“Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyared and does not eat the fruit of it?” (I Corinthians 9:7)
“We’d like to invite you to speak to our church (or our seniors group or whatever). But we’re small and I’m not sure we could afford you. How much do you charge?”
I get this a lot.
In the first place, I’m excited (and more than a little relieved!) that any church would invite me to do anything—preach a sermon, teach a class, speak at a banquet or sit in a room and sketch the children. So, I’m always honored. Always, no matter the size of the church.
God knows my heart.
But I’m always a little flummoxed when people ask about the fee. I reply, “I don’t charge anything.” But that is not the entire story.
Two aspects to this: First, my situation.
I’m a minister of the Gospel. And those who preach the gospel have a right to live off the gospel. Scripture says so, right there in I Corinthians 9:14.
Here’s what I have heard in recent days from people inviting me…
—“Well, we don’t normally pay a speaker for our senior adult meetings.”
No doubt, most of their monthly speakers are local. When I drive five miles to speak to seniors at a neighborhood church, I don’t expect anything other than a handshake. And that’s usually what they give. But I pointed out to this friend, “You’re asking me to drive a hundred miles and speak to your group and sketch everyone there. It’s going to take the better part of the day. I think you should run this by your pastor.”
Pastors understand this. Laypeople often do not.
They invited me.
—“You mean you would charge us to come speak to our seniors?”
I answered, “No. I don’t charge anything.” And I kept talking…
“If your church is needy, I’ll be happy to do this for nothing. Believe me, I will. But if it’s not struggling, then you should pay the expenses of getting the guest preacher there. In my case, that means the mileage. And then, you add whatever honorarium you wish to give.”
I suggested the one inviting me should run this by the preacher. Preachers know.
They invited me.
I was relieved in both instances that I was able to tell them plainly how this is done without their being offended. That’s not always the case.
Many years ago, I was serving as a staff member of a church and we were struggling financially. A friend from a church in my past asked me to drive a hundred miles on a Saturday and address a group of leaders in their association on forming and maintaining a youth rally, a subject I had a good deal of experience with. Then, after the meeting, we traveled to a church where teenagers from local churches had been invited and I addressed them. The entire event—the drive, the meetings, the meal—took five or six hours.
At the conclusion, my friend said, “We don’t owe you anything, do we?”
Now, my friend was famous for being a skinflint—smile please—but that surprised me. They’d even taken an offering in the youth rally that night.
Of course, being inexperienced and caught off guard, I said, “Of course not,” and returned home.
Did they “owe” me? I’d answer it this way: The man they had invited to help them that afternoon and evening was God’s man, called into the full-time ministry and dependent on the Lord for his livelihood. They owed it to the Lord to take care of the one He sent to assist them.
You do it for Jesus’ sake.
Whatever you do to the preacher in providing hospitality—or even a cup of cold water, see Matthew 10:42—Jesus takes personally.
And the other situation: Ministers who are not 77 years old and retired!
Think of this. Being retired, I have social security and receive a monthly amount from my retirement account for housing expenses. I could almost live on that. But most ministers are still “in the traces,” as we say on the farm, and are totally dependent on the income they receive from churches they serve.
That’s true of ministers in a church, whether the pastor or a staff minister.
It’s true of ministers who are retired from the military and receive a pension of some kind. To their shame, I’ve known of hard-hearted members unwilling to give a pastor a decent salary if he has that military pension.
And how much more this is true if the minister is a full-time vocational itinerant evangelist (or with some similar ministry). If you know of such a minister, and if you find him in a relaxed moment, ask for his horror stories on this. Some churches make great demands on their visiting minister, then hand him a check that fails to pay even his mileage. And once again, if a church is hurting and struggling financially and that’s all they can do, that’s one thing. An evangelist would still be glad to help them out.
But if a church is willfully stingy and take advantage of their guest preachers, they bring shame upon the name of Jesus Christ. And their leaders will be held accountable.
Sometimes churches are stingy because of a dominating layperson who absolutely will not allow the church to be generous. In such a case, the pastor and a half-dozen leaders should serve notice to him that he will not be making that decision. They can make it stick if they’ll be firm. (In most cases, the hard-hearted layperson has been a member there for a hundred years and a key decision-maker for most of that. But this is not his church and he should not be allowed to rule as an autocrat.)
Generous churches honor their Lord. Any church that blesses the servant of Christ is honoring the Lord of that servant.
Church leaders should inquire as to what guest preachers are being paid. They have a right to this information. And if it seems to be lacking, they should speak up.
Lastly, I say to all ministers in the Lord’s work, whether part-time or full-time, whether traveling or tied to one location, the Lord is your Source. Jesus Christ is your Portion. Look to Him for your needs.
Thank you very much!
This article originally appeared here.