Taking off and landing require a pilot’s utmost attention. Likewise, sermon introductions and conclusions demand careful preparation by a preacher. In fact, the introductions and conclusions will make or break the connection with our audience. In the introduction, we meet them coming from their daily life of the previous week. Then, in the conclusion, we send them off to live in the light of the biblical truth expressed in the sermon’s big idea. So, introductions and conclusions must be carefully worded to connect our audience with the big idea. For the simple reason that we need to know our destination before we start a journey, writing the conclusion precedes writing the introduction.
Writing the Conclusion
A sermon conclusion should not resemble a jetliner in a holding pattern waiting to land, or worse, aborting an attempted landing. Rather, it should briefly summarize the thrust of the sermon. An extended conclusion will frustrate our audience. It should not introduce new ideas but provide listeners memorable statements to aid in application.
Conclusions Apply the Big Idea to Life
Lloyd Perry writes:
The word conclusion has two meanings: “to come to an end,” and “to bring the mind to a decision.” The conclusion of a sermon, therefore, refers not only to its closing sentences, but especially to its application to the congregation so as to produce in them the intended result.Lloyd M. Perry, Biblical Preaching for Today’s World, Moody Press: 1990, p.72
We are not just ending our sermon. We are calling our listeners to live in light of the big idea. That is, we are calling for a decision and life-change. Specifically, we will repeat the big idea and its connection to their lives. Since application has been part of the sermon all along, we need not repeat previous applications. The conclusion, however, should include clear specific application of what to think, feel, and do.
Sometimes the biblical context will provide an application. For instance, 1 Peter 1:3-5, the passage we have been looking at in this blog series, begins with blessing or praising God for our new birth. This suggests an application of worship and thankfulness to God. Also, 1 Peter 1:13 commands us to “set our hope completely on the grace that will come at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” To help listeners make the connection, preachers can point out a life situation where they could practice these things.
Concluding applications of the big idea appeal to the will of our listeners. Since information alone seldom leads to action, we want to stir their hearts to get their hands and feet moving. Here again, it is important to know what motivates your audience. A motivational story that works in our home culture may not connect in our host culture. When preaching in a Bible College chapel (an audience familiar with church history), I quoted John Huss’s comments on 1 Peter 1:3-5:
Our inheritance will never lose anything through age or sickness on our part or through any damage to itself; it will never be marred by impurity; and it will never lessen in delight because it has been enjoyed so long.John Huss, Czech Theologian and Reformer, Martyred 1415.
I probably would not use that quote with an audience unfamiliar with church history. Indeed, the force of a motivational appeal depends upon immediate recognition and connection.
Conclusions Include Prayer
We need to express our dependence on God to apply his word to the lives of our listeners. Clearly, our creativity and careful wording is in vain if God does not work in the lives of our audience. Including prayer in our conclusion acknowledges the promise that we have that God’s Word will accomplish his purpose (Isaiah 55:10,11). We have many models of prayer in Paul’s letters (such as Col. 1:9-14) that we can adapt for our conclusion. Furthermore, including prayer in our conclusion reminds us that God causes growth (1 Cor. 3:5-7).
Writing the Introduction
Now that we know how we will conclude our sermon we are ready to introduce it. Basically, a sermon introduction has three main functions: command attention, surface needs, and introduce the big idea. In fact, the opening lines of the introduction determine the interest and attention of the listeners. For this reason, Lloyd Perry writes:
The introduction clarifies the reason this audience should listen to this preacher discuss this subject on this occasion.Lloyd M. Perry, Biblical Preaching for Today’s World, p.67.
Commanding Attention/Surfacing Needs
The first sentence of your sermon should connect the audience to the subject of the sermon. Often this sentence will both command attention and surface needs. For example, in introducing a sermon on 1 Peter 1:3-5, the opening sentence could talk about hope. So, today we might start our sermon in this way: “During a worldwide pandemic, where can we find a living hope?” Then, we would add a couple sentences that develop that thought tying it to the local situation.
Introducing the Big Idea
After briefly connecting with the present experiences of our listeners, we will transition to the biblical setting. Specifically, we will compare the biblical setting to our audience. For instance, we will point out that Peter is writing to “exiles of the dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1). They were in need of a living hope just as we are. After drawing this connection, we will state the big idea and our organizing/transitional sentence.
Characteristics of a Good Introduction
A good introduction will do more than introduce the preacher and the subject, and give the setting of the message. It will prepare the minds of the congregation for the reception and digestion of the sermon. It will attract the attention of the audience and arouse their interest.
The introduction should contain nothing foreign to the purpose of the discourse. An introduction should be: brief, pertinent, clear, in harmony with the subject, appropriate to the sermon, natural, direct, friendly, adjusted to the mental state of the audience, well planned.
An introduction should not include: flattery, apologies, triteness, complexity, abstractness, technicality, dry details about the background of the text, too much revelation of what is to follow, irrelevant humor, or verbosity.Lloyd M. Perry, Biblical Preaching for Today’s World, p. 68.
More Resources on Preaching
This post concludes my series on preparing to preach as a missionary. I have tried to briefly describe the process of developing an expository sermon. Yet, I am convinced that you learn to preach by preaching. The basic principles and steps in this series will help you along the way. However, more could be said on each topic. For further study visit the SEND U wiki page on preaching.
As I have stressed throughout this series, preparing to preach involves studying the Scripture and our audience. That study brings the joy of preaching as we connect the two.