How Much Should You Pay a Speaker at Your Women’s Ministry Event?

Money talks in the form of many large bills and a headset

image courtesy of morguefile.com/edited on picmonkey.com

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:

Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 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? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 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?

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 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?

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:

  1. While everyone in the body is to serve in some way, Scripture does set a precedent for paying teachers.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

 

21 thoughts on “How Much Should You Pay a Speaker at Your Women’s Ministry Event?

  1. I’ve filled the pulpit at my home church and not thought once I should be paid for it. I’ve also spoken and preached at other churches, and not been offered nor expected payment. Then again, if they’d offered a speaker’s fee payment I would have declined. It’s not that I don’t think payment is proper or that I’m not worth the money. It is and I am. But the need to then disclose it on my official statement of financial interest I file with the state annually makes me not want to deal with the money at all.

    The same thing goes for performing weddings. I perform them for people whose wedding I would go to anyway as a guest, and I don’t want payment. Anyway, I figure doing the ceremony for free is a good wedding present for the couple.

    That said, I think more ministries should offer payment to their speakers. If they can’t afford it, they can call me.

    • I write and teach for free, too, and on my blog and at my church it is my joy to have those opportunities. BUT, more and more I’m realizing that it’s not healthy for churches to presume on free speakers, nor is it sustainable and healthy for women to make this their habit. This post was not borne out of a personal desire to be paid (after all, sans green card I can’t earn a thing anyway), but out of a growing conviction that we need a more open discussion about money. The more I meet women in ministry, the more I sense tremendous guilt in them and a feeling of being torn: they WANT to do ministry, but the more opportunities they have, the less they can AFFORD to do so. These women are trying to make a contribution at home, to their families, to other jobs – and they can’t afford to serve outside their home churches unless we address the issue of money. Then, talking with a friend who does weddings, they confided that as much as they love to do weddings, there are some weddings they are not breaking even on. It is costing them not just several weekends of the summer away from their family, but is actually costing them money to get to and from these events. I read this article recently and thought it was helpful to have a pastor lay out the issues involved for him in doing weddings (even as it is his delight to do them): http://pastorbobsconfessional.blogspot.com/2011/04/day-263-weddings-from-pastors.html?m=1 My hope in writing this post was to provide something similar and practical for women’s ministry events.

      • I think speakers who are asked to address a ministry should be paid, bottom line. Same goes for doing weddings. I decline because of my own issues (though not the same as you with the green card problem). Everyone but us should get paid, though, Bron.

      • I think your point about the guilt women feel is spot on! That’s the thing that needs eradication, both from the speaker’s point of view, and also the organisation committee, who need to not join the enculturisation of the general church in dismissing women’s events as less relevant.

    • I’m thinking though, Tim, that you have a full time, well paid job which means that you have the room to not ‘need’ to be paid. Perhaps it is different for others. I have operated as a salaried senior leader for most of my ministry life, over 30 years, and am not no longer salaried and operate as a speaker and leadership consultant, which means I now do ‘need’ to be paid.

      I’ve appreciated the large and small honorariums, and like you, I have never chosen to be paid when preaching on home ground. I have never (till now) ‘charged’ a fee, but have appreciated the gifts given to me, which have generally been fair.

      • I admit having the luxury of not needing the stipend. If I didn’t I’d be asking for payment even if they didn’t offer first

  2. Hear ye! Hear ye! Tim and Bron: available to speak for free. Be warned, though, you get what you pay for 🙂

    • I used to tell people that all the time when I was still a practicing attorney and they came to me for free legal advice.

    • I am laughing here. I actually was really tickled that you wrote this post, knowing of your green card situation. You are the ideal person to speak into this. 🙂 I think we can learn a lot from our brothers on this one, but my hope is that women are invited to speak and preach to mixed groups (my favorite, though I enjoy women’s events, too) and that the Church becomes a place where the playing field is equal: we value teachers and we pay them whenever we can, no matter their gender.

  3. I had never given this much thought. Thank you for sharing. I have spoken at charitable events that were focused on faith in healing and recovery from eating disorders. And yes, it does take many hours and some sacrifice to prepare just the right words to convey the message of God’s Word. Though I have never asked for payment, I have thought about it. However, I sometimes think payment with a dose of Ativan would had been sufficient! But when looking at the big picture, I believe that it is acceptable to ask for compensation albeit in a flexible manner.

  4. Very well addressed, Bronwyn. Very well. It is indeed a touchy, guilt-ridden subject for many, both male and female; but it does seem that women have a much harder time (1) knowing, understanding, and standing by/speaking up for the value of their time, effort, gifts, and sacrifice; (2) extricating themselves from their general life-guilt about just about everything and every life-hat they wear. In *general,* from the many, many conversations I’ve had or heard over my 20+ years in and out of ministry, the value of time and work, including in ministry situations, is a much more pragmatic issue for men than for women.

    While writing Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe, I in-depth-interviewed over 35 women who were each extensively seasoned in either/both ministry and academic leadership. MOST expressed difficulty in this area, and experienced much in the way of presumption upon their time, training (multiple seminary degrees, PhD’s, and the like), and eager willingness to serve, as well as out-and-out discrimination in terms of the time and remunerative expectations placed upon them.

    Your article provides considerations I hope many individuals and ministries will welcome. Thank you for your contribution to this necessary and helpful conversation.

  5. Wow Bronwyn!!!! Thank you for this deeper insight into a touching subject. I have always felt that because I am doing it for God, I shouldn’t be paid for doing it. May I add that my husband and I battle to make ends meet every month. I am a South African and would like your opinion of what I should charge to do a talk in America. Thanks.

    • Hi June: I think the location and size of the ministry context changes a lot in terms of the size of budgets. In terms of what you feel you should ask, perhaps consider how many hours it takes you to prepare a talk (maybe ten hours? more?) I would think it is fair to ask AT LEAST the minimum wage for your area per hour.

  6. GREAT post! I too have been involved on both sides. While I LOVE getting to speak and teach and would do it for free, I also love being blessed with an honorarium that immediately goes to a ministry I get to steward.

    I also have some opinions about those who charge A LOT plus all expenses….but, I’ll just keep those to myself! 🙂

  7. I would like to see more churches raise up the women who are already serving in their body. I didn’t know I had the gift of teaching until my Pastor’s wife surprised me one day by asking me to speak at an upcoming brunch. I just happened to be learning something from the Lord that I was excited about and wished I could share with other women when she approached me. My church has always used women who are serving in women’s ministry to also teach at brunches and other events for women. Even if they just give a testimony, this is how the Pastor’s wife finds out if they can teach, and we learn more about someone in our fellowship. Those who are gifted to teach may be asked to teach Bible study or share teaching at a retreat. It all stays within our church. Only rarely is someone brought from the outside, but it is for the person, not the event.

  8. So so very helpful! Thank you — for addressing the issue so thought-fully! I have come to many of the same conclusions you have over 20 years of speaking ministry and emotions all over the map about it. I appreciate your putting words to much of what I have been unable to express! I’m printing this out and filing it. And I’m going to re-do my list of fees and co-op the expressions you’ve written about wanting ministry to be first and foremost:-)!!

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