From the Minister’s Manual, published by Christian Publications, Harrisburg, PA.
“No demand upon a pastor is as urgent as the call of sorrow in the hour of bereavement and death. Never do his people need him as greatly or lean upon him so heavily. Nor does the door ever swing so widely to admit him into their hearts’ affection and lasting memory as when he comes to bear them up in love and comfort. Most pastors know when their members may be sick unto death, and generally are near to comfort those to whom the shock is greatest. But should he, for one reason or another, not be present at the moment, he will go to the sorrowing ones as quickly as possible after the word reaches him, and he will minister to them all that his human abilities and Divine enabling will permit.”
1) Immediate ministry to the bereaved
a) Show yourself a true Christian friend, fulfilling the mandates of
Rom.12:10, Rom.12:15 and Jn. 11:3, Jn. 11:35-36.
b) Show yourself a man of God, by being prepared to bring an appropriate word from God to the situation.
2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Tim. 3:17; 2 Tim. 4:2
Ps. 23, 46, 90
2 Cor. 1:3-4
c) Show yourself a responsible man, in giving practical counsel concerning funeral and burial arrangements.
2) Planning the funeral service
a) Consult the loved ones directly responsible for the funeral arrangements seeking to discern any desires they may have concerning what should be included in the funeral service.
b) If the loved ones are not believers, you must exercise great tact making it plain to them that you cannot “preach a nonbeliever into heaven.” Apprise them of the general contents of the funeral service which you plan to lead.
c) After receiving input from the loved ones, put together a tentative order of service and go over that material with the relatives. Remember, in this situation, you are “their servant for Christ’s sake.”
d) Then, if the funeral service is to be held at a funeral home it is generally wise to visit the funeral home during the normal visiting hours, and that for several reasons:
i) It will give you an opportunity to minister comfort and encouragement to the loved ones and also afford an opportunity for them to introduce you to some of their friends who may then be in attendance at the actual funeral service. As you show Christian grace and genuine interest in those friends or relatives you will have in measure secured their ears to hear you at the funeral service.
ii) It will give you an opportunity to meet the funeral director and to make sure that you and he are on the same page with respect to the details of the funeral service.
3) Preparing the sermon and prayers
a) The sermon
(a) In the case of believers who have lost a believing loved one.
1 Thess. 4:13-18
2 Cor. 5:1-8
(b) In the case of believers who have lost an unbelieving loved one or friend.
2 Cor. 1:3-4
(c) In the case of unbelievers who have lost a believing spouse or relative.
(d) In the case of unbelievers in face of an unbeliever’s death.
2 Pet. 3:8
iii) Exhortation and warning
(a) It is appropriate to urge people to seek the Lord while he may be found.
(b) In all these matters do not play God.
b) The prayers
i) The opening prayer should focus on the inescapability of death, thanksgiving for the Word of God, and supplication for attention and illumination.
ii) The prayer after the sermon should focus on the living and their present needs.
4) Conducting the funeral service itself
a) As with the wedding service, let it be evident that you are not there simply to mumble through a well rehearsed clerical ritual.
b) The minute you step behind the podium, lectern, or pulpit where the service is being conducted, look directly at the people, engaging their eyes, and begin to speak as a man “sent from God.”
c) Moderate your voice to the circumstances. Take into consideration whether or not there is any amplification in place. Remember again that “love does not behave itself unseemly,” even in the manner in which we use our voices in a funeral home.
d) Some of the words which should characterize your demeanor and attitude in conducting a funeral service are graciousness, composure, dignity, earnestness, and sensitivity.
5) Conducting the committal service
a) This act is often the most difficult time for loved ones. It is here at the grave side that the raw finality and irreversible nature of death sweeps over them as they see the pile of earth waiting to enfold their loved one and friend.
b) When all have gathered around the grave side, it is appropriate that you should lead in prayer asking God to draw near by His Holy Spirit imparting grace and comfort to the grieving, to bless the reading of His Word to the strengthening of our faith and confidence in the promised resurrection of the body.
c) Then, some of the following scriptures should be carefully and thoughtfully read with great emphasis upon the words of certainty.
1 Thes. 4:13-18
1 Cor. 15:20-25, 1 Cor. 15:50-57
d) The actual act and words of committal
See Appendix#1 for Forms of Committal
e) You should then close the brief committal service in prayer, asking God for His gracious comfort to be given to those who are grieving, and that all present might be sobered by the reality of our own coming death barring the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
f) After the loved ones have lingered for a brief time near the casket, you may have to graciously assist them back to their car or the funeral hearse. That final turning away from the casket is often a very wrenching experience for the loved ones. Seek to enter into their felt grief and yet assist them to do what they now must do.
6) Attending the post-funeral gathering at the home
a) Where possible, put in at least a brief visit.
b) You may have opportunities to speak to the lost and comfort the saved.