How do I prepare a sermon for a funeral?

The most helpful advice I ever received about preaching at a funeral for someone I didn’t know is: “Don’t preach them into heaven.  Don’t preach them into hell.  Just preach the gospel for the people who are there.”  This principle captures our task regardless the kind of funeral we do.  Ironically, though we focus on remembering and celebrating the life of the deceased, the funeral service is ultimately for those who attend.  The sermon is where the gospel must be preached clearly.  Only when we can personally have confidence in a person’s conversion should we feel comfortable to speak of the heavenly reward he/she has now received.  If there is any doubt in your mind, it is best to focus on the gospel for your hearers and resist the temptation to provide a false comfort that you have little or no basis to give. 

A funeral sermon should not exceed 20 minutes and should highlight these three categories, preferably expounded from a text(s) of Scripture:

First, acknowledge the need to grieve.  The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11) is particularly helpful as there seems to be a legitimate time of grieving for those present and sorrow for those who are experiencing the separation that death brings, including Jesus who wept (John 11:35).  I often share of the time my father sat my wife and me down, once we found out we had miscarried with our second child, and exhorted us to take time to grieve over this child, instructing us how to do so.  

Don’t ever presume that people realize that grief is appropriate or that they know how to work through their grief by simply talking about their deceased loved one.  In actuality, many do not want to talk about them because of the hurt felt in loss.  Many pastors know that often, years later, people learn the value of this process, eventually working through the grief with some pastoral guidance.

Second, having acknowledged this first step, true hope in grief cannot come apart from the hope of the gospel.  This is why the second and third portion of a funeral sermon focuses on Christ’s person and work.  Whatever text you choose to preach, make sure you are able to focus on the clear elements of the gospel from it:  God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness and deserving judgment, Christ’s perfect personhood and atoning work to save us, our essential response to repent and believe upon Christ. 

After you have clearly communicated the gospel, the last portion should be focused on how your hearers should respond to the gospel.  To do so appropriately and effectively, you must prepare by knowing as much as you can about your hearers as well as the deceased.  You should assume Christians and non-Christians are present.  You should assume they all have come with a preconceived understanding on how we receive eternal life.  For example, I have done a funeral where ninety percent of those in attendance were devoted Catholics, another who were Mormons, and another where no one in the building had ever stepped foot in a church. 

In every case, I explained the gospel clearly, called my hearers to repent of their sins, believe upon Christ, and trust in him.  Yet, in each of these different situations, I approached calling them to respond to the gospel differently, depending upon their preconceived understanding of the “good news.”  Exhort them to grieve.  Preach the gospel clearly and simply.  Help them understand their need for Christ as death is before them.  Call them to repent and believe.

Posted in Funerals
14 comments on “How do I prepare a sermon for a funeral?
  1. aaron says:

    I love this post! i just recently bought your book on performing Gospel centered funerals but havent read it because i left this week for conferences. I have really enjoyed your service to the church in this area!

    Can you give some examples of how you called people 2 the Gospel who were from different backgrounds… catholic, mormon, un churched/non believers would be enough for time sake and any other group you want to throw in there!

    thanks for your service to the church!

    • briancroft says:

      I use John 11 for unbelievers since it is a narrative and Jesus speaks clearly about who He is. I have used Phil. 2 at a funeral with many mormons present to accurately address what this commonly misunderstood passage is really about. Then I could use any passage that is clear about imputation and faith alone knowing there will be Catholics present. You don’t want to call people out directly, but choose texts that will allow the Spirit to strike a specific chord in the souls of these people who have rejected Christ in these different ways. Thanks for the question. I hope that helps.

      • jpskelton says:

        Fanks for your thoughts on funerals sermons but as a catholic faith alone does not save a soul read st james isn’t there proof in that text
        Perhaps we should focus on the texts but stop manipulating them to suit my ego

        • Brian Croft says:

          That is where we would differ. I believe we are saved by grace through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ, not by any works (Eph. 2:8-9). Because I believe that is the teaching of the Bible, that is what I preach.

  2. Hassan Bell says:

    I really appreciate the simplicity and insight of what you’ve written. I’ve been in the pastorate for just over 3 years now, and I’ve never actually had to preach a funeral before. I’ve been asked to preach at my Granddad’s funeral in two days. I was wondering if you would have any suggestions regarding appropriate funeral texts.

    thank you again for the post.

  3. may God bless for such a wonderful guidelines. Non of us prefer death, but it is inevitable, thus, non of us will leave for ever, so i think your guidelines on how to prepare a sermon on funeral is in order.

  4. hannah says:

    hello i really appreciate this suggestion,,,, now i understand the guidelines….God bless you more and more…

  5. may god bless you for such a wonderfuly guidelines

  6. Grantt Banks says:

    Thank you for your help…

  7. mbaha tjisekameno says:

    thanks for such powerful teaching god bless

  8. vivian martin-jones says:

    Your suggestions were very helpful. Thànks.

  9. Pastor Kelly says:

    Thanks for the much needed advice.

  10. Pastor Isaac Rajah says:

    Thank you so much for ur help on how to use a sermon for funeral its been helpful tx

  11. Liberty Alois says:

    I appreciate your understanding of the Word of God Brian Croft but certainly i think there is need to improve and I believe you can. We need to be careful in interpreting the scripture because if one takes (Eph 2: 8-9) literally; that Paul is saying works are not necessary for salvation then what would you say of (1 Cor 3:15).

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