Preparing Sermons for Takeoff and Landing

By Jared Bumpers

Preaching the Word is a big task. Here are a few ways to stick the landing as a means of edifying your congregation while giving God the glory He is due.

Sermons are like airplanes. Some struggle to get off the ground, while others struggle to land smoothly. But a good pilot—or preacher—understands the importance of starting and finishing well and therefore plans accordingly. I’d like to offer a few suggestions to help preachers get their sermons off the ground and then stick the landing.

Getting Sermons Off the Ground

The beginning of the sermon—the introduction—is one of the most important parts of the sermon. Many listeners will make judgments about the trustworthiness of the preacher and the relevance of the message before the preacher ever gets to the sermon’s main points. So, how do preachers develop introductions that soar?

Consider these five suggestions:

1. Secure interest

First, the preacher should seek to secure the interest of his listeners. Some have called this “the hook,” where the preacher hooks his listeners and pulls them into the sermon. The goal is to introduce the main idea of the sermon and the text in a way that engages listeners and draws them in. There are many ways to accomplish this: a humorous story, a contemporary event, a popular saying, a thoughtful question, etc. Just make sure that your hook is related to both the sermon idea and preaching text.

2. Demonstrate relevance

Next, the preacher should demonstrate how the sermon relates to the listener. Why should your listeners pay attention to your sermon? What is the “payout” for them? In an ideal world, every person who attends or visits your church is spiritually mature and eager to receive the Word. However, we don’t live in an ideal world. People come to church disgruntled, distracted, or disinterested. The wise preacher seeks to let his listeners know—from the outset—that his sermon is directed toward those listening and that it is relevant to their lives.

3. Introduce the text

Third, the preacher should introduce the biblical text. As a proponent of Christ-centered, expository preaching, I am convinced every sermon should be based on a biblical text and show how that text points to God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ. In other words, we should preach the Word of God (i.e., Jesus; cf. John 1:1) from the Word of God (i.e., the Bible; cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Here, I simply want to emphasize the need to preach from a particular text and to introduce that preaching text at the beginning of the sermon.

Consider doing two things to help your listeners understand the significance of the biblical text: (1) briefly explain how the biblical text answers the question, solves the problem, or meets the need of whatever “relevant” issue is raised in the introduction; and (2) clearly read the preaching text out loud. The first suggestion allows you to show how the biblical text will address the “relevant” issue identified in the introduction already, while the second suggestion allows your listeners to hear the biblical text and see what it says for themselves.

4. State the main idea

After reading the text, the preacher should consider stating the main idea of the sermon. This does not have to be done immediately after reading the text. I will often pray and provide the context of the biblical text before stating the main idea. However, the main idea of the sermon should be communicated to listeners towards the beginning of the sermon. I believe the value of stating the main idea outweighs the benefit of saving the main idea until the end of the sermon. By stating the main idea of the sermon in the introduction, your listeners can grasp the dominant idea or theme of the sermon from the outset and connect other important ideas to the sermon’s overall main idea.

5. Transition to the body

Finally, the preacher should transition to the body of the sermon. After introducing the text and the main idea of the sermon, the preacher should move into the exposition of the text. To facilitate this transition, the preacher should do two things: (1) provide an overview of the sermon, and (2) develop a transition sentence.

First, the preacher should consider providing an overview of the sermon. Just like a flight attendant prepares passengers for a flight, preachers should prepare listeners for the sermon. Consider sharing your sermon points in the introduction… or at least telling them how many sermon points you have!

Second, the preacher should develop a transition sentence to move from the sermon’s introduction to its body. Ideally the sentence (or a variation of it) can be used to transition between major points as well. For example, a preacher delivering a message from Ephesians 1:3-14 may use the following transition sentence: “In Ephesians 1:3-14, we see three reasons that Christians should praise the Triune God for their salvation.” Then, a variation of this sentence can be used to introduce each main point:

“We should praise the Triune God for our salvation because the Father chose us.”

“We should praise the Triune God for our salvation because the Son redeemed us.”

“We should praise the Triune God for our salvation because the Spirit sealed us.”

A strong transition sentence allows the preacher to move from the introduction to the body of the sermon and may even help the preacher transition from one sermon point to another without a hitch.

Landing the Sermon Smoothly

While the introduction may be the most important element of the sermon, the conclusion is also significant. Unfortunately, too many preachers neglect their conclusions. Whereas listeners may be eagerly waiting for the conclusion (as they are ready for the sermon to be over!), preachers tend to overlook the value of a well-crafted conclusion.

Let me make three suggestions to help you improve your conclusions:

1. Provide a concise summary of the sermon

The operative word here is “concise.” Don’t re-preach the sermon. Just emphasize the main idea and the key points from the sermon. This is your chance to drive home the most important truths examined from your time together in the Word. Leave them with your best summary of the sermon’s content.

2. Include a compelling illustration

The best conclusions tend to contain a strong illustration that touches the heart. Consider including an illustration of someone who embodies the truths of the text. Or include an illustration of someone who failed to embody the truths of the text. Or include an illustration from your personal life, the congregation, or the community. You’ve addressed the head in the summary. Now, it is time to address the heart. Aim to motivate them to apply the sermon’s truth to their lives.

3. Give a compelling appeal

At this point, you should call your listeners to respond in obedience to the biblical text. The goal of preaching is not merely information transfer; it is life transformation. Challenge your congregation to apply the text in clear, tangible ways in the immediate future. What would it look like for them to obey the text this week? This month? This year? Where would they be spiritually in a year if they took the sermon seriously? Call them to pursue “the obedience of faith” (cf. Romans 1:5).

Getting the sermon off the ground without losing listeners is crucial. Landing the sermon smoothly without circling the runway forever or abruptly touching down is essential. As you prepare your next sermon, I hope these suggestions help you navigate the opening and closing of your sermon so your passengers—er, listeners—stay with you from sermon takeoff to sermon landing.

Published January 29, 2024

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Jared Bumpers

Jared Bumpers (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Preaching and Evangelism at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also oversees the FTC Cohorts. In addition to his roles at MBTS, he serves as one of the pastors at Fellowship KC in the Parkville area.