Avoid Crash-Landing Your Sermons

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Landing the Plane

photo credit: egmboeingpilot

Beautiful take-off. Wonderful flight. Crash-landing.

Unfortunately, that’s what I’ve witnessed toward the end of many preachers’ evangelistic sermons.

These well-meaning communicators of God’s Word often have great opening illustrations that capture the audience’s attention. Their takeoff is flawless and inviting.

Many times their beautiful takeoff is followed by a wonderful sermon. The preacher unpacks a Bible passage that clearly lays out the “flight plan” of salvation. Hearts sore to 35,000 feet as the passengers encounter the shockingly good news of God’s grace in God’s Word.

But, all too often, as these preacher-pilots start putting down their landing gear cracks begin to appear in the fuselage. Wires cross, lights flash and the smoke of works-based righteousness begins to slowly fill the cabin, choking the passengers with legalism.

This is followed by severe turbulence in the hearts of the passengers, not the kind that comes from genuine conviction but from a brand of “grace” that is loaded with conditions and qualifications.

As the preacher points the nose of his sermon toward the landing strip he uses phrases that focus on what the audience must do to be saved rather than on what Jesus has done to save them.

Many of these terms have been handed down from generation to generation and are preached in churches worldwide…so they seemacceptable. But these seemingly innocuous terms rob the gospel of it’s power because they put the onus “on us” instead of on the finished work of Christ.

Like angry flight attendants these terms point fingers of judgment at the pew bound passengers scolding them of their need to “turn“, “commit“, and “surrender.” If they refuse, the pilot and crew threaten, they may never make it to their final destination.

But these self-glorifying terms veer away from the reality that it was Jesus who turned, committed and surrendered. He turned from all the riches of heaven to become a human. He committed himself to live the perfect life we could never live. He surrendered himself on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins.

The true gospel is not about what we do for Jesus but what Jesus has done for us.

As these preachers make their final descent oxygen masks drop and people hold on for dear life. But the sermon inevitably crash-lands shockingly short of the runway of salvation. The people that survive stumble out of the plane like the walking dead, wondering if they’ll ever be good enough to make it to heaven.

Okay, enough with the plane analogy. Preachers, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers and evangelists keep the gospel clear from beginning to end. Beautiful takeoff. Wonderful flight. Textbook landing.

Speaking of textbook what does the Bible say we must do to make it to our final destination? Acts 16:31 tells us the simple flight plan,“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”

Now that’s a flight I’m thrilled to invite others to take!


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Greg Stier About Greg Stier

Greg Stier is a husband, a father, a preacher, an author, a twitchy revolutionary and a fanatic for Jesus. He's the President of Dare 2 Share Ministries which has led thousands of students to Jesus and equipped thousands more to reach their world with the gospel. He blogs at GregStier.org.


  • Elijah Cisneros

    Very good article, Greg. However, I find it very necessary to also say what we must do in order to receive salvation. Jesus did everything for us, but we still have to accept what He’s done. I understand where you’re coming from, and I agree that the gospel is about what Jesus has done for us rather than what we have to do to accept it, etc. But if we just finish a sermon by saying what Jesus has done for us and not offering the audience a way to accept it, then I feel like we are doing them a disservice. It is basically just like telling them only about salvation, rather than telling them how to obtain it. If we ensure them that ALL can receive salvation and the love of Christ regardless of their sins and that it does not matter how good they are, then I don’t think that we could really run into the problem of the audience “wondering if they’ll ever be good enough.”
    Also, in my own experience with people through ministry, (which is very, very, small compared to you (I’m 19, pre-seminary)) I have found that people tend to be so extraordinarily complacent with lukewarm Christianity and continuing to live in a sinful lifestyle void of trying to actively pursue Christ on a daily basis. I have witnessed the effectiveness of a pastor encouraging his congregation, Christians and non, to change their lifestyle and to repent for what they have done. Speaking of what God has done for us should encourage us to do good works for Him, but unfortunately, that doesn’t always work.
    While the Gospel is truly about the actions God has done for us, we must encourage our audience to pursue God with their actions as well, starting with salvation for those who have not accepted Him, and good works, prayer, etc. for those who have. If through sermons we keep on pressing and pressing and pressing only how much God loves us, then I fear we risk putting our audience in a state of complacency where they are not too encouraged to change. But of course that depends on the individual person, their personality, their insight, and what they actually get out of the message.
    Faith without works is dead, and, in the long run, works without faith are worthless. As such, I think there should be a perfect balance of speaking of what God has done for us and what we can do for Him in either one sermon, or a series of them. Because, after all, in a relationship, even with God, one person cannot do all the work. Just some thoughts.

    Sorry if I took this where you might not have intended it to go or if I misinterpreted it and this comment is just a giant Strawman.
    I’ve been loving reading your stuff, and it’s been such a blessing to glean this knowledge from you on Christianity and leadership. Loving what you do, man.

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