The People You Meet After A Guest Sermon

When you’re a young pastor you imagine giving the kind of sermons that will really produce a change in people’s lives.

This is hard because no one in your home church will let you get up and preach when you’re just starting out, they usually farm you out to other churches and camp-outs to get “experience” before they put you in front of people that you will have to see again the next week.

When you first get these opportunities you immediately begin preparing like this is the most important thing that you will ever do and the only time that you will ever get to do it.

The whole time you’re preparing the sermon you’re writing with the end in mind… and by end I mean: “People coming up afterwards to tell you how awesome the sermon was.”

When you’re young this is the only way that you know to gauge whether or not you did a good job.

It’s an honor and a privilege to deliver a “guest sermon” on a Sunday morning or at a conference or retreat. If I’ve learned anything from speaking pastorally in a new public setting it’s this:

Every sermon you give is unique in that it is equally the best sermon that someone has ever heard,


Quite possibly the worst sermon that someone has ever heard.

I know because people come up afterwards to tell you both of these things.

This is why you can’t accurately use complimentary comments as an barometer of success.

The people who find you immediately afterwards are usually incredibly effusive about how amazing the teaching was. In fact they’ve usually “never heard anything like it.”

These are the most encouraging and sweet-natured people you will ever meet. Many times they have personal stories about how you addressed something they were dealing with that very week, or that it felt like you were “talking directly to them the whole time.”

In this situations you need to be as gracious as possible because you know that while you were speaking to them, it was actually God who was speaking to their heart.

This is when you do the internal good work of battling the arrogance that presses you to stand there and lap up the adulation.

There are usually about three of these people in a row, enough to make you begin to believe that everything IS right in the world and that you really might actually be “the next Billy Graham.”

It’s my belief that God brings these people into contact with you because without their kindness you’re probably not going to be able to make it through the coming onslaught of conversationalists waiting in the wings.

Like bearded relief pitchers making their way out of the bull pen of intimidation, I’ve learned that the next 5 kinds of people will most certainly be bringing the heat “high and inside”.

You don’t know this yet, but this is also an essential, yet unforeseen, part of the experience that your own pastor wants you to get.

What follows is a field guide to the people you meet after giving a sermon out in the wild.

The Screwballer
The Screwballer moves in like they really loved the sermon. On approach they lob out genial statements, lulling you into believing that there will be some encouragement at the end of their paragraph of statements.

Just when you’ve sized up this person as someone you need to thank, they reveal themselves to be their church’s equivalent of Lieutenant Columbo; pointing their finger and demanding an answer for the theological conundrum that they believe they’ve just trapped you in.

“So you’ve agreed with me that God is love,
and that love is also blind,
are you also now expecting me to believe,
that Ray Charles is getting into heaven!”

While this immediately takes you aback, and it feels like you need to begin defending Ray Charles, the only thing you can really do in this situation is to begin asking the Screwballer your own off-topic, confusing questions.

“If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so big that he can’t pick it up?”

“How did Adam name the whales? Did he swim out to them or did he and God make a raft?”

“Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?”

As the Screwballer begins wresting with these hypo-theological hierarchies, ask his wife if they are going out to lunch, then ask him if there are any good restaurants in the area. This will perform the brain equivalent of a “hard reset”.

If this doesn’t get you onto a new subject, mention that you’ve just had Indian food and then excuse yourself to go to the bathroom… trust me, nothing makes the Screwballer feel uncomfortable.

The Inferrer
The Inferrer speaks with you like you know exactly what is going on in his personal life and in his church. To make matters worse, even though he begins talking to you as if you share a common reference point for the conversation, he also never settles on a conclusion to his thoughts or sentences.

“Great words this morning Pastor, especially with all that we’ve got going on here these days… I’m sure we’ll get things dialed in eventually. How did you guys do it?”

Compounding this intellectual brain teaser is the fact that The Inferrer is quite often a “close talker”. This means that the intimations and insinuations are coming faster and faster while the persons face is coming closer and closer.

It’s like having a conversation with the Riddler, except you’re not Batman.

Dealing with Captain Inference means simply saying “no” and “I don’t know” over and over again while asking return questions about the only thing you know about him… which is the ethnic takeout he clearly had the night before.

The Interrogator
The Interrogator is so focused on probing the implications of your sermon, they don’t even respond when you ask their name and reach out to shake their hand, they just grab yours, give you a single pump and immediately launch into a barrage of questions so exhaustive that by the time the last one is finished you need to ask them to repeat the initial question all over again.

Surviving the onslaught of the interrogator is simple: nod your head, give several “hmmm” and “ahhh” responses while crossing your arms and leaning back on something.

It’s important to let them know that you’re listening, but whatever you do don’t respond with words until they wrap up. This isn’t a conversation, it’s an opportunity for them to process what they just heard that you know, while letting you in on the things that they know. Questions are simply the form of rhetoric that they’re employing to communicate with you.

If you wait for a few seconds before responding, they’ll prove this to you by answering the question that they just asked you; which is great, because this was the answer they were looking for anyways!

The Investigator
Although The Investigator asks just as many questions as The Interrogator, they are actually a completely different kind of animal altogether.

The Investigator doesn’t seem to want to apply the things that they just heard from the Scripture, but their problem is that they actually can’t argue with what you’ve just preached… because it came straight out of the Bible.

Instead of arguing scripture with you, The Investigator begins probing your personal life and belief systems in search of flaws that will allow them to throw you (the bathwater) and your sermon (the baby) out of their life.

“How many kids do you have?”

“Do you believe in homeschooling”

“Do you agree with Rick Warren?”

“Why aren’t you using the ESV?”

“Did you vote for Osama?!?”

The Sniper
True to their name, you never actually see The Sniper. Their salvo comes at you silent and violent by way of your email. You come into the office on Monday morning hoping to begin prepping for the week, only to find that an unpublished book has been delivered to your inbox.

The Sniper clearly did not sleep on Sunday night, because their incredibly researched and footnoted email is too long, and too comprehensive to have been written in day-light hours alone.

While the content of the Email may be vary from Sniper to Sniper, it always opens with: “You don’t know me but…”
and closes with: “…correcting bad theology is very important to me.”

Bonus points can be awarded if the email contains something to this effect: “I don’t know John MacArthur personally, but I’m sure you would agree that he knows more than both of us on this subject.”

Dealing with The Sniper is best done with a polite reply that his email contains “many interesting details” that you will “certainly entertain” and that “sound doctrine is very important.”

Trust me, replying with anything more will only invite the kind of conflict that results in poor John MacArthur waking up to an unsolicited and annotated forward of your email… “for his thoughts”.

I’m pretty sure that it’s becoming apparent that waiting around to hear someone congratulate you after giving a sermon is a huge mistake, and I can say that I wish I’d realized this much earlier myself.

I’m not saying that a pastor should immediately evacuate the building after preaching, I’m saying that the reason a pastor hangs around after a sermon is for that rare instance that someone approaches you in need of pastoral attention resulting from the movement of the Holy Spirit in their heart.

That was the whole reason the sermon was prepared and delivered to begin with right?

That’s the experience our mentors are hoping that we get.

5 Responses to “The People You Meet After A Guest Sermon”

  1. Bob Weaver May 3, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    Dear John: I am not a sniper but:!!! Do you have any plans to preach in San Diego Ca in the future. I have some friends that I shared how much I appreciate your Sermons, and Notes, and I want them to hear you. I would also like to recommend a wonderful book I have been reading “The Cure” “What if God isn’t who you think He is and neither are you” by John Lynch & Bruce NcNicol, & Bill Thrall John Lynch is a great communicator and preacher like you. God bless you Bob

    PS I am directing them to our WCC Web Site to hear you. PS I have more to share with you but I promise not to trap you after church :)

  2. Jon May 3, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    You are the best! No plans to be in SD any time soon… Unfortunately.

  3. Craig McClanahan May 6, 2013 at 11:13 pm #

    I don’t know what type of listener I qualify as, but I appreciate the fact that, whenever I have worked the technical team (for three services) when you preach, I learn something new in each service. Thank you!

    • Jon May 7, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      You’re in a category called “faithful” Craig!

  4. Charley May 28, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    You need to read more John MacArthur, then some more books on Pentecostalism, and then memorize J Edwards. then we can talk
    Love your insights.
    we are looking forward to seeing you this summer

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