Chapter 176

Redemptive Sermons for Weddings and Funerals

When the sermon is the last thing on your hearers' minds, how to preach in a way that changes lives

One honor of being a minister is to be welcomed into the lives of people during deeply personal moments. One such honor is preaching sermons for funerals and weddings. These messages are different from almost every other type of sermon because they are directed at very specific people—the wedding party or the grieving family—as well as being intended for the larger congregation.

Though the services are vastly different in tone and purpose, the principles for preaching at weddings and funerals are surprisingly similar. As we prepare sermons for weddings and funerals, we should pray for a word from God that fits these unique people and this special day and strive to craft messages demonstrating the following qualities.

1. Biblical content

When we are called upon to preach at a wedding or funeral, we are more than a master of ceremonies; we are God's messenger for that hour. We should resist the temptation merely to eulogize the deceased or to give the bride and groom commendations for a happy life together. While there is a time and place for the aforementioned types of speeches, our sermon should aim for a deeper purpose: to communicate a timely message from God's Word. Though the sermon for the wedding or funeral service will be short, it must be biblical.

2. Personal appeal

Some aspects of weddings and funerals are present each time the services are performed. In every wedding, however, two unique persons are being joined together before God. We should honor the individuality of the bride and groom with a wedding sermon tailored especially for them. In the same way, each funeral sermon deserves a distinctive and personal treatment. Subjects and texts for sermons will be repeated, but we should avoid the impression we are pulling out an all-purpose wedding or funeral message from the file and reciting it once again, with only the names changed.

To make the sermon personal, we might include a brief mention of how the couple met, the couple's faith in God, or some other personal reference. The message should include application directed toward the couple, in which we address the bride and groom by name.

We can personalize a funeral service by quoting one of the deceased's favorite passages of Scripture, or relating an experience we had with the departed. We can share some of the family and friends' memories and impressions of the deceased. Even if we did not know the deceased, we can gather personal remembrances from the family in preparation for the funeral. We should take care to refer to the deceased and the closest family members by name during the sermon.

The delivery of the sermon also can make the message more personal. Recognizing the emotional significance of these services, we should speak conversationally and with warmth. Though we might consider using brief notes in order to control the sermon's length, we should deliver the sermon with as much eye contact and empathy as possible.

Making the sermon special does not require preparing a message from scratch every time we preside at a wedding or funeral. In fact, the ceremonies may be better served if we modify existing messages that have been refined over time. One pastor makes it a practice to keep on file a dozen good funeral messages that clearly and concisely set out the Christian view of death and hope in Christ. He has preached some of these messages previously in regular church services but then condensed and polished them for use in funerals. Using this method allows us to prepare a personal message quickly, customizing the sermon to suit the particular occasion with relevant personal details.

3. Abbreviated length

Sermons for weddings and funerals should be relatively short. The sermon is not central in the attention of most who attend. Few people—especially the bride and groom or the mourning family—go to these ceremonies thinking, I wonder what the pastor will preach about today? A well-planned wedding or funeral sermon can have impact on the listeners, however, if we bear in mind that the message tends to increase in effectiveness as it decreases in length.

In most cases, we should aim for the entire wedding or funeral service to last about thirty minutes. Ceremonial elements and music will require more than half of that time, especially for weddings. For that reason, the wedding sermon should be no longer than five to seven minutes. The funeral sermon can last a little longer, but should not exceed fifteen minutes in most circumstances.

A wedding sermon should normally not have multiple points. Instead, it is better to draw one major idea from a passage of Scripture, which we then explain, illustrate, and apply. For the funeral sermon, we may use a more conventional sermon outline. Even then, however, we should condense the sermon's content. Because listeners are unlikely to have Bibles with them at weddings and funerals, we should limit the details of technical exposition.

4. Redemptive purpose

In many congregations, weddings and funerals are among the largest groups we address. Moreover, there are often greater numbers of non-Christians present for these occasions than at typical church services. Ultimately, the goal of wedding and funeral sermons should be the same as in any sermon—to point listeners to Jesus Christ. All of the biblical themes associated with wedding and funeral sermons can be readily connected to faith in God's Son. We should find opportunities to focus on Jesus throughout the sermon and to proclaim the redemption available through faith in Christ.