(Continued from Part 1)
11. Find out if the church has been hearing a sermon series on a particular book of the Bible. Then you can prayerfully consider choosing a text from another part of the Bible, in most circumstances. One exception would be if the pastor asks you to speak on a particular text, perhaps continuing through the text in his series. For example, I usually preach out of the opposite testament or at least a different genre, but a pastor who was preaching through Ephesians asked me to preach on Ephesians 6:1-9. He picked up with the next section of the text the following week.
12. Find out what Bible translation the church normally hears from the pulpit. When in doubt, the KJV is a safe choice, but if you know they are used to hearing from another translation, such as the NKJV, etc., then you should be safe in using the translation familar to them, if you are comfortable doing so. (If you take issue with how a particular passage is translated, you can always quote your preferred translation and say, “this could also be translated this way…”)
13. Ask about the typical sermon length. You may be told to go as long as you need to. On the other hand, you may be told “45 minutes,” “30 minutes,” or even “15 minutes.” Plan to stick with this, even if you don’t think it’s ideal (I certainly hope no one tells you “15 minutes” for a Sunday morning sermon!). You certainly want to feed them and do justice to the passage, but it’s better to leave them hungry for more rather than inundated with more than they can bear. And lest you think this is an unspiritual suggestion, we see examples of Jesus (see John 16:12) and the writer of Hebrews (see Hebrews 5:11) choosing not to share all that they could share because their audiences were not ready to bear it at the time. You can still declare God’s Word in the time you have, but you might have to be more selective in how much you cover.
14. You may want to ask if people normally receive any kind of visual outline. If so, you can probably submit a sermon outline to the church secretary or other contact, if you find out who that is, how to contact them (such as email address/phone number) and the deadline for submitting the outline. That way, it can be printed in the church bulletin or other handout. Additionally, the outline could be submitted in PowerPoint format if you find that the church prefers to use this technology and you are also comfortable with it (in this case you might also be able to bring a USB flash drive or CD-ROM with the file; however, it’s still a good idea to send it electronically so they can have it in advance and in case your media can’t connect to a church computer or you have other technical difficulties).
15. It’s good to know if you will have a lectern or pulpit to stand behind. For most churches, this is not a necessary question, but I once spoke at a church plant that did not use any sort of lectern. The preacher simply stood with his Bible and preached! The pastor’s view on using notes was to “put them away and preach like a man!” I had no choice that day (and actually enjoyed preaching without them). But if you know whether you will have an area to place your notes, that will help you mentally to prepare for the situation.
16. Find out how the service is typically closed out. Does the guest speaker close as he sees fit? Does the speaker always give a public invitation to come forward, complete with instrumentalists and songleader? Does the speaker need to hand things over to a designated church leader? Who is responsible for selecting the closing hymn?
17. Ask if you will be wearing a lapel microphone or using only the pulpit mic (or if there is no mic). If there is any kind of microphone, ask if they record the sermons (audio or video). If so, you could ask if they will provide you with a recording. If not and you would like to record it, bring a small voice recorder with you.
18. It’s good to know what affiliation(s) the church has, such as their denomination. This is not always obvious from the church name. It can be helpful to know for a variety of reasons, one practical one being that you wouldn’t want to deal with secondary issues in your preaching if the church’s views differ from yours. For example, in a Baptist church, you might be comfortable urging baptism by immersion for believers only, but it’s not going to be helpful to do that in a Presbyterian church (unless they have asked you to present this view). This doesn’t mean that you drop your convictions when you preach in another denomination, but it does mean you try to focus on what is most important for the situation and stick more to the primary, fundamental doctrines in those settings (such as justification by faith alone, the deity of Christ, etc.).
You might preach in a church with different views on the end-times from yours. In this situation, if you are preaching on a prophetical text you can still focus on the fact that Christ will return and we had better be ready and help others to be ready.
While it can be wisdom to focus on primary instead of secondary matters, that does not mean that all denominational controversies should be avoided. If you have opportunity to preach in a church where the parent organization and sister churches have compromised by waffling on the sanctity of human life or the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality, these are primary issues and could certainly be addressed in a sermon. Although you might not make this the main focus of the sermon, and although it may or may not ruffle some feathers, there is nothing wrong with addressing topics relevant to a denomination, especially when it’s a matter where the authority of the Bible is denied.
Keep in mind that this suggestion is for a single-supply preaching scenario. You might come across a situation where a church is rethinking its identity and wanting a preacher to lead them to think through some of these matters that distinguish them denominationally. Just don’t assume that’s what they want when they ask you to fill in because their pastor is away or because they want to give you an opportunity to preach! Use this to preach a text and share the Gospel, not try to change their denomination to a different form of church government, etc.
19. Your contact may mention an honorarium, but I would not recommend bringing the subject up, unless for some reason you absolutely need to know up front. If it is brought up and it is obvious that it will hardly cover the cost of gas, you have a choice before you. You can graciously explain that you are unable or unwilling to travel on that amount, or you can choose to go anyway. I would not make a hard and fast rule here, but I would suggest that you be willing to go to any church for any amount, or even for free, at least one time (if it is in a reasonable distance). If the compensation is poorly inadequate and you think it counterproductive to your family, then you could choose not to return if asked again, and graciously explain why. If you know the church or the contact well enough to ask for a more reasonable amount, you could certainly do so and explain your situation, but only if you have good reason to think the church could afford it. (For example, I heard of a church that could barely offer a $20k salary for a full time pastor, but which had multiple members working in an industry that paid them in the neighborhood of $100k per year. If just 3 or 4 of those members gave 10% to the church, the pastor could be given more. In no way am I suggesting that we be mere hirelings, but at the same time, the preacher and the preacher’s family have to live.)
20. In some circumstances, especially if you are traveling a good distance, you may want to ask about a recommended place to get lunch. This is especially important if you have a family traveling with you. It also opens a door in case they want to invite you to lunch. (If someone offers to cook for you, be sure to let them know of any allergy issues.)
21. Express your gratefulness for the opportunity to minister God’s Word and ask if there are any questions for you.
22. Make plans to pray regularly for the church as you prepare to speak there.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. Please leave a comment or contact us if you have suggestions for other things a preacher should ask a church when he’s asked to be a guest speaker.