Is It “Unspiritual” To Charge a Fee When You Speak?

Question mark made of puzzle piecesphoto © 2008 Horia Varlan | more info (via: Wylio)

I’ve been conducting speaker training for two years now. Most of you who come to this site truly want to speak in the Christian world. You want to speak in churches, at camps, to youth groups. You want to make a difference for God. You want to share the message that God has given you. But you can’t do this without receiving some sort of compensation, because you need to be bringing in some income.

Does that make you unspiritual?

That’s an important question, and it’s interesting that it seems to come up pretty much solely concerning female speakers. Male speakers, after all, are paid all the time. They’re called “pastors”. But many ministries to women exist that do not really believe in compensating their speakers.

In fact, I read a thread from one of these ministries where people were appalled that one speaker asked for about $150 to cover her gas, rather than the traditional $50 or $75 that the group paid. How could she think of doing that?

And yet, my question would be, how could she not?

I’m afraid that many women speakers are battling this idea that to ask for money makes us unspiritual. I find this puzzling, because at these Christian events, the people have paid caterers. They have bought decorations (and thus paid stores). They have, at times, rented halls. It was not unspiritual to pay for food; it is only unspiritual to pay for food for your soul. Very strange.

But I’m also opposed to it for two reasons: the first is scriptural. The second is practical. Let’s tackle them both in turn.

1. The worker is worth his wages.

The Bible clearly states in 1 Timothy 5:18 that “the laborer is worthy of his wages”.

In other words, those who are involved in ministry should be paid. They should not be expected to do it for free. Certainly those in the New Testament church sold their belongings and gave to the poor, but that was their choice, and they were giving to their own community. I often take the money that I receive from speaking and give it away, but I give it away to the charities I support. If I go to a church that is two hundred miles from where I live, I do not know that church or its ministry. I want to support the ministries that I do know. To expect a guest, who is not part of your fellowship, to pay your fellowship for the privilege of speaking (which is what it amounts to if a group does not pay adequate travel expenses), is unreasonable.

Now some groups don’t pay because they don’t have the money. I’ve spoken at both churches and groups who apologize profusely for not paying, and I don’t mind that at all. They have little money, and so they can’ t pay, even if they want to. What bothers me is the groups that make it an issue of spiritual pride that they do not pay, so that no one becomes puffed up. I think this is a misunderstanding of Scripture, and can be damaging to their own group.

2. If you don’t pay, you damage your own ministry

Here’s where I really see the problem, though. Becoming a gifted, effective speaker is something that takes work. Yes, we are gifted, but that gifting needs to be trained. It needs practice. I have always been a gifted speaker, but I am so much better today than I was eight years ago because I have had so much practice.

Who are the best speakers out there today? Those who are actually speaking to groups that hire only good speakers. When a medium-to-large size church hires a speaker for an evening, that speaker knows that he or she has to really prepare. She has to be engaging. She has to be a little bit funny. She has to be able to speak well. She has to have an effective, well-crafted message. And so she works hard to be that.

The groups who insist on not really paying speakers are also saying, “we don’t believe that speakers should have practice or a lot of training, because that’s worldly.” Certainly they may give some training themselves, and I know groups that do train their speakers to a certain extent, but the best speakers are those who have spoken to a variety of groups, not just one type of group. They are speakers who have had to adjust to different personalities or circumstances. Speakers who have had to develop different talks, or gone deeper into the Word to find new material and new thoughts.

I used to speak for a group that didn’t really pay, going to a number of different circuits and speaking to a number of different individual groups under their umbrella. And I can tell you that the quality of speaker there differed tremendously from the quality of speaker at most women’s conferences I attended, simply because once people got good, they left.

Some women are comfortable speaking for no money, because that’s their ministry, and if God is calling you to that, that is perfectly okay. But we need to understand that it is not unspiritual to be paid for one’s work, and in fact, being paid for one’s work usually brings better quality.

I still speak for free occasionally when I feel God prompting me to. I often speak for little or no money when it’s a real opportunity to share the gospel to people who haven’t heard. But I don’t speak for organizations who refuse to pay speakers well as a rule, thinking that this is spiritual. It’s not. What they’re really looking for in speakers are people who are completely dedicated to their particular ministry, and not to ministry as a whole. That cuts down the number of potential speakers drastically.

It also puts an undo burden on the speakers, asking them to be away from home–from family responsibilities, from children, from their own churches–far more than the organizers of these events are. The speakers travel; the others don’t. And they are asking the speakers to take the money out of their family’s pockets to pay for these speaking trips, because it costs money to drive to different groups. They say this should be done in the name of “ministry”, but I question whether it is ministry to ask children or husbands to sacrifice without compensation. That can cause a lot of family friction and hardship.

I come back to the Bible: “a worker is worth his wages”.

My conclusion? Listen to the Holy Spirit and be open to speaking for free. But you are not unspiritual if you ask to be paid. You are simply being faithful to your family and enabling yourself to grow as a speaker, and that is a good thing.

What do you think? I know this is a controversial subject, and I’d love to have some of you chime in!

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