A lot of what I talk about on this blog has to do with Children’s Ministry. But sometimes I need to focus less on the Children piece and more on the Pastor. Last week was one of those weeks.
If you’re in ministry long enough you WILL have to do a funeral, or at least help someone whose doing a funeral. It’s a pretty heavy experience, but if done right can be a very cathartic moment in a person’s life. I’m no expert at performing funerals but here are a few tips I’ve learned:
1. Get to know the family
The best place to start when getting ready for a funeral is the family. Build a relationship with them. Get to know some of their likes and dislikes. Ask them to share some of their favorite memories of the loved one they have lost. Meet with them early on so they know somebody from your church is there for them. This isn’t always possible, but even making the effort will express your care and concern.
2. Clarify what they want
Every funeral is different. Some are short and simple at the graveside. Others involve a church service followed by a meal. And others can be a day-long extravaganza. It’s always a good idea to have an in-person meeting with the family when planning. Let the family know what resources are available to them from your church and work together to help craft just the right service for them.
3. Connect with people who can help
As a general rule you’ll want to find someone who can lead the worship piece, someone to take care of the meal after the service, a family member or friend(s) to do the eulogy, connect with the funeral director, and let whoever is in charge of facilities at your church know how the service will implicate life on your campus. Again, not every funeral is this cookie cutter, but these are the usual places where you’ll need help.
4. Offer hope and guidance
At the funeral create an environment where the family can both grieve and experience hope (even if the person who died wasn’t a Christian). I like to use John 14:1-7 as the main text for a funeral. There are some really great words about life on the other side of eternity from Jesus in this passage. It tends to resonate with believers and non-believers.
When leading a funeral service I almost always have notes but keep them tucked in my Bible. Normally when I teach I usually have my notes on my iPad. But at weddings, funerals, and teaching with kids I always use my physical Bible. There’s something about doing this that makes the experience more meaningful. I would encourage you to do the same.
5. Follow-up afterwards
Most times the family has LOTS of people there for them before and during the funeral. But it’s after the funeral when a family will need you most. If you can, offer to arrange dinner for them for a week or two afterwards. You can use a service like TakeThemAMeal.com to help. Check-in with them periodically for the first few months afterwards. They may not say much, but checking in post funeral means the world to most people.
Depending on how they are coping with the loss, you may also want to recommend some good Christian counselors in your area. While this may feel awkward, chances are you are not a trained counselor. Recommendations can go a long way to helping a family put the pieces back together after someone they love has died.
Funerals are never easy. They are a painful reminder of what a family has lost. Often times they can be filled with inner turmoil and interpersonal conflict between family and friends. It’s our job as leaders in the church to come alongside families during these seasons and do our best to help. These tips will help you help them.