Six Things A Minister “Probably” Should Not Say at a Funeral

Funerals are important moments. There are precious grieving souls needing words of comfort and grace.  Out here in rez country, the families seem to call multiple clergy for most wakes and funeral. I have attended or co-officiated dozens of funerals in the last few years. The tone of this post sounds a little condescending; I intended it to have a only touch of my dry humor, but any way… here are 6 Things a Minister Probably Should Not Say at a Funeral:

graveside1. The Fertility of life. Seriously, please DO NOT talk about the fertility of life.  A funeral is a serious time, and you will make it difficult for the rest of the clergy to maintain their somber composure. It would be especially bad if the front seats were lined with a good number of kids to a good number of baby-mommas. One dear friend would always misread his beautiful funeral liturgy about the futility of life in this rather awkward way. I’d usually shift my eyes downward and avoid all eye contact, so I’m not certain how it was received by the grieving.

2. Joint-highers. Or joint-hires. Either one is wrong. We are not joint-highers with Christ – that sounds some sort of Christianized weed. Neither are we joint-hires with Christ. I know the unemployment numbers are terrible on the rez, but I don’t think the Apostle Paul was talking about getting a job and working by Jesus. Maybe it would be best to avoid reading from Romans 8 about being joint-heirs with Christ and share a comforting Psalm.

3. He was like a bull in a china closet. Yep, I once heard a minister describe a young man who died in a tragic accident in just those words. That was after he went on and on talking in a harsh tone about how the young man had struggled through school. There is always something thoughtful and kind that can be said. Cut the negative and focus on the positive. If the deceased was truly such a debauched and degenerated sinner who left all of his family with bitter wounds, simply draw their attention to the peace, comfort and healing that can be found in Jesus.

4. He’s in a better place. These words should NEVER be spoken at a funeral again. A) Many times preachers feel the urge to say these words, it is simply untrue. B) If the deceased was a Christian, then don’t timidly share bland words about some mystical better place. Boldly proclaim the Christian’s sure and certain hope of the resurrection. “Comfort one on another with these words.” Describes the wonders of heaven, the wiping of tears in heaven, and the worship in heaven. Then show how each of us may find the way to heaven.

5. According to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself. These beautiful words from Philippians are found in many committals; you know, the ashes to ashes part at the graveside. I’m not suggesting we tear them out of the Bible, but maybe it would be best to leave them out of the committal or use an alternative committal. When there are people hanging on to your every word, you don’t want them to be thinking, “Wait? What did he just say? What in the world does that mean?”

6. This is an unfriendly place where people on one side of the street don’t talk to the people on the other. You are relieved that your part is over. Everything went smoothly through the wake or viewing, funeral and graveside committal, and you are tempted to privately pop off this old line about cemeteries to the funeral director. Don’t. Someone will overhear and think you are terribly calloused.

What would you add to this list? Have you heard any real doozies at a funeral?

Here’s a handy little funeral resource for pastors: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=jrbo-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0801090105&asins=0801090105&linkId=f5a7c55e368b662b96053528286da523&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>Baker’s Funeral Handbook. I refer to this frequently-especially when co-officiating a funeral with a pastor from another denomination or when I want a different angle in the liturgy.

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