Conducting funerals is one of the most challenging tasks a gospel minister has. Actually, doing funerals is not a part of the preacher’s “job description” — as set forth in the New Testament. Nevertheless, because of the funeral traditions we have in this country, and to accommodate people we love, and for whom we feel compassion, ministers officiate at funerals.
But funerals are difficult situations — possibly the most rigorous of any one is called upon to administer. The funeral environment is tremendously stressful. If the deceased is someone close to him, the minister must struggle to keep his own emotions under control. Sometimes that is almost impossible to do, even if he has spent time concentrating on calmness and praying to God for strength. But his job is to be in control, and not to give in to the pain that may be stabbing his own heart.
Furthermore, the funeral message is not like taking care of one’s regular preaching responsibilities, where hundreds of topics are available for spiritual instruction and edification. At a funeral, the range of subject material is limited. It would hardly be appropriate to speak on “the sin against the Holy Spirit,” “the mark of the beast,” or “the battle of Armageddon” in the presence of a grieving family. It is not the place for detailed grammatical analyses, or the probing of controversial theological themes.
Generally, there are two expectations of the preacher when he conducts a funeral. One of these has to do with biographical data, together with an appropriate proportion of personal recollections that may bring some degree of solace to the family. If the person was a faithful Christian (so far as he is able to determine — only God completely knows any person), the task becomes immeasurably easier. Some of the greatest joys of a man’s role as preacher and friend are to reflect, even through a veil of tears, on the greatness of some of God’s dear saints, and the encouragement they brought to so many lives.
The other expectation usually is to bring a brief message from the Scriptures that will strengthen the loved ones, and perhaps sow a seed of interest in the non-Christian, who may be in attendance at the funeral out of respect.
One must say, however, that the inclination appears to be growing among some that the preacher should just stick to anecdotal material regarding the departed, and minimize (if not eliminate altogether) the “Bible stuff.” My mental response to that is this, “Who’s doing this funeral anyway, you or me?” If someone wants a strictly secular service, with a handful of jokes thrown in, he can find someone else to do it. Or as the Lord once expressed the matter, “Let the dead bury their own dead.”
I have often thought how interesting it might be to take a survey from church members as to what they would like to have said concerning themselves at their funerals.One might ask, rather generically, should I:
- tell the truth about you;
- exaggerate your good qualities and eliminate your flaws altogether; or,
- throw integrity to the wind and simply lie.
If you were asked to write a short paragraph providing the minister with a “script,” exactly what would you say?
Franklin Camp, now deceased, was a great and beloved gospel minister of several years past. He was a gentle and kind man, and one of pristine quality. On one occasion he was called upon to conduct the funeral of a brother who was anything but faithful. He struggled to know what to say.According to his own testimony, this is what he said, as kindly as he could, regarding the deceased gentleman.
“He was a member of the church but was careless in attendance. He was a member of the church, but he did not think Bible study was important, so he never came. He was a member of the church, but he never gave as he was prospered. His funeral is being conducted in this building paid for by others. He was a member of the church, but no one gathered here today has he taught the truth. He has now gone to judgment to meet his God; all he can say to God is, ‘I was a member of the church.’ All I can say about him is ‘he was a member of the church.’”
Franklin Camp later commented that as people filed out of the church building, he heard an irate person comment, “He preached him straight into hell.”
No, he did not. By that time, the brother was already at his destination, and the funeral comments had nothing to do with that.
I have been thinking: if a faithful minister should be called upon to preach your funeral, do you have any suggestions as to what he should say?