Funeral Theology: Do's & Dont's At Funerals

In my view, funerals are one of the ripest moments for both pastoral ministry and sharing the Gospel. Funerals tend to make people reflect on their own lives and perhaps, their own (impending) deaths. Funerals get people thinking spiritually and often get them asking spiritual or theological questions.

Yet, funerals, at least from all of my experience with them, are often times the place where theology is thoughtless, chucked out the window or just errant. Here are some of the things that you should never, never, never say or do at a funeral:

1. Never say, "God needed an angel so He took so and so." First of all, God needs nothing! Second of all, God doesn't "need" angels in particular. Third of all, God doesn't take people's lives. People die and then God recieves them or not. None of this is sustained by the Scriptures or Christian theology.

2. Never say, "Everything happens for a reason." This is a view from ancient Greek philosophers (e.g. fate) not Christianity. When people say this it is usually code for "Everything that happens, happens beacuse God had a reason for it." This is patently false. Some things just happen, that's life. There are times when we can tell that God had a hand in something and there are times when we know He didn't. Please don't say this to someone at a funeral.

3. Never say, "So and so is an angel now." When Princess Diana died, thousands said this. Again, it is just not true. People do not turn into angels. In the resurrection, they will take on an incorruptible nature as angels have but that doesn't happen at death and they remain human anyway; they don't become angels.

4. Stop telling people, "They're better off in heaven, now." When people die, they do not go to some imaginary planet called heaven. The Bible doesn't teach this. It does teach, however, that when humans die, their souls go into God's protective presence. Then, they will be raised to dwell on the new earth after the resurrection and they will also take on incorruptible bodies. Christianity isn't about heaven, it's about resurrection! And resurrection is about transformation.

5. Never say to someone, "I understand what you're going through." Chances are, you don't understand. You don't know the exact relationship the living had with the deceased and you never will fully know it. Even if you've shared a similar experience, you still don't understand totally what that person is going through. If you want to say something, encourage people or just be in their midst. Sometimes not saying anything is the best thing. Usually, a happy story or good memory is worth sharing. When you tell someone you understand it is not helpful because you're supposed to be supporting them but when you say that, you're bringing it back to you. Really, the grieving people don't care if you understand. At that point, they could care less.

6. Don't tell people that their loved one has assumed a new body. This doesn't happen until the resurrection.

7. Never launch into a theological debate or teaching during a funeral service. That's not the place for it. It is the place, however, for talking about the person's life, the family and the Gospel. Give people hope, not a lecture.

8. Don't tell the grieving that their loved one is watching over them (this is like the angel suggestion above). This is not true. When people die, they die. They do nothing until the resurrection except dwell in God's protective presence.

9. If the deceased wasn't a Christian, don't go condemning them or trying to evangelize everyone. Now, funerals are great places to share the Gospel but they aren't the proper setting for polemicizing. Share the Gospel but do it gently and lovingly.

10. If you're preaching or talking, don't make it all about you. Stay focused on the grieving and the deceased. Nobody came to hear about your life, they came to hear about the life of the one who has passed on. If you didn't know the deceased then talk about things like hope, the family and again, Jesus/the Gospel.

11. If you're preaching or talking, don't use a stock sermon or a sermon you've already used. Every sermon or speech should be unique and totally different. It is a great disservice to do this to someone, please don't. And I beg you, do not use someone else's sermon from the internet or elsewhere. Take the time to write a personalized word of good news to those listening.


  1. Above all:

    Never hold a self-righteous demonstration outside of a funeral in order to promote your own political/social agenda, one that blames the death of the person in the casket on the "decaying" morality of the nation.