Over the years I have been a visiting speaker many times in churches. While there is no such thing as a typical church, there are some things that are common to many churches. Take, for instance, the pre-sermon logistics for the visiting speaker:
Before the Service – Upon arrival the visiting speaker is typically greeted by one of the church leaders and then invited back into a small room to pray with that leader or the leadership team. Thus most of the time before the service is spent in prayer. This is a good thing, of course, as we need to declare our dependence on the one apart from whom we can do nothing. It is good to sometimes be able to hear the heart of leaders for their church. It is good to settle the heart and prepare to preach.
During the Service – Then just before the service begins, the preacher is often ushered to the front row, or even to sit on the platform facing the congregation. The latter option will be more typical in more formal churches (sometimes with a more formal arrival to that position too). Up front in one way or another just seems more practical. It avoids a long walk down the aisle after the speaker introduction, for one thing.
A lot can be said, both practically and spiritually, for these two standard practices. Maybe they should remain standard practice, but I just want to ponder them for a moment.
Before the Service – When the speaker arrives at a church, the minutes before the service begins are the prime opportunity to get to know the congregation that will be hearing the sermon. While some people praying will reveal helpful insight into the congregation, many don’t. But spend fifteen or twenty minutes chatting with the guy on the sound desk as you collect your microphone, and a handful of other people you can strike up a conversation with, and you tend to learn a lot about a church (especially if that is your goal). Should we not pray? Of course we should, and hopefully, we all have. A lot. But does an extended time of prayer right before a service outweigh the value of that interaction time? Typically, I’m not convinced.
During the Service – Then what about the pre-sermon placement of the preacher? Each to their own preference, I would say. My preference? I like to be at the back of a congregation. It allows me to feel the temperature in the room. Are people distracted? Are they engaged? Again, more opportunity to become aware of the listeners. Are there some obviously awkward first-timers? And what about the awkward walk up the aisle after the speaker introduction? Not a problem. It is relatively inconspicuous to move to the front row during the last song before the sermon.
I know this is my own preference, but I have found sitting on the front row you can feel watched, unable to properly look at your notes or the Bible, and unable to look around and observe the people. And sitting on the platform facing everyone? This feels like hard work because so many eyes could be inquisitive about every sip of water, look at the Bible, posture, facial expression, etc. Maybe you can see everyone’s faces, but you lose all freedom to observe them, check notes, adjust radio microphone, or whatever. It is the shortest walk to preaching position, but often you can feel the least prepared when you arrive!
This post is purely subjective ponderings. I certainly wouldn’t want a church to change its practice just because I am preaching – I am very used to all the options and happy to serve in whatever pattern is preferred. What do you find helpful when you are not in your own familiar church environment?