Funeral Chaplain

A collection of resources for funerals and memorial services

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Home > Articles > For Clergy > Philosophy of Ministry

Philosophy of Ministry

What is a Philosophy of Ministry?

A philosophy of ministry can be thought of as a set of statements or core convictions that guide your ministerial choices.  Whether formally written or not, a philosophy of ministry is what shapes our decisions and boundaries.  It determines what we consider most important, and outlines for us the things that we will or won't do.  You might consider it to be a mission statement (of sorts), that clarifies your role and purpose as you minister to grieving families.

My Philosophy of Ministry

As I greet a family for the first time, I remind myself that I am a physical re-presentation of Christ.  Continually shaped by the 23rd Psalm,

I am reminded that God, in Christ, walked through the valley of the shadow of death.  He did this, not so that we wouldn't have to, but so that we would not need to be afraid and alone.  In my role as Funeral Chaplain, I see myself as one who journeys with the family, helping them to attempt to make sense out of their loss and to continue on with their future.

Over time, I have developed a set of core convictions which guide my decisions in funeral ministry.  They have been tested over a number of years in a variety of settings.  They are reflected in my work as a funeral home chaplain, and also in the development of this website.

  • I am not the Judge. I am not even part of the jury. It is not my role to "preach someone into heaven," nor is it my role to "pray them there."  On the other hand, I tend to avoid any statements which imply I know their spiritual condition.  Ultimately, we will each have to stand before God... and "to his own master he stands or falls." (Romans 14:4)  When I come to the committal portion of the service, I invariably use language like, "...we commit his/her soul to God, for we trust that the merciful judge of all the earth will do right."
  • Everyone ought to have a funeral or memorial service. I believe that each life is a precious gift from God.  Regardless of what you've chosen to do with that life, you are still a precious gift from God.  The funeral service is an important step in the grieving process, and every person ought to be remembered, at least by someone.  Consequently, I've performed services for all sorts of people from all walks of life.  I've even told the funeral directors in my area that I will come to a graveside for a "John Doe," and offer a moment of prayer and remembrance.
  • A funeral service serves two primary purposes: to worship God, the giver of life; and to honor and remember the life of the deceased.  As a funeral chaplain, I'm often called to serve families with no church connection--but I believe that God's Word can bring comfort and direction to their lives.  We honor the life of the deceased within the context of thanking God for the gift of life.
  • I don't want to make someone into something that they weren't. I always ask families to be completely honest with me about the life of the deceased.  There's nothing more awkward then a funeral service where the minister obviously doesn't know the deceased because he painted this devil out to have the life of a saint.  I don't have to outline their poor choices (probably everyone knows their poor choices), but I want to be honest in how I speak of their life.
  • Each person is created in the Image of God. We can always find a reflection of God within the life of the deceased.  Whether they were generous, or a peacemaker, or creative, or a nurturing a parent, we can always find some element of their life which allows us to talk about the goodness of God.
  • Scriptures have the unique ability to speak for themselves. I believe that not every scripture reading requires comment or explanation.  Instead of "preaching" at a funeral service, I tend to offer brief meditations, allowing the Holy Spirit to use God's Word as He sees fit.
  • I choose to be available and identifiable. In my role as Funeral Chaplain, I wear a clerical shirt and collar.  In addition, I attempt to be visible before and after visiting hours and the service.  In this way, I make myself available to everyone in attendance, not just those who know I am the pastor.  By being visible and available, I am able to share words of comfort, scripture, or prayer with others.  While I am careful not to intrude on private family time, I also intend to be available to the family throughout the process.
  • Every situation is unique. It is important for me to listen carefully to each family I meet.  In addition to learning about their loved one, I hope to understand their family situation, their faith tradition, and their expectations for the service.  If a family wants a brief prayer service, then it's incumbent upon me not to provide an hour-long memorial service with a sermon and open sharing.
  • I intend to offer hope and comfort, but always by identifying the source of that hope. As a Christian minister, it's vital for me to identify the death and resurrection of Christ as the source of all hope.  While I don't view funerals as a primary opportunity for evangelistic preaching, I do intend to always share the Gospel with those who have gathered.  Someone attending a funeral that I officiate should know why I have hope of everlasting life, and should feel comfortable enough to ask followup questions.  By being available, I look for unique opportunities for extended ministry.

Developing Your Philosophy of Ministry

Your philosophy of ministry will reflect your understanding of life-and-death, and the role that clergy can play in both the sacred and secular environments.  As you work through your philosophy of ministry, you'll need to consider answers to questions like these:

  • When does your ministry to the bereaved begin and end?
  • How do you make ministry available to those in the congregation?
  • How much flexibility do you offer the family in the planning of the service?
  • How much emphasis do you place on scripture and God as the giver of life?
  • How do you view the role of evangelism within the funeral service?
  • Do you see a difference between a church funeral and a service at the funeral home?
  • How available will you be to perform services for people outside your faith tradition... or with no faith at all?