November 26, 2018 • Michael Wilbanks
If you have never faced this in your ministry, you will. One day you will get a request to preach the funeral of a person that you have never met. Some pastors refuse to preach such a services. Here are five reasons why you should consider accepting the opportunity to preach these funerals.
It is a great opportunity to exalt the resurrected Lord.
Funeral sermons are never (supposed to be) about the person who died. If you spend your funeral sermons making little acronyms out of the person’s name, then you’re doing it wrong. You know what I mean? Mary. M. A. R. Y…..M stands for Mother. She was a loving mother. A stands Active. Mary was active in her community….etc. A funeral sermon, or any sermon for that matter, should be about Jesus. You can do all that acronym stuff, or whatever other cute thing you want to come up with, when you run out of Gospel to preach, and you will never run out of Gospel to preach. Which brings me to reason number 2.
It is an awesome opportunity to share the Gospel publicly.
Face it, there are people who will never come to your Sunday service. However, many of those people will come to a funeral. Don’t waste that precious moment.
It is an awesome opportunity to share the Gospel privately.
When leading a funeral service, you have access to the family. This is a great time to build relationships for future gospel conversations. You get to pray for and with the family at multiple points before and after the service. Here is my advice…pray the Gospel out loud. Brian Croft has often said something like “The Gospel prayed is the Gospel heard.” Amen. In addition, there will be times when family members will come to you privately for prayer and counsel, point them to the only true hope that exists…Jesus Christ.
It is are a great exercise in loving people.
There is nothing like the love of Christ overflowing from the heart of a believer into a dark situation. It can be seen. It can be felt. It is a kind word, a loving touch, warm greeting, a side hug, an open heart, and a compassionate ear. Genuine love will give your Gospel witness something that eloquence and pulpiteering never can, authenticity and integrity.
One more thought on this, love the people through their bad theology. Pastor, I have heard some of the worst theology ever come for people at funerals. They say things like, “So and so earned his angel wings.” (spoiler alert…not he didn’t). Or they will say something like, “I guess God needed him up there more than we needed him down here.” (and again…nope). Or they will lean over the body and say, “Tell momma I said hey.” I know it is hard to hear these things. Love them through that. I realize the theologian in your wants to unpack of the mysteries of eschatology right there, but it is just not the time to do so. You want to break out your pocket edition of Grudem’s Systematic, I know I know. There might come a time when you can correct that stuff, but I just don’t think the funeral is the time to do it. My advice in that situation is to love them. Don’t affirm their false understandings. Affirm truth, point them to Christ, and minister to them.
It is in occasion to fulfill your calling.
Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). “In season” is when it is convenient and easy. Conversely, “out of season” is the it is inconvenient and difficult. Preaching the funeral of someone you did not know feels an awful lot like “out of season”.