The All Too Important Difference Between a Guest Speaker and a Pastor

Like many pastors, I was told that I needed to preach memorable sermons. At least that was the emphasis in every preaching course I took and every communications book I’ve ever read.

But the longer I’ve been in local church ministry, the more I think that their emphasis on producing highly memorable sermons was misguided.

It confused the role of a guest speaker with that of a local church pastor. Or to put it another way, it confuses the difference between a Thanksgiving feast and Tuesday night’s dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner is always amazing. It’s supposed to be memorable, filled with special treats. Something to look forward to and reflect upon. But a steady diet of Thanksgiving dinners would hardly remain special. Not to mention, making everyone fat.

On the other hand, my mom’s Tuesday night dinners were seldom special or memorable. But a steady diet of her healthy meals is what produced healthy kids.

Here’s some things I’ve learned about the difference between guest speaking and speaking to a local congregation along the way.

1. As a guest speaker, I’ve got just one chance to make a difference.

So I always do my best to be as memorable as possible. I want everything to be laser focused. I need to discipline myself to pick a main point and drive it home with the best hooks, illustrations, and stories that I’ve got. It’s a preacher’s version of serving a Thanksgiving feast.

2. As a pastor preaching to a congregation on a regular basis I have time on my side.

Rather than a one-and-done blast from a water cannon, I have the luxury of dripping in key spiritual truths over and over again. In fact, I’ve learned to avoid preaching a sermon series on the most important things I want our people to know and do. Dripping those things in over and over is far more life changing.

3. Trying to turn every sermon into a memorable masterpiece is a idealistic recipe for frustration and discouragement.

Looking back, those who told me that good pastors strive to make every sermon a memorable Thanksgiving dinner were seldom people who actually preached on a regular basis.

Truth be told, most of us can’t remember what we taught three weeks ago. And when you consider that we spent hours studying the text, organizing our thoughts, and fine-tuning our delivery, it’s no surprise that those who heard it once can’t remember our careful alliterations, main points, or much else. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t at work. For the majority of our listeners, a good sermon is a lot like Mom’s Tuesday night dinner. It provides them with spiritual nutrients they need to continue to grow in their faith and to stay healthy.

Sure, there are always a few who are spiritually ripe for a big-time change. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. But to expect that to be the norm for most of our hearers is a recipe for frustration and discouragement.

4. The worst part of trying to turn every message into a banquet is that too many people end up remembering only the funny story, powerful illustration, or the creative props we used.

And when you ask them how it impacted their life, they have no idea what the text or spiritual application was.

Now none of this is to say that a pastor’s weekly sermon should be bland, boring, or come across like a foul-tasting (but highly nutritional) liver dinner. Far from it.

It’s simply to say, relax. Teach the text. Explain what it means on Monday. Keep it real.

Don’t bore people. To make the Bible boring is a crime. But don’t try to turn everything into a banquet feast. Preaching that results in genuine and lasting life change and discipleship is very different than preaching that produces a reputation for creativity and the applause that comes with it.

By Larry Osborne