After all the discussion in the comments of the last post about money and ministry, I thought I’d better tackle the topic!
Here’s the issue in a nutshell:
if speaking is a ministry, should we charge for it?
People come down on both sides of this argument, and I don’t want to argue that one is necessarily right. What I do want to do is throw some thoughts out there and start a discussion, because my dream for this website is that it be used as a resource for those beginning to speak; not that I have the final word on everything!
So, in no particular order, I present some of my thoughts on the issue:
1. We must always be open to God’s guidance
Because God is at the center of everything we do, we have to rely on His guidance for our ministry. That means that there may be times that we don’t charge. Corrie ten Boom, for instance, felt very clearly called never to charge a cent. She survived just on what churches gave her, and lived a very modest life. Many great heroes of the faith did similar things.
We are a business, but we aren’t solely a business. At times, even if we do normally charge, we may choose to forego the money so that we simply speak for Him. If we’re never open to that, then we’re shutting the door on God. So money can never be the absolute deciding factor.
2. Many speakers rely on their income to meet their budget
At the same time, many of us who speak rely on that speaking income to live. We can’t do things for free, and Scripture says that “the worker deserves his wages”.
In addition, when I speak it takes a lot of time. I have hours of preparation and prayer, and usually I’m driving at least two hours one way. That’s most of a day gone, and often a whole weekend. That’s a day I’m not spending with my children. A day I’m not spending with my husband. A day I’m not volunteering at church.
If speakers were never to be paid, it is unlikely that people would continue to work as hard as many speakers do. They simply can’t afford that much time away from their families unless there is also some kind of a reward. Many speakers that I know, for instance, are the second income earners in their families. Their money funds the family vacation, or the trailer, or the family outings and dinners out. Their income builds their families.
3. Most ministries do charge
Very few ministries today are free. At the very least, they have to cover their costs. As a speaker, I have costs in maintaining a website; travel time; creating promotional materials; and maintaining a home office. But I also have the opportunity costs of the things that I could be doing with my time that I’m not doing. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with transferring these costs onto the church that is asking you to speak.
4. If you don’t charge, you often aren’t as valued.
It’s sad, but true. People value what they pay for. They don’t value what is free. If the church has paid, they will expect that what you say will be meaningful, insightful, and practical. If they don’t pay, they also may not be spiritually preparing for the event to the same extent. I know this doesn’t sound like a fair assessment, but many ministries that I have been a part of find that they have better success in the long term offering paid events than free events. People take the paid events more seriously, and are more likely to try to remember the message and apply it. It’s not seen as entertainment as much as it is seen as something meaningful, relevant, and valuable.
The same thing happens on an organizational level. If a church has to put budget money towards an event, they are more likely to put prayer and effort into getting people out to the event. They want to make it as worthwhile as possible. If they didn’t sacrifice for it, it is, ironically, harder to get volunteers to staff it and to build enthusiasm for the event.
5. When established speakers charge, we actually make room for other speakers to gain experience.
That may sound counterintuitive, but let me explain what I mean.
I’ve found lately as my schedule has filled up that charging is one way that I can decide which engagements to take. Does this mean I always say no to engagements that don’t pay? Of course not. But we also have to think about it this way.
I am an established speaker. Churches will pay for me. On the other hand, some churches won’t pay for speakers who aren’t established. So let’s imagine that there’s a speaker out there whom we’ll call Susie Beginner. Susie is a gifted speaker, but she doesn’t have a lot of experience, and she doesn’t have many marketing materials.
Church A is looking for a speaker for a particular weekend. They have 90 women coming, and are willing to pay, and expect a good speaker. Church B has 25 women, and isn’t willing to pay. Let’s say that I take the engagement from Church B. Church A won’t hire Susie Beginner because they know little about her. So Church A hires someone from out of province or out of state, spending way more money than they wanted to. And Susie Beginner doesn’t get a chance to build up her own credentials and gain some much needed experience. If I took the engagement at Church A, on the other hand, and gave Church B Susie’s name, chances are they would hire Susie, and all would be well.
When established speakers don’t charge, I think we crowd out the field and don’t allow beginners to move up. That’s not always a good thing. As I said, there still are times when I don’t charge, but that really depends on nudging from God.
So what do you think? Should we speak for free? There are always going to be times when God is going to lead us in that direction. But is it wrong to ask for money? Absolutely not. We are providing a valuable service, that is also costing us money. That should be acknowledged and taken into consideration when we are hired.
Now, those are my thoughts. Please share yours, and don’t be afraid to disagree!
My audio download, Treating Speaking as a Business, goes into detail about how applying business principles makes us more effective for the kingdom of God.