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A few weeks ago, I heard a pastor finally confess something I’d been waiting for a pastor to say my entire life. During the middle of his sermon, he declared, “This sermon is going to have four endings.” I was so happy I wanted to give him the world’s second most awesome side hug. (This was the first most awesome.) Finally, a pastor was admitting the difficulty of ending a sermon.

Some pastors just preach until the clock runs out and then tie the whole thing off unexpectedly with a prayer. With little or no warning, right after they’ve read a Bible verse, they’ll say, “Dear God, we just thank you for this Sunday.” If you’re in the audience taking notes you don’t even know you’re supposed to have your eyes closed. “Are we in a prayer right now? Was that the end?”

To prevent End of Sermon Whiplash or “ESW,” I’ve collected seven signs that will indicate to you that the ride is about to come to an end. Get your Bibles and your coat. Break yourself, fool, it’s time to go to lunch!

1. “In closing…”

This is an old school sermon ender. When you hear this phrase, you’ve got about seven minutes left.

2. “If I could leave you with one thing today…”

When I hear this, I kick everything else out of my head and laser focus. The “one thing” approach is like a grenade of knowledge that is about to be dropped.

3. “As we’re wrapping up…”

Technically not accurate, since only the pastor should be wrapping up. Hopefully the crowd isn’t zipping up Bibles or gathering stuff while he’s trying to close the sermon. That’s distracting.

4. The band starts to materialize like musical mist.

Wait a second, is that a guitar player slowly creeping onto the stage all quiet like? Did the drummer just rise out of the floor to sit behind his kit?

5. The pastor closes his Bible.

Class is over. We took a good look at the good book and now we’re done.

6. The pastor sneaks a peek at the clock and gets nervous.

I’m not a pastor, but occasionally you’ll see me do this when I’m speaking. A lot of churches have clocks on the back walls indicating how much time you have to speak. And they count backward. When you go over your time they start flashing red. If you ever see a pastor look up, as if to the heavens, and get “insta-sweaty” it’s because he’s way behind.

7. They start talking faster.

I have two talking speeds – fast and wicked fast. If I realize I’m out of time but still have two main points to share, I speed up. Like a ninja. Or a cheetah. Or a ninja cheetah, the fastest of all martial arts jungle cats.

Those are the signs a sermon is about to end. If on the other hand a pastor takes his coat off, removes his watch or says, “Today I want to talk about …” forget it, that sermon is nowhere near over.

Me, personally? I don’t worry about the length of a sermon. I let the Holy Spirit take all the time necessary, but I’m probably holier than you are.

Question: What does your pastor say at the end of sermons? Did I miss any signs that a sermon is about to end?

Jon Acuff has built an online following of millions through his stuffchristianslike.net blog and the resulting book, Stuff Christians Like. He’s a contributor to CNN.com, speaks nationally on the subject of social media and joined the Dave Ramsey team full time in 2010. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Talk about it...

Paul Newell

commented on Dec 6, 2012

Question: What does it mean when a pastor says, "And finally, in conclusion...?" Answer: Nothing, absolutely nothing. :-)

Paul Newell

commented on Dec 6, 2012

Question: What does it mean when a pastor says, "And finally, in conclusion...?" Answer: Nothing, absolutely nothing. :-)

Gerald Graham

commented on Dec 6, 2012

As we preach it is up to us as pastors to be clear in our messages. Not just in the ending. In listening to pastors before I became one I realized that many times it is unclear on what the over arching point, or points, of the message is. Taking notes was often difficult. I try to "wrap up" the message with a short recap and a challenge which tells the congregation the end of the message is here. Now those taking notes can wrap it up and those just hoping to get out before the football game ends can rejoice! P.S. Looking at the clock in my opinion is always a mistake. There should be no time limit on what the Spirit may lead you to say and do.

David Hallum

commented on Dec 6, 2012

Just as an NFL quarterback has an 'internal clock' that tells him a 300lb lineman is bearing down on him and should quickly get rid of the ball, pastors also have an internal clock. The difference? Our clock is not hung on the wall. He once hung on the cross and now resides in us in the person of the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is the one who is guiding our sermons, they will be the right length.

Rev. Carlos Espinoza

commented on Dec 6, 2012

I find it meaningful to close with, "This is God's Word for His people this day." I agree with brother Graham when he states, "Looking at the clock in my opinion is always a mistake. There should be no time limit on what the Spirit may lead you to say and do."

Michael Henderson

commented on Dec 6, 2012

My pastor usually will hit us with, "This is my first close". The first of three "closes".

Kate Turner

commented on Dec 6, 2012

I was told by a respected pastor friend that if the elderly women start putting their purses in their lap, you need to conclude soon -- and if they start searching for their car keys you've gone on way too long! ;-)

Kenneth Cutler

commented on Dec 6, 2012

As I read this article and some of the comments, I wonder what is your purpose of going to Church. Is it to worship God or to see what goes on. It does not matter how your Pastor closes, what matters is did you worship God in spirit and in truth? or were you there just to see how your Pastor was going to end his/her sermon? Did you receive the message that you can apply to your life so that you can be better for the Lord? or are you just playing Church? This is an article that could have been left on the shelf. Because think about it, who does it help and how can you grow from it. Just my thoughts

John Fanning

commented on Dec 6, 2012

There was a woman in my church who was diabetic. When she started eating crackers, knew it was time for the benediction.I

Gerald Graham

commented on Dec 6, 2012

Kate, I laughed so hard at that comment green tea almost came out my nose! And Kenneth Cutler my football comment was really meant to be sarcasm and point out exactly what you just said. I just didn't elaborate.

Jimi Higgins

commented on Dec 6, 2012

Lyle Lovett sings a song titled, "Church". It is very funny and you would enjoy the story. The Punch Line for the song is that "If a preacher preaches long enough, even he'll get hungry too!" :0)

Jimi Higgins

commented on Dec 6, 2012

Lyle Lovett sings a song titled, "Church". It is very funny and you would enjoy the story. The Punch Line for the song is that "If a preacher preaches long enough, even he'll get hungry too!" :0)

Jonathan Filson

commented on Dec 6, 2012

Nice light hearted article - thanks for sharing.

Barney Lewis

commented on Dec 6, 2012

In my church it is when the pastor's voice goes into a sing song tone.

Barney Lewis

commented on Dec 6, 2012

In my church it is when the pastor's voice goes into a sing song tone.

Jimi Higgins

commented on Dec 6, 2012

Lyle Lovett sings a song titled, "Church". It is very funny and you would enjoy the story. The Punch Line for the song is that "If a preacher preaches long enough, even he'll get hungry too!" :0)

David Hooper

commented on Dec 6, 2012

Ha! I'll start by confessing I'm a pastor, one who runs out of time often! I always have material I miss or have to cull on the run! I love it (sorry to the gentleman who didn't, but it's just great fun!) And thanks to the guy who doesn't mind how long they go on, I wish the whole church could be like that, but with respect to preachers who think we should be allowed unlimited time (for the Spirit) the truth is, we have to consider time as a factor, whatever it may be in your churches culture. A friend of mine is 12 minutes! Another in Indonesia is 90 minutes - they feel ripped off if you preach shorter. My congregation can absorb about 30mins, after that it's diminishing returns. Anyhow, don't you think the Holy Spirit can get his message across in whatever timeframe he has? We just have to get sharper. Thanks for a great Blog. D.H. C3 Church, Port Hedland, Australia.

Michael Karpf

commented on Dec 7, 2012

Shortly after becoming a Christian, a friend who had been praying for me for months invited me to her church. Growing up Jewish, the sermon was the least favorite part of the service. In fact during the High Holy Day services, we would often leave for the sermon and come back for the closing part of the service. Going to church with my friend reminded me of that. The pastor was loud! When he finally said, "I must close..." I breathed a sigh of relief. However he started yelling again and it wasn't several more minutes later until he gave the invitation. I was a new Christian then. Several months later, as I grew in grace and knowledge, and learned that preachers have something of value when the preach God's word, I went back to that church with my friend. This time I listened to every word the pastor said. That pastor was Dr. W.A. Criswell, who became one of my favorite preachers.

Rev Jon Sharples

commented on Dec 7, 2012

I'm new to this so don't know whether Kenneth Cutler is a regular contributor who actually has a sense of humour really, but Ken, you sounded very self-righteous, condescending and devoid of a spirit of joy. Surely you can differentiate between items that are intended for light relief and those which are serious. As for me, I loved the article but didn't find my particular method of finishing a sermon which is to gather my notes very quietly and then seeing if I can make it to the back of church without waking anyone. : )

Rev. Rolf M. Storz

commented on Dec 7, 2012

A pastor need not announce by any of the stated methods his closing. He just needs to repeat the central thought he began with in his introduction in bring about closure. It's a nice wrap around and it all can be done in a timely manner -yes, the entire sermon! When its done well, time will not even be a factor and people will not be looking for those precise last words announcing a coming conclusion.

Roger Lewis

commented on Dec 8, 2012

Kenneth Cutler, lighten up. Even Jesus smiled a little at this article. It's okay...let that smile break out on your face. God won't be mad at you!

Marq Brockett

commented on Dec 8, 2012

I have the privilege to preach in a small country church. One way to let the congregation know that I am finishing up is to announce for the wives to poke their husbands awake. Works every time!

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