How do today’s pastors justify charging money for their messages? Even Christian counseling radio programs are like infomercials to sell the books they have written. It is so discouraging to see the merchandising of Jesus and even Christian concerts require money to purchase a ticket. If Jesus didn’t ever sell anything, how do today’s ministries justify doing so? When I have asked these questions, not one of them will respond. I don’t understand how pastors can even justify charging for their mp3 downloads, are they in complete denial, or serving the god of money?
Well, let me say first that I share your frustration over the fact that Ministers of the Gospel and certain ministries seem to put the money question out in front of everything else. And it’s deeply troubling to me that they then give the impression that they are ‘selling their messages’. That impression is a real problem, regardless of the reality behind it, because it means that people like you may be lead to believe that God only wants your pocketbook, or that the message of salvation can be bought.
Now underneath that impression, I think the reality is probably a lot more complicated than you realize. For example, when a radio ministry promos a book, in most cases I know of, they will send that book to you for free if you don’t have the money to pay. Most of their listeners can pay and they offer the book for a “suggested donation”. This is not to justify the saturation of a program with items to buy, but it should mitigate your feeling that all such ministries wouldn’t distribute their message except for a exorbitant profit. The fact is, books cost money and unless a single donor covers the cost for many others, the writers of such books have to charge money to cover those costs through a retail price, or stop printing books. Which is better?
But what about pastors who simply preach the Gospel and then make the audio available online? What about Christian artists who paint inspiring paintings or write inspiring songs? The list of ways that we package our Message is pretty diverse and in each of these it’s probably not hard to imagine the substantial costs that are involved in making that message available. The only way for such messages to get out through such diverse media is through money. Even a man standing on the street corner preaching a message requires money, in this sense: he must forgo other work he could be doing with that life energy that’s going into preaching, and that life energy represents potential money. If he preaches on the street corner, someone is still PAYING for that to happen. It’s himself, or his hearers. It’s not free, even it it’s offered for free.
So, is it completely unbiblical and un-Christ like to create opportunities for those who receive such messages, the readers, the listeners, the concert goers, the downloaders, and watchers, to be willing and to be expected to pay for what they have received? This might surprise you to learn, but the oft repeated answer from Scripture, from Jesus himself is, no it is NOT unbiblical. Check this out:
Paul says: Did not God speak about this because of us. For sure, this was written for us. The man who gets the fields ready and the man who gathers in the grain should expect some of the grain. We have planted God’s Word among you. Is it too much to expect you to give us what we need to live each day?1 Cor 9:10-11
Paul felt it was the right for a minister who preaches the gospel that he/she should be able to make a living from gospel recipients. He uses the illustration from the old testament about oxen not being muzzled as they tread grain. When the ox is working, you do not keep him from eating some of the grain that the ox itself is threshing out. Let him eat a portion of what he’s creating. The point is, a preacher is producing fruit in lives turned to God. Those lives now turn all their life resources over to the direction of God. Paul says, the preacher/ teacher/ servant should share in part of those resources he is helping to generate.
The call is really to the recipient more than the preacher. Rather than the preacher demanding it, God’s Word tells those who are helped by Christian ministers to be generous with them. If the Church operated the way the Bible tells us to, then you would never hear any appeals for money because God’s people would just obey the principle of the Bible and generously support those who support them in their faith. You’d hear on the radio about a certain book offered for free, but no Christian would think about getting it unless they sent in the retail price and maybe a little more. (This is a gentle challenge: before you criticize those who charge for messages, ask: Do I spontaneously and generously offer up compensation for messages I benefit from?)
Paul underlined this again
Leaders who do their work well should be given twice as much pay, and for sure, those who work hard preaching and teaching. The Holy Writings say, “When a cow is walking on the grain to break it open, do not stop it from eating some” , and “A person who works should be paid.”1 Tim 5:17-18
And since you mentioned that Jesus never sold anything I should bring up the fact that this principle – that a Christian worker should be paid by those who benefit from their labor – is from Jesus himself. He said:
Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.Luke 10:7
It’s true he didn’t tell his followers to write books and sell them. Or to perform songs and charge admission… but the idea that Christian workers should be paid by those who benefit from their labor, is biblical and derived from Christ himself.
Now, a door charge, or a set “fee” turns the issue around so that the Christian leader is demanding the payment, instead of the recipient spontaneously offering the payment. But perhaps in our culture, the fee or the “suggested donation” is often easier and more appreciated.
To illustrate: in my own case, I receive a set salary, which could be termed a “fee” for my gospel labor. However, this way of doing it has this benefit: the minister always gets a set, agreed upon (and in our case a publicly known) amount of compensation. Some Christian ministries run into problems because the giving to those preacher is direct and very generous and very spontaneous. Without a set amount to live on, those preachers often are the ones who become scandal laced headlines as they have no built in governor on their income. It ebbs and flows with the gifts that come directly to them. Without a set ‘fee’ they take ALL that’s given and the generous giving of God’s people corrupts them. This violates another Biblical principle, that a plurality of leaders ought to oversee the churches donations and there should be transparency. (2 Cor 8:20)
As a Christian pastor, I have no problem receiving a salary for my full time Gospel work because of these biblical principles. But when I go to other places beside my home church, I don’t expect any payment. But true to this biblical model, in most cases, those people readily offer me some gift for my service rendered.
Christian ministers should be paid, and some might even argue, paid well. It’s what they then do with that money that legitimately comes to them, that’s the issue. In fact, how they use it SHOULD be a further blessing to the people who support them. I say to my people, “watch how I live, watch how I give, and follow my example of living simply, setting a standard of living and not letting it chase my income, and giving generously to God’s Work”. It’s a tricky little balance: my salary is public knowledge, but I keep my giving numbers private to honor Matthew 6:3, yet I tell them what I do (I tithe, at times I give above and beyond the tithe) to lead them in giving. Meanwhile, there are people who DO know what I give, and I’d be a fool to preach giving if those people knew I never gave. Also, our church books are open, and all that that builds trust.
If the ministries you mention have open books, (and they should) you can see who is making what and where the money goes. In most cases, I bet, you would be pleased with the distribution of fees, ticket charges, suggested donations, and other income. If they don’t have open books, stop giving to them.