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The following outline presents a scenario of what may generally occur in conducting a typical funeral. The word "typical" is used very loosely because every death, every family's relationship to the departed loved one, and every funeral is unique.

Even when a minister understands the general principles of ministering to a bereaved family and conducting a funeral, he must still be alert and sensitive to any number of variables that may be involved.

For instance, cultural and ethnic influences, as well as local and regional customs, have a bearing on what is expected at the funeral and of the minister.

The following is not presented as a rigid, ironclad formula for what is right and wrong. Rather, it is a model that can be adjusted and adapted as necessary. Some families may desire a fairly elaborate and formal funeral. On the other hand, others may desire a simpler, less formal service.

As you read the following, please keep in mind that although assisting the family with details of the funeral is important, the number-one priority of the minister is to be Christ's ambassador of comfort, strength, and hope in a troubled time.

It is wise to assume you will be called upon during your ministry to conduct funeral services and to assist families when loved ones die. Once notified of such a need, little or no time remains to prepare yourself to be a knowledgeable and skillful guide in assisting the family.

The wise minister who prepares himself before a crisis occurs will feel far more confident than the minister who scrambles to figure out what to do after the fact. The family may be emotionally devastated by the death of their loved one and unable to think clearly. Without advance preparation, a minister may very well become "the blind leading the blind."

Here are some practical steps that can help prepare you before you are called upon to preach a funeral.

A. Contact and visit other local ministers.
  1. Glean from their experiences.
  2. Request permission to attend future funerals they may perform. Observe pros and cons of different styles.
  3. Find out with which funeral homes they've had the best experiences.
B. Contact and visit local morticians.
  1. Learn of local and regional customs.
  2. Find out if a tour of the facilities is possible.
  3. Familiarize yourself with the funeral arrangement process.
C. Know the scriptures well concerning life and death, as well as those pertaining to eternity.

D. Educate yourself on grief-recovery issues.

E. Accumulate funeral-related resource materials.

If you are not with the family when the death occurs, you should make every effort to be with them immediately. Being with a family during times of loss can be one of the most challenging tasks a minister faces. However, it provides the opportunity to manifest God's comforting and strengthening Presence to those who greatly need His support.

A. Recognize that some family members may be in shock. This is an emotional numbness that can occur when people are faced with a traumatic situation. Others may express a wide range of emotions immediately.

B. Do not attempt to inhibit responses. Let people know it is all right to express emotion through tears, weeping, etc. It is good to encourage people to express their feelings, but don't tell them how to feel (e.g., "You must be devastated" or "I know just how you feel").

C. Don't talk too much. It is certainly appropriate to share some comforting words, to remind those who are grieving of God's promises, and to pray with the family. (It's often best to ask permission to pray.)

However, do not offer trite cliches. This is not a time to wax philosophically or theologically eloquent. It is important to recognize and respect the conflict that often exists between people's faith and their feelings when they suffer the loss of a loved one.

D. Although you are there to minister, you will often be most effective as a quiet, concerned, and supportive friend.

E. After you have ministered spiritual support and comfort to the family, it is good to see if there are other areas in which you can assist them. The scope of what you are able to offer may depend on how well organized and prepared the people in your church are to assist in such situations.

Realize that the family may be disoriented and unable to think clearly. Therefore, it is good to be specific when offering assistance. Areas in which you and your church might be of help include:
  1. Recommending a funeral home
  2. Driving people home from the hospital (Some family members may be too shaken up to drive.)
  3. Assistance in contacting family members and friends (This includes employers of family members who will be missing some work over the next few days.)
  4. Child-care
  5. Housecleaning
  6. Errands
  7. Picking up incoming relatives from the airport or bus terminal
  8. Meals (Disposable containers are best.)
F. Realize the family may desire privacy. This desire should be respected. However, don't assume they want to be alone.

G. Don't assume you will be asked to officiate the funeral service. The family may desire a relative or long-time friend who is a minister to conduct the funeral. You might ask, "Is there someone you had in mind to conduct the funeral, or would you like me to help you?"

It is unfortunate that numerous decisions must be made when family members feel the least capable of dealing with the many technicalities presented in planning a funeral. A clear-headed, rational-thinking minister can be a tremendous blessing and asset at this time.

There are two important meetings that contribute greatly to a well-planned funeral. The first key meeting involves the minister and the family. The second is with the family and the funeral-home representative. It is of great help for the minister to be present at the second meeting also.

A. The minister and the family
  1. If possible, it is best for the minister to meet with the family prior to the family's meeting with the funeral-home representative.

  2. This meeting allows the minister to:

    • Get to know the family better.

    • Learn more about the deceased and what he/she meant to the family.

      1. It is often helpful to ask family members to describe what the deceased meant to them and what they most remember about him/her. Ask them to convey their warmest and most meaningful memory of the deceased.

        Not only does this allow you to gather valuable information, but it can be very helpful to the family members in coming to terms with the person's death.

      2. Gathering this type of information is especially helpful if you as the minister will be giving the eulogy (i.e., the personal remarks), but you did not know the person well personally.

        Other options for the eulogy are to have a relative or good friend either make the personal remarks himself or write out a eulogy that the minister can then read. Otherwise, the minister can weave together a eulogy based on the notes he takes while visiting with the family.

    • Determine their desires regarding the service, including suggestions for song selections.

      1. The music chosen usually takes into account favorite songs both of the deceased and of the family. Often the age of the deceased will determine whether the music reflects a traditional or a more contemporary flavor.

      2. If the funeral-home representatives are preparing a "Memorial Folder," they will probably want to know the song selections and the names of the vocalist(s) and the organist or pianist the day before the funeral.

    • The minister can also share briefly with the family about what to expect in the meeting with the funeral home. Some decisions can be made ahead of time while others might require input and/or explanation from the funeral-home representative.

      1. It will be necessary for the family to provide the funeral home with appropriate clothing for the deceased to be buried in. This should include a full set of clothing plus undergarments. Most funeral homes will advise the family that shoes are optional.

      2. The family should be prepared to provide information about the deceased to the funeral home, which is necessary for their paperwork. Such information includes date and place of birth, Social Security number, family history including mother's maiden name, etc.

B. Meeting with the funeral-home representatives

The family of the deceased often desires the minister to function as somewhat of a liaison between them and the funeral home. Some of the issues the funeral-home representative will discuss with the family include:

  • Will there be a visitation/viewing time when the family receives friends at the funeral home? This often occurs the evening before the funeral and should be attended by the minister.

  • When and where will the service be conducted?

    1. Many will choose to have the funeral at the church, followed by a brief committal service at the grave site. Others will use the chapel at the funeral-home itself, while others will desire only a graveside service.

    2. It is necessary to make certain the desired time is available for the funeral-home staff since they may have another service scheduled for that same time.

  • Casket selection

    1. Feelings of guilt and sorrow can prompt the family to go beyond their means in purchasing an extremely expensive casket. This is an issue the minister can discuss with the family before the meeting with the funeral home.

    2. Funeral homes make a larger commission on the more expensive caskets.

    3. If you as the minister know the family is on a limited budget, you can communicate this ahead of time to the funeral-home representative so that moderately-priced caskets are emphasized and "extras" (limousines, etc.) are not pushed in any way.

    4. In addition to purchasing a casket, the family will usually purchase a "casket spray," which is an arrangement of flowers placed on the casket.

    5. The family will need to decide and communicate to the funeral home at what times, if any, they desire the casket to be open. In some parts of the country, it is traditional to have the casket open prior to the service, but not after. In other places, the casket is traditionally opened at the conclusion of the service, but not before. In yet other situations, the casket is not even present at the memorial service. These are decisions to be made by the family.

  • Concrete liner or vault selection (Requirements are based on cemetery regulations.)

  • Plot selection and grave marker selection (In some cases the family already owns burial plots. Otherwise, a separate trip to the cemetery is necessary. Marker selection is often done after the funeral.)

  • Pallbearer selection (six)

Source: The Pastoral Ministry by Kenneth Hagin, Jr.
Excerpt permission granted by Faith Library Publications

Author Biography

Kenneth W. Hagin
Web site: Kenneth Hagin Ministries
Kenneth W. Hagin, President of Kenneth Hagin Ministries and pastor of RHEMA Bible Church, ministers around the world. Known for calling the Body of Christ to steadfast faith, he seizes every ministry opportunity to impart an attitude of “I cannot be defeated, and I will not quit.”

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