In future posts, I plan to talk more about the content and tone of funerals, but this post will focus on the administrative bits and bobs. And, for that reason, I’ll get straight to the point:
THE FUNERAL PLANNING GUIDE
Linked above, you’ll find a PDF version of the Word Document I used to plan funerals. I call it my Funeral Planning Guide. The moment I learn of a death in the church two things happen. First, I call the family. Second, I print out this document and put it in my planner. FYI, I use an A5 Filofax planner for funerals and this document is set up as a 1/2 letter sheet. Why? Wouldn’t it be easier to do it all on a digital device? Sure, it would, but I despise having a device such as a laptop or a tablet out in front of a grieving family. Paper and pen communicate far more warmth and connection. The planning guide contains five sections.
Important: Your first visit with the family is NOT to plan the funeral. It’s to sit with them, pray with them, and read a passage of Scripture to them. Once you’ve spent some time with them you’ll let them know that within the next day or two you’ll want to meet back together with them to make funeral arrangements.
SECTION 1: INFORMATION INTAKE
What was the deceased’s full name? Who is the family contact person? How many programs need to be printed? Will you need a pianist/organist/sound tech? Is there a meal for the family after the funeral (there should be, but that’s another post as well)? The information intake section captures and contains all the relevant info in one place. No more random notes on your smartphone to get lost.
SECTION 2: SERVICE PLANNING WORKSHEET
The funeral services I plan breaks down into two parts:
- Part 1: Remembrance of the Deceased
- Part 2: Remembrance of Christ
Most funerals go awry in one of two directions. Either they focus on the deceased to the neglect of the risen Savior. In such cases, the funeral is no longer a Christian funeral. Or funerals preach the gospel without paying honor and tribute to the life of the deceased. In such cases, the service ceases to be a funeral.
Many pastors attempt both personal remembrance and gospel proclamation in one sermon. The result is that neither get the attention they deserve.
Because every person is created in the image of God, every person’s life is worthy of honor and respect. And, because Christ is risen, preaching the gospel is the only sure hope we can give to grieving hearts. This two-part funeral service gives sufficient time to both needs.
SECTION 3: GRAVESIDE SERVICE PLANNING
My graveside committals are brief. No more than 5-10 minutes tops. I welcome everyone and thank them for coming to honor the deceased, I read a passage of Scripture, I offer words of committal taken from the Book of Common Prayer, read a benediction, and step aside for any military honors when applicable.
If you have done your job well in the funeral service, you will not feel the need to labor long at the graveside.
SECTION 4: PERSONAL REMEMBRANCE QUESTIONNAIRE
Remember when I said I divide my funeral services between personal remembrance and gospel proclamation? I accomplish part one primarily by authoring a 5-10 minute personal remembrance of the deceased. Once I have worked through all the funeral details with the family I also take them through this questionnaire in order to build what I call “a portrait of the whole life” of the deceased. The questionnaire begins by asking questions about the deceased’s parents and childhood, moves through their younger years and marriage, kids, career, accomplishments, testimony, and into older age.
Once I have filled out the questionnaire with the family I will later use their answers to write a personal remembrance that I will deliver during the funeral. I’ll post a sample at the end of this post.
Important: As you work through the questionnaire with family members, inevitably, they will share funny stories, some potentially embarrassing. It will be a very candid time. It is your responsibility and duty to make sure private stories remain private. You can tell funny stories about the deceased (we must laugh even at funerals), but you must never cross the line into embarrassment.
SECTION 5: SCRIPTURE REFERENCES
I keep a handy list of appropriate Scriptures at the end of the planning guide as a quick reference.
I can’t end this post without telling you that it’s not all original to me. Sections of this document came from ideas in Kent Hughes’ Pastors’ Book, while others came from personal experiences as a pastor’s kid. If you have questions about how the document works or how I plan certain elements of the funeral, feel free to ask.
SAMPLE REMEMBRANCE: TROY McAULEY
So many of you knew Mr. Troy at different times and in different places. Some of you knew Mr. Troy as a father or grandfather. Others of you knew him as a church member. This past week I was able to sit with the family and hear so much about his life.
Troy James McAuley, Sr. was born August 18th, 1928 in Harnett County. About halfway between here and the NC coast. He lived from the 1920s to the 2020s. How amazing is that?
Troy’s parents were Ernest Clayton McAuley and Nettie McNeill McAuley. You could describe Troy’s childhood home with two words: chores and church. Like many families in the early 20th century, the McAuleys operated a tobacco farm. When the family wasn’t working the farm, they attended church. If you knew Troy, you knew that he was a hard worker. I think I only saw Troy wear two outfits: his church suit and his blue mechanics overalls.
Troy joined the U.S. Army on November 20th, 1950. He served as a machinist and served in the Korean War as a heavy equipment operator. He was Honorably discharged six years later in 1956 after which he joined the reserves.
Though he had grown up attending church, it was in 1962 at West Mecklenburg Baptist that Troy realized he didn’t have a personal relationship with Christ. He realized that he was a sinner who needed the forgiveness that can only come by faith in Jesus Christ. Troy turned from his sin and trusted that Jesus had died in his place on the cross.
And so, Troy made sure that his 7 children: Jim, Pat, Debbie, Joyce, Glenda, Lois, and Vickie were constantly in church every time the doors were open. In 1981 Troy met Janice. They were married on July 6th, 1985.
Troy McAuley was an honest man. He told the truth and he wanted to hear the truth. He was a no-nonsense man. I’ll never forget when I first started pastoring at Lake Wylie Baptist—you know, you try to figure the church out and learn about everyone.
On one of my first Sundays, a member of our church pointed to Mr. Troy and said, “That’s Mr. Troy. He doesn’t say much, and you can always tell if he likes the sermon. If you’re preaching the Bible and telling the truth, Troy’s Bible will be open. But if you aren’t reaching the Word and he’s done listening he’ll just close his Bible and sit.”
I have to tell you that as a young preacher at a new church, I looked at Troy’s Bible more than I looked in his eyes. I wanted to make sure that Bible never closed.
Troy could be a stern man—if you knew him then you certainly knew that about him. He had no time for foolishness. But he was also a provider for his family. Every one of his kids this week said that it was tough love—but dad was always there for you.
I think one of the best stories I heard all week was about a trip that Jimmy took his dad Troy on. In 2004 they took two weeks and drove around the country. They even made their way to the very place in San Francisco Bay where Troy had disembarked from his time in the Korean War. They saw the Badlands of South Dakota, Yellowstone, and the Hoover Dam.
And just this past week, as Jimmy was cleaning out his dad’s truck he came across a piece of paper—when he held it up it was a parking citation—from the Hoover Dam. Troy had held on to that slip of paper as a cherished memory with his boy.
Troy McAuley lived a long and full life. In nearly a century on this earth, he fought in a war, had a home full of kids, and he could tell you the 17 steps it took to grow and process tobacco. I’m so thankful that I got to know him. I’m so thankful that God gave him to us. And I’m so thankful that one day, because of Christ we’ll see him again.