Cleaning Up After a Guest Minister
I am a new pastor at a small church, and met an evangelist through a friend. I felt he would be a good fit for our church. After he came, I realized he was little more “over the top” than what I expected, and it seems that more damage may have been done that the good that was accomplished. How do I follow up with what I feel was a big mistake on my part? What can I do to “clean up” now, and also avoid such situations in the future?
I faced the same situation when I was a new pastor of a very small church. The evangelist shared some things from the pulpit that I felt were unscriptural. In fact, it caused me some problems with some people in the church. I felt it was my job as the pastor to get up in front of the people the next Sunday morning and correct what was said. I never said anything derogatory about the evangelist. I just told the church that from my perspective, the Bible said something different. I went on to share the four passages of Scripture that directly addressed what had been said. I did it in love, not in anger, even though I was not happy about having to do it. The result was that I gained respect in the eyes of the church for having the courage to get up there and address it. Obviously, I never invited this person to come back, even though he called me repeatedly.
The sooner you address this, the better. In the future, you might consider listening to a recording or watching a video before you invite a speaker sight-unseen. You can also ask a speaker to speak on a certain subject that you know will benefit the church, or avoid a certain subject that you feel is controversial. You are the leader. Take courage and go for it.
Pastor Jeff Walker – Palm Springs, CA
Precious pastor, first of all, welcome to the big club of pastors who have been in your situation. Learn from the experience, but don’t beat yourself up. Second, if the “damage” is significant, you may choose to address it…with kid gloves. However, if it’s not too serious, you may simply want to teach on the subject without even mentioning the culprit…I mean evangelist. Third, in the future, it might be beneficial to contact pastors for whom the itinerant has spoken and get a recommendation from them. You might also want to listen to sermons of the speaker yourself. God has the ability to cover a lot more than you might think, so don’t live in denial, but trust Him to protect.
Pastor Terry Roberts – Warrenton, MO
The only way to “clean up” after a bad experience with a guest speaker is to be honest the following week. I would begin by admitting my part of the mistake. Since you made a mistake inviting him, own it. The next step is to teach the people that they, likewise, will meet many sincere people who are just wrong. Even though they may be sincere and have some strong positive points, you have to judge the fruit of their lives. The people will trust you more if you take responsibility and apologize. If you make a political move and pass the blame, you may lose their trust. Spend time teaching why they were harmful. Make sure the Bible is the plumb line you use to confront and correct any error.
The good news is that the Bible is full of confrontation and correction because it has been happening all along. Be encouraged; that didn’t break the church. You can help the entire church grow stronger through this if you address it head on.
Pastor Virgil Stokes – Tucson, AZ
I am very grateful that I have not had to do too much damage control over the years. That is not to say there have not been some surprises along the way, but the true train wrecks have been few.
When there are things I see as problematic, I try to address them straight on. If a meeting ends on Sunday, I use the midweek to recap what God did, to teach on how to resist the devil and keep what you received, and to deal plainly with anything that might cause confusion. Often I find that what I thought was “over the top” really ministered to someone in the flock. Sheep are generally pretty resilient if you are honest with them.
After just a few months of pastoring, I began to form some internal ideas about how to maximize blessing from the gifts God sends to us. The best way to avoid any infection is to get vaccinated. I work hard at vaccinating my congregation. The best inoculation is the constant emphasis on the Word. When I teach on ideas that are controversial, I do my best to tell the people that there are other Christians who love God, but who don’t believe it the same way. We can love them anyway. If there are controversies in the Church world, I try to mention them and give our position on them. Recently, that has included the “no Hell” crowd, the homosexuality issue, the “seeker sensitive” model, and a number of lesser irritations.
Another form of vaccination comes by knowing the ministry of the people I invite. I have plenty of preaching material to last well into the Millennium, so I don’t invite people just to get a day off. If they come here, they have something specific God wants to impart to this congregation; something we need to do what God has asked us to do. I don’t speak to a potential guest minister without a personal endorsement from someone I trust, as well as some recent examples of their ministry (a form letter from a Pastor to whom they don’t actually speak regularly is insufficient). I prefer to hear them in person, and I insist on speaking with them by phone at some length.
When I know a particular minister is coming, I take some time to describe their ministry to the congregation. I teach a little on the office they stand in and what we should expect to receive. The congregation needs to come to the meetings in faith that they will receive impartation, equipping, and maturation in their faith. By being familiar with the guest’s ministry ahead of time, I can prepare folks for things that might be a little out of our comfort zone (your Ushers will sure appreciate a heads up on some things, too). We need all the 5-fold in our pulpits, and sometimes that will entail some stretching to grow.
So I guess the take away here is pretty simple: know who you are inviting and prepare your people. Teach your people the truth, including the time-tested old cow principle: “Eat the hay, leave the sticks.” Don’t invite speakers without a conviction that God wants them to come. If God wants them to come, look for the impartation that God wants to make. Then tell your people the truth with as much grace as you can muster. Trust God to get done what He sees needs doing. It is often different than what I have figured out in my human thinking. Oh yeah, relax and have a good time. It will help your people’s attitude.
Pastor Jim Overbaugh – Missoula, MT
So if I find I need to “clean” up after a quest minister has come in and made a mess, I simply come back the following week and refer the church to what the bible really says on the given subject. I don’t attack the guest speaker but just fix the poor teaching with biblical truth. I also most likely will not have the “guest” in for another meeting in the future. I know this may sound harsh, but I have the God-given responsibility to lead and oversee the church God has appointed me to—not the guest speaker. You are responsible for your own house; not someone else. Pastoral oversight requires that we nurture, guard, guide and tend the fold. Sometimes this may make us unpopular with guest speakers who may be out of line or off doctrinally, but not with the Chief Shepherd.
Pastor Jim Graff – Victoria, TX
I would be careful to say a lot if you are a new pastor. If he connected with your congregation, the simple minded may get angry that you weren’t accepting of him though he is imperfect. The immature may see you as proud because they aren’t able to discern wrong from right yet.
Learn from the apostle Paul. He knew when to correct through His example and when to use words. He knew how to speak to others from the position of a leader, peer or student. He taught Timothy that our age and experience are important factors in how we communicate with others, and he taught that WE SHOULD KNOW THOSE who labor among us.
Pastor Duane Hanson – St. Paul, MN
Thankfully, we’ve only had a few instances where we’ve had to clean up a mess after a guest speaker. In most of those situations, we were able to sit with the guest minister and explain that what they said or did may have caused someone in the congregation to stumble. After coming to a mutual understanding about the “mess” they’ve potentially created, we would ask them to take a few minutes and address the issue themselves during the next service. If there wasn’t another service or opportunity for them to do so, then we would take the initiative and mention to the congregation that we had talked with the guest minister about their message (or their style of ministry), that may have raised some concerns. Either way, we’ve let the people know that the “mess” had been addressed, and it was best to just move on. It takes the wisdom of God to know how and when to use these “messy” situations as a “teaching moment” for everyone involved (including the guest minister).
For example, a number of years ago we had a guest speaker make a derogatory comment about what he called “Christian Rock” music, and it came across as disapproving and demeaning towards anyone who might appreciate that style of music. (A contemporary musical style that is now even used in denominational churches!) We received a number of questions about his off-hand remarks, and heard a few negative comments from people. Sadly, when that happens, the rest of the “message” gets thrown out when they have taken issue with the Messenger! This one minor comment was centered totally upon his “personal preference” for music, and we pointed this out to the guest speaker following the service. During the next service we were able to address this issue as a comment based upon “personal preference,” and it was handled in such a way that we really didn’t have any further negative reaction from the congregation.
We’ve learned over the years, and have now made it a practice, to only invite guest speakers that we have seen and heard minister, or personally met at some point. We receive numerous inquiries from itinerant ministers letting us know they are planning to be in our area. (I like to remind them that our “area” is not just a geographical location in Minnesota, but an “area” of need that our church may have, that the minister might be equipped to meet!) If we’re not familiar with their ministry, we’ll invite them to meet us for dinner while they’re “in our area” of the country, simply for the purpose of getting to know them. After we’ve spent time with them, and sense that they could bring something significant to our church, then we may talk about setting up something in the future. If you study out various translations of 1 Thessalonians 5:12, we’re told to know those who labor among you, your spiritual leaders, who have been given the responsibility of instructing you, teaching you, and give you spiritual guidance.
As a Pastor, we have a responsibility for our people, and we’ve become very selective about who stands in our pulpit, and what is taught in our church. I believe, based on the warning …Don’t be in a rush to be a teacher… Teaching is highly responsible work… Teachers are held to the strictest standards… given in James 3:1, that those in the ministry will give an account for what is taught to the Body of Christ, which impacts the “renewing of the mind” and the “salvation” of their soul.
As a leader in His Church, I take the exhortation from Hebrews 13:17 seriously, which implies to me that I will “give account” as I “watch over the souls” of those in the congregation. We should also take note of 1 Corinthians 6:20, which states…For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. I find it interesting that there’s no mention of a person’s “soul” in this verse. I know that God is the author of salvation, and I trust that He will watch over a person’s Spirit; and each person must give account for the stewardship of their own flesh, and how they treat “His” body.
These scriptures have helped us avoid many of the situations that might be the cause of a potential “mess” in our church. However, if a situation does arise, we’re prepared to “follow up” with both the minister and the congregation in order to avoid repeating the situation that may have caused the “mess” in the first place.
Pastor Phil Edwards – Ennice, NC
I think the first thing is to apologize to your congregation. Second, clean up the areas where you think he may have caused confusion. Third, preach the Word. Lastly, when you invite someone into your pulpit make sure they are like-minded. Then bathe the meeting(s) in prayer and rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance.
Pastor Jim Blanchard – Virginia Beach, VA
This is a sensitive topic as it requires wisdom from God and skillful teaching of God’s Word to bring balance back to the congregation after sensationalistic preaching by some guest ministers. As a rule of thumb, I follow the Scriptural guideline to “know those who labor among you… (1 Thessalonians 5:12). I don’t invite guest ministers in that I do not thoroughly know them, their marital status, general character and walk with the Lord beyond their ministry resume (the person behind the resume). Also, I like to get several references from other pastors that I respect before they are invited and then have all expectations communicated before they arrive at the church.
Unfortunately, there have been several individuals through the years who have been offended by not receiving an invitation to minister for us at the church, or who did come with a very unrealistic expectation of the church financially. Some individuals in their zeal to preach or book meetings can cause the pastor and church some problems in the aftermath of their meetings; especially if they guarantee miracles or make fantastic claims outside of Scriptural guidelines.
It is also good for the pastor to have a sounding board in asking his spouse, board, or trusted elders their opinion on bringing in outside ministry; the purpose, budget, etc. Primarily, I think it very wise to get as much counsel as possible from someone that you highly respect in ministry on these kinds of issues in order to avoid as much trouble as possible for the pastor and the church. May the Lord bless you and your ministry!
Pastor Bernie Samples – Barstow, CA
This has only happened to me twice in 22 years of pastoral ministry. The first time it was a man who traveled in some “well known” circles in the ministry of music. We brought him in for that specific purpose and he decided to verbally abuse some of our young people that didn’t look like he thought church people should look. The young people were from families of my strongest leaders, as well as well-respected people in the community. They were young people that we were so grateful had finally stepped thru the doors of the church! It’s the only time in all my years of ministry that I was tempted to get out of my seat and physically grab a person and remove them from the building! After the service, I talked to the “minister” and told him the damage he had done and the mess he left behind. The next day I called the ministry headquarters, of which we both belonged, as well as our Regional Directors. I privately, as well as publicly, apologized to the families. It took time, but they eventually recovered.
Another time, another “renowned minister in the prophetic” was really flaky and “prophesied” some goofy things. By this phase of our ministry, our people were so well taught and grounded in the Word that no damage was done so there was no clean up necessary. Thank God! We will just never have this man back, but we did let fellow pastors know and they all experienced the same things when they had him in. So basically his open doors in our state are very limited.
So, I would say always listen to your heart about who you allow in. As long as you feed your people a balanced diet of the pure milk and meat of the Word, if a little goofy stuff slips in through a guest speaker, they will see passed it and very little, if any, clean-up will be needed.
Dr. Dave Williams – Lansing, MI
Welcome to the life of being a great pastor! You care about your flock and want to protect the precious souls in your church (My hope is that I wasn’t that evangelist, now that I’m out of pastoring after 30+ years, and now on the road assisting churches and pastors).
I wish you had explained exactly what was “over the top,” because that’s what some evangelists and visiting speakers do: go “over the top” in order to bring a church back to a biblical faith position. I heard it said evangelists are like lumberjacks who chop down the trees, and pastors are like the finish carpenters required to make something beautiful out of the timber.
First, as a pastor, you are responsible to protect the souls of your flock. Speaking about church leaders, the writer to Hebrews said, “…they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account (Hebrews 13:17 NKJV). Therefore, to protect your flock, it’s important that you know the person you are inviting to speak into the lives of your church members. You may want to make it a standard practice to get trusted references and know clearly about the doctrines the visiting minister carries. And of course, consult with the Holy Spirit before inviting anyone!
Second, if the evangelist or visiting speaker has a good heart and is simply enthusiastic about a particular topic, it probably won’t do any harm even if they are a bit “out there.” You, pastor, are the one the congregation looks to for guidance and sound teaching. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, neither will the church family usually. You said, ”more damage may have been done…” This may be only in your own thoughts and not reality.
I have a friend I would bring in every year to speak at our church because of the soul-winning anointing, love for God, and genuine sincerity on his part. Yet every year he’d say something “out there,” either by mistake or by not knowing how to clearly present a revelation. It caused no problem because of the way I handled it.
Now, if the “over-the-top” is doctrinally unsound when it comes to the fundamentals (Jesus being the eternal Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, died, rose, ascended, and promised to come back and is the ONLY way to the Father), you’ve got an issue that needs to be addressed both with the visiting speaker and the congregation from a Scriptural standpoint.
Third, I developed a “signal” system with my congregation. If a minister was speaking in our church and I felt he or she was being unethical in some way behind the scenes, (usually relative to money), I’d signal the church by pulling my ear. (By the way, I never pulled my ear when Tony Cooke was speaking!)
“How do I follow up with what I feel was a big mistake on my part?” Give yourself a break. We’ve all done this. Try not to make a big deal out of it. Laugh it off.
“What can I do to “clean up” now?” Teach God’s Word. Get your flock so full of Truth that they will recognize error when they see it.
“What can I do to avoid such situations in the future?” Walk hand-in-hand with the Holy Spirit. He’s more concerned about the Church than anyone else and will lead you in bringing the right visiting ministers in the right time for the right situation your church body is facing.
You are a great pastor!
Pastor Bill Anzevino – Industry, PA
Early in my ministry I experienced the same dilemma. The subject was intercession and the evangelist was the prayer coordinator from a major ministry I followed; however, what was taught was off and I had to “clean up” after he left. I learned a valuable lesson from that experience about what to do before having anyone minister at our church.
What I did to “Follow Up” and “Clean Up” was to address the congregation and take full responsibility for what was done. I stated how I should have been more responsible to do a background check on this individual and contact the ministry He served at before leaving to go on the evangelistic field. I should have requested tapes of his teachings to listen to so I would have a better take on where he was coming from on the subject. After apologizing for my mistakes, I taught on the subject and clearly outlined what I believed was the proper Biblical perspective. Everyone was gracious and understood and much harm was avoided. Now, I make sure not to have anyone in our church unless I have access to trustworthy references and CD’s I can listen to about what they are going to teach.
As Pastors, we are responsible to protect the sheep and take heed to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost has made us overseers. We are to feed the church of God and look out for the wellbeing of those Christ purchased with His own blood.
As always, if you have any questions or would like more information, feel free to contact us.
Pastor Kevin Berry – Lansing, MI
Wow… those are some loaded questions. But I understand. We had a missionary guest years ago that started ranting against prosperity. He eventually said, “Damn prosperity!” Totally against what we teach, it seemed really odd coming from the guy who wanted us to give financially to him, yet he didn’t want us to prosper so we could bless world missions.
So… how do you follow up with that? How do you “clean up” after something like that? I would be very transparent with my board, staff, and inner circle team. I would explain that what they said was not what I expected, then I would assume the best—meaning the person we had in is a great person, but maybe they are just going through something right now—then pray for that minister. They would not be invited back.
If the guest minister said something that goes absolutely against scripture or could be classified as false teaching, I would address that with the entire church. I would not talk disparagingly about the person, but would set the record straight from a scriptural standpoint. For example—the missionary in our church who said, “Damn prosperity”—I would take time to teach on Biblical prosperity. I would teach about how we are called to link our wealth with the Great Commission and then on how you can live the blessed life! You could add in there that there are some who, by the way they talk, would make you think that God wants you poor and sick. This way the church family knows where you stand. When your church sees that you never invite this speaker back again, they get the message.
Here’s another consideration. We receive a special offering for our guest speakers. If we believe in a minister and their ministry and we want the congregation to give to them, we tell the church family that they are good ground, they are a credible ministry, and we are called by God to take care of the traveling minister according to scripture. In addition, I make sure the church knows I’m personally sowing a seed into that ministry. However, if they are not good ground in which to sow financial seed and we feel like it was a mistake to bring them in, then we would simply receive an offering without saying anything about the credibility of the ministry. In this case, our congregation gets the message loud and clear.
How can you avoid situations like this in the future? It’s not entirely possible to avoid this. But one thing that can certainly help is to make sure you always hear a person minister before they are invited to speak in your church. This is easy to do and it doesn’t require you to travel to hear them. Simply ask for a sample of some of their messages or see if they have any available online—and that should give you something to determine if you think they are a fit for your congregation.
Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
I’m sure it was somebody who was really smart who said, “Every leader walks around with a bucket in each hand. One is full of water and the other is full of gasoline. Some fires require gas, while others require the water.”
Your guest speaker has simply lit a small fire. Make certain that you don’t throw gas on the fire by over-reacting to the situation. I’ve learned over the years, that in most cases, they haven’t created as much trouble as I’ve thought. If a guest speaker can create too much motion in a single setting, I’d be more apt to study how they performed with such great effectiveness than attempting to prove that what just taught was flat-out crazy!
You get back in the saddle and teach. Step right up and speak truth and grace. You are the senior leader—act like it. Trust me when I say this: your people are hearing voices every day that don’t align with your teaching. You can’t afford to be intimidated by that little fact. Just “out-teach” the other voices. Lean on and ignore the distractions. Put water on the fire, not gas!
Now regarding the guest speaker himself, I’d immediately sit down and have a conversation with him. I’m all about deep-spirited relationship. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:2 (see The Message) that we are to agree with each other, love one another, and to be deep spirited friends. There is obviously great power and benefit in agreement. However, quite often when two are working in agreement, one of the two is required to yield to the other in submission. Since you are the senior leader, your guest needs to yield to you – especially if he ever wants the privilege of coming back. He may not even “agree” with you in theory, but as a guest speaker, he must submit himself to your leadership (submission doesn’t actually start until there is dis-agreement).
It’s always “best” if we really know the people that we’re inviting into our pulpits. I know that it’s not always possible; but it is always “best!” But it is also very important that you know “what” the message is that your guest intends to share. You may not have time to build a “deep-spirited friendship” before they step up to speak, but you can take time for “great conversation.” But on those moments when it looks like things just went sideways, don’t hit the brakes too hard. It’s sort of like driving on ice; just pump the brakes gently and regain control. You’ve been driving the bus for a while and the passengers are used to your driving. The ones looking for a way off the bus will find it whether you let go of the wheel or not. Don’t over-compensate by hyper focusing on the passengers. Keep your eyes on the road, or YOU will be the one driving it into the ditch anyway.
Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
I think you should be very honest with your congregation. Tell them that you feel like you missed it. Then take the time to tell them that you have no ill feelings for the traveling minister and don’t want them to hold anything in their heart against the person. Explain that none of us have ‘arrived’ and that we need to remain teachable. This being said, take the specific points that were taught in error and SHOW them the truth in the Bible. Don’t major on the errors that were taught, but spend your time on the good news found in the Word that proves the opposite of the errors. Walk in love the whole way through. It goes without saying that you probably don’t need to invite this person back. Allow the Holy Spirit to complete the ‘clean up’ in each person’s life.
Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
We’ve found that guest ministers that we have a relationship with will also have a good relationship with our congregation. Guest speakers that we don’t know, often misunderstand our church and can bring a confusing message.
If someone brings a message that is a little “off,” you can address it the next Sunday and/or call people you know had questions. Calling people is a good idea because some people might not be back the next Sunday. People will appreciate the fact that you cared enough to call, and make sure that you make the call about them and their needs. These calls may take a lot of your time but are worth it.
One of the best ways to get a good speaker is through recommendations from trusted pastors.
Many ministers have messages you can hear or watch online, or have books or CDs that you can review ahead of time before you make final arrangements. Take the time to listen to these!
I like to know the guest speaker’s topic. I often request the speaker to teach in a specific area where they are especially gifted.
Sometimes a guest minister gets bored of his main message and wants to teach on something “new.” This is what I want to avoid. I ask them to teach their best material and usually I’ve heard it already on CD, in person, or on a website. I know what I want them to bring and that’s why I have invited them.
I also give specific time constraints and remind them again in the office before they speak. I also remind their spouse as well. Often I can’t catch the speaker’s eye when they’ve gone way too long, but their spouse can!
When a speaker goes too long, invariably attendance drops the next week. People like our church but don’t want to be here all day. Some type of time limitations are essential. No one is “flowing with the Holy Spirit” and hurting your church at the same time. Make sure the guest speaker knows when to stop or if they have the green light from you to go longer.
Make sure you know your speaker before arrangements are finalized. Go over their material, their financial expectations, hotel and meal arrangements and all transportation costs and responsibilities. Put it all in writing, including the speaking topic and length of time speaking and whether or not you want prayer ministry offered after the message. The more you know and agree to ahead of time, the better things will go in the meeting. This may seem “unspiritual,” but some very good people can get into difficulties when there are misunderstandings about the basic arrangements.
Pastor John Lowe – Warsaw, IN
If the guest did not teach stupid doctrine, or “prophe-lie” instead of prophesy, then let the “over the top” go. Maybe mention what someone like Brother Hagin has said, and remind people to “eat the straw and spit out the sticks.”
As far as the future, I don’t have anyone I don’t know or have never heard preach. I also don’t have someone in without a great recommendation from someone I really respect. I also listen (at least 3 times) to something they have preached somewhere else.
Just in case no one has told you, you’re under no obligation to host anyone—no matter how great they tell you they are and how you’re missing God if you don’t have them.
Pastor Jesse Zepeda – Pflugerville, TX
We learned at Rhema (and I say this all the time, but it’s true), that even when you believe it’s good for the church, always set a probationary time for the event, new worship leader, new youth minister etc., etc. Make a contract for one month, six months, or whatever you sense is right and then review the situation after that period. You may go for a longer period or you can stop it, but you have an “out” or escape from a wrong situation.
For example, we started to support some missions and I requested that they keep us informed at least once every two months (most of our missionaries communicate with us once a month) so we can keep our church informed. Our support was not a big amount, but we start low and see to it that our seed is appreciated. We did not hear from them for three months, and after the next three months, no news. So, we stopped our support. We had agreed on a six month probationary period and it did not work out. We had an “out.”
I hope this helps.