What Pastors Should Know about Guest Preachers
As a retired pastor, not far from my 80th year on the planet, I’m honored when a pastor invites me to fill his pulpit. Sometimes, as was the case last Sunday, the pastor is on vacation. At other times, I’m leading a Friday/Saturday event for a specific group–leadership, deacons, seniors–and the pastor asks me to stay and preach for the Sunday morning service. I’m always delighted to do so.
First, just so you’ll know…
I’m not coming with my own agenda for your people. My entire aim is to honor Christ and bless His church. From the time you first call inviting me to preach, I begin praying for the Father to lead me on what to do and how to do it.
Even if I preach something I’ve used in other churches, this is no so-called “sugar stick.” I’m endeavoring to be obedient to the Lord with what He has given me.
As your guest, I will not be critical of how you are doing things in your church. I will leave no suggestions on your desk on how to improve your worship service or ways to deal with certain problems in your church. You didn’t invite me as a “mystery shopper” and I’m grateful not to have that burden. That said, however…
If you wish my take on your church, from my single visit, I’m be happy to give it. But you’ll have to ask. Typically, the request is worded like this: “Joe, if you saw anything we could improve on, I’d love to have it.”
As a rule, the pastor who is sharp and secure enough to request this is already on top of his church’s issues. Almost invariably when asked for my criticisms, I have none.
Even so, you’ll have to ask if you want it.
Now, here are some thoughts on this business of guest-preaching in churches. I hope it will help you in the future…
–It’s always good when you contact your guest preacher a couple of weeks prior to the event just to confirm plans. Everyone who does what I do knows the uneasy feeling of having an event on his calendar for many months, but having no contact from that pastor or church until the very last minute. I’ve sometimes called the host to say, “Are we still on for next Sunday?”
–People ask, “What’s the first thing you notice when you arrive at a church?” I answer, “The church building and grounds. Are they neat and cared for?” What else? Inside, I look carefully at the pulpit/altar area of the church. Is there room for people to come and pray in the service? I love to invite worshipers to “fill the altar area” with prayer. Many will kneel, others stand and some may choose to sit on the front pew. Is there room? It says a lot about the church if the front of the sanctuary/worship center is open, roomy, attractive, and inviting.
–A sharp staff (worship leader, other ministers leading in the service) is a great credit to a church and a wonderful reflection on the lead pastor. Staffers who are excellent hosts to the visiting preachers speak volumes about their leadership team.
–An attentive congregation during the sermon does not necessarily mean I’m doing a terrific job. What it shows is that the people have learned to listen to a sermon well. It’s a great tribute to their pastor. No congregation that sleeps through sermons Sunday after Sunday suddenly comes alive when a guest preacher steps into the pulpit. But if they are alert and involved from the first, it’s because they’ve had good leadership.
What should you pay the guest preacher?
–That’s up to you, of course. It’s a rare guest preacher who has a fee schedule. But if the remuneration is going to be unusually small–due to the tiny congregation or heavy expenses the church is dealing with–or even no pay at all, you should tell the guest up front.
–The typical church will want to cover the guest’s mileage at the standard rate allowed by the IRS, and give him an honorarium. And if the great distance means he spends a full day en route, you should take that into consideration. (When a minister invited me to speak to his church’s seniors at a weekday meeting, he said, “We don’t normally pay our speakers for this.” I answered, “If your church is hurting financially, no problem. But if they aren’t, you should consider that I’ll be driving two hours each way, and in addition to speaking to your people, I’ll be sitting there for a couple of hours sketching them all.” He’d not thought this through, obviously. They were generous in the check.)
–Pastors should check with their colleagues in other churches from time to time to see what they’re paying guest speakers. Some pastors are still paying at the 1965 rate, while others are most generous.
–Generous is always best and appreciated. However, if the honorarium is small, I still thank the Lord. It’s Him I serve, and He is my Source, not the host church or host pastor.
–If you plan to pay the guest speaker, give him the check while he is there. Do not tell him, “We’ll be in touch” or, “I’ll have to send you a check; our treasurer was out today.” What the guest wonders is how you could schedule him to preach months in advance but give no thought to paying him. “The laborer is worthy of his hire,” says the Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments. The pastor who expects his own paycheck in a timely fashion should see that his guest preacher gets the same treatment. (Most retired preachers count on this as a help to their fixed income.)
Twice in these retirement years I have called pastors many weeks after speaking in their churches. “Brother Bob, were you going to give me anything for preaching in your church?” There. You just say it. As uncomfortable as it feels, you get the words out. One pastor said, “You mean you weren’t paid? I told the secretary.”
Between you and me, it’s inexcusable for a pastor to be so sloppy about his work that he doesn’t even follow up to see if something important has been done.
One final thing. A quick thank-you note to the guest preacher is always appreciated. These days, notes by email or Messenger are acceptable. The pastor where I preached Sunday said something in his thank-you note which I cherish:
“Thank you for the respect and care you give to the churches to whom you speak!”
That’s almost as good as the generous check they gave me.
Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.
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