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The Conclusion of the Sermon

By Jess Hall Jr.

religion, articles, christianity

Have you ever read a book that fascinated you until the last chapter and then frustrated you because of the way it ended? The author masterfully built up to a conclusion that was flatter than a fallen soufflé. Sermons can fail for the same reason. The introduction grabs attention, the body flawlessly develops the theme, but the sermon flounders because the preacher doesn't know how to conclude it.

The conclusion is the last thing the listener hears. It must drive home the theme, demonstrate that the problem has been solved, and convince that the question has been answered, or issue a stirring call for action, or else the hearer is not apt to take much home. Thus, it is a dangerous deficiency not to carefully prepare the conclusion of the sermon. Why would anyone preach for twenty-five to thirty minutes to bring the sermon to a head and then leave the conclusion to the inspiration of the moment? The most likely result is that the conclusion will become a garbage dump where everything leftover is thrown in.

There are different types of conclusions, each of which may be appropriate, depending on the sermon's subject, theme, and development. For example, a conclusion may summarize. Repetition reinforces memory. One often suggested form of outline (although an oversimplification) is to "tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them." The obvious advantage of such an approach is repetition; the obvious danger is that the same sermon will simply be preached three times and the hearers will be confused.

A conclusion may be an illustration that portrays a mental image of the theme. The advantage of this approach is that an easily remembered illustration will, when remembered, bring the sermon's theme to mind. The danger is that the illustration will not fit the sermon, and thus detract from it, or will be so long that it overwhelms the sermon.

The conclusion may be an application that helps the audience answer what they should do, and why and how they should do it. The advantage of concluding with an application is that it connects the sermon to the hearers' world. The danger is that application may be based more on the preacher's experience than on the text, leading the hearers to base their faith on the wrong object.

The conclusion may be an exhortation. This is perhaps the most common conclusion-the extending of an invitation to believe and obey the gospel. The advantage is that it stimulates the hearer to action. The danger is that the desire to obtain responses to the gospel may lead to intimidation through fear or manipulation by being overly emotional. Both fear and emotion can be legitimate bases of appeal, but neither is valid when reason is displaced.

The type of conclusion used should be varied. Not every type of conclusion fits every sermon. Moreover, if the same type of conclusion is used for each sermon, it will not be long until the conclusion loses its impact upon the hearers.

What are the characteristics of a well-prepared conclusion? First, a good conclusion must be appropriate. For example, if the conclusion is an illustration it must be based on an experience common to the hearers. If the conclusion is an application, it must be relevant to the hearers. Otherwise the hearers will be confused.

A conclusion must be clear. If the conclusion is an exhortation, it must be clear exactly what the hearers are being exhorted to do. If you have to explain the conclusion, its impact will be lost. Clarity will be helped if the conclusion uses short, direct sentences containing simple language with strong nouns and verbs. The preacher can speak of "sin-sick souls who suffer from lack of fellowship with Jehovah," or he can speak of "people who stumble through life with no Father with whom they can walk, no Friend to whom they can talk, and no Helper who can give them hope."

A conclusion must be personal and pointed. Nathan was personal and pointed when he indicted David, "Thou art the man." Peter was personal and pointed when he charged, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." A conclusion should leave no doubt as to the hearer's responsibility.

A conclusion must be concrete. The conclusion is not a time for abstract, vague language. Abstractions have no force. Of course, this does not mean that the preacher should use or abuse individuals. It does mean that the conclusion should be sufficiently specific to permit the hearer to apply it.

The conclusion must be brief. In short, it should conclude. It is not the time to introduce new ideas. It should take no longer than the introduction. It should not be introduced by "finally," or "one more point," or similar phrases. Such phrases invariably turn the hearers' eyes from the face of the preacher to the face of their watches.

The conclusion is the destination of the sermon. A good conclusion may on occasion sound with thunder. It may on occasion electrify with lightning. It may on occasion be as quiet as a summer morning or as soothing as a gentle rain. But it should always, always, register in the heart.

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Published October 1997