27 November 2012

Thoughts for Guest Preachers, and the Churches That Invite Them

Preached recently at a church that hosted me with remarkable thoughtfulness and it caused me to reflect on how inviting churches can host as well as my most recent experience, and also what should be the specific aims of a guest preacher. To be filtered through your own wisdom and good sense.

For the inviting church: 
1. Give him guidance about what to preach on. Or not to preach on--it's awkward to be told 'Preach on whatever you want' only to show up and discover you're preaching the same text as the previous week.

2. If he wasn't your first choice to pinch hit that day, don't tell him.

3. Tell him what time to show up, and how long he should preach for. 

4. Tell him who is going to greet him, and where. Be sure he has directions to the church. Tell him about any road-work to avoid.

5. Let him know what kind of mic he'll be using, and if he has a choice, ask his preference. Explain how the mic works when it is given to him. Tell him if powerpoint is an option. Tell him if there will be a podium, pulpit, or nothing. Give him guidance about dress code. In short, don't assume anything; err on the side of giving him too much information rather than too little.

6. Don't ask him to administer a sacrament. Do the sacrament another day, or ask an elder or pastor of the church to do it. He is in a strange place and doesn't know the particulars of your church's practices, which for you seem totally normal and obvious. Let him focus on the preaching event.

7. Send him a PDF of the bulletin or some kind of write-up that outlines clearly the flow of the service. Tell him exactly at what point he will be getting up to preach, where he will be sitting for the service (front row? chair on stage? anywhere he wants?), and what the cue will be for him to get up to preach. Let him know how he should end (pray? invite someone else up? a brief interpretive dance?), and what will happen right afterward. If you expect him to give a benediction tell him.

8. Pray with him before the service.

9. If the passage on which he is preaching is going to be read by someone else in the service, tell him beforehand. Sometimes the preacher builds the Scripture reading into the opening of his message in such a way that creates awkwardness of transition if he has to excise the Scripture reading from his sermon at the last minute.

10. Identify for him what version of the Bible your church normally uses in public worship, and how important or unimportant it is that the guest preacher stick to that.

11. After he preaches, even if it was the worst sermon you've heard in a long time, find some way to affirm him. And do so by identifying something specific in his sermon that helped you. 'Good job!' is pretty much a zero response. 'I was helped when you said...' is what he needs to hear. If he invites it, offer critique. And through it all remember that it's much easier to criticize preaching than to preach.

12. Tell him beforehand how much you're going to pay him. That is not unspiritual. It is blessed clarity. He deserves it.

13. Pay him well, a la 1 Cor. 9:11. Honor him and his family, if he has one, in that way. Obviously there are no hard and fast rules to lay down as churches and social contexts differ so widely. But I think it would be a good rule of thumb, in a church of 100 members or more, finances permitting, to pay the man 1% of the approximate average annual salary of your members. I.e. if the average household income is $50,000, that would be a check to the guest preacher of $500. Another way to look at that is that you're paying him for about half a week's work (52 weeks per year is 104 half-weeks per year--and $50,000 divided by 104 is about $500, too). If there is more than one service, adjust that number as you see fit. If he has driven a distance to join you, cover that expense.

14. Follow up the week after. Thank him. Even if you intend never to invite him back, thank him and encourage him, as you are able to do so with honesty.

For the guest preacher:
1. You are not there to impress them. You are there to help them.

2. You are not there to outshine their regular preaching pastor. You are there to help them.

3. You are not there to make a little extra cash. You are there to help them.

4. Time permitting, do something fresh. Don't pull one out of the Sermons Folder unless you have to (or if they explicitly encourage it in the invitation, knowing you are currently pressed for time). It is harder to prepare a fresh message. But much more fun, more powerful, more meaningful, less robotic for you, and generally, I think, more edifying to the listeners.

5. Every church has its own theology, its own ethos, and its own view of preaching. Nevertheless, preach the gospel. Don't give a pep talk. Don't give advice, like I am here. Just tell them why Jesus is better than they think. Prepare your message with Luke 24:27 and John 5:39 and Acts 20:24 written out on sticky tabs stuck to your laptop. Whatever you do, give them gospel oxygen. Let them breathe again.

6. You are not there to change their church in any kind of structural or theological way. Even if they need it. Nor to make subtle suggestions. That's not the role of a guest preacher. You are there to encourage and edify them on whatever points you and they agree on. If you can't find enough central things to agree on, decline the invitation.

7. Don't say yes out of obligation (it's hard to preach grace when you do it out of a law-mindset) or because you think you might never get another chance to preach (if God wants you to preach he'll open up the doors) or because if you don't preach then they're missing out (they're not). Say yes if you have time to prepare well, and out of a glad sense of privilege, more confident in the power of the Word than the power of your persona.
8. Whether you agree to preach for them or not, thank them for the kind invitation. You don't deserve it.

9. Don't be scolding. There is a time for a certain kind of scolding, perhaps, when immaturity must be lovingly confronted (1 Cor 4 comes to mind). But not from a guest preacher.
10. As Calvin Miller recently wrote, it is just as important to know your context as it is to know your text. Seek to know the history, especially recent history, of that church.
11. As you leave, remember two things: (1) you are not as great a preacher as you think you are, and (2) your preaching is more effective than you think it is.


Matt said...

These are great suggestions on both ends. As someone who guest preaches often, I will second your advice. Give as much information as possible! It helps me better prepare the application section of the message if I know more about the congregation.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding. Thank you.

Eric C. Redmond said...

Great post, Dane! Thank you! ECR

John Moody said...

Great feedback. I do have to say that I'm surprised at your payment guidelines. I've guest-preached many times in many different congregation, and not once have I ever been paid anything even approaching the level you describe. (That's OK by me - by God's grace, I don't need the money.) But maybe that's just a Pacific Northwest thing...

Dane Ortlund said...

Understood, John. That remuneration guideline was more in the category of "what a church should shoot for" rather than "what a guest preacher should expect." Thanks.

Jim Pemberton said...

I'm not a pastor, but I do fill the pulpit occasionally at other churches. This is very good advice for both the church and the guest preacher. I'm pleased that the churches in my area as well as my own practice have largely done the kinds of things you have outlined here.

One thing I would suggest for consideration for a guest preacher. I won't require this of anyone else except for their conscience, but I never ask about the money. I show the same appreciation for any amount a church chooses to give. I've never had a church not pay me, but consider that it could happen. My goal is to edify them with a helpful message from the scriptures and am glad for the opportunity to be used by God to that end for I certainly don't deserve to be in that position. Any compensation they give me is considered by me a matter of grace. I typically put it into a mission fund for my family since we are involved in ministry overseas each year.

Kevin Hardy said...

Dane, would it be safe to say #5 is crucial for all preaching, not just as a guest but at your own church?

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks Kevin. Yes, I suppose so--but I envision a regular preaching pastor working through the whole counsel of God in such a way that whatever the emphasis of the text is, that is the emphasis of the sermon (warning, rebuke, comfort, etc). But when serving as a guest preacher, with one shot at saying something to a group I may never speak to again, I'd rather emphasize the one crucial thing of God's grace, the most counterintuitive thing, the thing we all need most, and the thing that, quite likely, is not consistently held high at any given church.

Jason Dollar said...

Great post, Dane. Some may say you are stating the obvious, but I would say, in this case, that the obvious really needs to be stated. Church bodies typically need a basic protocol for these matters, and they are looking for some kind of guidance. Visiting preachers are, too. Thanks.

Scott Perkins said...

You hooked me right from the beginning with #1 for churches, that happened to me the last time I filled in.

Thanks for this clear list, it is easy to critique the host church while overlooking how you may be coming off.

Andy Upton said...

Thank you so much for this. Great advice.

I'm a little confused about the money aspect. As a minister who gets a good salary from his own church why would I need paying by the church where I guest preach? Travel expenses yes but a gift or wage on top of that? Don't get me wrong I'm very grateful for it but why pay me?

On the other hand my friend who is a freelance evangelist surely should be paid the 1% you said.

roze4jesus said...

Great post. As a guest preacher I always struggle in relating my sermon with the life and ministry of the invited church. These suggestions will help me to prepare well in advance by asking questions about congregation and church specific culture. Thank you for putting them together so well.
God bless you

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