The Joys and Challenges of Being a Guest Speaker (Part 4)


Read the series.

Receiving a call to be a guest speaker in a new church can be a wonderful experience! But, of course, being the guest often means that you will be traveling to get there.

In this article, I will deal with a pair of extremely practical, connected subjects that must be considered by any itinerant minister—the places we stay and the things we eat.

Certainly, much more could be said about these and other similar matters, but I hope that these few introductory thoughts will at least stir some who may benefit from them to think and plan ahead for ministry journeys. Failure to do so can quickly become disastrous!

Lodging & Meals

There are certainly others who are more experienced travelers than me, so in many ways I feel inadequate to address this subject. Still, I have covered a fair amount of territory in my service for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. To date, I have been involved in opportunities to serve upon the soil of 19 states. So, I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve learned—hoping they will encourage both guests and hosts.

First of all, let me say that occasionally people long for the good old days when traveling preachers stayed and ate strictly in the homes of church members. Some view this as an act of obedience to passages such as Rom. 12:13, which speaks of the importance of “hospitality.”

In response, I would ask you to keep in mind that—while still binding on today’s church—this exhortation must be primarily understood within the context of its first-century readership. Travel was exceedingly difficult then, and close Christian fellowship was vitally important along the way.

But I would also point out that showing hospitality does not necessarily involve inviting someone physically into your home or to your dinner table. The root of the word used for hospitality here actually carries the delightful meaning of turning a stranger into a friend. Especially in today’s world, I believe that one can be very “hospitable” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:9) by taking a new friend to a restaurant of their choosing, or by placing them in a comfortable hotel and providing them with needed rides.

Now, staying with friends that you know and love in their beautiful home can surely be a wonderful enhancement to any ministry trip. And it will certainly save you the cost of a hotel bill!

Staying with strangers in an unknown home might also be a wonderful opportunity to make new friends. On the other hand, it can be fraught with peril. Obstacles could include anything from distance to the church to access to a bathroom. There may also be issues related to privacy, sickness, children, pets, being alone with a member of the opposite sex, keys, security alarms, etc. In some cases, it can be very difficult to get work done in the home of a stranger. Family members may also feel compelled to spend excessive time socializing with you.

Certainly, staying in the wrong home—or eating the wrong food—can yield disaster, especially in the midst of a longer trip.

Those of us who travel regularly for ministry probably each have a horror story about eating a meal in someone’s home. When you are staying with a family and the host serves food that does not agree with you, you will likely feel hindered from even going to get something else later.

All this is to say that, in my experience, it is often wiser to stay in a hotel than with a family that you do not know well. Of course, there can be a myriad of issues with hotels as well. For me, when staying alone in a hotel, the biggest obstacle I must overcome is trying to stay focused and positive and use my time in the most strategic way possible.

But back to eating, one of the biggest challenges on any extended ministry trip is finding the right kind of food. For me, that means a healthy meal with plenty of vegetables or salad. And that can be extremely difficult to obtain—even in nice restaurants!

Often people want to take their guests to their favorite eating places that offer various types of international cuisine. I almost always try to redirect them to a familiar restaurant that offers a hearty American meal.

And, once in a while, I just simply have to draw the line and say no. I remember once when I was slated to speak in an evening service, and a couple introduced themselves and told me I would be having dinner with them in their home about an hour before the time of the service. “No I won’t,” I had to say with a smile. I never eat before I speak, and an hour before church started I would want to be … at church!

As I write this column, I am about to turn 55 years old. There was a day when I could eat fast food for all my main meals, sleep five hours a night, actually sleep through the night, and be productive all day. Sadly, those days are gone. And, as I get older, I realize that sometimes twenty- or thirty-somethings may not yet understand the needs of fifty-somethings.

I must add here that I am very grateful for the leadership of The Friends of Israel and their philosophy regarding these issues. They always encourage us to travel as comfortably as possible. Of course, I am not referring to luxury—but to the freedom to fly out a day early, leave at a reasonable time, stay in a relaxing setting, etc.

There is so much more that could be studied as it relates to issues like airports and air travel, driving, renting cars, using ride-booking services—even packing for a trip. But I hope that this short treatise will stir some productive thought and conversation.

What else would you contribute as you think about your travels in ministry?

NKJV - Source

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


I’ve had some unpleasant experiences being hosted as a guest speaker, but also some great fellowship. It’s a bit of a coin toss how that will turn out. But sometimes hosting families are gregarious folks who don’t understand the need that the quiet, reflective types (aka introverts) have for alone time, especially before speaking.

Sometimes a motel is better, especially if I’ve been asked to fill pulpit on short notice a good distance away. But… I recall one motel where, after having difficulty locating it for quite some time, nobody there seemed to be awake to let me into my room. I eventually got in, but the process was stressful. The place was a bit of a dive—the rural variety—but the church apparently had a connection to the proprietor and got a good deal.

So motel isn’t always better! There are trade-offs. That stay also was prepaid by the church. Speaking only for myself on this: When I fill pulpit, I’m not looking to ‘turn a profit.’ I’m quite happy to pay the motel myself and then use whatever I get for an honorarium to offset the bill later. Or if the church wants to pay the motel bill directly, I’d rather hand them or mail them a receipt afterwards. Mostly, I want minimal fuss and bother on the occasion of speaking—so I can be focused on the work.


I can’t say I would turn down a meal before an evening or afternoon service, but—so they don’t feel insulted—I would probably communicate that it’s always best for me if I only eat very light before speaking. I recall reading somewhere that digestion can pull a lot of blood flow from the brain. I’m not sure if that’s true or exactly what’s going on, but I do know that I can be pretty foggy and sleepy after a hearty meal… and that’s not conducive to speaking well. For me, the experience of speaking to a group I don’t face every week is usually pretty energizing, so eating light just tends to be more comfortable. But I’ve discovered it’s possible to be energized and have ‘brain fog’ at the same time. This is not a good combination!

I’d also rather not preach to/teach an audience that has just had a feast. They’d all rather be napping.


Depending on the ‘vocal load’ on that day, meals and conversation before preaching/teaching has also sometimes been a problem for my voice. So, note to churches hosting guest speakers: not everybody can talk for hours on end. Your guest might be getting pretty hoarse after breakfast conversation, lobby conversation, Sunday school, and post-SS conversation… and some singing—and then the AM sermon can be a bit painful to deliver if not painful to hear.

Just some things to think about.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

On Aaron’s statement about the need to study, an older friend once hosted Ernest Pickering at his house while he spoke at a church of which he was a member. I asked him what he was like and he said “I don’t know. He stayed in the room and studied the whole time.”

He hosted many other pastors and missionaries through the decades and he commented that Pickering was the only one who studied that much.

Well, for me, having some quiet alone time before speaking isn’t so much about studying, per se, as about getting focused… Getting my message loaded into RAM, so to speak. I just deliver a lot better that way.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

We have rarely had things go smoothly if another entity (like a church) tried to reserve or, especially, pay for a hotel room on our behalf.

I am always amazed at how complex the computer programs seem to be at some hotels when I check in, and this just seems to give the system a jolt from which it can't recover! More than once I've had to stand and wait while they attempted to solve the dilemma.

I always try to take that responsibility on myself and make my own reservation.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry