Attending a funeral for a friend is hard. What to say at a funeral is even harder.
This weekend I received an email from a man in our church who was flying to Minneapolis this coming week. He planned to get together with his friend while he was in town, but the man died over the weekend. Now instead of sharing a meal together, he will be sharing at his funeral.
He wrote an email to one of our men’s groups that I was copied on, asking for prayer. In the middle of his email, he wrote:
My prayer request (not necessarily in this order) is that:
- I can hold it together.
- I deliver a strong supportive message to the family and those in attendance.
- I make God known.
Additionally, if you have any “talking points” or suggestions for my talk I would appreciate it. Obviously, I will have personal stories of my friends, but I also want to incorporate a number of points such as
- Death is an event, not a destination.
- His end here on earth is the beginning of an eternity in the presence of our God.
- Finding comfort in God.
- Many of God’s blessings – all through our lives—are delivered in our circumstances, events, and most importantly in the people that he places in our life… So is the blessing of my friend.
(These and other points certainly will be “polished” before the service…)
I don’t want this to be just a talk of “stories about my friend”… I want this to be a message, and an opportunity, that makes God known.
I thought what he wrote was solid. I firmly believe (and have preached) that for the believer, physical death is just an event. It is a pass through. We’ve already been given “life” and life abundantly in Christ. Life starts before our physical death and is only the fuller realization of it on the other side.
Also, his heart to Make God Known should be the goal of every Christian when speaking or sharing at a funeral. Remembering a life lived by a person is the ideal opportunity to prick the conscience of every man as we strive to answer why we live at all.
Over the last decade and a half, I have preached at dozens of funerals. Whether the person is saved or unsaved, an adult or child, a sudden death or the end of prolonged suffering, I strive to make God known in whatever I share. Some families and funerals make this easier than others, but the goal never changes.
What to Say at a Funeral: 4 Things to Keep in Mind
- Keep it personal. The people that gather at a funeral are there to remember a person. It is important that you don’t highjack the event by forgetting to mention the person who has passed away. Share stories about what they meant to you, how your life was different with them here and (if applicable) what they showed you about Christ or God. When my best friend, Keith, went home to Heaven, I shared a personal angle on the impact he had on me by using Cowboy language (that was close to his heart). This allowed me to keep the message personal, share biblical truths and eventually present the Gospel clearly (albeit through a lot of tears!).
- Keep it biblical. Don’t share without using the Bible. God promised that His Word will never return void, so use it! Even at national funerals and public remembrances, Bible verses are used. Don’t worry about offending people. It is God’s Word—He can use it to be quick to pierce the hearts of men. Also, be sure to steer clear of “unbiblical” statements. When talking about hope, heaven or seeing people again, make sure you do not say something that would be “unbiblical” just to try to be encouraging. It is easy for us to take passages and God’s truth out of context when we are trying to be encouraging. For example, I can’t say, “We will all see each other again…” if I don’t know for sure that the person knew Jesus. In the same vein, not everyone in the congregation may be able to see this person again. So don’t over-promise what the Bible says. Stay biblical.
- Keep it Christ-focused. Remember the person well, but make a bee-line for the Cross. I do this by saying something like, “I know that this person would want you to know what Jesus meant to them…” or “Christ is the giver of life, and that life started way before he or she arrived in heaven on Monday…” Present the Gospel clearly. Be sure to include the essential elements of the Gospel, such as: God as the giver of life; man’s sin; Christ’s gift to return is for those with life in God; and the response of faith we must have in order to have life again.
- Keep it hope-filled. While it is good for us to be in the house of mourning (Ecclesiastes 7:2), there is hope that should come through a funeral or remembrance of life. Talk about the hope you have and what is getting you through this loss, personally. Mention where you see hope in the other friends and family. Conclude by making it clear that the only way you all will get through the hard moments of grief is by having the hope of the Lord.
Funerals are actually one of my favorite places to share because it is so primed to make God known. We should not take this opportunity for Gospel work lightly. Though it may require sharing through tears or talking with a huge frog in our throat, we must speak of the life and hope we have been given in Christ!
Funeral Notes for What to Say at a Funeral
This may help—click on one of the funeral notes below to download a Word file of what I shared on two different occasions:
What to say at a funeral? Give ’em the hope of heaven!
This article originally appeared here.