Preaching and the Importance of Landing The Plane

I felt this panic come over me. At this point I had only taught a handful of times and I found myself at the end of my notes. I had nothing left to talk about, I’d made all three of my points and I was done. Out of nowhere I said a concluding sentence, prayed and walked off stage. The only thing worse would have been to drop my mic in the process.

I was new to this preaching thing and had spent all my time working on the main points of my message. I had completely forgot about how I was going to “land it”. In turn, it was a completely abrupt, drop out of the sky finish that left everyone jarred and confused.

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Very often we don’t give our conclusion enough credit.

Some times we treat it like an obligation. We repeat everything we’ve already covered, we pray, cover that same material again in our prayer…and then we dismiss.

Our closing is so much more than that. It is the “landing of the plane” after a journey through life and scripture together. 

In order for a conclusion to be as effective as possible we need to know how we are going to end our message (aka “land the plane”) before we even begin writing our message.

A predefined conclusion becomes the deciding factor.

By knowing where you are headed with a given message, you now have the necessary tools to help you focus your content. Does the funny story you want to tell help you move toward your conclusion?

Just like flying a plane, your planning is heavily effected by where your flight is ending. Your destination helps you decide how much fuel to bring, how many staff will be necessary, etc. The same is true with teaching. Knowing how you will conclude your message helps you decide what is most important to teach and what can wait for another day.

A predefined conclusion helps the landing seem smoother.

Landing a plane doesn’t just happen over the runway, it’s something that begins miles out. The pilot begins a process of steps down as he prepares the plane to land.

The same is true in preaching. Moving toward conclusion isn’t just a summary of the message, it is helping your audience answer the question “So what?”

Your conclusion helps them to bring your message down to earth and to apply it to their every day life.

A predefined conclusion means you can answer this question:

What do I want my audience to do as a result of this message?

The answer to that question is your conclusion, it is the landing strip for your message.

Your conclusion is the landing strip for your message.
— StevenJBarker

Take that question a step further and outline what implementation looks like for each demographic in your audience (singles, married, job seekers, managers, men, women, students, etc.)

Understanding your conclusion prior to writing your message helps to focus your preparation time and to focus your content.

Still struggling uncover your predefined conclusion? Read “The Most Under Recognized Ingredient in a Powerful Message”.

How To Engage Your Cerebral Cortex During Sermon Prep

In 1981, a man named Roger Sperry won an award. It wasn’t the first award this star athlete had won was one awarded for an entirely different reason. In 1981 Roger Sperry won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for something that has changed how we think about "how we think".

Sperry taught us that we have a Cerebral Cortex, divided into two major hemispheres. These two hemispheres performed an exhaustive range of intellectual tasks, called cortical skills (including: Logic, Rhythm, Lines, Color, Lists, Daydreaming, Numbers, Imagination, Word, Gestalt [seeing the whole picture]).  Sperry's research showed that the more these activities were integrated, the more each intellectual skill would enhance the performance of other intellectual areas.

The question then becomes how do you engage logic, color, lines, lists numbers, imagination and words? How do you engage your entire cerebral cortex for more vibrant brainstorming and preparation?

I’m not sure if you’re like me, but I’m not a very linear thinker when I prepare to teach. My research tends to take me down rabbit trails, and more often, into what seems like the perfect analogy to make my point (only to later realize the idea was half baked). And while that’s not necessarily bad when trying to create a full bodied message, organizing those thoughts while maintaining that creative state of mind seems to be a challenge.

That was, until I discovered the simple art of mind mapping.

Maybe you learned to mind map years ago or maybe this is a new concept to you, either way I believe mind mapping can fully engage your cortical skills and more fully engage your brain with a few simple steps.

In fact, in 2009 R. Al-Jarf did a study “Enhancing freshman students’ writing skills with a mind mapping software” and showed significant post test differences between experimental and control groups as a result of using mind-mapping software. Not only did experimental students make higher gains, they became faster at generating and organizing ideas for their writing.

Mind maps also give you just enough structure to allow your mind to focus without restricting you to the point of frustration.

So how do you get started?

1. Pick a Canvas

This could be simply a whiteboard with some colored markers or you could invest in something a little more mobile like an app.

My personal favorite is a Mac and iOS app called MindNode [link].

2. Pick your Subject

This should be the theme, the central verse or the specific topic you’re message is tackling. This is your starting point, the focal point on your map.

3. Layout your Structure

Your three main branches are the three basic elements of any message.

The Problem

This is the branch where you attach every “twig” of an idea that will help your audience understand the problem. It may include a personalized story highlighting your own experience with the subject at hand. It should also include examples of how different segments of your audience is likely experiencing the problem (see "The 1 Question You Forget To Ask Before You Preach").

The Teaching

This branch is packed with ideas, context and your bottom line. Ideas may include stories, analogies, and antidotes. Context will include the possible scriptures you might reference in your teaching. Adding them here doesn’t mean they will end up in your final product but they help you engage scripture from multiple angles. If you’ve already created a One Page Series Plan (see "Create A Killer Series") you’ll already have content to get your research started.

This branch is also the place where you can begin to craft that perfectly word-smithed bottom line (which never seems to come out right the first try). Don’t get into to sucked into the word-smithing right away. Write down a few ideas and let them live as twigs on this branch.

The Application

If you’ve already started to answer the question “What do you want them to do?” (See "The Most Under Recognized Ingredient in a Powerful Message") you can plug in some of those next steps here. How can your audience apply what you are saying? As you created examples in “The Problem” branch, you can start to offer the next steps here in “The Application” branch.

4. Get Started

Just like writing; your first draft isn’t about editing. It’s about getting all the great ideas out of your head. Editing comes later when you’re ready for your critical mind to kick in.

Jump around and add your ideas as you dive into your research and when you’re done, you’ll have a treasure trove of fantastic content to move into your writing stage. Not only will you have your ideas organized, they will be organized in a logic flow rather than just in the order you discovered them in your research.

The Two Sides Of Sermon Ghost Writing

Guest post by Chris Colvin, Content Research Consultant,

Here’s what I know – not all pastors love to do research. Even those pastors who are great communicators often get bogged down by research. They’d rather be empowering their staff, casting vision, or discipling their flock. Coming up with original content each week can seem insurmountable. As one pastor put it to me, “A blank page makes me a nervous wreck.”

I learned how to best serve pastors, and in the process discovered my niche. I actually love to do research, and there are more like me out there. As a content research consultant, I help pastors deliver killer original content week in and week out, while also giving them time to spend on what really excites and energizes them.

But as with any job, there are ups and downs. I love doing the one thing I do best, but it can also be a lonely endeavor at times. I spend more time with books than with people most days. It’s great to have a direct impact on literally thousands of people – many more than if I had my own platform. But that also means I don’t get much credit for my work. Much of my work is as a ghostwriter and by definition I’m heard and not seen.

Having a content researcher can easily increase your effectiveness as a pastor. And if you’re one of us who loves to research, it can be a highly rewarding experience as well. If you’re thinking of becoming a content researcher, or if you’re a pastor who’s thinking about hiring one, let me give you a few tips to keep yourself balanced.

If You Want To Be a Content Researcher:

1. Remember, It’s Not About You

As a content researcher, you’ll be privy to the inner-workings of a church. And if you have a strong opinion (like I do) then you’ll likely find yourself disagreeing with a certain decision or philosophy. That’s normal, and that’s okay. But you have to remember that it’s not about you. 

The words you’re writing aren’t really yours; they’re someone else’s. And that person has a specific philosophy, calling, and even style for how they do things. You’re a servant first and foremost, and your own opinions need to be take a backseat. 

2. Don’t Take It Personal

Here’s the deal – you’re going to spend hours on a project, pour your heart and soul into it, wake up at night thinking of the perfect line. You’ll type it up and feel like you’ve created something of significance. You’ll love those words you wrote! And then they’ll get cut. In one quick flick of a red pen, your best words will be reduced to nothing.

That’s okay. Remember it’s not about you. Those aren’t really your words, they’re the pastor’s words. And just because they don’t like that one line doesn’t mean you failed. Just tuck it away for another day or another pastor.

3. Be Flexible

I can’t stress this enough. You have to be willing to do what the pastor asks of you when they ask you. You never know when inspiration will strike you as a writer, but you’re also subject to the pastor’s inspiration as well. I’ve gotten calls while picking up the kids after school, while shopping at the mall, or even on the golf course. Flexibility means I stop and take the call, because the pastor’s voice is so vital to my work.

If you’re thinking of hiring a content researcher:

1. Know Your Sweet Spot

If you’re a pastor, you’re probably a great communicator. In fact, you’re likely the chief communicator at your church. But that doesn’t mean you have to be the best researcher. You hired a children’s pastor, a worship pastor, maybe even someone to oversee missions. Those people were hired because they have expertise outside of your own sweet spot. The same goes for a content researcher. Let them do their thing and they can be a great asset to you.

2. Give Feedback

Let your content researcher know when they’ve hit the mark or when they need a course correction. It’s frustrating to see edits without getting an explanation, or to hear changes in a sermon after the fact without feedback. If you don’t let them know they’re doing a good job, they may be less likely to repeat those wins. And when you end up cutting something, the assumption is they failed when there are other factors involved. Feedback always clears the air.

3. Reward Your Researcher

It’s hard for me to explain to people what I do. Some have actually been offended to hear that a pastor would use a ghostwriter. That means I usually have to keep a low profile. But rewarding your content research doesn’t mean you have to broadcast to your audience who they are and what they do. There are other ways to reward them. One way is to compensate them fairly. Think about how valuable your time is. Now, how much time did they save you because they did the research you had no time or desire to do yourself?

Another way to reward your content research is through contacts. You probably know other pastors who could use the help of a content research as much as you have. Those contacts can mean increased work – and increased compensation – as well as a wider platform. Your researcher probably has other projects on the side, from a blog or a book idea to their own speaking career. Helping them achieve those dreams is a great way for both of you to be rewarded.

Content research doesn’t have to be a chore, and it doesn’t have to be thankless endeavor. The relationship between pastors and researchers can be one of the most mutually beneficial of any in the church. Cultivating those relationships can help the two of you sync up and fulfill multiple goals in half the time. It’s true! Two are better than one.

Chris Colvin is a husband, father, and follower of Jesus. As a Content Research Consultant he helps pastors and communicators make the most of their messages. For over twenty years he’s worked in churches of all sizes and shapes across the US and overseas. His motto is “turning thoughts into words into actions.” You can find him online at