What do you do with funeral messages?

Discussion in 'Pastoral Ministries' started by Joseph M. Smith, Jan 8, 2007.

  1. Joseph M. Smith

    Joseph M. Smith
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    I'd be interested in hearing from other pastors or, for that matter, from anyone who has conducted funerals. What is your approach to the message?

    May I share a little of my own approach? First, if I have control over the printed order of worship (and funeral homes are notorious for using their own boiler plate if you don't intervene), I ask that the term "message" be used instead of "eulogy". Eulogy seems to me to be a potentially hypocritical exercise in praising someone, when my style and philosophy is that this is an occasion for a Gospel message, though it will be illustrated by the life of the deceased.

    I am normally able to intuit (well, feel led by the Spirit) toward some passage of Scripture that connects in some way with the deceased person, interpreting major themes in his/her life. That way the burden of what I say is carried by and "argued" by the Scripture, and I can refer to good things, not such good things, funny occasions, mistakes, comments, and on and on, taken from the life of the deceased, but always illustrating deeper spiritual truths. And of course the message will always have a resurrection-hope component, usually as the peroration.

    Occasionally during my ministry I was asked to do a funeral for someone I did not know -- for example, for a relative of a church member. In those instances it was important to me to talk with the survivors long enough to get a sense of what this person stood for, so that I could let the intuition/Spirit lead me to something appropriate. On more than one occasion, even when I was doing a funeral for a relatively unknown person, afterwards people would say to me, "You really got it. You "nailed" him!". Fascinating.

    I have never felt it appropriate to issue a traditional walk-the-aisle invitation at a funeral, but I do try to invite people who feel they need to explore the Christian faith to talk with me. Occasionally they do.

    So ... anything unique or special in your approach to the funeral service?
     
  2. Tom Bryant

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    I always urge people to trust Christ in a funeral, usually asking them to pray and talk to me later. But, like you, I've never given a come forward invitation ... it's usually a little difficult with the casket there also :laugh:

    I don't ever do a eulogy and always have a message, but I usually allow for people to say something about the person. I always have someone to start it out. Sometimes, I have gotten burned because the people said the wrong thing. But usually not.

    The purpose is to help the family. But I also know I don't remember a thing the pastor said at my father's funeral, and I doubt the family remembers much of mine either.

    You didn't ask, but at the graveside, I just read a passage, usually from 1 Thessalonians 4 or 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 and then close by praying and the prayer will end with everyone saying the Lord's prayer. It makes for an end to the service.
     
  3. Jim1999

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    First off, it is not my funeral, and I am only invited to participate. I respect the mourners and especially the family, and make no plans to browbeat a captive audience.

    I quietly present God's word, especially the fact of God's love and presence in our lives. Depending on the spiritual state of the deceased, my message will make mention of him/her in as positive a note as is possible.

    I agree that people hardly remember a word that is said. They may catch the odd word, but not much. Consoling words are best remembered. For this reason, I always make a copy of my message and hand it to family members in a plain, sealed envelope. I found that people realize the death in about three weeks and that is when I plan a pastoral visit. Even the unchurched appreciate that visit, and that is the time one can talk quietly about eternal things.

    My keyword is, Brevity....Keep it brief!

    Cheers,

    Jim
     
  4. Tom Bryant

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    Jim,
    Thanks for passing on the message in an envelope as well as your pastoral visit later. It is pastoral in the accurate sense of that word.
     
  5. Brother Bob

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    Funerals can be very hard at times. The ones who left here in a condition that they leave very little hope, all you can do is

    preach about a merciful God, and he/she is in His hands, and He will do right by them. If they left a good hope then most times

    it is much easier, but not always. For some unknown reason those who lived the most Christian life turn out to be the coldest

    funerals every once in a while.

    I am there to do my best to comfort the families, in anyway I can and help them through a trying time. Sometimes I feel I fail

    and feel badly over how the funeral turned out. Sometimes the family themselves are divided, and bring coldness to the

    funeral. Of course I am talking about the exception, but it does happen.

    I can tell you of one funeral I conducted ,where I was told the whole family had guns and were going to fight it out, as soon as

    we placed him in the grave. We had local police, State police both guarding us until it was over. I have showed up at funerals

    where I was the only one there to conduct the entire service.

    Funerals, oh boy they will make you gray fast and are for the living and not the one who is dead.

    I have had them come up and give me their hand as I was closing the service. It is an akward moment but I ask them to show

    up at our church on the next church day.

    The message? is always Jesus.

    Rom 12:15Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
     
    #5 Brother Bob, Jan 9, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 9, 2007
  6. Joseph M. Smith

    Joseph M. Smith
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    My thanks to those who are responding. I hope some others will as well.

    I also give the family a copy of my message, knowing that they are not really in a condition to hear what is said. Once I called a church member, not even realizing that it was the anniversary of her loved one's death, and she said, "Oh, pastor, I'm so glad you called. I was just sitting here re-reading the message you preached at xxxxx's funeral." That really cheered me and made me feel I was doing something right.

    As for permitting others to speak in tribute ... these things are planned with the survivors, and I soon learned to suggest that they enlist tribute-givers and give them a time limit. The "open microphone" policy can prove to be disastrous. I remember when a young man in my congregation,a college student, was killed in an automobile accident. On top of that shock we learned that his pregnant girlfriend had survived. And so at the funeral, attended by a batch of college guys, one of them came to the pulpit, dressed in some sort of cape, and said, in his remarks, "And I remember the night this baby was made ...." Man, did I ever want to jump up and wrap that cape around his scrawny neck!

    And then there was the funeral of another young man, a wonderful musician. A visiting preacher was there, and for reasons known only to the Lord, came to the pulpit during the tributes and said, "I never knew zzzz, I never met him, but I'm sure he was a fine young man." And then proceeded to do a little evangelistic harangue. Painful!

    I agree with the brevity point, too. Early in my pastorate one of my men came to me and said, "Pastor, you do a beautiful funeral, but the service is too long. 45 minutes total, including the message, is about all anybody can handle." I took that to heart too, even though the traditional black church funeral is far longer than that. Surprised any number of funeral directors, who had tiime on their hands between funeral service and estimated graveside arrival!!

    Finally, I too do what was mentioned at the graveside ... Scripture, ceremonial use of the Book of Common Prayer language, though not read, just paraphrased, and then, depending on what we have done in the funeral service, a recitation of either the Lord's Prayer or the 23rd Psalm. You find out real fast who knows the Bible! (But, to tell the truth, I keep a finger in the 23rd Psalm and peek occasionally!!).

    Back to the beginning, the planning of the service: I believe that if ever there is a time for ceremonial, solemnity, and liturgy, this is it, even when you want the tone to be one of victory. It is not, in my estimation, a time to be folksy, how-ya'll-doin'. The awesome reality of death and the glorious hope of eternal life demand careful planning and calm assurance.
     
  7. TomVols

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    I try to be brief. Since it's been rightly pointed out that the famliy will remember little, stay on target by being brief.
    Stay Biblical. Base the sermon on the Word of God. Present the gospel.
    I try to be personal. If I know the person, I try to be genuine. If I don't know the person, I try to be genuine as well. Nothing sounds more stupid than a preacher trying to make a stranger out to be his friend. When assuming a new church in Kentucky, I found out that just ten hours after unloading the moving truck at the parsonage, I had my first funeral. The lady was not a current member of the church, but her request was to have the pastor of the church preach her funeral and be buried in the church cemetary. I gathered as much information as possible from friends that were in the church. I relayed what others told me and simply said "I wish I could've known her." That one sentence was praised by several for my honesty and candor.
    I never preach the person into heaven. Ever. I don't care who they are. If they claimed to be saved, I simply say that and speak of the hope that those who are saved have. I don't know the eternal state of anyone except my own.
    One of the best pieces of advice I got years ago serves me well: I have a handful of funeral sermons that I choose from for each funeral. Some serve a particular situation (a suicide, a child, etc.). I make them personal. Most pastors do not have the time to write a new sermon for each funeral when you preach 3-4 times a week and add a funeral or two per week on top of that. The key is to make it personal. I have heard a fellow pastor preach many funerals. He always reads the same Scriptures and says basically the same thing. I do not advocate that at all. That's just laziness.
    Remember that the greatest ministry we have is the ministry of presence.
    Remember we're there to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. Remember we're there to comfort and bring the Word. It's this reason that I'd rather preach a funeral than a wedding. Funerals are real ministry, where wounds can be bound and souls can be touched. Weddings have become so crass it's pathetic. But that's a whole other story. :thumbs:
     
  8. PastorSBC1303

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    Tom, I second your post, very well said. I especially agree with the above quote.
     
  9. SBCPreacher

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    Tom, I third your post. That's good stuff!

    I would rather preach 10 funerals than one wedding! At least you know at the funeral that the one you're talking about (the deceased) isn't lying to you. I can't count the times the wedding party lies to me. "Sure, preacher, we be at church - every sunday. You can count on us..." Yeah, right.
     
  10. El_Guero

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    Bro. Smith

    I first take this as a responsibility to God first, and family second.

    In order to do this, I spend as much time with the family as I can. I spend time with them in their grief. I listen to their stories. I converse with them about the Almighty God and eternity. I ask some of them about their relationship with God.

    I go to the funeral prepared to preach God's Word. Then I preach the Word of God on behalf of the Judge of all Eternity. As I speak the Word of God, I weave into this stories from the family. . . . and I make their moment in time very personal to them.

    I do not preach for money. I do not refuse a love offering, but I will not preach for a fee. Sadly, I have been asked back to preach more funerals.

    PS - when I have a young pastor that I am mentoring, I ask him to 'help' me for experience. The last one that I mentored thanked me this last December for preparing him for 3 funerals just before Christmas.
     
  11. TomVols

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    I echo mentoring at funerals, weddings, etc. It's an integral part of training younger ministers.
     
  12. Tom Bryant

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    I'm thinking of sending this thread to a pastor friend of mine. I was at a funeral yesterday where they had 3 songs, one solo, both sons spoke well for 10-15 each and then they had 2 pastors speak and then the sermon lasted almost 45 minutes.

    It was a retired pastor's wife's funeral so more length was going to happen, but oh it was long.

    By the way, here's an outline I use for funerals where I don't know the person.
    1. Death is inevitable
    2. Grief is natural
    3. Hope is available
     

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