Don't bring your sermons in for a crash landing.
Don't bring your sermons in for a crash landing. (Flickr )

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"It's not over till it's over," Yogi Berra famously said. I assume he was not talking about sermons. They are often over long before we stop talking. Sermons need to start well and end even better.

I am writing this post in an airplane that just landed so roughly that the lights flickered and my row-mate woke up. Bummer.

I know of at least four components of a terrible, turbulent sermon landing.

1. Winging the landing: Preaching professors wisely point this out to students. Why then do our conclusions often feel like we are crash-landing in the Potomac River?

Several of my sermons have started strong and finished weak because I winged it on the landing.

Invest at least as much thought and prayer into the landing as the takeoff because someone may be prayerfully on the verge of making an important spiritual decision.

2. Ignoring the clock: One assumption you can make in North America is that everyone knows what time it is throughout your sermon. Preachers who ignore this assumption are guilty of presumption. Pastors who presume to preach until they feel like stopping are putting too much trust in themselves.

Preaching is a privilege, not a right, so make sure you know when you are expected to stop and try to finish the sermon and prayer by that time.

It always helps me to have a digital clock that I can see at all times on the front row or the front of the balcony. Presumptive preaching imposes your schedule onto others who have entrusted you with both the message and the delivery.

3. Introducing a new point: If you don't end your sermon with the same point you introduced, you have broken a sacred promise. My best sermons are those with only one real point. If any part of my exposition, illustrations and application are disconnected from the main truth God wants them to remember, I need to take it out of the sermon. This is especially true of the conclusion.

4. "Closing in prayer." Start moving the final moments of your message towards a conversation between the listeners and God. If you want them to listen closely to God, you need to stop talking for a while. Otherwise you are merely "closing in prayer" instead of closing prayerfully.

People need an opportunity to respond to the Word of God. Regardless of whether people walk to the front of your church, go into a side room, or stay seated—they need to do business with God before they move on with their lives. Prayer is something everyone can do anywhere. Even those who watch online or listen via podcast can respond to God if you finish your sermon at His throne.

Mark Dance serves as director of LifeWay Pastors. Mark serves pastors by hosting date nights and roundtables as well as speaking at retreats, conferences and seminars. Prior to LifeWay, Mark pastored churches for 27 years.

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