So I’m getting to guest speak/teach a bit more often these days (most recently last night at TNL, an amazingly wonderful group of people). For some, adding any outside speaking to what they already do may be a drain. For me, it’s positively invigorating. I love experiencing new congregations and hanging with their people. I love getting the opportunity to bless other pastors by giving them a Sunday (or in the case of TNL, a Tuesday 😉 off, since I now know so well the existential toll of preaching every week…
But most importantly, I really love the Church (capital C). I love God’s people. I love opening the Scriptures with them and helping them re-imagine themselves into the “world” that the Bible paints for us, a world that is being renovated under the reign of God in Christ. So I approach guest speaking with total seriousness and total joy and anticipation. A unique privilege.
Having said that, here are some rules I try to live by when guest speaking… I submit them to those of you who are ever called upon to guest speak, teach, preach – whatever – to a group of God’s people:
- Don’t break in new “material” with them, unless you absolutely have to. This will reduce the strain on you and be a real blessing to them, since you’ve already worked with the flow of the ideas beforehand. It will come out much more smoothly and naturally. So, for instance, with the group last night, I used a bunch of my stuff from Sunday night and added a few new wrinkles based on stuff I’ve taught in the past. Worked really well.
- Respect the “house rules.” That is, if their teaching times go for 35 minutes, do your level best to stick to 35 minutes. If they go shorter, stay short. If they preach from a particular version of the Bible, try to preach from that version. Nothing’s more awkward – or arrogant – than assuming that because you’re a guest, “anything goes.” You’ll soon find yourself an unwelcome guest, or never a guest again.
- Don’t throw theological grenades. If you have theological differences with the church, do your best to be honest about that with the leadership ahead of time. And if there’s a way to avoid bringing those differences to the surface during your message, please do so. Remember – “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” Preach to the level of your commonality with them, and don’t make messes that the leadership will have to clean up afterwards.
- Try to use examples/illustrations from your own life. I find that being slightly more “autobiographical” when speaking to a new group of people is really helpful, because it negates the awkward distance between me and them – the distance of, “so who the heck are you?” Artfully weave the “who you are” into your message when you can. It will disarm them and help you preach/teach/speak more easily and naturally.
- FINALLY, and perhaps most importantly, LEAVE THE CONGREGATION IN BETTER SHAPE THAN WHEN YOU FOUND THEM. Bless, strengthen, help, encourage… leave the flock hopeful and energized and ready to keep charging ahead with their leadership in the work of being God’s people on God’s mission with Jesus. Leave behind a pile of goodness that the leadership can cash in on in running forward with their people.
Remember that you’re God’s servant to God’s church… so do this right. As Gail Gungor (wife of Ed Gungor, who is the senior pastor of the church I first got to serve as an associate at) used to say to me before I would teach when Ed was gone, “Preach ’em happy Andrew!” I’ve found that to be pretty sensible and sane advice wherever I am.
So get to it. Preach ’em happy preachers.
Grace and peace.