I wouldn’t encourage anyone to build their entire teaching programme around a perpetual itinerate ministry. Churches do not thrive on disjointed sermons that pick and choose what to preach and very rarely land on the harder parts of scripture. Even if you draw up a teaching programme to give to those coming in, the applications from the outside speakers you pull in will only ever be more general, rather than specific to the people in front of them as they won’t know any of them.
Given all of that, you may wonder if there is any point in ever inviting visiting preachers to your church. But I want to suggest that there are some real benefits to it, if we do it occasionally. Here are some of them.
The fact of the matter is that some contexts need visiting speakers to come and help prop up the ministry. If they are a small but faithful church, almost all the teaching may fall on one man. That might not be by design but just because that is the makeup of the church. In such circumstances, without the support of the occasional external speaker, the minister may well never get a break. Never being able to go away or take time off because of the ministry is the fast track to burnout (or worse).
So, for many churches, outside speakers come with the benefit of giving the minister a break. The man responsible for doing almost all the teaching may never get a break if you don’t make use of visiting preachers.
Whether entirely necessary or not, external speakers can provide some outside perspective to your church. If you have one man doing all the ministry, it is likely that you will end up hearing some of his specific hang ups over the course of time. If you have the benefit of a variety of people able to speak, the sermons you hear may nonetheless be conditioned by the reality of the context you are in.
Getting some outside speakers will allow you to hear a different style of sermon. You will hear how someone with a different perspective puts their sermons together. You will hear applications that are perhaps different to the norm because they reflect the context that speaker has come from. It gives us a different voice from the norm, that might challenge us with a different perspective.
We communicate much to our church through what we say. But we also communicate much through what we do. We may tell our church that we should be teachable and humble, but if they never see us being taught it is easy for us to undercut that. If we have a functioning eldership, one way for those responsible for the baulk of teaching is for the pastor to sit under the teaching of other elders (or, just other men able to teach within the fellowship). But what if we don’t have any such people?
Outside speakers provide an opportunity to show your church that the pastor and elders are men under authority too. Not the authority of the visiting speaker but the authority of scripture. When the pastor and elders sit under the teaching of others, and are seen to hear and respond to the Word, it communicates something important to the church. Occasional outside speakers can help to show that the church leadership are teachable and, like the church, under the authority of scripture as it is rightly taught.
It is very easy for churches to become insular. Sometimes such insularity is purposefully self-imposed, but much of the time it isn’t. The busyness of ministry has a habit of over-taking all else. It is very easy to get caught up with our own ministries and forget to have an eye on other work going on for the kingdom.
Visiting speakers provide an opportunity for us to be encouraged by what the Lord is doing elsewhere. We can hear how the Lord is working through other churches and how the work we are doing is not ours alone but a part of the kingdom work of all true, gospel preaching churches. The visiting preacher can offer us an outside perspective and encourage us in the work of the gospel as we hear how the Lord is working elsewhere.
Just as we can be encouraged by visiting preachers, we can also be challenged by them. We can easily get stuck in a rut, doing things the way we do them because that is how they’ve always been done. It often takes fresh eyes and a new perspective to see what those of us in the situation cannot.
Visiting speakers can not only encourage us in the work of the gospel elsewhere but can challenge us to change where we are. As we hear of the work they do, and how they do it, we can weigh it against what we do. Whilst not everything will be transferable to our context, there may well be things done elsewhere that we reckon would help us improve the gospel ministry where we are. Simply having an external perspective can cause us to have a fresh perspective on our own ministry.