Editor’s note: This article was co-written by Guy Williams and Jonathan Andersen.
For the bulk of a pastor’s career, the phrase “It’s Monday but Sunday’s coming” describes the preaching ministry. The weekly rhythm of preparing and presenting sermons can be daunting, but it also provides a familiar structure to one’s work.
Sometimes, however, we are invited to step out of our typical pattern and preach in a retreat, camp, or conference setting. Here are a few things to keep in mind for those opportunities.
Background Information and Expectations
In our congregation, we have built a relationship with people over time and we have a basic idea of who they are. This cannot always be assumed when invited to speak for a special event. Willingness to ask basic questions is helpful. What is the occasion? Who is this group? What is their focus at this particular event? How many people will be attending?
Also, covering expectations up front is important. How many messages are you being asked to give? How long are you expected to speak? What time of day will you be speaking? Is there a theme or scripture passage/s you will be expected to work from?
Expectations also include the subject of compensation. This can be sensitive, so it’s all the more important to deal with early. If you expect a certain compensation, bring that up before any plans are finalized. You may have no compensation expectations but would like travel expenses covered. That is helpful to state simply and graciously.
If you are willing to speak to this group whether or not you are compensated, don’t bother. But if you do have expectations, bringing this up at the beginning is the most professional and respectful way to handle it.
Preparation and Delivery
Preaching multiple times per day or for several days consecutively is a different rhythm than the weekly pattern we are used to. Assuming one is dealing with a theme for the event, we are essentially preparing a series rather than a sermon. Keeping this in mind can help since one is readying several sermons for a few days’ time instead of just one for the upcoming Sunday.
Don’t be reticent to use material from your sermon file, provided that you review and/or rework it to authentically fit the theme, audience, and setting for which you are now preparing. Pay attention to potentially dated illustrations and update as needed. A question worth asking here is what sort of closing your host is looking for. Do they want you to lead a response moment or not?
Another difference between a special event and our weekly Sunday sermon to have in mind is the time of day that we speak. If you are speaking in the evening, ask yourself how that will affect your mental preparation just prior to delivery time. Discuss with your host what kind of time you might need to do the sort of review and mental prep you need to be effective.
Finally, a delivery-related detail to consider is the room, media capabilities (or not), and sound. A conference room for 30-50 is much different than an auditorium of 500 or 1000. And if you are used to a hands-free microphone while their system only has a hand-held, you can be effective, but you’ll appreciate not being surprised.
An invitation to speak for a retreat, camp, or conference is a tremendous privilege. Being prepared to field invitations in a professional manner allows us to serve our hosts and hearers effectively and with grace.