Dear Guest Speaker

Over the past couple years I’ve done a lot of guest speaking at churches.  I consider it a great honor to give friends a break who may be out getting some much needed rest.  I also learn a ton while visiting other churches.  So many different things we’ve implemented at Cross Point over the years have come from my visits to other churches.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at Central Christian in Vegas for my good friend Jud Wilhite.  I can’t say enough good things about what this church is doing under Jud’s leadership.  Unbelievable!!

With each opportunity I’ve had to visit  your churches there are a couple things I’m picking up on.  I don’t have this whole “guest speaking” thing down, but here’s what I want to share:

First of all I want to address those of you who do guest speaking from time to time.

To Guest Speakers:

1)  Don’t go over your allotted time. Period.  I don’t care how “inspired” you feel.  You have no idea the issues  (parking, service turnover, take down, childcare) you create when you don’t follow the time frame they’ve given you.

2)  Don’t make controversial statements the church staff are going to have to clean up later. Your *funny* joke may have cost the pastor hours of meetings.  If you feel led to stir the water a bit do it on your own platform, not theirs.  They’ve probably spent years intentionally building integrity with their community and attenders.  You have the power to put that in jeopardy in one 30 minute message.

3)  Respect the methodology of the church you’re speaking in. It’s quite simple.  Take time to understand their protocol.  If they do altar calls each week then you need to do an altar call.  If they don’t, then you don’t.  If you like to use outlines but their church never uses outlines, then take a pass and find a way to communicate your message without using an outline.  If you can’t jive with their methodology than you shouldn’t  have accepted the request in the first place.

4)  Take a moment to give honor and respect to the pastor and staff but don’t overdo it. I think it’s important to recognize the pastor and his leadership.  Say for him what in his humble spirit he would never say about himself.  But at the end of the day make sure you put the focus of the message where it really needs to be, which is on Christ.

To Guest Speaker Listeners:

It’s confession time. While I appreciate your kind words and praise you need to know something:

I brought my silver bullet. Chances are I gave my “best” message I’ve written in the past two years.  If I was assigned a topic I ignored it and still gave my favorite message in the past two years. (:

No seriously, if I was assigned the topic I still probably had several weeks or months to prepare and work in my favorite illustrations and zingers.  Your pastor who pounds out new messages week after week, he’s the real hero and he’s probably twice the communicator I am.

What communication tips do you have for guest speakers?

48 Responses to “Dear Guest Speaker”

  1. No question at the end? Bummer. I love your questions. If I ever get to be a guest speaker I will follow all of this advice. :-)

  2. Aaron L. says:

    Pete, we’ve never met and I am relatively new to your blog, but I am quickly becoming a big fan. This is right on the money. As a relatively new pastor (just launched in March) and someone who is just beginning to do some guest speaking, this is very timely and personally challenging for me. Thanks!

  3. Public and Private worship is important. If you come in half way during worship time and don’t enter in, how do you expect people to respond to your message. Worship is an essential part of the service. be there on time..

  4. Ashley says:


    The best communication tip I have for guest speakers is simply to serve. Serve the church/venue you speak. Be a blessing. Create momentum. and remember, it is not about you.

  5. Sarah S. says:

    Love all of these and try to remember them as a speaker. It’s not communication tip, but I don’t get up to speak until someone has prayed over me and the message I will bring — not necessarily in front of the group, either. It’s a very important part of my message, I believe.

  6. Randy says:

    Great advice, Pete. I’ve not done the guest speaking that you have, but I would say “amen” to all of these words of wisdom. Looking forward to being in your worship again the first Sunday in October! Blessings, bro!

  7. dan says:

    not going over the allotted time is HUGE. We once had a guest speaker go 20min over the time limit we gave him.

    As for tips…I would say being aware of what’s been talked about is extremely important. I recently preached for some missionaries who were getting ready to leave for the field & during the message I asked if they were familiar with the DISC assessment & proceeded to briefly explain it. Had I paid just a little more attention I would have noticed that just over my shoulder there was one of those massive post-it note pads on an easel with DISC break down on it.

  8. Thank you for the tips. I am new to whole “speaking” thing and have only had the opportunity to guest speak at one church so far. All of the other preaching that I’ve done has been at my own “home” church, so I know the rules there. I’m going to file these away on the off chance that the opportunity to speak is afforded to me. Along those lines, does anyone have advice on how to “branch out” and receive speaking opportunities?

    • Pete Wilson says:

      That’s a good question. I would think that building a strong social media presence would be important these days. Maybe put a audio or even video presentation on your blog of you speaking?

  9. Wes Howard says:

    “But Noah got a rainbow!!” – That line will preach anywhere.

  10. Candace says:

    Exxxxxcellent Pete!!! Apostle Paul cd hv written this!

  11. Carol C says:

    One of the things I loved about having you at Central was that you were so accessible. You hung out with us in the Green Room, prayed with our team, took time to speak and really listen to the people around you. You didn’t hide away and separate yourself from us – by the time you left, you felt like family. And if I ever got the opportunity to visit your church I’d probably come find you and see if I could serve on your team too! I’ve never had a guest speaker go over his notes with me before. You can’t imagine how something small like that turned a stranger into a friend :-)

    • Carol C,
      Pete has always been so accessible. He never shys away from the front door, meeting and greeting old friends and new visitors. Our church keeps getting bigger and he hasn’t found a hiding place yet….one of the things I treasure about him. It makes him one of us….. not some figure that walks out from behind a curtain and then retreats never to be seen again. We are so blessed with a servant pastor. So glad you could see this in him. :-)

    • Pete Wilson says:

      Thanks Carol. It was a real honor to meet you and I so appreciate the way you’re serving at Central.

      You guys are a special group of people.

  12. Just keep telling the “peeing in the pool” story, and you will never have to work again.

  13. Dave says:

    I’m pretty new to your blog (first comment) but that was spot on. My church has shied away from “guest speakers” for the reasons you mentioned. Very insightful and very honest about the “silver bullet” and ignoring topic. The balance there is often the REASON you invite a particular guest speaker with little congregational ethos is their “silver bullet” message.

  14. Rodney Swanson says:

    Don’t ask for donations to a worthy cause unless you have spoken with the elders before hand and they have approved the worthy cause.

    I’ve heard of a story where a guest speaker that dressed up like a homeless person and was outside the visiting church after morning services and had his wife tape the whole thing across the street. Then he spoke during the evening services and showed the video clip and did a lesson on “are you ready”. Probably not a good idea.

  15. Tessa says:

    This is great advice that can be applied to public speaking of any kind. I will definitely use this if I do any speaking!

  16. Michael H Smith says:

    Great post Pete. I have serving as a worship pastor for thirty years and I have witnessed on many occasions each of your examples. I have to admit that #1 is the point that is most disrespectful of the congregation and pworship planning team and #2 the one the church’s pastor will have to deal with more after the fact.

    To help avoid these issues in the church I now serve we have created a document that is sent to each guest to help em understand culture and expectations.

    Thanks again for the post.

  17. Brit says:

    Hey Pete,

    I still don’t know you, still want to meet, still read your blog daily…

    All are very good tips, I think the time limit is HUGE, and thank you for pointing out the childcare aspect. I volunteer in our kids church every 6 weeks and sometimes it’s just really hard to keep 25-30 children plugged in for that long (our service is 10a-12p) and when our pastor and or guest go over the allotted time it extends that already-a-long-time service! So, that I thank you! Our Pastors line for testimonies is “short, brief, and powerful” :)

    p.s can you please tell me/all the the “peeing in the pool story”??


  18. Scott Davis says:

    I think having a prayer time before the service with the pastor (if they are there) and his staff who helped bring you in and promote it is essential. I AMEN the “be there to serve.” Lastly, if you have an iPhone, I use a little app called “Talk Timer” (made for public speakers) that helps keep me within my allotted time.

  19. Timbo Fowler says:

    A couple of things that may seem obvious but I’m surprised that aren’t often done: Be early for sound checks, etc. Also, know from the Pastor who the point person is on Sunday morning when he’s gone. If you have any graphics or things for the screen, the team should have had that stuff days or weeks ahead of time both to stream them into things and also to be approved for content/quality/culture.

    Also, take the time to know the previous messages. Listen to them so you don’t repeat points (or tell that joke that was given just last Sunday). Also, you can thread your content from previous topics. When I spoke for you at Crosspoint (way back in the early days when you were desperate LOL), I threaded the content with “as Pete mentioned last week…” I confess the crowd seemed a bit leary of this weird guy, but from that point on they were with me. They love their Pastor and if you’ve taken the time to identify with what God has been saying through him it can make a huge difference in credibility and your ability to connect and for God to speak.

  20. Brittany says:

    I felt the urge to comment on this. I began following your blog because I attend Central Christian and was SO SO moved by your message. I have already started reading your book – but wish I would have bought two copies because I don’t want to write in the one you autographed :). Thanks for coming to Central and shining more of God’s light on Vegas.

  21. Chad Woolf says:

    Dead on, Andy Stanley once spoke about how they had to un-invite a frequent and well know speaker because he regularly ignored their time constraints and cause complete chaos when he was the speaker.

    I would add to your part about not saying things that will cause the staff problems later by saying you could ask them if there are any “hot-button” issues that you could actually help them with by speaking into. Sometimes it’s nice to have an unfamiliar face either reinforce something leadership has been trying to impress upon a congregation or stir things up a little on a topic they want to address head on later on.

  22. Gail says:

    Great summary Pete. As someone who guest speaks and has seen many guest speakers I think these are key points to remember. I’d also add:

    * be available to talk to the congregation (not just the leadership) after the service
    * don’t arrive late and then saunter up to the front row / stage like a diva
    * in preparation not only ask God WHAT to say but also HOW to communicate it, this will help with cultural sensitivities
    * check the audience before giving the same/your fav sermon in multiple locations. I heard the same sermon 3 times from one speaker in 2 years at 3 events run by the same organisation with the same audience. It was awesome the first time and not so good on repeat

    • Pete Wilson says:

      Good stuff Gail. My thoughts are…

      -Be available to the congregation if that is the norm. If the senior pastor for one reason or another isn’t normally available after the message you set him up for comparisons. O

      -I totally agree on repeat message but you would be surprised how often an organization specifically request a certain message. Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice. It’s a bummer for those of you who get stuck hearing it multiple times though.

  23. Great article! As an itinerant speaker, I always thought something should be out there to address this and other meaningful subjects … so I wrote the book! Hooper’s Evangelist & Ministers Handbook (Everything You Need To Know Before You Go!) Take a sneak peek!

  24. Brett Wilson says:

    Great post Pete!

    • Leslie Nease says:

      Wow! Great blog, Pete. I came here from a link from Twitter (Pastor Bruce – Biltmore Baptist in Asheville). Glad I found you! As a speaker, these tips will be very helpful.

      At my daughter’s university, when they would have guest speakers at chapel, there was one year I spoke there and the students came up afterward and thanked me over and over again for not telling the David & Bathsheba story – apparently they had heard it about ten times that year. Ask the University or organization that has frequent meetings or chapels what has been discussed recently or if they have a preferred topic before going in. It might save you from embarrassment and give the audience something new to think about. :)

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