.
While we all enjoy some form of authority over another human being, only God should mold their identity.
This becomes important because there are people present who cannot imagine how they’re going to go forward absent the “abuse.” Moreover, they don’t even recognize what they have endured is abuse!
Even healthy relationships produce these thoughts with loved ones who remain. However, healthy relationships have prepared someone for life after they are gone. Unhealthy relationships have done the exact opposite.
Although you have just a little bit of time with the audience, don’t forget to encourage them to seek God.
The direction they must go is directly tied to their identity. It is their identity (in God) which defines future purpose. Therefore, failing to remind them, even at a funeral, that they have purpose, is the worst kind of neglect imaginable.
Encourage Everyone to Seek Jesus Christ
I have found it best to keep the funerary presentation to 20 minutes or less. Of course, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you.
Whether Saint or sinner, everyone present will stand before the throne of the Most-High God (Hebrews 9:27-28)
If they die accepting Jesus Christ, hell and the lake of fire will be there home. If you do not believe that you’re certainly not sent by Jesus Christ to preach.
If you do not speak this truth in front of everyone, you are denying Jesus. It is my duty to remind you what He says about that (Matthew 10:33-34):
It doesn’t matter if Muslims, Buddhists, or other religions are present. Your mission is to speak briefly about Jesus, salvation, and allow the seed to be planted.
Most of you reading this, while very faithful showing up at church, Bible studies, and other church events, rarely get out on the street and witness to the lost.
Let me be even more specific about whom I speak: church leaders. Although I am a street preacher, as a Pastor, I still don’t get out in public as much as I would like. I include myself in this judgment as well.
This is important because you will never touch as many lost people as at funerals. Of course, this does not include those with popular YouTube channels, radio broadcast, podcast, or other large subscription-based followings.
Even on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., most of those that follow us, the Saints, are others who believe as we do.
As Paul would say: “make full proof of your ministry” and take the opportunity to spread the gospel of Jesus. Please, by the mercies of God preacher, don’t worry about hurt anybody’s feelings.
I assure you that it will be much worse for both you, and they, if you neglect so great salvation.
Leave People With an Unanswered Question
With the last few minutes of preaching/teaching time, it is crucial to plant a seed which the hearers will remember. Instead of barking out orders and telling people what to do, challenge them towards personal discovery.
Asking a question which very few can immediately answer, is a very effective way to seed plant. Emotions at the funeral will be fresh and raw, and many are looking for answers you do not have.
If it is someone who died young and unexpectedly, the confusion is worse. We do not know why, especially in these cases, God does what He does.
Most often, God had nothing to do with the young person dying, Whoa! I know I opened a can of worms with that statement so let me explain.
Just because God knows something is going to happen, does not mean it is His Will.
Further, funerals are a time when even God sent creatures tell lies to make people feel good.
For instance, and irrespective of age, we have heard: “heaven has another Angel today.”
I will not patronize you with a full-fledged Christian apologetics case on why that statement is wrong. However, when people die unexpectedly, some accuse God of responsibility.
This happens because people have been taught that God’s will is why everything happens.
For you preacher, I’ll just use a simple example of why that is a demonic falsehood.
We remember Scripture says (James 1:13-15):
To believe everything that happens is God’s will, is to believe sin is His Will as well. Let us not become confused with something being God’s will and God using something to accomplish His Will. Foreknowledge doesn’t always mean blessed by God.
Those unanswered questions we have could be: “where do you go from here”, “whose life will you impact like your loved one impacted yours”, or other such finite challenges.
Funerary messages/eulogies do not have to be complicated but they must impact as many as possible.
Adults are more open to listen in times of grief than at any other point in their lives. The only other time when somebody is such a sponge is during childhood. Make this time of grief count with everyone present.
Be firm, clear, and resolute when speaking during the message/sermon time.
Most especially, make sure those who follow some other false religion, understand that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
Who cares if they are offended?
I have confronted Muslims with the gospel of Jesus during funerals. It is appropriately worked in, and not outside the bounds of good taste I assure you. However, everyone present will be intently listening to what the Holy Spirit is communicating through you.
Forego religious pretense, and religious sounding nonsense, in favor of speaking the truth in love.
You are not there to get people past their loss.
The reality is and depending on the closeness of the relationship with the deceased, loved ones may never get past the death. I’ve never gotten over the death of my mother, little brother, nephew are others.
We just learned to live with.
Make the time count and change lives in the name of Jesus Christ during your funeral sermon.
Header Image Courtesy of Panyawat Auitpol @ Unsplash