Roll Your Eyes, Brothers and Sisters

I love it when my phone updates its emojis. My favorite of the new bunch?

The face palm.

This perfectly capture my response when reading (yet another) profoundly unhelpful article by a Christian for other Christians with Rules For Men and Women To Avoid Immorality. This time, the culprit was texting. Apparently, married people should NOT text people of the opposite sex, because “affairs don’t start with sex.”

This is pretty much what my face looked like:

So, let this sister just explain herself a second here, attached to my formal appeal to please Stop The Madness. This article prohibiting texting is a variation on a well-worn theme of Men And Women Should Just Stay The Heck Away From Each Other Unless They’re Married, and has as its underpinning two terrible and insulting beliefs. It is insulting to women because it fears that they are temptresses and seductresses (see Jen Wilkin’s excellent article here on this), and it is insulting to men because it treats men as helpless victims of their sex drives. Unless you’re married, then, you should have as little contact as possible with the opposite sex: no driving in cars with them (the “Billy Graham Rule”), no private conversations in offices, no dancing, and lately: no texting. Unless you’re copying your spouse on the text thread, warns the author.

This kind of thing drives me nuts, because it shows that believers in the church have bought into the widespread (and WRONG) belief that all male and female interaction is inherently SEXUAL in nature. I hear griping and moaning about the sexualization and objectification of women and the terrible eroticization of all relationships (why can’t guys be friends who love each other without people accusing them of being gay? why do all tv sitcoms have a friendship where one of the part have feelings for the other, which almost always ends in a season finale of THE KISS (or sex) to relieve the tension?) But when we treat men and women in the church as if they can’t reasonably relate to each other without being in constant, grave, and unavoidable danger of illicit sex… we are falling into the same trap.

We need to reclaim the space for GENDERED and NON-SEXUAL relationships.

Yes, the Bible has much to say about gendered, sexual relationships – marriage being foremost among these.

But the Bible has SO MUCH to say about gendered, non-sexual relationships, and we desperately need healthy role models and better conversation about what maleness and femaleness look like without anyone imagining anyone else naked. And, Scripture has language for how we do this. It’s the family language of brother and sister: gendered, warm, intimate, familiar, and totally clothed.

I live in a church community and have friendships with men and women. Yes, I am a married woman and I am friends with men: both married and single. And my husband has both male and female friends. And, when we were single, we both had married and single friends of both sexes. As far as I understand it, this is the beautiful pattern of community within the FAMILY of God: filled with brothers and sisters who sometimes squabble, sometimes disagree, but who really, really love each other and are on the SAME team. We desperately need to reset our default setting and learn to see the men and women around us primarily as brothers and sisters, rather than potential sexual partners.

This is not to say, however, that affairs don’t happen, or that we can say anything or do anything with anyone, male or female. But, so much more than rules about how close you should stand to a guy, or whether or not you can give your phone number to a married man, what this calls for is MATURITY and WISDOM. The question is always one of the heart: am I seeking other people’s BEST in this relationship? That’s what love requires. To follow this standard requires so much more than keeping your contact list limited to same-sex-friendships: it requires us being willing to search our hearts and lay our intentions bare before God. Asking hard questions of ourselves (like “why am I wanting this person’s attention?”) requires more diligent self-scrutiny. For me, one check is knowing that I’d be willing to show my husband any of my text exchanges with other men and women (which is an internal caveat for me), rather than simply ruling out any texting at all.

It may well be that, giving yourself a sober self-assessment of your habits and vices, that it may be better for you not to text Dude X or arrange a regular carpool ride with Miss Y because you know you’ll be vulnerable to crossing lines that brothers and sisters shouldn’t cross. But it shouldn’t mean writing half our family off complete as dangerous and deceptive.

Surely, we need to do better than that. We can do better than that. Yes, we all need to take care that we aren’t making choices that will lead us into temptation (of bad spending, bad gossiping, selfishness, and yes, sexual temptation too)… but surely to accomplish this we need is HEALTHY relationships guarded by wisdom, not ZERO relationships regulated by fear and suspicion.

 

 

 

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.

 

To Be Found Faithful – {guest post by Sarah Torna Roberts}

I have been longing for this day to come, so I can introduce you to Sarah Torna Roberts and share her beautiful post. It was just exactly what I needed to read. I bet it is for you too.

Toms on the river

It was a weekend none of us would likely forget. We were almost all of us together, as total as we’d been in years.  Tents were pitched in my grandparents’ mountain backyard, babies cried, and kiddos ran every which way. Newlyweds roasted marshmallows with arms wrapped around each other’s waists because that’s what you do when you’ve still got the honeymoon in your eyes. There was the familiar family talent show, piles of chocolate, bags of potato chips and the ever present onion dip, may it reign forever.

On night two of this spectacular family gathering, someone gathered us all, quieted our laughter and reminiscing, murmured words of thanks and blessing. Then, a new practice, a time of sharing with each family taking its’ turn breaking open a bit, placing the precious things of our lives and hearts into the hands and hearts of those gathered.

What does the next year look like for you?

What do you need prayer for?

How can we support you through the season you’re in?

One by one, we heard stories of looming college graduations, heavy work loads, raising young children, endless ministry tasks. We listened, we cried. We nodded in affirmation and love.

When it came to my Grandma, my so private Grandma, my never complaining Grandma, my solid as a rock Grandma, my bootstraps Grandma, we leaned in.  She spoke words, halted and started by the choked throat, by the emotion of her whole family spread before her, the emotion of putting it to words, the slow and steady path of her life.

She described her calling, her place in this time.  Sacred tasks, their holiness hidden by their everyday ordinariness. Tiny efforts in practice, monumental in their importance, in their cost. Her quietly muttered sentences washing over all of us, her simple obedience to the mundane and invisible ringing with truth and grace and love.

“I just want to be found faithful.”

And with that, the heart’s cry of my life was born. These words brought Freedom for my try-harder, do-it-right-the-first-time nature.

I just want to be found faithful.

Her words follow me around every bend in my road, blaze above me as I struggle through middle of the night worries, whisper at me when the path seems too narrow for my lead feet.

I just want to be found faithful.

… when my little son’s struggles are more than just a phase, when the road to developmental delay is winding and full of road blocks and rolled eyes. When we land on a diagnosis, to lean into a world as heartbreaking as it is beautiful and miraculous.

…when that file titled “Writing”  on my computer contains documents that date back to 2001. When the nudge to admit that writing is part of who I was made to be,  when it becomes clear that hiding is no longer an option, to write out loud.

… when the friend of my heart walks the road of infertility, when she needs me to just show up, to swear and rage with her as dreams collapse, to smile and nod as they change and morph.

… when I’m exhausted by the minivan, and the suburban life that repeats itself every day. When the tasks are ordinary and necessary, isolating and honorable, to do them tired and do them with love.

… when my husband needs my touch, needs my smiling joy over him, over our union even though I’m so tired and frustrated I could spit, to kiss him well.

… when the conversations are hard, and there is repair work to be done. When I’ve done harm with my words or lack of words, with my actions or inactions, to step toward repentance, forgiveness, the hard words of mercy.

I just want to be found faithful.

Faithfulness doesn’t look like perfection or super spiritual, hero-status endeavors. It is the road of mistakes, of imperfect persistence.

If my Grandmother is any indication, it is simply opening your eyes every single day to the life God has given you, to the people He’s set you with, to the circumstances and opportunities and situations of your life, and taking a step toward them.  And then maybe another one.

Faithfulness is meant for such as me, with my ragamuffin heart. It’s my imperfect road of trying again, of God smiling on me as I honor the life He’s given me by continuing to live it, even with my messes and sassy mouth and snappy temper. To open my hands to it, to pour my soul into it.  To raise my eyes to heaven and ask for help along the away, again.

To trust that this is enough.

profile pic-smallSarah Torna Roberts is a writer who lives in California with her husband and four sons. She blogs at www.sarahtornaroberts.com where she digs around her in her memories, records her present, and is constantly holding her faith up to the light. She snacks at 2 AM with great regularity, is highly suspicious of anyone who doesn’t love baseball (Go Giants!), and would happily live in a tent by the sea. Connect with her on twitter, instagram or follow her blog here