I have been on both sides of this question: both as the speaker, as well as the organizer of brunches, spring teas and women’s retreats; and it has been my experience that the topic of paying the speaker is often a tricky one. More and more I am realizing that I am not alone in feeling anxious about this.
We often in feel squirrelly and insecure about conversations where the higher good of ministry rubs shoulders with the worldly reality of money. Organizers are concerned about tight budgets and making the event as affordable as possible so that money doesn’t keep women from coming, and speakers are aware that giving a talk is costly to them: it is a sacrifice of time, energy, and in the case of speakers like myself with young children, sometimes money of my own to arrange childcare and find the necessary resources needed to prepare for the topic.
But none of us wants to talk about money.
For the purposes of this post, I am assuming that both the organizers and speakers are women acting in good faith: wanting to serve God, do ministry, and do right. I am assuming that neither are greedy, opportunistic, nor miserly. I am assuming, too, that it is their delight to serve God and His daughters by participating in this way. I am, finally, also assuming that—whether big or small—your ministry event does have a budget. This was the case when I was at a teeny church organizing a college women’s brunch for 15, or at a large church with a retreat for hundreds.
Having said all that, it still doesn’t get us out of talking about the issue of money. God has much to say about stewardship of money, both personally and in ministry, and it is time we talked faithfully and biblically about how to handle this topic in women’s ministry rather than feeling swamped by feelings of guilt and pressure when we feel that the money question is the elephant in the room.
Laying the groundwork
Scripture says that a worker is worth their wages (1 Timothy 5:18), a principle clearly stated in both the Old and New Testaments. This is true in the business world, as an excellent recent article in Christianity Today made clear, and it is true in the church, where we are told that double honor is due to elders who lead well, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17).
The Apostle Paul, who wrote the most about money and ministry, did “volunteer” ministry (supporting himself through tent-making), but was also clear that it was appropriate and right for him and others to accept payment for ministry. He writes in 1 Corinthians 9:
4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?
That we honor—both in esteem and in money—our spiritual teachers is a well-grounded Scriptural principle. It is not a matter of greed or awkwardness: it is a matter of honor and sustainability. Just as no soldier can continue to serve for a long time at their own expense, and no farmer can continue to farm if they never eat; so, too, no-one can continue to give vast amounts of time to the ministry of the Word long-term without being sustained.
Ministry costs: it costs the minister, and it should thus cost the community. To say this plainly is not meant to be crude – but to point out that when we say that ministers are valuable we aren’t just using valuable sentimentally. Their work literally needs to be valued, too.
In as much as we believe that women are able and gifted to teach God’s word well to other women, and that they should do so with skill, attention, faithfulness and prayer—all of the above applies, too. We are, after all, talking about women’s ministry events.
How much to pay a speaker will obviously depend greatly on circumstances and context. However, both speakers and ministry organizers might gain some helpful guidance on what an appropriate honorarium might be for their context by asking the following questions:
- What does the men’s ministry (or youth ministry etc) pay their speakers for leading retreats or giving talks? What does the church pay guest preachers? In my experience, I have seldom met a woman who has any idea what the “going rate” for retreats are among other ministries within her same church.
- Work out how many hours are involved in preparing for, traveling to, and attending the event. Most 40 minute talks take a speaker somewhere between eight and twenty hours to prepare (again, ask your pastors how long it takes them to prepare a sermon). Speaking at a women’s brunch might, for example, take me 10 hours in preparation and 3 hours on the day of the event. Speaking at a retreat where there are three talks takes me about forty hours in preparation, and then I am away from my family for 24-36 hours. Does your honorarium recognize that the speaker has spent a minimum of 15 hours for a short talk? Or 76 hours on your retreat? When you think about the hours involved, a note of thanks and a $20 gift card doesn’t seem quite right.
What if it’s your home church?
Speaking at one’s home church is a little different, particularly since the speaker is part of a whole community of women who are volunteering their hours to make the event happen. Why should the speaker be paid, but not the decorator of tables or the designer of the beautiful invitations for the event?
I want to suggest that even if the speaker is from within one’s home church, the organizers should budget for an honorarium. I say this for the following reasons:
- While everyone in the body is to serve in some way, Scripture does set a precedent for paying teachers.
From a practical point of view, budgets for events often carry forward from one year to another. If you have a “cheap retreat” one year because you didn’t pay the speaker, it makes it hard the following year to offer the retreat at the same price if you then want to perhaps invite a guest speaker. Keeping it as a line item sets a precedent that your ministry always values their speakers, no matter where they come from.
It’s theologically important. My pastor used to say “if you want to know what people’s priorities are, take a look at their check book.” There is some truth in this for budgeting for ministry events: if we are willing to set aside money for flowers, craft activities, goody bags, decorations, invitations and other things (which are nice, but dispensable), then we should be willing to set aside money for the ministry of the Word (without which our event would not be ministry but a community tea.)
This distinction between speaking ministry vs. other volunteer ministries becomes a little clearer if you are invited to speak at another church, or if your church is inviting a guest speaker – because while speakers often serve other believing communities, it is a rare thing to volunteer your time to decorate or cook for a church in a neighboring town.
I believe ministries should pay their in-house speakers: it shows honor to them, shows priority to Word ministry, sets a good example to others, and lays a precedent for future generations. If the speaker chooses to donate her time and talents to her home church, she is free to tithe the honorarium back to the church, or even specifically to the women’s ministry. But I don’t believe the organizers of an event should presume on this: it should be the speaker’s decision.
In a Nutshell: Thoughts for Organizers of Events
- When you working out all the needs and costs for your event, consider what you are asking in terms of time and preparation from your speaker, and allocate an amount for your speaker.
- If you’re on a shoestring budget (which, in truth, is most of us), don’t just nix the speaker fees. Keep it a line item, commensurate with money you are spending on other things like decor and food. No matter how big or little your budget is, let it reflect that you value good teaching at least as much as you value the place looking pretty.
- When you invite your speaker, tell them you have budgeted for an honorarium. Be upfront and ask them what they charge. If they say nothing, give them the honorarium anyway, because it sets an example of honoring those who teach faithfully.
- If the speaker charges more than you have allocated for, tell them what your budget is. In my experience, every women’s ministry speaker I know desires first and foremost to honor God and serve His people. They will be able to tell you whether they can make it work for you.
In a Nutshell: Thoughts for Speakers
- Work out how much time it takes you to prepare and teach for an event. Write that time down and prayerfully consider its value.
- Ask some trusted people (other speakers, or pastors) if they’d be willing to share how long preparation takes them, and what a reasonable scale of fees is. I strongly encourage women to ask some men in ministry these questions, since men are often far more practical in their application of theology here, and far less guilt-ridden.
- Come up with a list of fees for different types of events (a MOPS talk, a once-off Spring or Christmas event, a mini-retreat, a full-weekend retreat). Put this into a document which you keep on file so that you don’t feel you have to “invent” a number any time somebody asks.
- The best examples I have seen of this are where speakers say they have an “honorarium policy upon request.” On asking, they send the document with their schedule of fees, but include something like this:
“It is my great joy and honor to spend time with women in God’s word. My heart is to encourage women in their faith and wholeness. As a speaker for ten years, and as a contributor to supporting my family, I have landed on these honorarium for various types of events:
- MOPS: $xxx
- One-talk women’s event: $xxx
- Weekend women’s retreat: $xxx
As a former Women’s Ministry Coordinator and as a woman with a heart to minister as much as God allows, I vowed to myself years ago that I would never pass on a speaking engagement request because of budget constraints. So if my rates are out of reach, please let me know what you are able to offer and we’ll see what we can do.”
- If you are an author and have books to take to the event, DON’T offer your books for free. Research confirm that people value what they buy more than what they are given. Offer them your author discount, if you’d like.
- If you are asked to speak at an event, ask them if they have a budget for a speaker. If you are talking about expectations and planning for how many talks and how long they might be, and what the topic might be – it is also the appropriate time to ask what the expectations and planning for their budget is. I know it’s awkward, but it gets more awkward with time rather than less so.
- If this remains a very emotionally-laden topic for you, spend some time in prayer and talking with trusted confidantes about valuing your time. This has become a little easier for me over the years because now I see that speaking at an event is not just costing me my time, but also takes a toll on my husband and children. Your time and skills are valuable. They are given by God, and need to be stewarded with as much diligence as money is.
I hope this post is helpful to those who feel squirmy about this topic. I believe that God would have us talk about money and ministry in an honest and shame-free way: it is my hope to have offered some practical pointers to help us walk that path.
Got any helpful thoughts to add for speakers or organizers? What have you appreciated in dealing with this topic? Join the conversation in the comments section.