It's not really a Christmas-themed AtM this week, but I had some questions that were long overdue to be answered and I wanted to get to them before the end of the year. Here's one of them.
After 25 years in ministry, I have run across a new situation for which I am ill prepared. We had a guest preacher to deliver the sermon for Stewardship Sunday. He did well for the first 10 minutes but then went off on a theologically weak tangent that has caused much angst with my staff and with many of my congregants: He did a lot of guilt-tripping and promising good fortune if one tithed. He ticked off the youth, young adults, ministers and many of the adults. He is a nice guy but did little preparation for his sermon (he said so) and took 35 minutes to unfold it, leaving many confused and hurt. Some, of course, thought it was terrific and commented that we need more of that kind of talk from the pulpit—won't happen while I'm there.
Anyway, do I do any kind of damage control such as a support group, mention it in my sermon on Sunday, etc? Or, should I just leave it alone and trust the Spirit and the congregation's resiliency (which they have). Thank you for your help.
Well, first off, apologies that we didn't get to this sooner, as you've probably dealt with a lot of the immediate issues. We hope it went okay and are sorry you had to go through this! But here are some general guidelines to help you through this kind of situation should it happen to you ever again or to anyone else. I'm very much weaving the insights of several of our matriarchs in this piece, as we heard from Peripatetic Polar Bear, Jan, Abi and St. Casserole on this and there was a lot of overlap.
Trust your congregation
Abi shared an anecdote about how a guest preacher came in to cover her one week and went off on all manner of theological tangents—including why he objected to women preachers. "The church members were furious," she says. "The lay leader and I told the district superintendent, and I confronted the preacher too. The congregation treated me different after that, were very supportive. They also appreciated my response to the situation as well. We talked about what he said and did for sometime to come."
In other words, and as Jan puts it, "Give your congregation credit. They know he or she is the guest preacher. We once had an anti-war preacher deliver a hard-charging no-war-never-ever sermon to our congregation filled with WW2 vets and Pentagon employees. Didn't go well. But they knew he was a guest and they didn't have to hear him preach every week. Every once in a while it doesn't hurt, though."
Build, don't destroy
Jan writes that if you decide to run a followup sermon, instead of tearing the guest preacher's sermon (or the preacher himself or herself) down, put it this way: "We got some interesting feedback from ______'s sermon and there are many perspectives on giving money to the church, all from different stories and sayings from scripture. Today I'm coming from a different perspective, from the story of [whatever your passage might be]."
PPB offers that you should lean toward one-on-one meetings and avoid putting yourself in the awkward position of "an adversarial relationship with a clergy colleague." She adds that if it's appropriate to do so (such as if your denomination encourages such collegiality), you may want to meet with the guest preacher and "push him a little bit about what he meant in the sermon---see if you can find a way where the two of you can agree" on a revision or appendix to his sermon that could appear in your church newsletter, for example. Or you can provide some feedback on his lack of preparation, says Abi. "Talk with the person as well about what they did," she writes. "Nice guy or not, he screwed up, and on a very important matter for your church. If you are invited to preach on a special topic, you don't come ill-prepared." If it's appropriate to do so, take it higher. But oftentimes, that may be sowing discord, so reflect upon it carefully.
Leave it alone
At this point, it may have blown over. And sometimes that might be the best thing to do anyway, believe it or not--just ignore it. St. Casserole says, "Discuss it privately with staff, but do not mention it in your sermon or worship. You can't correct this by discussing it head-on. Continue doing stewardship education throughout the year. Don't invite this preacher back. When people say they loved him, thank them for being there to hear him."
You can't control them all
Ultimately, this is going to happen to everyone at some point. St. C. notes, "Guest preachers and speakers do this from time to time. I prepare to cringe when a special interest speaker does a Moment for Mission or a special appeal."
Now. If you really want something Christmas-y, I got something from my mom that I really needed to see this week. And since there isn't another Wednesday Festival before Christmas to send it to, I'll share it here: A Christmas interpretation of Corinthians 13. May all your guest preachers this holiday be right on target, and may your hopes for the coming year be fulfilled.