I don’t hear many pastors of churches our style talk about funeral ministry.
Sometimes I get the impression that if your church is somehow “contemporary” or “large” or even “mega,” then people in the congregation don’t die, so pastors don’t have to devote much time or attention to funerals and memorials services.
Well, however hyperbolic those observations may be, people who are connected to Good Shepherd do in fact die. And the ministry of funerals and memorial services is a vital one, especially if we are going to be a church who lives up to our name.
It’s also true that the need for such ministry comes in bursts — several at a time.
So what are five “rules” we have here for designing and leading a funeral or memorial service?
1. Always remember the primary goal: to have a service that brings honor to God while at the same time doing justice to the memory of the person who has died.
2. Avoid the pitfalls of bad funeral preaching — and, sadly, there is a lot of bad funeral preaching out there. What is bad funeral preaching? Preaching that a) denies the reality of grief; b) ignores the personality and history of the one who has died; c) uses canned poetry with trite phrases like “don’t cry for me”; d) mis-uses the occasion of a funeral as an excuse to deliver a sermon on a subject other than death & resurrection.
3. Select music reflective of the person who has died. For example, for people with a lifelong connection to church and its traditions, we’ll sing Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art with only keyboards for accompaniment. When my time comes — I’ve got some good genes so it may be awhile — some band somewhere will sing U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name.
4. Make sure the eulogy gives EXPRESSION to feelings that people have but can’t necessarily articulate in their time of grief. The role of the pastor is to give language to people’s emotions.
5. Make sure the eulogy gives PERMISSION to family and friends to grieve and grieve well. This is a hallmark of Good Shepherd funerals — we remind people that grief is a good & holy gift that God gives us to get through times of sorrow. As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn (and he didn’t say ‘blessed are those who deny’ or ‘blessed are those who are strong’ or ‘blessed are those who hold it all in’!!), for they shall be comforted.” Permission opens up the pathway for comfort.