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Feb 14, 2007


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David M. Smith

Hi Michael,

A good speaker usually does spend at least 20 hours preparing for a one hour presentation. However, a bad speaker wastes the time of every individual in the assembly.

300 people listening for an hour to an unprepared speaker waste 300 hours of life.

Perhaps the moral obligation should work both ways. Unprepared speakers owe a debt to their audience that is never repaid.

Michael Kruse

LOL. Well I too have heard some speakers where I thought I deserved a refund. However, my guess is if you pay more you get fewer bad speakers. Speakers get there gigs by word of mouth mostly. If they don't deliver that lose that advertising. If paid more I suspect some speakers would be more diligent about their preperation.


Am I missing something or isn't it true that speakers agree to their fee before they decide to take on a speaking engagement? If so, then obviously the speakers themselves think it's worth their time because otherwise they wouldn't take the gig.

If speakers are really underpaid, then 1) churches don't mind getting what they pay for and 2) speakers don't mind giving their time for what they get paid. Both parties enter the deal fully aware of the terms, so both must be happy enough to live with it. I guess I don't see the problem.

Michael W. Kruse

For the most part, I agree. Speakers often except gigs for free because of the exposure it gives them.

I think "honoraria" here is the key word. In some contexts it is considered bad taste to ask for a negotiated fee upfront. There is an unspoken agreement that a gift will be given and I think it is reasonable for a speaker to expenses will at least be covered.

Michael W. Kruse

For the most part, I agree. Speakers often except gigs for free because of the exposure it gives them.

I think "honoraria" here is the key word. In some contexts it is considered bad taste to ask for a negotiated fee upfront. There is an unspoken agreement that a gift will be given and I think it is reasonable for a speaker to expenses will at least be covered.

David M. Smith

Hi Again Michael,

Why is up-front speaking considered a special subset of Christianity?

Should Saturday volunteers who maintain the chapel and other Church facilities also be paid the going rate? What about the volunteer who passes the offering plate? The musicians? The (ugh) parking lot attendants?

Isn’t it supposed to be ONE body many parts?

Should we pay them all? Pay none of them? Should we do away with professional Christians? Is there a logical place to draw a moral line to separate the compensated and uncompensated?

Michael W. Kruse

All good questions Dave. I think we could draw a distinction between what happens internally with a worshiping community (including the pastor), and other events like retreats, workshops, speaking/preaching by people from outside the community. That is what I normally think of when I see honoraria.

We don't expect someone who has come from outside the worship community to fix our plumbing and electrical for free. Why would we expect a guest, who probably spent 5-10 hours preparing a 30 minute sermon, plus mileage expenses and time in transit, to do the work for free?

Now, you can go to a whole other level of should we be doing the traditional sermon approach etc., etc. But if we are going to hire outsiders for their services why would we not pay a speaker?

David M. Smith

”But if we are going to hire outsiders for their services why would we not pay a speaker?”

I am of the opinion that anything worth having is worth the payment of a fair price. I feel like I am taking something that does not belong to me when I accept charity or do not offer a fair price.

There are way too many people, even Christian people, who do not realize when they are being an unnecessary burden on others. Unselfishness has two sides. One side is our willingness to give sacrificially to others without the expectation of a just reward. The other side is our unwillingness to burden others with problems we should solve on our own. Almost everyone understands the first side, but very few people understand or practice the second side.

A guest speaker should carry none of the burden of his service. He or she should be paid the same rate as a teaching Pastor. Anything less is taking advantage of the speaker.

Michael Kruse

I think we are in a similar place.

Assume a pastor makes $50,000 a year or about $1,000 a week. Assuming a 40 hour work week (which I realize is absurdly low but that is how it is often reckoned) and the pastor spends 10 hours in preperation or one quarter of his or her time preparing, practicing and delivering the sermon. One quarter of his slary is $250. Most churches I know of offer about $100 with no travel expenses. I have preached occasionally over the last few years, in only one church was I given an honoraria of this amount and they had me back on mulitiple occasions.

In some cases I have returned checks as a contribution but it is still interesting to see what is offered.

Conducting multiple session conferences and workshops, etc. that is a whole other animal.



Michael I think this over emphasis on market signals is catching up with you. When I have been invited / asked to preach at places a honoraria has never been discussed up front.

Now part of the context is that I am a student (not even in seminary yet) so I look at these chances as a place to learn and practice and honestly have some sense of pity for the congregation that is asked to bear my weakness.

That said some of them have offered me honoraria after the fact, including sometimes for random things (like running sound at a funeral at our church - one honoraria for that was larger then for doing a 25 minute sermon on 4 days notice).

Instead of viewing the honoraria as a signal of their evaluation of my job performance I try to look at it as a gift of thanks. The size is more about what they can do then what I am worth. In part - frankly - because I am probably worth less then they have given me many a time.

But then I think pastor's salaries should be best understood as a stipend for living a lifestyle not as a salary for a job ... which probably makes me a fool anyway.

Michael Kruse

"But then I think pastor's salaries should be best understood as a stipend for living a lifestyle not as a salary for a job"

So how big a stipend should a modest size congregation pay? I am guessing that if they want you to be a fulltime pastor, $2,0000 a year isn't going to cut it. On the other hand, I suspect there are no expectations that a stipend of $200,000 a year is to be offered either. So on what basis will the congregation decide what to pay?



I would suggest twin criteria: What does the pastor need to live? What can the church afford?

Held in tension of course ... I know its a messy process. But I think in an honest congregation we can have the dialog to find some of these things.

If a congregation's goal is a sustainable community, then they will quickly realize that offering a stipend of 2k means that the pastor will have to be bi-vocational. Which means they will not have as much time to devote to being a pastor and all that entails.

That said, I know way to many larger methodist congregations that offer salaries well above 200k and I wonder if that is the best use of money given for God's ministry.

You kind of glazed past my suggestion that speakers speak because they love to speak and congregations give honorariums as a sign of thanks/respect not as an economic speaking fee. What say you to that different economic narrative?

Michael Kruse

I admit I am trying to be a bit provocative here and I am being intentionally adversarial to make a point.

What the pastor needs, and what the congregation can afford, are economic calculations that would be impossible without the market. My experience in working with churches across a variety of denominations is that they look at what other pastors in similar settings are being compensated and use that as their guide. (In other words, what is happening in the market for ministers?) Certain economic realities must be met. Ministers can choose to forgo all types of compensation for the sake of a particular call they have, but the same is true for everyone in the marketplace who chooses lesser paying jobs in order to effectively answer the God’s call in the marketplace and to the family.

To make a point, I would suggest that we are ALL bi-vocational, or even better, bi-ministerial. We have a call to economic ministry (given in Genesis 1 and 2) and we have kingdom ministry, which is to carry on the work of Jesus. ALL of us are ministers and ALL of us are to be living the same lifestyle. The pastors are not in a separate class of Christians we pay to live a different lifestyle. The difference is that we set aside one or more people to specialize and focus on some aspects of our unpaid Kingdom ministry vocations to better empower and equip us to do those aspects of ministry.

The notion of pastor as separate lifestyle, IMO, creates a clergy vs. laity, spiritual vs. secular, divide in the body of Christ. IMO, it is almost Gnostic. The work pastors do is in the realm of spiritual (which is to remain isolated and “untainted” from economic realities) and their spiritual work is supported by resources that come from secular (read non-spiritual) work done by other Christians answering God’s call in their lives.

So when it comes to speaking, if the speaker wishes to speak for free, so be it. Offer them their due wage and let them refuse it or return it as an offering. If a speaker is invited when no honorarium is offered up front, for any number of reasons he or she may chose to do so. (I am speaking to a for-profit operation for free on Wednesday and I have my reasons.) However, when we presume upon a speaker without making explicit our expectations of no or little compensation we deprive them of the opportunity to choose to give. And when suggest we will give an undisclosed honorarium and then give amounts substantially below the effort expended we do the same.

What I am basically coming down to is that I think we need to radically rethink the ideas of pastor, priesthood of believers, and ministry.



I think I agree with you more then not about 1) all Christians being bi-vocational and 2) pastors as a special class being a scary/dangerous idea.

Right now I am seriously questioning the direction of becoming ordained in a church because I think the ecclesiastical (and denominational) structure drives so many people into this twisted view of the world. I also think it leads to a split in pastors minds between the secular work required to keep the specific church functioning and the work of building the kingdom of God. So I have stopped my process towards being a candidate for ordination and will keep walking towards seminary ... because I like to learn/think even if that does not mean getting ordained.

The most unhealthy churches I have been part of saw a special class of people called to spiritual work that everyone else had a charge to support with economic work.

Where I question your concept is in separating economic and spiritual work so distinctly. Part of this comes (I think) from the assumption that work is something _not fun_ that you have to do. That leads us to creating a divide between work and play that is a false construct. So we get stupid concepts like: In heaven no one will have to work; There is a leisure class which can/should learn/study/become wise; I am bi-vocational. ;)

So when a speaker comes and speaks in christian circles we define it as work, and then since it is work we believe it is worth a wage. There are other narratives. They come from places where some of the basic contextual axioms are different: Gift Cultures where scarcity is not _the_ dominating problem and have very little ways to save/transmute capital for example.

Christianity has done a good job of working for some of the basic assumptions of the western/capitalistic narrative. In fact I think you argued quite well that Judeo-Christian thought were formative for parts of that narrative. Christianity has also failed in dialog with some parts of the narrative. Just look at how many Christians hear the call of "The worker is worth their wage" as a call to transmit their values about what people are worth in the economic system and how many miss that.

As we radically rethink the ideas of pastor, priesthood of believers, and ministry can we rethink our ideas about work too?

Michael Kruse

"Where I question your concept is in separating economic and spiritual work so distinctly."

If you hang around for the Other Six Days discussion I think you will see that what I actually am saying is that there really is no distinction. My view is that God created us for relationship with God and with each other. He also created us for dominion (making the created and social order more bountiful as stewards). Relationship and stewardship are what make us distinctively human.

With rebellion against God we have broken relationship and sought to make ourselves master of God's resources. The mission of the Church is restoration of creation and realtionship. The mission of the Church ends when Christ ushers in the new creation.

Ministry is not defined by what we do. It is defined by who we are doing for. The economic work we do is ministry. It is ministry in and of itself because widgets need to be made, debits and credits balanced, products delivered, etc. If that is what God has gifted and called us to do, that is ministry. But it is also ministry in that we have specialized our human and financial resources into particular tasks that makes us exceptionally productive at those tasks. By being faithful in the tasks we do, and then participating in honest exchange with others who do them same with their resources, we are building up an economic system that brings widespread prosperity. That prosperity is what creates surplus and gives us the resources that we use to be benevolent toward others and further expand the work God would have done in the world.

I was focusing my point about the honoraria from the standpoint of the one inviting not the one being invited, and to some degree we may be talking past each other at this level. Pastors earn their daily bread partly by preaching. Some people earn their living by public speaking and sharing ideas. Apart from the speaking, there are direct financial costs like travel, lodging and meals. There are opportunity costs in that by speaking to my group the speaker is deprived of opportunities to do other things they may wish to do, even if it is something as simple as a night home with their family. It is economically costly. To merely presume that another will make that contribution is, I think, unjust.

Now I know there are exceptions. Sometimes churches have close relationships and people fill-in for each other for certain events. There is not so much an exchange of money as there is an exchange in services to each other. That sometime is the case within districts or presbyteries within denominations. When I visit or deliver a message in some official capacity of the denomination, I never accepted any payment.

I am not trying to draw a hardnosed economic law here. My may concern is the presumption that because someone is coming to do something “spiritual” or do “ministry” we have no economic obligation to them.

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