Closing the Sermon With Power
So what is the key to having a solid ending? I think it is one simple word: celebration. Let me say that again: Celebration is the key to closing your sermon with power. You need to celebrate the gospel message that you presented in your sermon.
What is celebration? Here is one definition of celebration within the context of preaching:
Celebration is holding up the intellectual truth of the message for a response from the emotional and spiritual dimensions of humanity.
Look closely at that statement. First you must have presented “intellectual truth” to have celebration. People are not celebrating about nothing. No, they are celebrating the truth.
Another point is that the celebration is related to the truth OF the message. In other words, it is truth that you presented in the message. I am not talking about bringing in something to shout about at the end of the message that is not related to the message at all.
Finally, it says that the truth connects with the emotion and the spirit. That is your celebration. Note the intellectual, spiritual and emotional components of humanity are involved when celebration is genuine.
Is Celebration Application?
One preacher asked me, “Is celebration the application?” I had to contemplate the question. The preacher knew that we are told that we need to “apply” the truth in our messages. And then here I come talking about we need to “celebrate” the truth in our messages.
Application is making sure that the people understand the truth of the message by applying it to the real life circumstances of the people. Celebration is the experience that happens when we totally understand the truth of the message. Therefore application is important and necessary for the understanding and experiencing of the truth, but celebration is what happens after the understanding has hit home.
So celebration and application are two different things but related deeply and dependent on one another.
Is Celebration Our Work or God’s Work?
Forgive me, this is a trick question. Just like you don’t ask if Jesus was God or human, you don’t ask if the sermon is a product of God or a human being. It is an example of God working through us. It is an example of God using us to tell God’s story. In the sermon, human beings are the author, but so is God.
As it is in the sermon, so it is in the celebration. It is God’s work, but it is our work. Because it is our work, we must plan the celebration knowing that if we are faithful, God is with us.
Possible Problems When We Force Celebration
What are some problems when you teach while addressing the emotive dimensions of humanity?
This happens when we disconnect the emotional response from the intellectual. If the people don’t understand why they are celebrating, the intellect is not involved. Then we have a counterfeit celebration.
Again, true celebration is not something you do at the end of your sermons to salvage them. It does not make up for lack of preparation.
Too many times, we can find ourselves in the position of going to flunksville and then trying to use emotionalism to get us over the hump. But no, celebration is the emotional response to intellectual truth. It is the experience from the intellect. In fact, true celebration cannot exist unless you truly understand the message that’s presented.
During the sermon you present the truth; during the celebrative close, you emotionally experience the truth of what you have presented. If you haven’t dealt with the intellect in the sermon, then it’s not going to provide a solid foundation for the people in their daily lives. In fact, you are doing a disservice to your people if you do not deal with the intellect before you attempt to celebrate or engage the emotions.
Martha Simmons refers to this as the “Dark Side of Whooping.” There are some individuals who use whooping and/or celebrative closes as a tool to overcome a weak presentation. They get to the end of the sermon and just start celebrating. The people may shout, they may yell. You may wreck the house, but if the people don’t understand the intellectual truth of what you have presented, then it is just “sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.”
2. Spending too much time worrying about style and not enough time worrying about substance.
Someone said that “good meat makes its own gravy.” Likewise I would say, “Good intellectual truth makes its own celebration.” If you are trying to make gravy without any meat, then it is not a gravy problem; it is a meat problem. If you are trying to celebrate without any intellectual truth, it is not a celebration problem; it is an intellectual truth problem. And, to be honest, it is a preacher problem.
Generally we find preachers who fall into one of two traps when dealing with style. Some of us think style doesn’t have anything to do with anything, and we shouldn’t spend any time worrying about such concerns. And then there are others who spend the vast majority of their time only thinking about style. We must have both the intellect and the emotion addressed in our sermons.
Celebration is holding up the truth of the message. It has an emotional component. Simply put, if you are telling the good news correctly, there will be an emotional response.