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Money for Ministry

  • Craig Blomberg Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary
  • 2014 5 Sep
Money for Ministry

Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.” (2 Cor. 2:17 TNIV)

“How much do you charge for preaching?” “What kind of honorarium will it take to get you to come and speak to us?” “What is your fee?”

I hear these kinds of questions frequently. I know that many Christian speakers give straightforward dollar-based answers to them. I recently learned of one very popular, very rhetorically gifted Bible professor who told a local pastor who was inquiring about the possibility of him coming to his church for a special event that he never spoke for less than $5000 per talk. I was stunned. I wasn’t sure which I was more amazed at—that he charged so much or that people were willing to give him so much, because he is very much in demand and speaks all over the country with great regularity.

Paul vigorously argues in 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 that Christian ministers should have their material needs met by those among whom they minister. In doing so, he broke sharply from rabbinic practice that generally forbade receiving money for ministry, lest it compromise one’s motives. Paul adds, though, that with the Corinthians he has not availed himself of this privilege. Some historical background shed light on his behavior. Wealthy patrons regularly supported itinerant teachers and philosophers in the Greco-Roman world but then expected they could “call the shots” as to what those speakers did and did not proclaim. Paul would have no “strings attached” to his presentation of the gospel or of God’s word to a specific audience. But when he could be sure that no strings were attached, he was happy to receive support—hence his thank you note that we call the letter to the Philippians.

What, then, is the point of his comment that he and his traveling companions “do not peddle the word for profit” in 2 Corinthians 2:17? Great orators and rhetoricians in Corinth and other Greco-Roman centers of public speaking commanded hefty sums for their speeches. In Corinth, particularly offensive to Paul were the Sophists whose emphasis on form and style over substance and content has bequeathed the term Sophistry even to the English language of today.

Paul’s point is that the motivation for Christian ministry should not be whatever remuneration may accompany it. Countless pastors around the world today are bi-vocational because their churches cannot afford to pay them enough to live on. How tragic, then, when some Americans refuse a ministry simply because the pay isn’t adequate. Of course, given the opportunity to devote full-time energy to a ministry because the people are able to pay me a wage on which I can live, I may choose to do that over a ministry that does not produce the same wage because it is the best stewardship of my time and efforts. But I have to regularly ensure that those are my true motives. And Paul always ties ministry to spiritual giftedness. If someone is called and gifted to preach or teach, they must find outlets for doing so in the context of the community of God’s people for their growth, whether or not they ever get paid or have some formal staff position in a church or organization.

So what do I say to the question of what I charge for a speaking engagement? I tell people I understand that different churches and organizations have different resources and that it isn’t fair to create a “one size fits all” answer to that question. I tell them that I would just ask that they would treat me at least as generously as they would anyone else they would invite to engage in a similar ministry. (For the past several years, I’ve often also told people that I’m trying to help put two daughters through private universities, but, Lord willing, in two more years, I won’t be able to say that anymore!) And then I do my best to be content with whatever, if anything, I receive. I sometimes don’t succeed as well as I’d like to, especially when I know I’ve gotten a fairly stingy honorarium by today’s standards. But I suspect something along these lines is what Paul had in mind.

Dr. Craig L. Blomberg serves as Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary.