Whilst weddings can only legally be conducted by registered ministers or celebrants, anyone can take a funeral, but not everyone should. Why?
1. You should be recognized by your church leaders as competent to do this task (1 Timothy 3).
2. Having wisdom to theologically reflect on people's grief response and what is spiritually happening (e.g. the gospel message of death to life is being played out).
3. It is vital to be linked into a church support system.
The role has two parts:
1. A shepherd guiding mourners through their journey of grief and loss (see Jesus' ministry to the sisters in John 11).
2. To share the eternal comfort that Jesus provides, in that their grief will be turned to joy (John 16 verse 20).
Case Study Example: The two sisters
The Bible is our supreme guide for funeral services and preaching. Jesus displays the best example: Jesus' reaction to the two sisters in John 11 at the death of their brother Lazarus. The two women come from the same family, mourn same brother and make the same comment, "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died."
Yet very differently reaction by Jesus. Why? Because Jesus understands they are grieving differently. He understands that Martha needs the deep assurance of the resurrection made possible through His own death. But for Mary, Jesus knows she just wants His presence. No words, just simply being there and weeping with her (called the ministry of presence).
The Bible gives us the template to care for those in grief: Two different responses from the ultimate chaplain.
Another important point is that a funeral is really just a subset of a wider ministry to the grieving.
The whole process requires much prayer from your support network and yourself. Pray for comfort for the family and for Jesus to be heard and glorified in the process.
Work on a timeline for the day with the funeral director and family.
Order of service
There is no set template. A traditional Christian funeral runs like a church worship service with times of prayer, Bible reading, sermon and songs/hymns/Psalms with eulogies. However, changes can be made to fit the culture e.g. reading a poem or photo presentation with a favourite song.
Because part of your role is to act as a shepherd guiding people on their grief journey, look for relevant vehicles to help people say "goodbye." For example:
1. Inviting guests to write a message to the deceased on a paper or balloon and releasing it
2. Coming forward to light a candle
These also provide a link to the sermon (or better called, "Message of Comfort"). For example:
1. Bringing all your burdens to Jesus. Writing them down and giving to Jesus, knowing that He hears us and takes care of our worries. The greatest example is His promise that death has been defeated by Jesus (Matthew 5 verse 4, and 11 verses 25-30).
2. Lighting a candle points to Jesus as the Light of the world. Amidst the darkness we face there is light found in Jesus life, death and resurrection. (Matthew 5 verses 14-16, John 1)
So look at the service as part of this journey and know that you don't have to include the whole counsel of God in your 10 min Message of Comfort.
How hard should I go with the gospel? There is a tension there that requires wisdom and a balance. To just be a nice person and listen to people's stories has no eternal perspective. And to go in with both gospel barrels blazing could be manipulative, as people are in an emotionally numb and vulnerable position. Talk with your church leaders about striking the balance.
Personal care: Funerals are taxing. Debrief after a funeral with someone from your church leadership team. Be easy on yourself in the days following.
Remember one-on-one follow up coffees/catch ups can be more effective for grieving and gospel explanation than simply inviting people to church. Give the family a follow up call the next day and a week or so after the funeral.
Write the date of the funeral in your diary for an anniversary card. Also remember the deceased's birthday and Christmas. Sending a card for these occasions, with a gospel message, is a great way to show you remember and care. These follow up opportunities are when the trust you have developed will pay off.
The key to this whole process is to stay focused on your role and what you want to achieve. Remember people don't "get over' loss but journey through it. This journey through grief and loss offers the opportunity to share Jesus' promise to comfort those who mourn (Mat 5) and that their pain will be turned to joy (John 16) because of Jesus' resurrection.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at