To Charge Or Not To Charge

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I’m invited to speak at a church about two hours north of where we live. The pastor is an old friend and many of his church members know me personally. I look forward to being at the church.
Before getting on the road I put $60 worth of gas in the car; she runs on premium. After driving for about 100 miles, I’m finally there. My 45-minute teaching goes well, and afterward I spend another hour or so fellowshipping with church members. Before I leave, the pastor graciously gives me an envelope with my honorarium in it. As it is my practice, I don’t look at it till I get home. Six hours later, when I get home, I open the envelope. The check is for $120. Deducting my gas expense, per hour, I’m paid a little over the minimum wage.  I’m hurt and feel dishonored. I believe I should have been respected more, but I have no one to blame but myself.
In almost 40 years of being in the ministry, I never asked for any specific honorarium when invited to speak anywhere. In some cases, I even gave the honorarium back. Looking back, that was done out of a combination of pride, fear of being accused of putting a price on the Gospel or not trusting God and even more important, having a fulltime job which supported us sufficiently so I didn’t have to rely on honorariums as a means of support. However, not having a fulltime job since 2006, things are now different.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to establish a value system for giving out that which springs from my background, education, knowledge and experience. Coming to this point has probably been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made.
I have known many pastors and Christian leaders who, not only have a set honorarium, they also must be flown first-class when invited to speak somewhere. “But those are well known successful pastors and leaders with much more knowledge and experience than me,” I’d say. But, in reality, the majority of those pastors don’t have a fraction of the knowledge, experience, background or even accomplishments in my field. When I’m invited to speak somewhere, it’s because the audience wants to hear what I have to offer—an Iranian Muslim-background Believer, with a B.S. in Civil Engineering and a M.A. in Cross-cultural ministries; who planted the first Iranian Christian organization in the United States; taught at a Bible college for 5 years; and as a Middle East regional coordinator, planted churches all over the Muslim world for 6 years. However, in my case, that was easier said than done. I had to struggle with many issues.
Am I putting a price on the word of God? Am I not trusting God to support me? How can I swallow my pride and ask for a certain amount without offending anyone? These were the questions that kept haunting me, until something interesting took place that put my soul at ease.
It’s a few days after speaking at the above church. My phone rings. It’s an old friend who’s recently become the pastor of a church.
“I’ve been teaching on the Beatitudes and this coming Sunday I’m teaching on persecution. However, not ever being persecuted myself, I thought it would be great if someone like you who knows a bit more about the subject could come and speak about it,” he tells me.
I’m delighted at his request. Frankly, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten any speaking invitations. However, I have a dilemma I must deal with.
“George, I’m going to ask you a question that I’ve never in my life asked anyone. I hope you don’t get offended,” I say quite uncomfortably.
“Of course not! Go ahead and ask it.”
“How much is your church prepared to pay me?”
“Our honorarium is $150.”
Then comes an even harder statement to make, but I’ve done my research and know my request isn’t unreasonable.
“Well, that’d be fine. You’re my friend and I’ll be honored to speak at your church for any amount, but I’d like to know that my honorarium is….”
After getting all the info, we say our goodbyes and I hang up.
The next day George calls to tell me that after talking to his board, the church is prepared to pay me what I’ve asked for.
That Sunday after I’m done speaking, George hands me my honorarium, but at the same time he says, “Please don’t leave yet. We’re writing you a second check—another gift from some of the members.”
I still struggle with the idea of having to negotiate a price for my expertise, but I also realize if I don’t honor myself enough to set the price, albeit with pure intentions, neither will the majority of those who invite me to speak at their gatherings.
You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. (James 4:2)

8 thoughts on “To Charge Or Not To Charge

  1. A servant is worthy of his hire. You should state your fee upfront because you are depending on speaking fees to support your family. If you are willing to speak at a 'friends' church or a church that is financially unable to meet your fee and you want to accept the invite to honor the Lord, do it as unto Him. Two ways to go, Shah. You make the call.


  2. Charlene, as you noticed, that's exactly what I did with my friend, George. I told him I was willing to speak at his church for whatever they were offering me, but I also let him know what my fee was. I absolutely agree with you, “A servant is worthy of his hire”.


  3. Hello Shah,
    I haven't read your blog for awhile and felt I'd missed something important when I was Googling about another ministry and in the process discovered your name in the current Seminary course schedule of our mutual former mega-church employer!

    I've been speed reading through your posts to discover just how this reconciliation took place, but remain mystified. Of course, I understand it is a highly personal issue, but since you've been blogging about it for so long, I hoped for a glimpse of what sincere apology was made or what behavior changed on their part that caused such a radical shift in your feelings towards them?

    I ask because I still struggle. If they are different, I'd really like to know it, even if you remain silent about the particular details. Just let me know that they finally see and care about the harm they've done.

    Let me warn you, what I say next may hurt you, although it isn't said with that intent.

    I admit to feeling highly confused by the shift that now aligns you with what once offended you. I remember the incident where you confronted our former high-profile pastoral employer about his profound sense of entitlement that he deserved 1st Class preferential treatment due to his exalted position. As I recall he slammed the door on you so hard it jammed shut until workmen could be fetched to free him from his office. And you resigned.

    I am NOT saying that you don't deserve to be well-paid and compensated for your expertise. You shouldn't have to half-starve to prove your loyalty as a minister. But perhaps our former employer began his elitist aloofness by beginning with a similar minor rationalization. Just wondering.

    I'd sure appreciate your response even if it's an angry one. At this point I'm discouraged enough by spiritual leaders that one more cold dismissal can't do any real hurt to me. It's been years since I left there, yet I still can't bring myself to go back to church. I do intend to try, though.

    SIncerely, a fellow former staff member.


  4. Dear Anonymous, I'm not angry with you. You have every right to ask me those questions. If I understand you correctly, you're asking me if I'm a sellout. Hell no! I still would rather stand at on the corner with a sign that says, “Will preach for food”, than to sell my soul to those people. However, as I told you and others around me, “don't demand forgiveness from me, when no one is asking for it. I will forgive when God gives me the grace, which might take a while.”

    You used to have my number. It's still the same. Call me, and I will tell you what's been going on since the last time I saw you.

    I'm still the same cynical person I've always been struggling with much of what we used to struggle together. Just in case you've lost my number,213.399.0399. I'd love to talk to you.


  5. I'm once again in the middle of moving, so please forgive my belated response.

    Thanks for clarifying things, Shah. I was worried that such a long period of suffering and deprivation had caused you to cross over to the dark side. Glad to hear that is definitely not the case!!

    Be assured that I was not at all suggesting you sweep what happened under the carpet and pretend it never happened, (which is what far too many spiritual leaders and authors teach that forgiveness means). Beyond this, I think that reconciliation is not always possible, especially if the other party refuses to acknowledge their wrong-doing or change their behavior accordingly. Repentance and restitution towards the wronged is too often left out of pastoral exhortations. Even Christ's forgiveness is conditional in the sense that to receive it one must accept confrontation about their misdeeds, acknowledge their need of forgiveness and their status as a sinner who has wronged God, and genuinely be sorry to have done those wrongs. Hence why the entire world is not spontaneously “saved”. Yes, God's forgiveness is there, but it's for the asking.

    It is, I believe, possible to forgive even if the other party doesn't give a damn. But in that case it is a one-sided affair and reconciliation remains impossible. The act of forgiveness will likely be a continual struggle, as the harm done still remains. It is even worse when the pain caused was perpetrated repeatedly over a long period of time, rather than being a momentary one-time occurance. That is the way it has worked in my experience, that is. Perhaps it is different in yours, I do not wish to presume my struggles are identical to yours.

    Thank you for giving me your number, I would not have intruded by using it otherwise. I'll try and give you a call so that we can catch up once I'm settled into my new place. I, too, would enjoy talking to you.

    Sincerely, a fellow former staff member


  6. Dear anonymous, you'll be happy to know that,
    A) A while back, the new regime at our old office took me out to lunch and apologized for what they had done to me. However, they said they didn't know why I was fired.
    B) Last week I was asked to teach at a church where the pastor abandoned me after I was fired (although we'd been good friends for many years) and as much as I could use the money, I turned them down.

    As you know, my honor is much
    more important to me than a few hundred dollars. This has nothing to do with forgiveness. Life is too precious to be wasted on stuff like that. My reaction had everything to do with honor. These Christians need to learn that just because they have high and mighty positions, they can't go around dishonoring those under them, and expect to be treated as if nothing has ever happened. If they dishonor me, I'll come after them until they yell uncle. This has to do with justice.

    By the way, the old organization is in such a disarray that it will take them years to get out of the mess they're in. Do you remember when I told one of the vice presidents, “you continue treating people with such malice, sooner or later, the chickens are coming home to roost.” Well, the chickens are home, baby.

    So, you're moving again? Well, you are an expert at that.


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