Last Sunday was the second of four Sundays that I am having fun filling in the pulpit for my brother Jim Kropilak up at Somerset Christian Church near Bethany (north of Beaverton). The church overlooks the major arterial highway between Portland and the Oregon coast, Hwy 26 (Sunset Highway). The first week went fine, although they were noticeably friendlier the second week when they knew who I was and I had my wife with me.
The situation for the preaching was a bit different than I am used to. The presiding said they didn’t want an invitation. They don’t have a closing song. The first week he said, “I’ll just come up and summarize your sermon and close in prayer and we will be dismissed.” (A bit odd, but hey, it’s their church!)
And that is how it went…the first week. Then last week Dick said, “You don’t need me to close. When you are done, if you want to summarize what you’ve said and pray, fine. Just dismiss the people. This is feeling odder by the minute. So I preached a sermon on I Cor. 3:16 and 6:19. (We are the temple of God both corporately and individually).
I closed with a favorite illustration of mine: the Taj Mahal. (The builder grew so enraptured in building this beautiful monument as a crypt for his wife, that he accidentally threw out her casket in the process.) And I then closed with something to the effect: “We may focus on self-improvement or body building, or making up the façade. But unless we remember the purpose of our body—to be a dwelling place of God that God is making to be a fit place for him to live—we will have lost the purpose for which we have these bodies.”
OK so, no invitation, no closing song. I said “Let’s pray,” and I did and then with the Amen it was “You’re dismissed.”
It obviously was not what they were used to. They looked at one another, shrugged, fidgeted and then began to leave. It felt like I had been a hang glider flying over Beaverton sailing to heights never imagined (OK, hyperbole) and then had crash landed on Hwy 26. All my wife had to say afterwards was, “Well, THAT was awkward!
Part of that happened because I broke the #1 rule of sermon conclusions: Know where and how you are going to land before you take off. I knew what the rules of the game were before I began. But I thought I could just end the sermon. Wrong. There needed to be some buffer between the end of the sermon and the dismissal. Next week, I need to think out more clearly how and where I will land.
In my files there a a list of suggestions for conclusions. It is, unfortunately, untitled. I may have gotten it from Colin Adam’s excellent blog Unashamed Workman. And it MAY have come from John D. Brand or Geoff Grogan. But then again, maybe not. (Colin, if you see this, you might clue me in if you know).
But let me share three of the points on conclusions today and three more tomorrow.
1. The first is the one I have already mentioned; Know where and how you are going to land before you take off. “Have your conclusion clearly fixed in your preparation notes, and ideally in your mind, and don’t leave it to “how you feel led” at the end of your talk. It’s not difficult—or pleasant—to discern when a preaching is trying to conclude his message but doesn’t know how.
2. Come in to land earlier rather than later. “Leave your listeners wanting more and not wishing you would hurry up and finish.”
3. Don’t give false signals. “Don’t be like the preacher who says “lastly,” and then lasts.