I spent yesterday back with my family at a funeral for my great uncle. Funerals are one of those times when you get to see those in your family who you rarely get to see. The funeral was in Dowagiac, Michigan at a funeral home there. We got there just a few minutes before the service started, and had to sit in an overflow room off to the side since the main area was full. Since we were seated off to the side and couldn’t see anything and the sound system was pretty lousy, I started thinking about other things.
The funeral service was different than what I’m used to, but then I grew up in a considerably more traditional church than I am at now, so I’m used to funerals being much more formal. While the service itself was very nice, the thing that I ended up fixating on was the Pastor. He was an older man, probably in his sixties, walked hunched over with a cane, and when he spoke, he kept one hand on the podium and pretty much looked at the floor when he talked. He was dressed in a black suit and shirt and had white hair that went to his shoulders. While his appearance was interesting, it was his speaking style and mannerisms that got me. It seemed from the way he spoke and the tone he used that he would much rather have been somewhere else. It seemed as if he were doing us a favor by being there to basically emcee this funeral (since there were 3 other people who did most of the talking). I certainly didn’t come away from the funeral feeling like I had celebrated the life of my uncle, I felt like we had bothered this pastor.
I guess it made me realize the importance of how we do things like funerals (and weddings as well). These are occasions in which we have a chance to minister to people who otherwise wouldn’t be coming to church, and you may only get one shot to minister to them. If I didn’t go to church and my only exposure to church was the pastor at the funeral, I wouldn’t even consider going. My time is too valuable to be doing something that is in no way relevant to my life today. Especially when it seems that I’m being an inconvenience. Now, I’m not saying that the pastor was a bad guy. He did share a solid gospel message. But if there was anyone there like me, it was really hard to hear it through the other signals that were being sent. Remember – it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
If we put the same effort and planning into a funeral that we do a weekend series and give the same emphasis to relevance, innovation, and practicality of the message, imagine the possibilities! Sure it takes work and with a funeral, things happen in a very short period of time, but if you’ve planned your weekend stuff out far enough in advance, it shouldn’t cripple things to have a funeral get thrown into the mix. It’s just one more chance to minister to those around us.