(This is a companion to the article posted recently on “What the host pastor wants from the guest preacher.” As a retired pastor, I’m often on the receiving end of these invitations, so am well-acquainted with this subject.)
1) We need an invitation. Can’t preach in your church without one! (Hey, we can’t afford to be too subtle for some in the audience! Smiley-face goes here.)
2) We would like to know as much information as the host pastor thinks is necessary, but no more.
The main thing I want to know is whether I’m simply “filling the pulpit” for the absentee preacher or if my presence is part of a special emphasis.
3) Personally, I’d rather not know about the internal workings of the church.
As a rule, it is counter-productive to tell the visiting preacher the status of the church health or whether the pastor is “under the gun.” Let the Holy Spirit use the guest to preach the word and let the chips fall where they may. It’s fascinating how He chooses to address these very issues, but without the guest preacher having a clue as to what the situation was. This also provides some protection for the host pastor when upset members ask whether he ratted them out to the preacher.
4) If there are any negatives associated with the invitation, tell me.
Some tell me they can only pay a certain amount, often less than the mileage. If I can accept, I will.
When they ask what I charge, I assure them that this is a matter between them and the Lord. Most churches take care of travel expenses and an honorarium.
You’re either retired (my situation) and accepting as many invites as possible, or you are a preacher in search of a pastorate or a denominational servant, or something else entirely. From time to time you get called upon to visit a church and preach a sermon or two. You want to do this right and make a positive contribution to the health of the church. You want to bless the Lord, honor the host pastor, draw some people to Jesus, and if possible, avoid embarrassing your mother and dad.
Here are a few suggestions on how to do this.
1. Be prompt.
Don’t make the pastor worry you’re not going to show up.
2. Ask questions of anything you are unclear on.
“Without faith, it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). And then there is this: “And those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).
Faith is not natural to earthlings.
We want to see, to know, to be certain. We shy away from struggling with nebulous concepts such as belief and doubts, convictions and educated guesses and worrying about whether we have enough faith.
Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer of a generation ago, whose television program “Cosmos” riveted the nation, was firm and outspoken in his atheism. However, his numerous Christian friends witnessed to him and tried to reason with him. One asked his wife, “Doesn’t Carl want to believe?” She answered, “No! He wants to know!”
Reading that many years ago, I remember thinking, “Of course he does. We all do. But God has not set things up that conveniently for us.” Scripture says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” and “We walk by faith, not by sight” (Hebrews 11:6 and 2 Corinthians 5:7).
“They will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green” (Psalm 92:14).
As of this Friday, March 28, I hit 74 years of age.
Is that old? Depends on where you’re standing, I suppose. To a kid, it’s ancient. To me, it’s just another birthday.
Yep, 1940 is my year. And what a year that was. I remember it well!
Europe was already ablaze thanks to murderous Adolf Hitler. Six weeks after I arrived his Nazis invaded the Low Countries and on the same day (May 10) Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain. I had nothing to do with any of that in case you are asked. In the U.S., Congress agreed with FDR to call up our National Guardsmen for one year of active service. A song from that period says, “Good-bye dear, I’ll be back in a year. Don’t forget that I love you.” (It goes on to say, “They took my number right out of a hat, but there’s nothing a fellow can do about that!”)
“For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). And, “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11).
Some fellow writing in to our local paper thought he was slamming Christians when he said, “Religious people do everything by faith; science deals with hard facts.”
Give them credit. When I wrote a response to that slanderous statement, the editors ran my letter.
The simple fact is everyone on the planet lives by faith.
LIFE is a faith thing. For everyone.
We wake up in the morning without a thought as to whether the air in the room will be breathable and the oxygen in the air will be sufficient for everyone on the planet. Without a conscious effort and no hesitation or doubt, we inhale and begin to stir and head to the bathroom where we turn on the faucet. We have never been to the water filtration plant and have no knowledge of all the steps unseen people there take to purify the water, making it safe for us to bathe in and even to drink. We use it by faith.
We open the pantry and refrigerator and take out foods for breakfast. The strawberries are from California, the blueberries from Chile, and the milk from a dairy in another state. The cereal was produced in Battle Creek, Michigan, and the coffee originated in South America. Will you be poisoned today? It has happened, you know. You were not alongside the inspectors of those berries or the FDA people overseeing those plants or the agricultural people checking out the coffee beans at the port. However, you give this no thought and open the newspaper and eat your cereal. By faith.
You live by faith.
“For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Recently, Disciple Magazine reprinted something I wrote back in ’09 and which they had run then in their previous incarnation as “Pulpit Helps,” a print publication. “Reasons Not to Give” was an attempt to teach principles of giving to the Lord’s work through the back door, so to speak.
Today, it occurs to me that this principle has much broader implications than what I had seen at first, and it needs expounding upon.
To do anything by faith means there are reasons pro and con. The person of faith goes with the evidence “for” and the unbeliever the evidence “anti.”
In the matter of giving to the Lord’s work, for instance, reasons to give generously and faithfully abound–including obedience to the Lord and to scripture, as an investment in the lives of others, to lay up treasure in heaven, to conquer my own materialistic urgings, and to fund the Lord’s missionary work at home and throughout the world.
However, this being a matter of faith means there are reasons not to give to the Lord’s work. These would include questions about where the money goes, the possibility of some of the money funding undesirable activities, the definite fact that we have good uses for that cash here in our own family, the large salaries some denominational people draw, and the difficulty in paying my own bills. Driving down any highway in America, one sees expensive church buildings on every side, all built with the offerings of sincere worshipers. One does not have to be an unbeliever to ask whether some of that money could have been put to better use.
Not everyone who chooses not to bring an offering is an atheist.
(Do not miss the personal testimony of a pastor friend at the end of this piece.)
WHY DOES MY PREACHER NOT WEEP AT FUNERALS? Even his own mother’s.
In my case, by the time we laid my wonderful mama to rest, I was in my early 70s and she was nearly 96. She was so ready to go. If it’s possible to be ready to give one’s beloved mother back to Jesus, we were. And yes, we still miss her every day, and it’s been almost two years.
But there’s another reason for the lack of tears. Starting early–my mid-20s–I began doing heart-breaking funerals, one after another, the kind that will tear your heart out and stomp that sucker. Do enough of these, and after a while you run out of tears.
It’s not that you do not care, do not love, or cannot feel. It’s just that you care and love and feel without tears.
Furthermore, by this time, the preacher has come to terms with the message of Christ and has settled once and for all that this is true, this is what I believe, and I commit my entire life to it.
“The Lord richly gives us all good things to enjoy” (I Timothy 6:17).
If that verse doesn’t apply to food, it doesn’t mean anything.
This morning, as I write, a minister was telling me about a conversation with a senior adult in his church. They were discussing the last associational senior adult revival and the fellow just couldn’t say too much about it. It was great. The minister asked what made it so special, expecting to hear about souls saved and lives changed.
“The food!” he said. “On Tuesday they had chicken and dressing to die for! And the next day the gumbo and jambalaya was as good as anything I’ve ever put in my mouth!”
I posted that cute little story on Facebook.
Guess what happened.
My preacher friends jumped all over the guy.
“That’s why revival tarries.” “This kind of carnality.” “Their appetites is their god.”
That sort of over-the-top spirituality.
Many of our churches have a love-hate relationship with the concept of strong leaders.
Some will say they want a strong leader but find themselves unable to work with one when they get him.
–“He acts bossy.”
–“He announces the direction for the church but without talking to me.”
–“The minister of music was here before the pastor and is not used to taking orders.”
–“We have to approve that 35 cents he wants for stamps.”
–“We didn’t vote on that program.”
Other churches have terminated pastors because they say the ministers were not giving strong leadership.
–“We didn’t know where we were going.”
–“The staff seemed directionless.”
–“We were just floundering.”
“The one who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16).
When should a pastor leave a church?
1) When they fire you.
If they vote you out, preacher, and change the locks on the door, it’s a pretty good sign they want you gone. At that point, even if you know beyond all doubt that God sent you and this action represents complete rebellion on their part, it’s time to leave. The Lord no longer expects you to stay. (Whether He wants you to go down the street and rent an empty building and start a new church is an entirely different matter.)
2) When the Holy Spirit tells you.