Preacher School #7 – Opening and Closing the Door: Thoughts on Conclusions and Introductions

It may be the most non-intuitive aspect of preparing sermons to learn that the best introductions are generally written once the sermon itself is finished.  Young preachers tend to think they know where a text is going to go and what the thrust of the sermon message is going to be even before they have done their exegesis. But this is a major tactical error.

You cannot introduce a person you have not yet met, nor can you accurately present a sermon that has not yet been birthed. In fact, starting with your introduction may lead you to veer away from the intention of the text to simply match your introduction. I think that is a preaching sin! You are called to preach “the Word,” not your interesting ideas.

Another advantage of waiting until the sermon is written in order to write your introduction is that it helps you to re-think your entire preaching outline (does this sermon have one clear big point, can I see it in all of its parts, is there a link running through the whole, etc.).

The best introductions tend to grab the interest of the listener, regardless if he has come to hear God’s Word or not.  You may consider this to be very pragmatic and that people should know better, but I like to think of it as a way of serving folks. A good introduction will also help to expose the ruthless relevance of the text. Read some of Jesus’ sermons in the Gospels to observe how he interacted with and grabbed the attention of His listeners.

In my opinion one of the best sermon-introducers is Mark Dever. He brings in his wide reading and sharp understanding to great use here. I would suggest listening to 5 or 6 of his recent sermons and observing how he begins from an aerial view of a particular topic and touches on the ways the sermon is going to impact the listener as he circles down closer to the text.  Dever speaks of starting the sermon with something of a taste of the implications it is going to have on the listener or what presuppositions might be challenged. You will also notice that he always speaks to the non-Christians and seeks to inform them that their concerns and objections should also be addressed.  Read the Dever/Gilbert book, Preach: Theology Meets Practice, for a fuller description of this. (See page 102 and following.)

By this point you have likely already written your conclusion, but now is the time to go back and see if your introduction and conclusion match one another. It is no victory to have told everyone you were driving to New York only to end up in Cincinnati. Does your sermon go where you promised it was going to go?

I like to look for ways to bookend the sermon. What I mean is linking the outro with the intro so that the sermon “feels” complete and done.  That also helps to guarantee you have stayed on track with the one big point. If your intro is saying something entirely different from your outro, you have a problem. So, if you used a story in your introduction, you may find that a final chapter to that same story serves to conclude the sermon. That ties everything together in a neat mental package that offers a kind of intellectual satisfaction to your hearer. It is not always possible to do this and ought never to be forced, but it is helpful when it works.

Previous Preacher School Posts

Part One – Preacher School Intro

Part Two – Read the Text, the Whole Text, and Nothing But the Text

Part 3 – Have One Big Point

Part 4 – Sermons Should be Interesting

Part 5 – Outline the Passage

Part 6 – Open the Windows! Thoughts on Illustrations

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