I am a local church pastor who is often invited to preach. I am invited to speak at schools, conferences and other such events. But I am most often invited to speak for other local churches.
I do not take these opportunities lightly. Neither should you.
A pastor’s primary responsibility is to be a faithful steward of the pulpit with which he has been entrusted. He is charged before God to preach the word.
He is also accountable for what others teach from his pulpit. Therefore, it is a serious matter when a pastor invites someone to preach, be it an associate pastor within the church or a guest pastor from outside of it.
I am often asked what to do to get preaching invitations. Answer: I don’t know. But I do know how to get invited back: Be a good guest.
Here are several helpful hints for being a good guest when you are invited to preach:
1. Be clear about the pastor’s expectations.
Why did the pastor invite you? What are the expectations? What are his goals for the meeting?
Find out the pastor’s expectations before you accept the invitation. Respect them as you prepare. And prayerfully follow them when you preach.
2. Respect the occasion.
What is the occasion? Is it Sunday morning? Is it a special event? Is it evangelistic or discipleship-oriented? Is there an assigned text or theme?
Find out the occasion, and do your best to respect it. If you cannot respect the occasion, it may be best to decline the invitation.
3. Observe time limits.
Find out how much time you have. And do not accept, “Take as much time as you want” as an answer. Ask how long they expect the service to run. Or what time they expect the service to end.
Establish time limits. Prepare with that time frame in mind. And don’t go over the time. Period.
4. Avoid controversial subjects.
If a pastor never addresses controversial subjects in his preaching, he is not doing his job. If a guest preacher addresses controversial subjects, he is not.
What if the pastor asks you to speak on it? Fine. But still be careful. The pastor should introduce new subjects to his congregation, not you.
Bottom line: Don’t leave a mess for the pastor to clean up after you leave!
5. Say "Thank you."
This is not just good pulpit etiquette—it’s what your momma taught you. When someone is kind to you, say thanks.
Of course, you should thank that pastor privately for the invitation. It is also appropriate to publicly thank him for the opportunity. In fact, send a note of thanks after the meeting.
It is a privilege to be asked to preach. The least you can do is say thank you.
6. Be yourself.
Do not pretend to be the pastor, especially if you are an associate filling in for your pastor. If you listen to a man preach each week, it is hard not to pick up some of his pulpit manners and customs. But do not be a clone. And not do presume authority that is not yours.
The congregation knows you are not the pastor. But they will accept you, as long as you do not pretend to be what you are not.
7. Ask permission.
Will you preach from a different translation? Do you plan to use multimedia? Will you say something that may be misunderstood? Are you considering something out of the norm? Is something “on your heart”?
Do not press on and get the pastor’s forgiveness later. Seek his permission first, whatever it is. If in doubt, ask first.
8. Be conservative.
Dress conservatively. It is better to overdress than underdress. But don’t be flashy. And don’t be a diva. You are there to serve the congregation, not the other way around.
Did you get away with that envelope-pushing statement or illustration with your congregation? Good. Leave it there. Strive to be humble, respectful and sensitive to the environment of the church.
9. Participate in the worship service.
The sermon begins when you enter the room. The congregation is smoking you over the whole time. Win their goodwill by participating in the worship service.
Do not sit in the office until it is time for you to speak. And do not sit on the platform reading your manuscript or notes, ignoring what is happening around you. You want the congregation to continue to worship as you preach. Worship with the congregation before you preach
10. Be on assignment.
Pastors must have a long-term perspective. This Sunday matters. And you must give God the best.
But next Sunday is coming. And the next.
Sunday comes regularly and rapidly. Effective pastors must train as marathon runners. But effective guest speakers must train as sprinters. Don’t view the opportunity as a mere preaching engagement. View it as a divine assignment.
Be ready. Be prayerful. Be faithful. Preach the word!