As invited speakers, we can learn much and minister more effectively by being with a small group before service.
By: Scott Armstrong
Simply by virtue of being missionaries in the Church of the Nazarene, my wife and I dedicate three months every two years to home assignment, traveling around our home country and preaching in many local churches. Also, as coordinators of two regional ministries, Global Missions and GENESIS, we have the privilege to preach in many local churches both in the Dominican Republic, where we live, and other countries of the Mesoamerica Region.
When we are invited to speak, especially on a Sunday morning, the pastor or another leader often will tell us the service time along with the Sunday School time, and add, “But you don’t have to be there for Sunday School.” We politely push back on that and tell them that we would never miss Sunday School, even offering to teach if desired. Here’s our argument for why:
- We’re there to serve, not to take it easy or sleep in. Home assignment is called that for a reason: we are not on vacation; we are literally assigned to do ministry in our home country. If a church is going to invite us, pay our way, and receive an offering to bless our ministry as well, the least we can do is offer ourselves for more than a 30-minute message.
- Much of real discipleship happens in small groups. The normal worship services in many of our churches leave very little room for interaction between the congregation and the preacher. However, we learn most effectively not from someone talking to us, but from wrestling with concepts as a community. That happens in Sunday School, life groups, or whatever small group strategy we employ. Many people begin to understand the nuances of God’s mission there more than in a typical service. If that type of formation is happening, we want to be there, no matter the age or demographic. Which leads me to…
- We long for more time with kids and teens. Who is experiencing the call to missions most often? Who still possess energy and an insatiable desire to change the world? Children and youth! Sure, there are some adults who have not become jaded yet (praise the Lord). But our family has seen many kids or teens called to missions in small group times where we are able to share our testimony or teach something specifically designed for their stage of development. Even if we aren’t giving the lesson, we opt for attending those classes more often than the adult ones!
- The opportunity for a speaker to personally impact people in a traditional worship service is very small. Don’t misinterpret: I believe preaching can transform and bring enormous change in the life of a person! That’s why I emphasize the word “personally” here. By the time we have arrived early to do sound and media checks, preach in the service, and go out to eat with the pastor or missions president, we literally will have had a meaningful conversation with a maximum of ten people. Unless we are in a small group before or after, that is. Personal connection with the congregation will not just happen; we must seek it out.
- Our teaching can give someone else a rest. I will assume the majority of our teachers do what they do not as a chore, but because they love it and feel called to it. Still, it is healthy to have a week off from time-to-time. And it is wise to have the teacher be the pupil at different points during the year. In fact, that is ironically why – even if the congregation doesn’t need us to teach a single Sunday School class – we still attend. We, as constant teachers and leaders due to our position, need to sit under someone else’s teaching as well!
- There is much you can learn from being in small groups that can’t necessarily be learned from a service. Observing how church members interact with each other, hearing their prayer requests, and seeing them study the Word together: all these are extremely valuable for a speaker! A mystery of preaching is that the same message will be received by different congregations in contrasting ways. There have been times when my wife and I have made important adjustments to our sermon based on information (regarding the church or the community) we discovered a few minutes before in a small group.
- You don’t want to be that guy (or that lady). Just as I have been the invited speaker, I have also been the event organizer. How wonderful it is to have a speaker who arrives early, is cordial with all the helpers and media team, and just generally values our people! Yet, the opposite is also true. How awful it is to have someone show up late, expect heaven and earth to move at their word, and give the vibe that they just want to get this over with. I once oversaw a missions training that culminated with a closing service. A renowned leader from that city was our speaker. He was nowhere to be found at the start of the service, and my staff was stressing out. The praise team ended up singing three extra songs until he arrived. His message was essentially a spiritualized version of his own rags-to-riches testimony. God moved anyway, and I asked him to come pray with and minister to several of the (mostly) youth who were at the altars. The problem? He had left right after his sermon was done! Please, I beg you: Don’t be that guy.
Those are seven reasons our family believes no good speaker – and especially missionary – should merely show up to a church service. Small group time is invaluable, and our impact will be greater when we invest in the congregation before (and after) our designated, official time to speak.