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Officiating at a Funeral: 3 Ways to Prepare Your Heart

Because there are so many elements to plan and logistics to prepare for, it is not uncommon for the pastor to have all his words prepared, service planned out, everyone in place, processional details checked off and realize an essential element had been neglected—the pastor’s heart. Do not become enslaved to the tyranny of funeral preparation, only to stand and conduct with an empty, drained and calloused heart. Do not underestimate the emotional and mental drain in comforting the grieving while preparing and conducting a funeral. Thus, there are three areas for the pastor to take time and prepare his heart, mind and soul.

1) Prepare for the unexpected.

Just when you think you have seen it all—the next funeral reveals you haven’t. Even if you have seen fights break out, arrests made, uncontrollable wailing, family members and pallbearers fainting, caskets dropped and knocked over, shouting conflicts between families and funeral directors, or funeral attire that would make most people blush, these experiences do not mean at all the next funeral will fit these experiences. Because of this, prepare to see anything. Prepare to get the craziest response to something you say. Prepare to watch families at their worst. This will allow you to think clearly and wisely when the unexpected happens.

2) Prepare to minister God’s word.

Though there is much to manage, administrate and facilitate, you are not the concierge of the funeral. You are a minister of God’s word and a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Prepare your heart, mind and soul however you must, so that when you stand before people at the beginning of the funeral service, you stand to minister God’s word, trusting God will work mightily by his Spirit through his word.

3) Prepare to extend the hope of Christ.

You are not there to solve the family conflicts or to help the funeral home learn how to function more smoothly. You are there to clearly present to each person the hope we have from sin and death because of Christ. You can best prepare by thinking about who will be at the funeral service. Consider what kinds of questions you could ask the family to surmise their spiritual condition as you talk with them. Prepare questions ahead of time from the words you have prepared to share so that gospel opportunities might show themselves in those conversations.

Wearing your administrator and facilitator cap through the process is necessary. It will serve you as a helpful companion to maneuver through all the details and demands that always accompany funerals. Nevertheless, you are ultimately a pastor and evangelist who is called upon by the Chief Shepherd to prepare and conduct funerals of dead men as “a dying man preaching to dying men (Richard Baxter).” Prepare and conduct funerals knowing the grieving are hurting, longing for tender care, and must look to Jesus as their only hope.  

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Brian Croft is senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also the author of "Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness (foreword by Mark Dever) and "Test, Train, Affirm, and Send Into Ministry: Recovering the Local Church’s Responsibility to the External Call" (foreword by R. Albert Mohler Jr.). Brian blogs regularly at Practical Shepherding.