ed note: My good friend, Rusty Pettus has just launched 411ministry.com and it's looking good. He asked me to write a 200-400 word article. I got carried away and it ended up being 1500 words. So, in respect to his request, I trimmed it down to 400ish - BUT am posting the expanded edition here. To read the shorter version or see Rusty's new site go to: http://411ministry.com/?p=86 If you are here for the first time and want to receive notices when we update shoot me an email - email@example.com and I'll add you.
You preach and you love it. Someone has noticed that you live or preach or teach with passion, conviction, ability, style, insight, and/or creativity and they've invited you to speak somewhere other than your home congregation. A lectureship, seminar or special program. You feel honored, humbled and excited - until - you look at that assigned topic, text, theme again. Then you see the manuscript and the deadline. The program comes out and you see who is speaking "opposite" you and think for a brief moment - "if I didn't have to be there to present it I assure you I'd go hear any of these guys before I'd hear me" :). But you agreed. So what now? Here are "9 Be's" -
First and foremost remember you're a preacher/teacher, not a rock star! Nobody's ever picked me up in a limo (except Larry King's show but that's another story) and nobody flies you first class to their program (though I'm open to it). Yes, it's an honor to be asked to speak - but the honor must go to God. If you are asked to speak - don't let it go to your head. Your job is to preach God's Word, or as I heard not long ago and it stuck, to "make God famous" not to pad your resume (really why should a preacher even have a resume?). Take it from me: there will always be programs you haven't gotten on that you'll wish you had. You'll also have your share of programs you did agree to speak on that you'll wish you hadn't. My dad's most often solo line to Jeff, my nephews who preach, my sons who preach and me was - "stay humble" (James 4:10) I would love to say that's not hard considering my abilities and my knowledge of where they come from, but that would be a lie. Satan loves to tempt us to think "more highly of" ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3). My friend Scott Bond, Jr. used a line not too long ago in a sermon "If you want to follow Jesus you better look good on wood." I can't remember who he quoted but we must never forget that we are to imitate a sacrificial servant and that "the servant is not greater than the master" (John 13:16).
1. Be you: They asked you to come not someone else. Some of the titles are going to intimidate you, some of the settings and audiences are going to as well. You will want to conform to the topic or the throng. You'll want to sound like a scholar or you'll want to morph into a prophet. Vet your own sermon. If they had wanted J.W. McGarvey they would have asked him (well actually they did, but he's dead so they got you). Talk to people who know and love you - ask them what they see as your strengths in preaching. Capitalize when you preach on what you do well. I am neither a fan of "Christian Rock" (whatever that is) or of any kind of Rap music - but I heard one rap song called "You Be You" that was excellent in it's message and that little title often goes through my mind.
2. Be respectful:
- Of the time: If they asked you to speak 40 minutes don't go 45. Remember, this is a lectureship, a seminar - you are probably not the only speaker. It doesn't matter how good you are - that guy who asked you to speak is sweating bullets if you go overtime. And if you do it, don't expect to be asked back. It is actually a little dishonest to accept a speaking opportunity and then not fulfill it (i.e. 2:00-2:45 was the agreement. If you go to 2:55 you have broken the contract).
- Of the local folks: Don't try to out stage the people who "have to stay" after you are gone. You probably respect the people there or the work they are doing. Remember they have to live with the consequences of what you say. When I hold a meeting I try to emphasize that the local guy is my hero not the "chump" (me) who tosses a few of his favorite sermons in a bag and speeds through town).
- Of the program: Ask about expected attire, if you are to extend an invitation, if they WANT a visual presentation (i.e. PowerPoint, Prezi).
3. Be inquisitive: Find out what they WANT from the lesson. I've spoken before thinking I knew what they were asking when I was given a title and missed the boat altogether. You might even ask for a three sentence direction statement. If they don't have that, look at the other titles and see how you fit in. Most recently I kicked off a program on the book of Hebrew. No one had an overview of the book - so I took about 5-10 minutes of my time and gave one. Now, remember they may not know what they are looking for. But if they do, try to make sure you cover that because it is probably addressing a need.
4. Be cautious: Be aware, unless you know the venue very well ask before you try something "different." Since I love surprises, I'm shocked to know that not everyone does. So, ask. "I'm thinking about…" You AND they will probably be glad you did. Now, this is important: Unless they specifically ask me to I'm not going to take a projection presentation - and I love those things. BUT there are just way too many variables and if I take the time to prepare one and it doesn't work, it's extremely frustrating and distracting to me. They may have a different version of PowerPoint, they may not know how to use Prezi, they may use Keynote, the fonts may not line up, the monitor may not be usable or exist at all, they may demand to control the advancement of the slides (and be poor at it) - just too many things can go wrong that take away from your message.
5. Be Biblical: Again, don't forget your mission is to preach God's Truths. I can count on the fingers on one hand and have some left over the number of times I EVER heard dad be critical of a fellow preacher. We heard a young and exceptionally talented man over 20 years ago one night. I was entranced at his talent and made some comment to that end. Dad simply said: "He needs to use the Bible more." I heard my, "man of few words" father-in-law one time tell a young man who was full of himself and not full of the Word: "Read your Bible boy." And it is reported that Gus Nichols once told of a man who "didn't let God get a word in edgewise." Remember God's Wisdom is above any of our creative "genius." It is His Word that people want and/or need most.
6. Be aware of your audience: I try to know as much as I can about an audience before I preach. If they are radically conservative I want to try to help them see the blight of that. If they are on the other extreme I want to hit that. If I don't tell them, in love, what they need to hear 1. who will and 2. why am I there?
7. Be present: There are times when you won't be able to avoid it but try not to be that guy who shows up at 6:55 to speak at 7 and then leaves at 7:45. When you are there - be there! Speak to people. Sit with people (I ask not to have to sit on stage or up front and I try to find some person sitting by themselves and sit with them). Listen to people. You may do more good with that than in the pulpit before the whole audience. Don't be a prima donna.
8. Be your best: Try to get rest, try to address the subject assigned, try to look like you know what you are doing - even if you don't :).
9. Be gracious: (before, during and after): Behave like you think a follow of Jesus would. Don't burn bridges, don't be mean, write a thank you letter. They asked you to come there - you agreed - be thankful to God and to them for the opportunity to bring God's Word with you to them.