I was once at a denominational meeting where the speaker preached for what seemed like forever. I don’t think it was as long as it felt. The problem was that the preacher kept preaching what everyone thought was the ending to the sermon. And just as we all thought it was ending he would launch into another point. There was a certain amount of anxiety every time this happened and, in the end, the sermon lost its power.
A friend of mine came up to me afterwards and simply said, “Land the plane, man. Just land the plane.”
I thought that was a great metaphor and it has been pivotal in how I approach preaching. It felt like that preacher kept coming in for a landing and then, just as he was about to touch the tires down on the runway, he accelerated for another lap around the airport. He would come in for another landing only to take off once again.
The end of a move can make or break the movie. The end of a book leaves you with the last impression and often tints the way you see the whole book. How you end your sermon is crucial for the lasting impact of that sermon.
I am convinced that many pastors don’t know how to end a sermon. They can take off and fly the plane, but you sour the whole sermon if you don’t land the plane.
Here’s how you land the plane. To begin you have to know very clearly what your last point is. You should write it out and practice your ending. Often the end of the sermon is the only part I have manuscripted because I want to be very clear on how I am going to end.
Another way to be sure you land the plane is to be careful when you end certain points or sections of your sermon. You don’t want to preach a point onto the runway unless it is the end of the sermon. It is helpful to give clues like telling people how many points or observations you have. Sometimes if you find that you have an observation that feels like a landing maybe that point ought to be the last one in the sermon.
Here is another simply device—just say something like “Amen.” Give a recognizable end to the sermons. I often like to pray at the end of my sermons. I think it is helpful to ask God to open our eyes and hearts and to help the message sink into our lives. Praying also a clear ending to the sermon and also gives time for people to get ready for the next part of the service.
Whatever you do, for God’s sake and for the sake of your people, land the plane.