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Sunday, August 8, 2010

To Charge Or Not To Charge


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.
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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.
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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.”
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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)