i’m sure there are as many reasons for a pastor to have a guest speaker as there are guest speakers (and there are a lot). for the purposes of this discussion, however, i am going to describe three.
1. the friend connection
from time-to-time, career pastors find themselves out of work. it might be that they said the wrong thing to the wrong person (their name is legion for they are many) and were invited to depart forthwith. it might be that they stumbled into a compromising position (and i can’t begin to tell you how many of those there are) and decided it might be in their best interest to pack and move in the middle of the night. or it might be that god told them to resign (i’ve been told that this happens but i doubt it). whatever the reason for their furlough, most of them are suddenly in the need of income. apparently, the first impulse of an out-of-a-pulpit pastor is to go through the contact list on his cell phone and ask his pastor buddies if they would like him to preach for them. all of his buddies schedule him cheerfully because they all realize that they could easily be in his place and because they all believe in karma.
2. the friend-of-a-friend connection
this is where a buddy (see “cell phone contact list” above) calls and says something like this: “i’ve got a friend from bible college (see “cell phone contact list” above) who is preaching for me on sunday morning, and i’m looking for a place for him to preach (read: “get an offering”) on sunday night.” again, the reciprocal nature of these types of relationships require that you consider his request–even though you don’t know the guy he’s recommending and even though you have a well-earned policy of not having guest speakers you don’t know–because chances are good that you will have a college buddy you need to book somewhere (read: “get an offering”) and it’s always good to have a favor in the bank. fyi, there has been a time or two when i was the victim…i mean, collaborator…in an arrangement similar to the one i’ve just described and i wanted to crawl under a pew. one time i swear i almost stopped the guy in the middle of his sermon. in those moments, i promised myself i would never let it happen again. but i did.
3. the “i need a friend” connection
sometimes a guy just needs a day off so he schedules a guest speaker. perhaps he’s used up all his vacation for the year and the grind just gets to be too much. it’s true that the congregation enjoys a different voice from time to time, especially if he is a gifted communicator. and it’s true that people will often respond to the same message from a different messenger. but, while these are good and noble reasons to have a guest speaker, the “i need a friend” connection kicks in when the pastor needs an intellectual and emotional break. he will be in service and he will appear engaged, but he will be absent.
in the interest of full disclosure, i must tell you that i have heard of pastors scheduling guest speakers for spiritual reasons. i’ve heard of situations where god speaks to a specific man about a specific situation and gives that man a word for that situation (like jonah with nineveh).
but that doesn’t really happen, does it?