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Finishing a sermon is neither easy nor natural. There are plenty of ways to crash a good sermon: I’d like to offer a few I’ve observed in myself and others.

1. The "Searching for a Runway" Conclusion—This is a common one that we fall into when we fail to plan our conclusion before starting to preach. As the sermon wears on, we become aware of the need to land the plane but have to search for a decent runway on which to land it. Consequently, as we’re coming in to land, we remember that we haven’t reinforced a certain element of the message, so we pull out of the descent and circle around for another attempt. Next time in, we think of half of a conclusion that might work better and so pull out again, circle around and turn in to another possible landing strip. Needless to say, passengers don’t find this pursuit of a better runway to be particularly comfortable or helpful. When the message drags on a couple of minutes or ten longer than it feels like it should, any good done in the sermon tends to be undone rather quickly!

2. The "Just Stop" Conclusion—There are some preachers who don’t seem to be aware of the possibility of a strong finish and so don’t bother to land the plane. It simply drops out of the sky at a certain point. Once all has been said, without any particular effort to conclude the message, it's suddenly over. This is a particular danger for those who go on to announce a closing hymn, I find.

3. The "Overly Climactic" Conclusion—At the other extreme are those who know the potential of a good finale and so overly ramp up the climactic crescendo in the closing stages. After preaching a ho-hum message, they suddenly try to close it off with a fireworks display that will leave everyone stunned and standing open mouthed with barely an “ooo-aaah” on their lips. Truth is that if the message hasn’t laid the foundation for such an ending, then people will be left stunned and unsure of what to say, “Uuuugh?”

4. The "Uncomfortable FadeConclusion—Perhaps the domain of new, inexperienced and untrained preachers, this follows the general comfort rule of preaching: if you are not comfortable in your preaching, your listeners won’t be either. So the message comes to what might be a decent ending, then the speaker, well, sort of, just adds something like, “That’s all I wanted to say, I think, yeah, so...” (like this paragraph, 20 words too long!)

5. The "Discouraging Finale" Conclusion—Another tendency among some is to preach what might be a generally encouraging message but then undo that encouragement with a final discouraging comment. People need to be left encouraged to respond to the Word and to apply the Word, but some have a peculiar knack for finishing with a motivational fizzle comment.

6. The "Machine Gun" Finish—Wildly fire off a hundred different applications in the final minute in the hope of hitting somethingno depth, very shallow, badly aimed, rarely hits the target and often has nothing to do with the passage.

7. The "Salvation by Works" Finish—After preaching the wonders of God’s grace in Jesus Christundermine that grace by throwing doubt on their own salvation because of their sin or not doing the application you suggest.

8. The "Left Field" Finish—Where the conclusion and/or application has very little to do with the passage, your sermon, or anything else.

9. The "Not Again" Finish—Where (for some funny reason) the conclusion is the same as every other conclusion you’ve given for the last three yearsit also happens to be your hobby horse and is often one of pray more, give more, evangelize more, read the Bible more and come to church more.

10. The "Gospel out of Nowhere" Finish—Where the preacher feels the absence of the gospel in the message and so levers it in at the conclusion without any sense of connection to what has gone before. (To a thinking listener, this may feel a little forced and intellectually inconsistent.)

And while I'm at it, here's a bonus:

11. The "Tearjerker" Finish—Where the speaker seeks to cement emotional response by throwing in a random and largely disconnected tearjerker of a story (perhaps involving a child, an animal, a death or whatever). Strapped to this emotional bomb, the preacher hopes the truth of the message will strike home (even though in reality, the truth will probably be smothered in the disconnected emotion of the anecdote).



Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at BiblicalPreaching.net and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014). Follow him on Twitter

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Talk about it...

Carrol Childress

commented on May 17, 2014

I have witnessed and (sad to say) even ended sermons in this way. Great observation. Personally finding a place to land the sermon is a challenge.

Jeff Strite

commented on May 17, 2014

The only "mistake" I disagree with is the first one. In 30 years of preaching I've rarely ever known how a sermon would end. I've always let the text take me where it wanted to go, and (with rare exceptions) I've never had a problem with the finish. I may have had to work as hard to find a good closing as I had to find a good opening, but part of my advantage is that I've accumulated my own set of illustrations (several 1000 at this point). That's given me the freedom to just go with the flow of the text and see where I think God is taking me.

Tony Russo

commented on May 17, 2014

I am not surprised at what Jeff stated, ?I've rarely known how a sermon would end.? I remember well my own personal concerns about concluding a sermon. However, now I look for the conclusion throughout my study on the subject. I have never been able to find a conclusion before I begin my study on the texts. As I work through the Biblical text, I ask the questions. ?What is the application of this message? How does it proclaim the power of the gospel which enables us to stand in the victory of Christ under all circumstances?? As ministers become better acquainted with church members and know the circumstances surrounding their lives, we pray through our study that the Spirit will give us what to say that He may empower them to stand firm in the faith. Many of us can attest to an experience of a believer struggling to know the answer to a particular problem they are having. They tell us how helpful the message was to them when we said such and such. Much to our surprise and delight, we have no idea what they are talking about! We don?t remember saying what they tell us we said in the sermon. We know God has moved upon them with His grace. Preaching the true gospel will never run short of its power. It is everlasting. This is not to say we don?t go after a strong finish. Hopefully, a great finish to any sermon is built around ?Christ within you, the hope of glory.?

Wendy Pawsey

commented on May 17, 2014

Unfortunately (!) I know I have fell foul to some of these endings and being an imperfect Pastor and human-being am guessing I will fall foul again. Great to have them highlighted and brought to mind though.

Brad Brought

commented on May 17, 2014

I have to ashamedly admit, being a new pastor less than a year in the pulpit, I can own most, if not all of these conclusions. In the wording that Mr. Mead has chosen to enlighten these ill-fated conclusions; I can clearly see that I need to spend more time in preparing the conclusion. I will need to find a new landing strip that relates much better with the travel plans discussed on our travels. Thank you Mr. Mead

Jesse Bingaman

commented on May 17, 2014

I've tried to write my conclusions first, but it has never worked for me. I write the message first and then try to work on a fitting conclusion. I hate to admit that I have fallen into the "salvation by works" method. Most of it was early on in my ministry. I think I have gotten much better with that over the years.

Thomas Pettus

commented on May 17, 2014

I have one burning question.....Now that we know how NOT to close, please give a few good methods of how it's done!

Bryant Bacon

commented on May 18, 2014

I have the same question

Jeff Strite

commented on May 18, 2014

Thomas, I generally follow the flow of the text. I take the passage apart and put it back together again. I ask questions like "why did Jesus do it this way?" or "why did that man/woman ask that question?" Once I have an idea of where the text is taking me THEN I find an illustration in my files that sets the tone for the sermon. From that opening illustration I let the sermon unfold point by point (making sure I have at least one scripture and one illustration for each point). THEN (and only then) do I decide how to end the sermon. Sometimes I've had to rearrange the sermon so that one of my points leads into an invitation. My closing illustration may be a heartrending (but appropriate) illustration. It might be a statistic. It might be a song. But I always call for a decision.

Peter Coates

commented on May 20, 2014

I agree with you Thomas. Let,s ensure an article like this finishes with some positives.

Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia

commented on May 18, 2014

As a Lay preacher I do not often know a lot about the congregation I am visiting so it keeps me on my toes. Thank you for these guidelines to close with. I know now what to do and what not to do.

Suresh Manoharan

commented on May 18, 2014

Good practical warnings. Usually the "conclusion" ought to be taken care of the "in the preparation itself", so that there is "no landing" trouble. Even, if there is an inspiration to add some more to the planned conclusion, do not worry, you are Scripturally entitled to say "Finally my Brethren" twice (Philippians 3:1, 4:8) *;) winking assuming all along that the anointing is still flowing through you.

Joann Holloway

commented on May 19, 2014

Such a good article. I struggled with this early in my preaching. Now I try to land somewhere near the cross!

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