When You’re the Guest Preacher

From time to time, you will be asked to fill the pulpit at another church. Or, you will be asked to speak at an event outside the normal Sunday morning setting—revivals, chapel services, school assemblies, Sunday night fill-ins, etc. These are some of my favorite times to preach. Because these events are usually “outside the norm” of Sunday morning, there is a unique energy in the room. Also, I have learned that people tend to listen better if there is a voice they aren’t used to hearing (which, by the way, is a good lesson for all preachers to remember. Sometimes you need to get another voice behind the pulpit to break up your own monotony).

When you are asked to fill in or be the guest preacher, keep these practices in mind:

#1. Check with your Spouse and Your Calendar.

Hopefully this goes without saying. However, I tend to let my pride and ego drive things when I am invited to speak somewhere. But me being away somewhere means my wife is at home with the kids by herself. Talk with your spouse before you commit to anything! Also, make sure your calendar isn’t full with key things you would miss if you accepted the invitation. You will always have opportunities to preach. Your children will not always be playing T-ball.

#2. Find Out Exactly What the Host Wants.

When preparing to speak at another church or event, be specific with the person inviting you. Ask him/her what it is exactly they are looking for? What topic? Why you? What’s the venue? Is there a particular Scripture passage they want preached? What’s the goal of the event? Ask the host, “When the event is over, what do you hope happened?” Or, “What does success look like for you?” The more you can know going into the event, the better you will be able to prepare and serve the host.

#3. Learn Who Will be Attending.

When I prepare to preach, I always want to have the people I will be preaching to in my mind. This isn’t always possible. But I seem to preach with more clarity when I know the types of people I will be looking at. Learn what kind of people will be attending. Will the majority be churched people? Will the majority be older or younger? Children and teenagers? Many lost people in the audience? Knowing the demographic of people will better enable you to organize your thoughts as you prepare.

#4. Ask, “How Long?” and Respect It.

You will definitely want to know how long the host expects you to speak. If they say, “take as long as you need,” find out what the audience is used to. If the venue is a worship service, ask how long the pastor usually preaches. If the congregation is used to 20 minutes and you preach 45, chances are they will not hear what you said the last 20 minutes of your message. Remember: you are there to serve them, not take a long time getting off your chest what you wish you could say at your church.

#5. Ask, “What to Wear?” and Respect It.

This is tricky, but it matters. If you are used to preaching in jeans and an untucked shirt, but are asked to speak at a place where the dress is more formal, you will probably need to dress up a bit. If you are used to preaching in a suit and tie, but the context you are asked to speak is super casual, you will need to dress down. Why? Simply because you don’t want your dress to distract from your message. You don’t want people not listening to you because they are thrown off by what you have on. This isn’t about you, your preferences, and your opinions about dress. It is about how you can best serve the people you have been asked to address and help them know more about the God of the Bible.

#6. If Possible, Communicate with the Musicians.

Though not the end of the of world if this can’t happen, it will prove helpful if you are able to talk to the one overseeing the music prior to the event. You will learn a lot. Trust me. Your preparation will be helped if you know that there is 45 minutes of music prior to your speaking. If there are three “specials” sung by good-hearted, off-key sloths just before you mount the platform, you will need to know that. On the other hand, if there are three congregational songs that are energetic and full of gospel truth, you will need to know that also.

#7. Arrive Early and Serve the Host.

If possible, arrive 30 minutes to an hour before the event begins. This will allow for several things. First, it allows you to get the “lay of the land” and a solid feel for how things will transpire. You will learn if this is something that is just being thrown together, if it is a well organized event, what kind of people you will be talking to, etc. Second, you will have time to get a sound check, meet the musicians, get a bottle of water, and use the restroom without being rushed. But the biggest reason you should aim to arrive early is so you can serve the one who invited you. Find out precisely how you can help make the event successful for them. Ask how you can help them get ready. Look for ways to make the surroundings better. Not only does this help the venue host, but it puts and keeps you in the mindset that you are there to serve them.