- Chose the Songs Early
I have an established working relationship with my pastor that whenever he asks me to lead worship at a funeral service, he would select the same songs.
As a worship leader, you might think to yourself: “It is so boring to sing the same old songs again”, but I can think of a number of merits to this approach, the most important being that it cuts down the need for rehearsals. Indeed, if you have been involved in this role (of leading worship at funeral services) for some time, you would realise that there isn’t much time to prepare for the service. Often time, you get a call, and you go ‘live’ the day or day after, if not the very day you receive the call.
That said, sometimes, the family members of the bereaved may have a special request for a particular song/hymn to be sung during the funeral service. So, shortly after receiving notice that your services are needed, you will need to quickly establish whether the family members of the bereaved have a special request. If they do, you will need to check whether you have the chords to that song, and whether you are able to comfortably play that song. If the family members want to print the songsheet themselves (for example, as part of the entire programme booklet for the funeral service), you will need to give them the version of the lyrics that you plan to sing. That said, NEVER ask the family members to find the lyrics on the Internet on their own, otherwise, the audience could end up singing a different version of that lyrics from that which you are singing!
- Always Arrive Early
I always make it a point to plan to reach the wake an hour before the stated time of the funeral service. Firstly, leaving home earlier buffers me from an unforeseen traffic conditions. Secondly, my pastor also arrives early, and we always spend a couple of minutes running through the programme again, even though we’ve been worked together on several funeral services before. Thirdly, you will need to set up your guitar stand and test that you mike is working properly. Last but not least, the bereaved family members may want to have some face time with you; usually, it is to thank you for your time and service, and to check if there is anything you need from them.
Ten minutes before the service officially starts, I am typically on stage singing. I do this to warm up my voice, and to ‘introduce’ the songs to those who may not be familiar with them (of course, not everyone would be paying attention, since typically, people would be sitting everywhere to chat with relatives and long-lost friends, and it is only at the time when the service officially begins that people make their way to front). One reservation I may have about singing ‘impromptu’ before the service officially starts is that it could disturb people who are trying to have a conversation. However, to date, I have never had anyone complain about this. If you still have some reservation about this, one suggestion would be to perhaps lower the volume of your microphone.
- Avoid Spicy and Atypical Food Before the Service
You should avoid spicy food before the service, as it could affect your voice. Also, before the service, do avoid any food that you are unaccustomed to. Tthe last thing you want is to have to rush to the toilet mid-way while leading worship!
- Check That You Have Everything You Need Before Leaving Home
The items that you need to bring include:
- Guitar chords (I have all my chords printed on A4 paper, and I have them filed in a white folder)
- Songsheets (if it is your responsibility to print them. I’m fortunate – my church uses a songbook, which is my pastor’s responsibility to bring to the service)
- Music stand (never assume that the undertaker will provide a music stand. I have been to services where the undertake only provided one and which my pastor needed for his sermon notes)
- Portable light source for the music stand (Christian funerals are typically well lit, so I invariably don’t have to use my portable light source, but bring it just in case)
- Mint sweets (to soothe my throat after leading worship, but also to mask any bad breath, just in case I need to speak to bereaved family members after the service)
- Guitar tuner
- One extra set of guitar strings (just in case any break)
- A bottle of water (typically, people who attend funerals are served water, but you should bring just in case the family forgets to serve you)
If it helps, you should make a checklist, and check through the checklist before you leave home. This is to ensure that you have everything you need, especially when you are in a hurry, when there is a tendency to forget.