Fair Payment for Speakers

What does your church pay for visiting preachers or camp speakers or conference leaders? What does your organization pay for theological or ecclesiastical consultants?

A lot of speakers feel insulted by those who invite them, while hosts are sometimes nonplussed by speakers asking for fees well above what they had budgeted.

To help with these vexing matters, I’ve written a guide that I previously published in a national magazine (ChristianWeek) and later as a post on this blog. To make the post easier to find for speakers who would like me to do some of their talking for them on this tricky subject (!) and for hosts who are wondering how to budget properly, I’ve now put it in the PAGES section to the top right of this blog’s main page.

Let’s treat each other right–that’s the true “bottom line.”

0 Responses to “Fair Payment for Speakers”

  1. Kasey

    When I am asked to speak at a Woman’s retreat I don’t ask for any “salary” although I do ask for travel expenses etc. Consistently the ladies will take donations from the participants and give it as a gift. It is always at least double what I would have asked for from them. I agree with you about treating one another right. That goes both ways. Often a church is small and even giving generously limits the “who” of who can be invited and that is why I leave it up to them. I do not support a family, however, and work for free in the church I go to since my husband is a pastor and it is expected or not thought about. I have often thought of the discrepancy in the church between what is paid a woman and a man who may both have the same education as well a background. The difficulty I have had personally isn’t that I don’t think “I am worth it” but teaching is a gift and it is God’s for His purposes… again I repeat, I do not support a family which for me does make a difference in expectations. Interesting subject Prof. Stackhouse one I am still thinking about.

  2. Elizabeth

    This is a very real issue. Many people receive glowing compliments after a moving presentation, only to be offered a coffee mug for their time and trouble. Too many people assume that a pastor or speaker only works a couple of hours a week. They really have no concept of the study, prayer, or decisions involved in preparing a sermon or any presentation (not to mention the expense of theological training that has many ministers paying off huge student debts–debts that are much higher than those accumulated when you study at a government-subsidized university).

    The same thinking is evident when churches strike their budgets in the area of missions. It would be totally inappropriate to hire a pastor and reduce his pay by the amount his spouse would make at her job (secular or otherwise). Yet churches determine mission support by the family unit instead of by # of workers. Therefore, a missionary with a stay-at-home wife (with or without kids) gets “X” amount of dollars. The next missionary family where both spouses work in the ministry full-time, usually gets the identical amount, presumably to keep everything “fair”. Essentially, one spouse works full-time for free.
    What’s the old expression? “You keep him humble, Lord, and we’ll keep him poor.”

  3. smokey

    The Christian way to do this is to pay preachers/speakers etc. very well and for preachers/speakers etc. to put most of the money back into the plate or into some other type of kingdom service. Preachers should be well-paid but they should live simply and give generously. Comparing them to the docs and lawyers is somewhat out of place because docs and lawyers are not setting themselves up as examples of Kingdom living.

  4. John Stackhouse

    #4: Brother Drew, it’s worth thinking through in terms of various “classes” of speaking (I don’t mean “higher” or “lower,” just different “sorts”). Those classes can be distinguished in terms of several spectra: preparation time, travel and other “time on task,” size of audience, source of funding, and so on. It also makes a difference as to whether it is part of one’s job to give such an address–in which case no honorarium should be expected but a donation to one’s organization can be requested–or whether one is doing it on one’s own, as most of my public speaking is. Finally, one has to see what are the “going rates” and decide if one is willing to work within them or at least pretty close to them. If not, then maybe you need to think it through again from another angle or perhaps this kind of speaking genuinely isn’t for you.

    #5: Smokey, I stoutly disagree. Christian physicians (such as my late father) are to model Kingdom living every bit as much as are pastors. I refuse to entertain a double standard here. Everyone should live appropriately and give generously. (I didn’t use your adjective “simply” because I don’t know what you mean by that and don’t know that “simplicity” is a Biblical value anyhow.)

    And no pastor should be “setting up” himself or herself as an example of Kingdom living. Every Christian IS an example, whether a good one or a bad one. But there are no “exemplary Christians” and “others that can safely ignore how they appear to the watching world” (see Matthew 5 about our “good works”).

  5. smokey

    Dr. Stackhouse,
    I agree with you that God calls all of us to be saints and to live godly lives. There are no super-Christians. However, if pastors are not called to be especially virtuous examples within the congregations and the Kingdom they serve, why does Paul include special qualifications such as “hospitable, above reproach, self-controlled, not a lover of money, etc. for those who serve as elders. Certainly I want to agree with you that all Christians are called to embody these virtues, but I wonder if those called to leadership are expected to be especially virtuous in order to rightly fulfill their duties. To whom much is given, much is required.
    Again, I don’t think that this takes away from the example that Christians who don’t happen to be called to leadership ought to give, but that those Christians in leadership must embody the virtues before taking on leadership roles.
    As far as what I mean by “living simply” and whether or not simplicity is a biblical value, I would say that I use the word simplicity to refer to living a life in which the accumulation of material goods is not a priority and where excesses of wealth are given up in service to the poor and the advancement of the Kingdom. Naturally this begs the question of how much is excessive, and there I can only hope that Spirit-filled Christians in Spirit-led congregations will be able to practice discernment and figure it out. I do think that this is a biblical value expressed by command (do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth) and example (Jesus, the apostles, the church in Jerusalem, etc.). I’m not advocating liberation theology here, I’m just saying that we live in a world where money and the accumulation of wealth/possessions are the driving factors in the lives of most people and Christians should be working to not let it drive their lives.

  6. smokey

    P.S. I certainly meant no disrespect to Christian physicians and lawyers by my earlier comment. My sincerest apologies if my remark seemed to imply that men and women called to professions other than ministry are somehow inferior Christians or that the bar is set lower for them than for ministers. Reading that last line again, I can see how I gave the wrong impression. I misspoke there and should have phrased it differently.

  7. poserorprophet

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    Dangnabbit, I knew I should have charged for that forum I did with you at Regent!

    More seriously, I actually do everything I can not to receive any compensation for the speaking that I do. I do this for a few reasons, but the primary one is that I am trying to explore what a gift-based economy might look like. In this regard, I’m not trying to set a double standard for speakers (vs. Christians in other professions); rather, I think that any Christian might want to consider the idea of offering their labour as a gift (after all, as Marx has shown in his Grundrisse, one of the fundamental problems with capitalism is the fact that it places a price on everything). This, then, might lead us to new forms of mutuality and integration into more genuine communities which require us to all (concretely) rely upon one another. Of course, it would likely also lead to the necessity of living more simply than we do now, but that’s not such a bad thing (in this regard, I am reminded up Peter Maurin’s story of when he gave his teaching as a gift to his students, and relied for his survival on gifts given to him by others — when asked how this worked out for him, he paused and then said, ‘I survived’).

    Anyway, I’m currently away in Ontario (speaking at conference, oddly enough), but I would love to try and get together with you when we return to Vancouver mid-April (baby Charles is eager to meet you!). Peace,


  8. conrade

    Dr Stackhouse,
    Thank you for articulating this issue so well. Education is the way to bridge the gap between speaker expectations and organizational compensations. Glad you are doing that.

    There is also another possible situation when a speaker did not receive his dues. Some unintentional mistake by the host church/organization. I remember preaching at one church where my honorarium did not arrive until nearly a year later. The person in charge forgot to mail it……. until it mysteriously appeared.

    Maybe, grace is always needed, from BOTH sides.


  9. Lukas

    I’m in campus ministry, and I get paid a salary by my employer. When I speak at an outside event, therefore, it is not my livelihood which is at stake. I am usually happy with just my expenses being covered.
    Do you not think there is a difference between people like me (who already have a salary, freeing them up to ‘full-time’ ministry) and someone who is a ‘professional speaker’ in the sense that they depend on speaking fees as their primary/soul source of income?

  10. John Stackhouse

    Lukas, the distinction I draw is a different one. If you are speaking in terms of your job, then you shouldn’t seek an extra honorarium but rather a donation to the organization (yours) that is paying you to do that kind of work.

    But if you are speaking outside your job, then of course you should be paid. You’re working now for THEM, and THEY should pay you for the EXTRA time and trouble you are going to on their behalf. Indeed, you are being compensated for the time you are spending away from your family, or your hobbies, or volunteer work, or whatever.

    Some churches and other organizations, alas, do think that way: “Well, he’s got a salary so we don’t need to pay him.” Um, yes, you do: He’s not being paid BY YOU to work FOR YOU, so PAY for what YOU are getting.

    To be sure, I do a lot of pro bono work and you might well want to speak here or there for free. Good for you! I’m just saying that when you do, it is in the category of “gift,” not of obligation. Likewise, if you don’t want to do it for free, then ask for a fee. Those same people expect to pay for a dentist or a plumber: Is preaching or teaching unworthy of a decent wage? I think not, and I believe the Bible is on my side on this one!

  11. Chris C.

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    When a church invite a member of the congregation to speak or preach, should:

    1.) the speaker ask for a payment?

    2.) the church offer to pay from the outset?

  12. Jeff

    John, I’m planning to draw attention to your article in other avenues so that its importance may be shared with others.

    I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been insulted as many times as I’ve been overwhelmed with generosity in the public speaking circuit. Thankfully, by God’s grace, I tend to remember the generosity better.

    I’ve not been in the habit of setting a fee for a Sunday morning, but when I’m asked to speak beyond Sunday at some other function, I’ve taken to setting a fee – not a high one by any means, but a fee – so that my work is in some way compensated for.

    When I was in paracongregational work (that’s your word, Brother!), what I noticed more than lack of compensation was lack of hospitality. I may yet write an article (for some lowly journal that would accept it) on how to treat a guest preacher after the service. Too often – most of the time, truthfully – I was left to fend for myself for such basic needs as lunch. Surprisingly, this was true even of some of my friends who had invited me to preach. I never expected royal treatment, but a quick bite at a local diner or in someone’s home would have been greatly appreciated, especially when I travelled significant distances – always by car.

    In the middle ages, there were only three ‘professions’ – clergy, lawyers and physicians. Each received similar compensation in those days, because they were seen as servants of the people (and servants of God). There’s been something of a divergence over the centuries! I don’t know that I’d advocate for pastors to be paid the way doctors and lawyers are, but there might be some call for equalization the other way!

    Thanks, as always, John, for great insights.

    Passionately His,

  13. John Stackhouse

    Thanks, friends, for these helpful observations. As for #15, please see the comments posted under the page itself that will help you in this regard.


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