1. Meet with the Family.
2. Distill to one Best Trait/Quality.
3. Include Psychological Cues.
4. Lead People to Christ/hope.
The goal of the service is not to preach the deceased into eternal life (you can’t), nor is it to convince the living of the sinfulness of the errors of the deceased (they already know). The goal is, as always, to lead people to a closer relationship with their Creator through Jesus Christ his only begotten son.
Given that the people you will be preaching to chose to come to this person’s funeral service, odds are that they at least don’t want to hear someone speak badly of them. If you do, Christianity will be seen as judgemental and pharisaical – not holy and desirable. If you speak falsely in order to praise the individual – you will be known to be a liar and therefore a peddlar of lies – Christianity will be discounted as either so easy they must be one too, or a pack of lies not to be trusted.
Fortunately, there is another option: speak the truth in love.
The truth you should speak isn’t where the deceased may or may not be (unless of course you knew them to be a devout Christian who had their name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life), but of God’s desire to spend eternity with them. One of my favorite ways of stating this truth is, “If______________ could come and share one truth with you, it would be to choose Jesus.” Think of the rich man in the parable who wanted to tell his family to not make the same choices he had made.
Ultimately you want to focus their desires on their own eternities and their loved ones’ eternities that can still be saved. If the focus is too much on the deceased, then their emotional impetus will be to reflect both the good and the bad of that person’s life. Our mission is to focus them on the good of the deceased, tie it to the ultimate source of all good things – God, and lead them to honor both with their lives from this point forward.