After decades of ministry, I’m abandoning a longtime practice.
In the past, when a pastor invited me to guest preach for some occasion, I would say, “Now, tell me about your church.What’s going on. Anything and everything you think I ought to know.” If they had a weekly mailout, I wanted to receive it.
The theory was that the more I knew of his situation, the better I could address the various needs.
Whether I did or not is arguable.
I’m changing for two reasons. One, knowing about the church does not seem to have made that much difference. Honestly, I cannot recall a time when a pastor said, “Those messages were exactly what we needed.”
Two, the times when I knew nothing about the church, it appears the Holy Spirit addressed the needs of that congregation far better than I could have planned or expected.
These days, in my fourth year of retirement, I’m in about 25-30 different churches every year, some for single shot sermons, others for several days of meetings (revivals, weekend deacon retreats, etc).
Early in our conversation, I now say to the pastor who invites me something like: “Hey, Tom–don’t tell me about your church. I’d rather not know what’s going on. I prefer to come in blind and deliver the message God gives me.”
There are three excellent reasons for this:
1) The Holy Spirit knows that church and loves it far more than I ever could. He can be trusted to send the messages He wants.
2) It provides deniability to the pastor.
Sometimes, people get mad at their pastor because of something I said. “Pastor, you told him about me. You and he planned that he would deal with that matter in his sermon.”
The minister is able to say, “No, Mister Crenshaw. I told him nothing and he asked me nothing. Sir, if I had to guess, I’d say God just sent you a message.”
I love it when this happens.
And you might be surprised how frequently it does.
3) The fact is, even if I know the trouble a church is having, I am not so wise as to know what message they may need to hear. So, even if the preacher bends my ear for a half-hour with tales of internal division, external opposition, chronic complacency and his fears for his job, I’m rarely better off than had he told me nothing.
God loves that church and that pastor far more than I ever will. It’s Jesus’ church–Matthew 16:18, Acts 20:28, and Ephesians 5:25 forever settle that–and He can be trusted to send the messages He wants preached.
Why does that surprise us? Don’t we believe in the living God, that He rules over His church and guides HIs preacher on what to say in sermons? Surely we do.
There is one major exception to this.
If a church is going through some major crisis–the death of a staff member or some key leader which has thrown everyone into a blue funk, or a large number of unhappy members pulled out the previous week to start their own church, or the congregation is voting in two weeks on firing the pastor–it would be good to know this. Telling the guest preacher would be wise on the church’s part and merciful for the visitor.
The Lord wants to send His message.
In addressing the way some prophets created sermons and plagiarized messages from each other in Jeremiah’s day, the Lord said, “I did not send these prophets, yet they ran. I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. If they had really stood in my council, they would have enabled my people to hear my words and would have turned them back from their evil ways and their evil deeds” (Jeremiah 23:21-22).
You and I believe that the living God knows what’s going on inside the lives of each person in the room as well as the entire congregation.
Therefore, it’s no stretch for Him to give the guest preacher the perfect word for that individual and the church as a whole.
Therefore, once an invitation goes on my calendar, I begin to pray for the church, the pastor, and the people, something like this:
“Father, I do not want to waste this opportunity from Thee, the good will of this pastor or his people, or my time. So, please lead me in what to preach. And please prepare their hearts to receive it.”
The other thing I do is to call on a few prayer partners to seek their prayers too. This assignment and often the expectations are far beyond this poor preacher’s abilities to meet. We will be requiring the Spirit of the Living God in this matter.
I can’t wait to see what He does next weekend in the two churches where I’ll be preaching.