In this issue of Pastorpedia, pastors Knute Larson, Jeff Bogue, and Jim Brown talk about the importance of making the most out of weddings and funerals.
Jeff pastors Grace Church in Akron, Ohio. Jim pastors Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana. Knute is the former pastor of The Chapel in Akron, Ohio and now coaches pastors.
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An Invitation to Excellence
People who get invited to weddings, or who choose to honor someone’s memory and family by going to a funeral service, are often hardly church people. Or people with faith in our Lord.
Still they go, and usually to the church building.
And what do they see and hear and feel?
The same wedding they would have experienced at the last one at that church? A funeral that feels bland or sterile and impersonal? A special concert or outreach event that would appeal only to church people?
This month we appeal to ourselves and all our readers (and viewers on the video) to make the very most of these events—in the name of Christ and the gospel and love and excellence!
Knute, for Jeff and Jim
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Watch the video
Why is it important to be excellent with weddings and funerals?
- They are open doors to relationships with people, so in all of these events you have people who have been invited by your people. It’s a great bridge to relationships.
- Often you become a family pastor, especially with weddings and funerals or perhaps a vow renewal. You build relationships with that family, who will turn to you again and again. You will get to know them, serve them, and use it as a bridge to draw them closer to Christ.
- Excellence=love. For many people these events are once-in-a-lifetime events, so doing my very best for your wedding or for your funeral (or the race for the community) are ways to express love and to define the value that we have for the people we’re serving.
- These are billboards for your church, so when the community event is done well, it gives credibility to your church and eases people’s transition into the church.
- Not to sound too preachy, but in everything we do we should work as working for the Lord.
- This might be your best chance to spend time with people who are far from God and who might not ever enter the doors of your building.
- These are the mile markers in people’s lives. And they often go back to this event and pull out memories, so make sure you were very attractive about Jesus the Christ—so that if they are at a crossroads in their lives and need counsel they may come to you.
- You get a chance that most never will, to be the hands and feet of Jesus. A wonderful privilege!
- It is without a doubt, the greatest time in many lives to speak hope into their hearts.
- Jesus went to weddings and will be at a big one in the future! And He did funerals also! But seriously, what a time to explain how He is with us today for the biggest and most serious chapters in life. Therefore, we must do our very best to point to Him and how He can be with us in this joy or sorrow.
- Many attend these as their very infrequent salute to God and the serious issues of the spirit. If we just pull out an old wedding or funeral and add new names, we may miss one of our best chances to speak the glow of grace about His goodness. We would love to have five-minutes to talk about our Lord with many of these people, and here we get more than that to craft carefully our thoughts to magnify Him.
- What a time to strengthen our pastoral relationship with people. Serve them well here, with joy and love, and you help them want to trust and love us and serve the same way in the church.
- Funerals and weddings and child dedications and building dedications and other special events are very emotional times. And we all make important decisions and observations in emotional times. And so do some hardened people who may be very shallow emotionally otherwise.
Extra ideas to make things special
- We should personalize everything as much as possible; so get to know the couple, get to know the individual whose funeral you’re doing. Understand all of the personal relationships and connections you can possibly understand. This will help you to be warm and to do an excellent job.
- Address the family. So, whether you’re doing a community event or a funeral, addressing the leaders in a positive way is a very important display of respect and affection. Express gratitude for the opportunities to serve in these ways; and, depending on the circumstances, praise the leaders.
You may praise parents for doing a great job of raising these two kids that are about to be married. You may praise adult children for taking care of their elderly parents until they passed away. This praise should never be made up, and it should never be pandering, but if there is a true opportunity to express it, it’s always good to do so.
- Be honest, especially with weddings and funerals. Be honest about where a person is, what their lifestyle was actually like. Be honest about what kind of individual they were, and don’t try to cover it. We can be loving and be gracious and be honest at the same time. And honesty always builds credibility.
- Laugh whenever possible. Laughing with funerals, laughing with weddings, laughing when you’re emceeing a special event…it’s always important to share joy with people.
- When meeting with the family prior to the funeral, jot down what they talk about and press them for more details. Those are the things that they want to hear at the service.
- At the funeral service, keep the time at the gravesite short and be very sensitive to the issue of cold weather. The family can stay as long as they want afterwards. Some pastors feel a need to preach another sermon there.
- At the funeral service, honor the dead but remember you are speaking to the living.
- Preparing for the funeral service, if possible grab the person’s marked-up Bible and highlight passages that were underlined in it.
- Be gentle, kind, speak less, and listen more, smile often, and pray often.
- During the wedding ceremony, stop and encourage the wedding couple to look around the auditorium and see who is there to support them. Have them wave to acknowledge and thank these people.
- Be real, honest, down to earth and not too stuffy and rigid at weddings. I have been at weddings where I wondered if I was allowed to breathe! This should be a celebration, so lead the party well!
- Close the “calling” or visitation hours the night before a funeral with a relaxed gathering of the family and closest friends who are still there at that time. Give a very personal few minutes of the verses you will use the next day, your personal feelings, and encouragement to the family. This is so much better than their winding it down and just walking out into the cold.
- Use names and specific facts and incidents in weddings and funerals. Tell short stories about the persons. All of this personalizes it and gives warmth.
- Tell the couple when planning the wedding what good a rehearsal dinner can do—so many just eat and laugh at it. Urge the bride to thank all the women in the wedding party with specific appreciation, and then her parents. And the groom does the same for the men and his parents. A great time of warm love for sure!
- Add appropriate humor in special events or concerts or weddings. A smile goes a long way to bring people in to hear serious thoughts, and often helps to change a stranger’s view of the church and faith.
- Talk in “regular” words! No clichés or truths only theology students would understand, or syrupy sentiment.
- At receptions and dinners, meet people and remember names after you say them out loud. Listen a lot.
A couple other things you’ve learned or experienced
- With weddings, prep is everything. I encourage the bride to come up with what we call a “wedding script,” where she and the groom pre-think every detail of their wedding ceremony. I even go so far as to have them diagram where people are going to be standing—and when. What this does: it allows the rehearsal to be effective and efficient. In my opinion, wedding rehearsals should never last more than one hour—more takes all the fun out of it. The only way to cause that not to happen is to do the prep ahead of time.
- With funerals, meet with the families. Get to know the deceased as much as you can. And get the family involved. Maybe have them share or write letters, and offer them the opportunity to have open sharing—where other people can speak of their relationship with the one who is deceased (either at the memorial service if appropriate or at the normal gathering afterwards).
- At the wedding rehearsal, take charge and get things rolling on time.
- At the wedding rehearsal, begin with prayer and ask God to help everyone to have clear minds and a good memory.
- At the wedding rehearsal it is often like trying to herd cats because friends have traveled for miles to get together and some have not seen each other for years. So tell them that the sooner we get through this the sooner they get to catch up.
- Put a stamp on the envelope of the marriage certificate and mail it on the way home…or you might lose it.
- Send a note at the one-year anniversary of the date of death of the person, and tell the family you remember, too.
- Tell people how to grieve and how people grieve differently.
- Remind the friends of the family at the funeral that it is okay to say the name of the deceased to the person who lost them, when they see them that year. Most widows won’t bring up the name of their loved one but they love it when you do.
- Know when to show up. Maybe you should at least drop in to that Golden Anniversary reception, or graduation party. Maybe you should not give away all the planning for special events. No one else thinks through how words or sequence will come across to guests.
- Never make people feel little or talked down to—the urgency of one of these special services can cause that. Talk as a fellow struggler and friend, not The Preacher.
- Do not allow the extra work of these changes in schedule to hurt your spirit. These bring amazing privileges! (A football coach would not lament the extra work of making the playoffs!)
Pastorpedia is produced monthly by three experienced pastors: Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years. Pastorpedia is brought to you by CE National. Visit cenational.org/pastorpedia for more issues and to read the bios of our contributors.