What a privilege it is to be invited to speak at a church as a guest. This short guide is intended to help those coming into Engage Albany from the outside to better serve our congregation.
At the end of the day we believe that the Word of God is what changes lives and that the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) is to be taught, preached, obeyed, and cherished. As such, we have a high regard for the expository preaching of God’s Word. Our general “diet” of preaching is to go through books of the Bible chapter by chapter, verse by verse. We believe there is wisdom in this, but since it is nowhere commanded in Scripture as the only effective method for Sunday sermons, we will on occasion allow short “topical” series as well. Although our preference would be that series that are not confined to a larger context still be exegetical treatments of particular texts (as opposed to “word studies” or “thematic preaching” of an idea that is not rooted in a particular passage).
Practically speaking, the purpose of this short primer is to encourage you, the guest speaker, to best serve us. So as you pray and prepare to “feed” us we want you to utilize the finest ingredients (ie: Words from God’s mouth found in the Bible) to prepare your meal. It is our job to develop a pallet that cherishes both the milk and the meat of God’s Word (Hebrews 5:12-14), but because you are not personally privy to the complicated relationships that exist within our flock we would greatly appreciate it if you did us the following three favors:
- Work hard to keep your message rooted directly in the text you are preaching. In other words, don’t force unrelated Scriptural commands and teachings from other texts into your message. We do hope that you will use other Scriptures, but only so far as they drive home your main point. We also hope you’ll share some illustrations and anecdotes that add power, conviction, and imagination to your main point. We just desire that you not unnecessarily offend us by introducing foreign ingredients into your otherwise well-balanced meal. We look forward to tasting and seeing that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), but don’t want to choke on a chicken bone from a meal you prepared in a different kitchen or context (John 21:17). The second favor is contingent upon and closely related to the first:
- Unless directly addressed within your text, we sure hope you’ll avoid bringing up hot button issues or divisive topics. For example (and forgive us for binding your conscience here) it sure would serve us if you would NOT address issues such as abortion or homosexuality unless it is directly related to the passage from which you preach. Endorsing a political candidate or party is also a huge no no. Today’s kingdoms are tomorrow’s ashes and we need you to point us to Jesus’s kingdom, not a blue or red state.
- In terms of sermon length: aim for thirty minutes, give or take five. We’re a gracious and forgiving congregation so going forty is acceptable. Going fifty is a bit much to ask.
In an attempt to respond to the objection before it arises, let me close this short guide by saying the following: at the end of the day we desire to be a church that is accepting but not approving. We accept sinners of all sorts to hear the gospel without discrimination, but we approve only the things Scripture approves. We prefer that guests speaking to our congregation allow the pastors specifically called to our flock to address “sticky issues” with the care and concern they deserve. Ed Marcelle states that “to present something that is in the Bible in a disproportionate manner than the Bible is to cease to be biblical.” As such, we’ll hit those texts when they come up but you are released from the obligation to address them unless specifically asked to. At the end of the day, we believe, as Rosaria Butterfield points out, “those who allow their words to be stronger than their relationships are either hypocrites or cowards.” Allow our local pastors to speak strong words where our relationships can weather the possible fallout they may create.
We can’t wait to feast upon the meal that you have prepared for us!
Two Additional Resources:
21 Thoughts On Preaching by Jared C. Wilson (short article with some pure gold for preparing sermons)
Active Contextualization by Tim Keller (in particular, note his distinctions about “A doctrines” and “B doctrines.” As a church, we want to keep this winsome strategy in mind when it comes to presenting truths that are less-than-favorable in our current culture. If your text in particular has a “hard truth” in it, please make use of Keller’s wisdom here.)