Does money equate to how much we value the word?

There has been a bit of discussion about what we pay pastors and how we honour visiting speakers lately. On the former, you can listen to the most recent episode of the Building Jerusalem podcast. On the latter, much of the discussion was kicked off by Trevor Archer’s article for FIEC. You can read that here.

I don’t particularly want to critique Trevor’s article. I think there was a lot to be said for what he wrote. It seems to me a lot of the discussion circled around the two things you would imagine they would. On the one hand, the generosity of the receiving church over and the sacrificial service of the preacher. On the other hand, the material wealth of the church and the generosity of the sending church and preacher. Both things bear thinking about.

For my part, just as with the discussion on pastor’s stipends, it seems to me that the church should be as generous as it can be and the pastor should be seeking to be sacrificial. The issue from a church perspective on paying visiting speakers, so far as I can see, is not about how much they give so much as the generosity of heart with which it is given. The issue from a preacher’s perspective seems to be the willingness to serve regardless of honorarium rather than a problem of them being grasping.

One of the things Trevor’s article touched on was how much we value the Word. If we really do hold it in the regard that we claim, shouldn’t we be paying those who preach for us properly? In essence, I think there is something in that. Certainly, I think when it comes to your pastor(s) who labour in preaching and teaching within your church, it is right and proper to pay them a reasonable salary so that they aren’t constantly worrying about caring for their family rather than preaching the Word. But what about visiting preachers? What should we be giving them?

If they are already salaried, we aren’t really paying them as part of their living. If it is a pastor of another church that pays their salary, or a person who is in full time secular work, we aren’t giving them their living. So, whatever we offer is for something else. If we think we’re paying what the sermon is worth, do we need to employ a sliding scale based on how good the sermon was? Maybe we’re paying for the time spent in preparation? But pastors all differ in how much time they spend in preparation, not all give equal time. What is more (and don’t tell anyone) but I don’t always prepare something from scratch when I preach out anyway. Often, prep isn’t that long as I tweak a few applications and little more.

So, when I go out to preach, I don’t expect massive expenses. I usually haven’t crafted a message from scratch and I am not expecting payment for my labour because my church already give me a salary for that. In fact, part of my church’s giving is sending out their pastor to serve other churches. Even that isn’t totally selfless because, whenever we do, it creates opportunities for others in our church to preach. So it opens up training opportunities. Similarly, if I am preaching at our church, part of our serving other churches is releasing our other preachers to go and serve them too. Even before I was a pastor, I was always more grateful for the opportunities to preach than I was concerned about expenses (more often than not, I forgot anybody gave them when I agreed to preach!) I wanted to learn and to be given opportunities – that was why I went.

Nor do I think the size of the honorarium speaks to how much the church value the Word. I think it can speak to a whole host of things. It might speak to a generosity problem. But equally, it might well speak to a problem of means. Most the churches I used to preach at were small. That is, incidentally, why they needed preachers to help in the first place. I didn’t expect any of those places to give me much (if anything) because I knew they weren’t in a great position to do so. It may be that larger churches could be more generous than they are, not least if the speaker hasn’t been invited specifically because they are needed, but plenty of smaller churches really don’t have the means to offer vast sums. It might make us feel honoured when we go, but it doesn’t necessarily help the church we are supposed to be serving so much.

So what should we be aiming to give? Or, maybe a better way to put it, what should I expect if I go? I’d like to think nobody would want me to be out of pocket for preaching. I’d have thought they’d at least want to cover my travel expenses. That should be the basic benchmark. Irrespective of whether I take an old sermon with a few tweaks or I write something from scratch, some recognition of the time and effort put into preaching might not seem unreasonable at first blush. But then, the time I spend doing that is time from my normal working day for which I am paid by my church and it isn’t extra work I am doing on top – if I’m preaching at another church, I am specifically not preaching at my own. The net time spent in preparation is the same at most and, if recycling an old sermon, actually a net gain when preaching out.

Truth be told, I am more than happy if my petrol is paid. But even if not, I remember as a full-time minister of the gospel that I am already paid by my own church. If I am out of pocket a few quid for petrol, we receive far more by freely giving our preachers to another church and seeing it as part of our service for the kingdom. I valued the training opportunities far more than the expenses when I wasn’t in ministry and I appreciate the honour of being able to serve other churches with what we have now rather than looking at what we’ll get from them if we go.

But if we’re benchmarking it at petrol expenses, how can a receiving church still be generous? There are various ways. They could offer petrol plus something extra. They could give expenses and a separate gift (not necessarily money). They could just set ‘generous expenses’ that will clearly surpass any actual mileage 75p per mile or something. There are all sorts of ways we might show generosity.

But a lot of that will come down to what they can afford. Some churches might not have the money to even cover petrol. Are we going to say no preachers for them because they don’t have the funds to pay? Are we going to gripe and whinge, or only send our less good preachers, because they aren’t really in a position to afford out best (as we judge it)? Or, will we forget that and – as those who are already rich in Christ – go even to those who will pay us in a few sweeties for the journey home?

I’m not saying preachers of the gospel aren’t worthy of honour, but we do have to remember why we are actually going to preach. Surely, it isn’t for the money, right? Especially if we’re already salaried by another church. Let’s not forget that when the bible talks about double honour (and if we take that to mean monetary recompense) that was given to the churches who were supposed to support their own elders. If those elders are already supported by their own churches with double honour, do they really need triple honour when they go to other churches?