Visiting preacher
Visiting preachers and officials at host churches need some understanding before the guest takes the pulpit. (Lightstock)

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As a retired pastor, I’m often on the receiving end of invitations to preach at other churches, so am well acquainted with this subject. Here are a few things that a visiting preacher requires from his or her host:

1. We need an invitation. Can’t preach in your church without one! (Hey, we can’t afford to be too subtle for some in the audience. Smiley face goes here.)

2. We would like to know as much information as the host pastor thinks is necessary, but no more. The main thing I want to know is whether I’m simply “filling the pulpit” for the absentee preacher or if my presence is part of a special emphasis.

3. Personally, I’d rather not know about the internal workings of the church. As a rule, it is counterproductive to tell the visiting preacher the status of the church's health or whether the pastor is “under the gun.” Let the Holy Spirit use the guest to preach the Word, and let the chips fall where they may. It’s fascinating how He chooses to address these very issues but without the guest preacher having a clue as to what the situation was. This also provides some protection for the host pastor when upset members ask whether he ratted them out to the preacher.

4. If there are any negatives associated with the invitation, tell me. Some tell me they can only pay a certain amount, often less than the mileage. If I can accept, I will.

When they ask what I charge, I assure them that this is a matter between them and the Lord. Most churches take care of travel expenses and an honorarium. One pastor said, “I want you to come, but I might not be here when you get here. They’re voting next Sunday on whether I get to keep my job.” I suggested we talk about this matter the following week. And as expected, he was terminated.

5. Call me a couple of weeks prior to the event to refresh my memory on specific times of services and anything else I’m expected to do. Perhaps you want me to do the children’s sermon in the service. Sketch people during the Sunday School hour. The seniors would like me to attend their luncheon and sketch them and bring a short devotional. The staff will be taking me to lunch after the service. When something additional is being requested, it’s best to tell the guest early if possible so he can arrive prepared.

6. I want to know the dress code. I’m OK about dressing up in a 3-piece suit, but even happier wearing a sport coat and open-collar shirt. Basically, most of us want to dress at the same level the pastor does.

7. When possible, it’s always classy to hand the visitor the honorarium before he leaves. Sometimes when the pastor says sheepishly, “We’ll have to mail you a check,” you wonder (to yourself), “Did they not know I was coming? Did they not expect to pay me anything?”

One of the most embarrassing things ever is for the guest preacher to send a note to the host pastor a month or more after the event to say, “Did you forget the honorarium?” Nothing about this is fun.

8. We need a little understanding of our situation. If I’m preaching in your church both Sunday morning and evening and then driving home, I’ll need someplace to crash in the afternoon. There have been times when I have mentioned that to the host pastor only to realize this surprises him, as though what to do with the visiting preacher all Sunday afternoon had never occurred to him.

A few questions:

“How much should a visiting preacher be paid?” Answering this specifically would be impossible due to a thousand considerations, such as circumstances, time involved, number of times he preached, etc. However, on behalf of the thousands of guest preachers all over this land, I’ll tell you my opinion: “Pay them about twice what you have been paying them.” (Smiley face goes here.)

The average church (and that means the typical pastor) pays the visiting preacher the same thing they paid a dozen years ago. And yet inflation and the cost of living have continued to rise. (In 1980, a religious professor at our college told me that 15 years earlier, when he arrived in that town, guest preaching brought him about $50 per Sunday. And that figure had been unchanged all those years. I had my banker figure in inflation, and he said it would require $127 at that time to have the same buying power. I imagine it’s more like $500 now.)

“Should we put the visitor up in a motel or someone’s home?” Unless you have an excellent provision in someone’s home, I always vote for the motel. When you stay with a family, they feel they have to entertain you. What the preacher wants to do, however, is shed his church clothes and take a long nap, then perhaps a shower before the next church service.

“What if we can’t afford to bring in a speaker from a long distance and pay him an appropriate honorarium?” Simple. Invite someone closer. Where did the idea originate that guest preachers are more effective if they come are from another state? And if your love gift is small even for someone close at hand, I suggest you inform him when you issue the invitation. Otherwise he comes under a false assumption that you are going to do the right thing.

“How can I get my church to take better care of the guest preachers?” Pull together a few leaders and toss this matter out to them. You’d be surprised how eager they are to do this right. Usually the bottleneck is not the laity but the pastor. And that means you, preacher. (Does a smiley face go here? Maybe half of one.)

“Where do I find a good supply of preachers?” The easiest way is to ask other pastors in your area whom they have used. They’re all around.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

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