In our context (USA), eulogies provide an opportunity to acknowledge the deceased contributions to family, community, and if appropriate, to church. However, great care must be taken to avoid eulogizing someone into heaven who showed no fruit of genuine conversion, or of becoming so man-centered that mourners are diverted from God and the gospel of grace. Concern for these errors have left ministers in some regions with a negative impression of any use of eulogies. In such settings, we would counsel not to pursue eulogizing the deceased if it would encumber the clear preaching of the gospel at the funeral service.
The eulogy is the time in the service where your focus is on the person who has died. Even if you knew the deceased well, a eulogy is still best prepared through a meeting you have with the family. This is best accomplished during a time where the majority of the family is present, usually at the funeral home just before a session of visitation or before it begins. Spend your time asking questions about their loved one and what they loved and remembered most about that person. Ask questions that provoke significant memories that reveal what they learned from the deceased and how their loved one selflessly served them. Ask about how their loved one was faithful as a spouse, parent, grandparent, soldier, employee/boss, neighbor, and friend. Also, listen for personality qualities that emerge about their loved one’s sense of humor, compassion for others, leadership, and recreational activities.
This template can be applied whether you are conducting funerals of a Christian you knew well or a non-Christian you didn’t know at all. The main difference is the way you weave a person’s Christian testimony throughout each category, as it will deeply impact each of these areas. If it is a non-Christian who has died, this still gives you many options of how to talk about this person’s life in an endearing way. This person was still created in the image of God—a person who loved, cared for, sacrificed, taught, and served his family and friends in his own way until the end.
Most importantly, this discussion with the family facilitates a healthy model where they can grieve. Even though we want all people to grieve with hope because of Christ, there is that practical matter of how to instruct someone to walk through the grieving process. A major component of that process for loved ones who remain and will now live the rest of their lives without this person is to talk about the deceased, share the stories, and remember the memories. This allows times to laugh, cry, remember, and celebrate their life. This is essential for anyone to work through the grief they are experiencing and is a part of our pastoral care of their souls. To conclude the eulogy, a common practice is to read the obituary, typically given to you by the funeral director on a minister’s card.
Next…the all important funeral sermon.