Joys and Challenges of Being a Guest Speaker: Part 2 :: By Paul J. Scharf
Being a guest speaker in a local church congregation is a great honor, but there can also be some very real complexities that accompany such an opportunity. How should we as preachers handle these challenges?
I shared in the first installment that I always try to ask the following questions before I go into a church to speak:
- Does the congregation have a strong preference regarding dress in the pulpit?
- Does the congregation have a strong preference regarding Bible translations?
- Is the congregation used to having a media slide presentation (i.e., PowerPoint, Google Slides, etc.) during the sermon, and how is that system set up?
Last time, we looked at the first of these questions, and this time, we’ll turn our attention to the second one, which is likely the most controversial of the three.
In principle, we would respond to this second issue of Bible versions in the same way we do to the first regarding dress—endeavoring to accommodate the wishes of the local congregation, in which one is a guest speaker.
I must admit, however, that attempting to do this can leave me in a quandary. Probably like many who are reading, I am blessed to own a number of Bibles in a variety of translations. However, my Bible—that is, the Bible that I preach and teach from, is not interchangeable with any of the others that I use. I bought it in seminary, and this fall, it turns 25 years old. Now, when I went to select a Bible, I had to pick a translation, and I chose the New King James Version in the form of the Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible.
I purchased this Bible with the determination of making it my preaching Bible—drawing on the example set by my two great theological mentors, Dr. John Whitcomb and Dr. Myron Houghton, along with other teachers I’ve enjoyed. I have a unique highlighting system for it, and I’ve carefully filled it with notes. My familiarity with this Bible, in combination with the different colors of highlighting and the notes that I’ve recorded in it, makes it much easier for me to locate passages and other information that I need to access in real-time. If called upon, with no advanced notice and no other notes in front of me, I could definitely preach a sermon, teach a lesson, or strive to answer a question—as long as I had my Bible with me.
In fact, I will often speak (following the models of my teachers again) with only this Bible and no other notes—especially if I am using a slide presentation.
Thus, changing the Bible that I speak from is not as easy as picking a different one off the shelf. Many people have no grasp of this concept. Some probably think that switching Bible versions for a sermon should be as easy as changing the font on your computer screen. But it is not—any more than it would be so easy for a trained musician to switch instruments after preparing on the one they are most familiar with.
On occasion, however, I have specifically been asked to change the Bible version that I speak from. Sometimes, a church will request me to go even further and alter my slide presentation.
Now, I have a heart for serving all churches that desire our ministry and want to be sensitive to their needs. I realize that the guest speaker is, before anything else, a guest. I must admit, however, that these situations cause me to struggle.
Recently, for instance, I was preaching in a church that asked me to use a different Bible version. As a result, during the Sunday School hour, I bungled an easy Bible question simply because I could not locate the passage I was looking for. Had I been holding my Bible, I could have answered effortlessly. Then, in the sermon, I messed up a major point I wanted to emphasize because I was reading it from that version.
These experiences leave me wondering whether such mistakes are really justifiable.
Yes, the church is the host, and I am the guest. But should I ever be more forceful in declaring that I simply must use my Bible? Should I ever make it clear that, in my desire to be true and accurate to the text and Biblically correct in all that I say, it is more or less necessary for me to use my Bible?
These are not easy waters for the itinerant speaker to navigate. I know men that I respect who have dealt with it in varying ways.[i]
What will you do when you have the opportunity to teach as a guest before a congregation of God’s people? How would you manage this situation? I’d love to learn from any wisdom that you can convey.
Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, based in Columbus, WI, and serving in the Midwest. For more information on his ministry, visit sermonaudio.com/pscharf or foi.org/scharf, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] For instance, I have known some Bible teachers who did not generally concern themselves with this second question when going to preach at a church. They simply presumed that anyone inviting them to speak understood what they were requesting—including the Bible version that the speaker was known for using.
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