I’m not sure why, but pastors often fail miserably at performing funerals. I can remember sitting in a funeral service where the pastor stood before a very large congregation and admitted he was at a loss for words—he did not know what to say. Ok, fair enough. Death is a terrible enemy and can often leave us speechless. As the pastor went on, however, he fumbled around for things to say and reminisced about the dear woman who died after a long painful battle with ovarian cancer. He spoke very kindly and warmly of her, and I knew his words rang true—I personally knew this woman and she was my brother’s Sunday School teacher for a number of years when we were teenagers. But as I sat and listened to his kind words, I began to get nervous because the pastor was still fumbling through his words. It wasn’t his delivery but his content, and it wasn’t that he was ill prepared—he was speaking from written notes—but he was still fumbling.

The pastor continued and talked about how this woman loved the Bible and began giving summaries of the different books of the Bible and how she taught these various books in her church. Fine. But I began to get annoyed—here this pastor had a captive audience of nearly 1,000 people and he never mentioned the gospel—he never pointed people to the hope of the resurrection. I walked out of the funeral even more depressed—not only had a beloved fellow-Christian died at the hands of a terrible illness but the pastor didn’t hold out the hope of the gospel but ultimately only platitudes.

My wife and I have a mutual pact—whenever we die and one of us has the responsibility of planning the funeral, we are supposed to tell the minister not to mention anything about us—his only responsibility is to preach the gospel, point people to Christ, and hold out the hope of Christ’s victory over death through his resurrection. He can save all the platitudes, stories, and exaggerated tales of my character for the wake as people eat candied ham off tiny paper plates and mill about my house.

Perhaps it’s the fact that death can be a devastating blow and people get caught off guard—ministers are no exception to this rule. Ministers are people too and can be just as emotionally distraught over the death of a friend or congregant. It’s for this reason that, if you haven’t done so already, write two or three funeral messages now! When things are quiet and calm, mediate upon key biblical texts, and prepare a funeral message when you’re not distraught. Tuck it away and then take it out when you have to preach a funeral. You can always make adjustments at the time, but you’ll be certain to have a solid message assembled, one that won’t be confused or twisted by the emotions of the tragedy.

In the end, don’t forget it—you’re a minister—preach the gospel. Point people to Christ. Herald Christ’s victory over death and the hope of the resurrection.