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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Survival Tips for the Guest Speaker

If you’re a pastor, chances are someone at some point will invite you to be a guest speaker at their church or special event.  Guest speaking occasions can provide some of the most significant opportunities for ministry impact. The guest speaking adventure is also laden with some dangerous dynamics. These guest speaker survival tips can help you navigate the challenges.

Explore the Context: There have been a few times when I was invited to preach in a context that I knew absolutely nothing about. Maybe that has happened to you. The person who invited you was in her 20s, so you planned a message for 20 somethings. When you arrived to speak at the event, you discovered that the large majority of people in the preaching context are in their 60s and 70s. None of your pop culture illustrations and quotes are going to connect with this crowd. You might as well chuck the Lady Gaga quote and Avengers movie illustration. If we take the time to explore the context, total disconnects like this one wouldn’t happen.

Nowadays, when I am invited to speak in a new context, I ask the person inviting me to complete a Ministry Request Form. On the form I request the following information: Describe the culture of the group with five adjectives. What is the demographic make-up of the group in terms of ethnicity, generation, socio-economics, education, and spiritual maturity? What is the purpose of the event? How many people will attend the event? What is the appropriate attire for the event? The response to these inquiries provides a sketch of the group and shapes the content and delivery of my message.

When I receive the completed Ministry Request Form I pass it on to members of my prayer team. They not only pray for my speaking events, but help me to discern which invitations to accept.  

Respect the Context: If someone invites you to speak at their event, then they want you to be you. You should show up at the event as your authentic self. After all, they want you to speak. But, without losing the essence of who you are as a person and a preacher, you should respect the context enough to adapt to it. I’ve seen too many speakers shoot themselves in the foot by disrespecting the context. They dress incongruently with the group. They use language that offends the group. Their message goes 20 minutes past the group’s listening capacity. It’s one thing to explore the context, it’s another to respectfully adjust to it. The needs of the listener must trump our personal preferences. We call this empathy and it is effective when genuine.   

When the speaker disrespects the group she has been invited to address, the listeners can’t help but ear-muff the message. They’ll stop listening to what you have to say when they feel disregarded. If the group is going to be impacted by what God gave you to share, they will need to sense that you “get” and respect who they are.

Thank Your Host:  I’m often so eager to jump into my message that I forget to thank my host for cutting me loose in his people. About 5 minutes into my message I realize, as I make eye contact with the host, that I forgot to express thanks for the invitation and hospitality he extended to me. At this point, it’s too late. It wouldn’t be wise for me to say, “I interrupt this message with the following public service announcement- I want to thank your so and so for inviting me here today.”

Remember that while it’s important to thank the host, don’t overdo it, especially if you’re on a tight time budget. Make your comments brief and to the point. But please try to offer something a bit more creative and personal than the typical “thanks so much for having me.” Come on. You can do better than that.

Exalt Jesus: Although we must respect the context, we are called to proclaim Christ not entertain people. Our speaking should exalt Christ in a winsome manner. But, at the end of the sermon’s day, listeners should come away more impressed with Christ than with the speaker. If the host asks you not to mention the name of Jesus in your message, say at an inter-faith event, and you just can’t comply, be up front with your host. But, if your host doesn’t make such a request, proclaim Christ with love, respect and absolute gusto!

I was invited to the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives Session at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg to offer an opening prayer. I’m a Christian minister, so the content of my prayer was Christ-focused. No one asked me not to pray in the name of Jesus and I didn’t ask permission. I assumed that’s what they expected since I’m a Christian minister. I didn’t use my prayer to beat up on other religions. I didn’t pray, “and, God, we know that all Muslims and Hindus are going to hell” or anything like that. That would betray my rule about respecting the context. But, make no mistake, Jesus was the central point of my prayer. I thanked the Father for sending Christ the Son to be the ultimate public servant. One of the people who worked at the State Capitol Building said to me, “it was so good to hear a prayer from a Christian minister that mentioned Jesus.” I know, novel, right?  


Now it’s your turn to share some wisdom with our readers. What tips for the guest speaker would you add to my list? Which of my tips do you want to challenge or confirm?