“I have sent (Tychicus) to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts” (Ephesians 6:22).
I’m a guest preacher in every church I visit these days, and have been for the past nine years of retirement ministry. Today this weekend I’m in Poplarville, Mississippi, and Jackson, MS, next week in Leakesville, MS, and next month will be ministering in Starkville, MS, Mobile, AL, at an encampment in West Texas, followed by McCall Creek, MS and finally speaking at a church banquet in a restaurant in McComb, MS.
I’m having the time of my life. And I’ve learned a few things…
–I am the guest of the host pastor. I’m not in charge of anything. He invited me and I must honor him as the God-appointed leader of this congregation. I want to do exactly what he needs me to do. I will make no demands.
I once sat in a stadium where a young evangelist was lambasting the local churches and slamming the local pastors. To him they were all compromisers, complacent, and had surrendered to the world. Never mind that he was there at their invitation. He was their guest and was being brutally harsh. It was as ugly a performance and as unkind an act by a follower of Jesus Christ as I’ve ever seen.
–The question to my host is: “What can I do for you?” Do they need a stewardship sermon? something on prayer or witnessing? A leadership emphasis? I want to do whatever they need.
Recently, a pastor said, “The seniors want you to give them three one-hour sessions on Romans 8.” And did I ever love that!
–Today’s sermon is my one opportunity to do good in this congregation, to say something helpful to this congregation and bless this pastor’s ministry. I pray constantly for the Lord to use me to say something that needs to be said, something to reinforce what the pastor is trying to do, and yet not to cause a problem.
–I have no authority; I am a guest. They did not invite me as a mystery shopper to make a list of areas needed improvement.
And yet, I confess I have sometimes spoken up. Recently as my wife and I arrived at a church, we found the front doors locked. Greeters were standing at another door with handshakes and bulletins ready. I told them what was on my mind, that doors should be unlocked. First time visitors are shocked to find a door–which appears to be the main entrance–locked and no one nearby. And if, as these greeters informed me, this is not a door people should be entering, it should be so marked. Or “main entrance” signs could be erected at the appropriate place. I’m recalling a New Orleans church I was trying to enter, where I’d be preaching momentarily. The front entrance was approached by a sidewalk, while the parking lot was in the back. So, the front doors were locked and a concrete bench (as you’d see in a park) was pushed against the doors. When I asked why the door was locked, they looked as me as though I were an imbecile and said, “No one enters that way.” I said, “I know. It’s locked.” They answered, “The parking lot is in the back.” I said, “You are surrounded by neighborhoods. Did it not occur to you that a neighbor might walk down the street and come in the front?” No answer.
–I must not presume upon their kindnesses nor abuse their hospitality. I will try to leave everyone remembering well our brief visit.
–To be sure, if the pastor asks–as some have–“Did you see anything we could be doing better,” I will feel free to respond. In most cases, any pastor so eager to get outside counsel is also sharp enough not to need much of it.
Once I said to a young pastor, “You seem to be a good match for this congregation. But I’ve picked up on your interest in being open to a move. So I do have a suggestion.” Pause. “If I were you, I’d dress just a little better than you do now.” He’d been leading worship services dressed exactly as he would work on a car under the shade tree. And it fit his congregation perfectly. But I felt that a search committee would be turned off by that. Give him credit. He received the counsel well.
–I will take whatever honorarium is given and thank the Lord. if I have a problem with the offering, I’ll tell the Father.
The Lord is my Source and my Portion. He is not pleased when I put a price on my service to Him. When asked, “Do you have a fee?” (as I often am), I answer, “I suggest you cover my mileage and give whatever honorarium you feel is right.” And my experience is similar, I hear, to others doing this: One church will give you a small amount, barely enough to buy your gas, but the next church will more than compensate for that by overpaying you.
Once or twice a week these days, I receive a text or call from a pastor wanting me to preach in his church. No matter the size of the congregation, I feel like I’ve been handed a gift. It’s such an honor.
A generation or more ago, I’d pass churches while driving down the highway. Some rural, some small town. And I’d say, “Wouldn’t it be great to preach there?” And lo and behold–the Lord is giving me that very opportunity.
Thank you, Father. You are so kind to me.