I must admit. I am a newbie to the whole funeral thing. I've done a few gravesides and a few services, but by no means am I an expert. But as a pastor, you will have those time when you will have to comfort and encourage a grieving funeral. Over the course of my time on earth I have seen some powerful encouraging preaching at funerals and some that made me wish I was in the casket. Funeral sermons can be life giving or life draining to those grieving. Although I am still learning how to preach a good funeral sermon, I do know three ways to preach a bad funeral sermon.
1. Talk Only About How Good the Person Was
In your funeral sermon if you spend the whole time talking about how good the person was and not how good Jesus is, you've got a serious problems. One of the reasons moralism has so powerfully crept into the church is because pastor propagate it in sermons, particularly funeral sermons. I have heard whole sermons (often well received by the congregation) that discuss how many good things the person has done with absolutely nothing about the goodness of Jesus. Pastor, don't distort the gospel by holding up moralism before the family and congregation. Only talk about the goodness of the person to point to the goodness of Christ. Our righteousness is filthy rags. Don't hand out filthy rags of moralism to grieving people, give them the pure white robe given by the righteousness of Christ!
2. Talk About Heaven Without Jesus
The way heaven is talked about in may funerals is nothing more than religious materialism. Great emphasis is given to the streets of gold and your own personal mansion. We even speak about reuniting with loved ones. However the emphasis in our speaking about heaven is in the wrong place. The chief reward isn't stuff, it is Jesus. Yet so often in funerals, Jesus being there is just a footnote on a grand health and wealth caricature of heaven. What makes heaven wonderful is that we will stand, clothed in the righteousness of Christ and be in relationship with the holy sovereign King of the Universe. We will see His face with unveiled faces. That is what makes heaven wonderful.
3. Sentimentalize but Don't Evangelize
At no other point in people's lives are they more aware of their own mortality than at a funeral. There is no better place to share the hope of the Gospel than standing over the hollow of death. Yet, many pastors fail to preach the Gospel. Deep in our souls we know that death should not be, yet death happens because of sin. Yet God, in his great mercy put in place a rescue plan to save sinners through the death of His son Jesus Christ. Through the death of Christ our sins are paid for and victory has been accomplished, even over death. The Gospel rings in power at the last chime of a person's life. Yet, the Gospel is neglected in so many funeral sermons in exchange for empty and vain sentimental anecdotes. If you seek to comfort the people gathered to grieve preach the Gospel. It is the only hope as we stand before death. Warm fuzzys of sentimentality might last for a day, but the lasting comfort that comes from the hope of the Gospel endures for eternity.
Pastor, if you avoid these three things you are well on your way to preaching biblically faithful and eternally helpful funeral sermons. Funerals create unique opportunities for a pastor to minister in people's greatest need. Steward this opportunity well. Honor the deceased, comfort the grieving, and above all else preach the Gospel.
What other things should pastors not do at a funeral? What are some positive things you have seen pastors do at funerals? Share your thoughts with us all in the comments below!