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.
If you wonder how the pastor normally does things, ask. If you want to know the dress code, ask. If you are in doubt as to the version of scriptures to use or a thousand other things, ask. If you’re preaching an early worship service and under time limitations (the Sunday School starts in an hour or the next worship crowd will be arriving), you need to know these things. Ask.
3. Do not try to straighten out the membership or leadership on anything outside the pulpit.
If the greeters are doing a poor job and you have suggestions, mention it to the pastor or another staffer, not to them. If the janitor is neglecting the bathroom, it is not your place to tell him; discreetly call it to the attention of your host.
4. Dress appropriately. So if the pastor fails to inform you, ask him well in advance. I arrived at a church once dressed in a sport coat only to discover the ministers all dress very formally.
5. Try to stay with your assignment. If this is an evangelistic rally or the emphasis is on senior adults, preach accordingly. If they gave you no guidance, then plunge in and preach your favorite sermon, the one you feel so strongly about.
6. Don’t waste the congregation’s time with silly stories or too much introductory junk. Get into your sermon promptly and do your job.
Just because your daddy lived in this village a half century ago or you have spotted an old friend in the congregation does not mean you have to use up the good will of the people by talking about that. Greet the people, thank the host pastor, then get on with the message!
7. Honor the pastor and the other ministers. Some of these servants of the Lord are laboring under great difficulties and you can help them by magnifying their ministries.
One of the best things you can do for the pastor is to knock the ball out of the park today. By doing a good job, you are affirming his wisdom in inviting you in the first place.
8. Be appreciative of anything the pastor does for you, and understanding for anything he doesn’t. There may be a good reason he doesn’t take you to lunch after church or hand you the honorarium before you depart. Try to be low maintenance and look to the Lord as your Resource, not the pastor or the church.
9. Do not sell anything without the prior knowledge and full support of the pastor.
Suppose you have a (ahem) book of religious cartoons to make available to anyone in the church who wishes to purchase one. Or you are taking a trip to the Holy Land–your 451st such excursion–and you want people to pick up a pamphlet from a table in the foyer. Ask the pastor in advance. If he even hesitates, take that as his wishing you wouldn’t.
When a pastor does not want to allow book-selling or trip-promotions, he has his reasons and that is sufficient. He does not have to justify it to the visitor, nor does the guest want to imperil his relationship with the pastor by crossing this line.
10. The guest preacher can make an everlasting difference in the lives of individuals and the direction of the church–but only if the Holy Spirit empowers him and puts a divine torch to that sermon. So, let the guest preacher spend much time on his knees with the Father in advance, praying for His leadership for himself and His preparation in the hearts of the listeners.
The visiting preacher can reinforce truth taught every Sunday by the pastor. Somehow–don’t ask me how this works–hearing him say it differently often penetrates people’s hearts and bears eternal fruit.
The host pastor is praying for the Spirit to lead him on whom to invite. He has a right to expect that you too are praying to be used in his church for Christ’s sake.