We have come to the fifth in the series of seven things preachers never say. So far we have touched on expectations, negative response, family, and temptation. Here’s one we really can’t talk about: money. We can preach about it, after all, the Bible has a lot to say. But it is very awkward to talk about money for preachers.
5. As a preacher, I have bills to pay and the money I receive for preaching makes a difference.
There may be some preachers who are retired with a healthy pension, but the majority are not able to self-fund their life and ministry. Some receive a salary from their church. Some rely on honoraria received when preaching. Almost all have a tale to tell, but no opportunity to tell it.
First and foremost there is a tale to tell of God’s provision and faithfulness. I cannot put into words my gratitude for God’s care over the years. When my wife and I were visiting churches to raise support to go into missions we got into the habit of praying to say thanks to God before we opened the envelope we had been given in each church – we wanted to be thankful for whatever it contained!
Sometimes the gifts given are slightly perplexing. I remember hearing from one friend who relied on gifts he received to be able to pay the bills. He was invited by a church to speak during their church mission. So every day for three weeks he drove a significant number of miles, preached at the evening event, and drove home. Day after day he faithfully served this church. On the final night, an elderly member of the church approached him and said, “thank you for all you have done, this is from us for the fuel,” and gave him £5 (about $7). Incredible.
Of course, this friend, even though the story was being shared with other preachers, was quick to add that God has always provided even when some churches have been oblivious to the cost of living. We do rely on God’s provision, whether it is through salary or gifts. At the same time, I know many preachers who would like to be able to say something.
I remember being in a church business meeting where the subject of how much the church gives to visiting preachers came up. I appreciated the perspective of one younger man who suggested that the church should be really generous because it is not easy to preach and he is thankful others are doing something for his benefit that he wouldn’t personally want to be doing. I didn’t appreciate the comment from another that we should err on the side of frugal because “having too much money is not good for preachers, they might start living lavishly.” I had tried to stay quiet, but this stirred me to point out that if we don’t trust preachers with a slightly generous gift, then why are we trusting them to present matters of life and death to us?
Preachers I know personally would re-invest excessive funds in God’s work. Preachers I know personally rarely have that problem.
But what do we say when the subject comes up? Once in a while, someone might ask what we charge for preaching if we were to come to them. The best answer I’ve heard went along these lines, “If you were a university or business asking me to come and offer a training session for them, then I would charge a professional rate. It would reflect the investment I made in formal education, my years of experience in this work and the hours of preparation as well as travel for this particular event. It would reflect the charges made by similar professions in our culture. But I don’t charge for ministry. I trust God to provide and will be very grateful for any gift you feel able to give and feel is appropriate for the ministry I offer.”
The truth is that most preachers don’t say something like this, but perhaps if we did it might help churches and ministries to think more realistically about what they give to preachers.
When it comes to a pastor’s salary, that is another whole set of complex issues. It is awkward for a pastor to have their salary published and discussed in church finance meetings. Nobody else has their income scrutinized and discussed in a public meeting of the church. I suspect every pastor deeply appreciates those who are willing to raise their voices and advocate for the pastor when others are seeking to require the pastor to need miraculous provision to survive another year on out-of-date salary levels.
I was intrigued to see a written answer to the honorarium question. If you click here and scroll down past the form you will see an example of what a lot of preachers would like churches and event organisers to see. The truth is, most of us will continue to remain quiet on this issue. We understand that some may give very little and yet actually giving incredibly generously for their situation. We understand that we are trusting God to provide. And we understand that the moment we raise this issue, it can look like we are trying to pursue a lavish lifestyle like some on TV who do not represent the real preachers willing to serve God irrespective of income.
Next time, number 6…