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This is a busy season in my life. There are kids clubs to run, mission trips to take, church partnership development/networking phone calls to make, and conventions to attend. In addition to all of the heightened activity going on around me is the routine weekly sermon. I've been reflecting on the awesome responsibility of preaching God's Word to a congregation today, and I wanted to share a bit with you about what God is showing me.
Some pastors plan mission trips or plan vacation days, and this is the time of year that they start calling in the "guest speakers." I think there is always a time and a place for guest preachers to come and speak to a church, but God has been challenging me to take very seriously the spiritual nourishment of His flock even when I must take a vacation.
As Paul says in Acts 20:28, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which He purchased with His blood."
It seems to me that too many preachers approach their congregation with the perspective that, in the summer time, everybody is gone and most everybody is on holiday, so the need to preach the Word of God boldly and accurately seems less immediate.The attitude too often is, "Let's just get somebody. Who is available?"
Every preacher needs a break. We're only human. But even when mothers and fathers go out on a date night, they don't just shrug off the responsibility of their children and say, "Aw, whatever! They'll be okay. Let's hit the town for a night out!" Parents don't act that way; why should pastors?
Everybody needs a break and parents need a date night every now and again. But what does responsibility dictate to us in this moment? Namely that we must plan ahead and get a baby-sitter to look after our kids. And from the Pastor's perspective this means getting a preacher to fill in for a week or two while you're out, but not just anybody will do. You wouldn't grab the first available stranger straight off the street to keep an eye on your kids would you? Of course not, so don't do it as a pastor!
Okay, a few suggestions then:
1. Try to get the highest quality, most faithful expositor of God's Word to fill in. You're the pastor, and your job is to feed the flock. So find a preacher who takes God's Word as seriously as you do. You want your church to continue to be well-fed during your brief absence.
2. Give your guest preacher explicit directions on what to preach. As parents manage the diet of their kids, so you are managing the Bible intake of your congregation. It won't work very well if you're preaching a 12 Part Series on Prayer, and then you have a guest preacher come to preach on Tithing as you go on vacation in the middle of your series on prayer. This is tantamount to serving dinner right in the middle of breakfast. Common sense, Preacher! Common sense! Make sure your guest preacher preaches a text that parallels what you're talking on, summarizes the series you just concluded, or primes the pump for the next series that you are about to start.
3. Have your guest speakers preach on a unified theme. If you have to line up multiple preachers to preach for you over the course of several weeks, make sure they all preach on a unifying theme or that their messages are coordinated in a unified way. We don't need three random topics over the course of a month. Every preacher worth his salt knows that congregations absorb Biblical truth slowly and over time. Repetition and reinforcement are key to the spiritual growth process. While it is true that attendance may be sparse over the three weeks that you're out, there will always be a few who are there all three weeks. Make sure they are not hearing the same thing over and over again, yet make equally sure that they are not faced with spiritual whip-lash. A unified theme, with different passages exegeted, and preached by multiple preachers should result in a spiritually refreshing time for your congregation in your absence.
This is way more work and way more advanced communication then what most pastors are used to as they prepare for vacation. But the church of God is precious to Him, and He has entrusted it to you, Pastor. So get serious, preacher, about managing those summer messages when you need to be away and resting. Try planning a few months ahead. Do it right. Do it well. Do it to the glory of God. Remember: these people in the church are not your people. They are His people! Just like a parent looks over the details of what his children will be doing in the presence of a baby-sitter, so God is watching over you and what you are doing with His children when you need to take a break!