Free Range Priest Compensation

... A Cautionary Tale


Your Ministry has the Value YOU give it!

I once worked with 'Claire', an engaging pastor who had recently written a very well-received book.  

She was very excited when a large local congregation asked her to be the keynote speaker for their Lenten series.  

Claire worked hard to put together a beautiful presentation, and drove 50 miles to the church to deliver it. Everyone LOVED her, and her talk! They stayed after to tell her how much they appreciated everything she did for them. And they gave her a beautiful gift basket to show their gratitude.  

When Claire got home, she unpacked the basket, and was touched that it included some lovely candles, home baked cookies, and inspirational tokens. When she got to the envelope at the bottom of the basket, she was sure it would also contain an honorarium. While it expressed effusive thanks again, there was no compensation in the lovely basket.  

'That's ok,' thought Claire, 'they must have dropped the check in the mail. I'm sure I will get it soon enough.' 

As days, then weeks, went by, and no payment arrived, Claire finally came to the obvious conclusion: she would not be paid. And not because the congregation didn't value her! It simply never occurred to them to pay her, just as clearly as it never occurred to her that they wouldn't.

This was a big learning opportunity for Claire. 

She realized she did not make it clear up front that she expected to be paid for her time, and she never once discussed any of her assumptions with them. She was flattered by the invitation, and didn't want to seem ungrateful by considering her talk in 'business' terms. At the same time, she was resentful that she wasn't compensated for her considerable effort. She vowed to get clear with herself about the value of her ministry.

Together, we identified three points to consider for future speaking engagements...

1. Take ministry seriously as work  

Most of us who are called to ministry are not in it for the money. But even if we are not primarily motivated by profit, we are still providing something of value for others: we are engaging them spiritually, we are helping them be open to a relationship with God. We are bearing the sacraments, Scripture, and tradition of the Christian faith.

This takes skill, training, formation, time, and the creative use of our gifts. It deserves to be valued - first, and most importantly, by ourselves, and then by those we serve. This cannot be stressed enough: if we don't expect to be paid for our work, it will not occur to those we serve that our work has value!

Think about it this way: you wouldn't call a plumber and not expect to pay them, right? Isn't our work at least this important? (This is not to question the value of plumbers' work! It's to remind us of the value of ministry). The first thing we need to change is our own attitude and expectation. 

And OUR expectations change those of others...

2. Practice being clear about compensation expectations  

Claire realized that her problem started with herself. She didn't get clear about valuing her own work, so she avoided being clear with others. Once we set compensation expectations for ourselves, it takes courage and practice to make them public. We are often fearful of speaking up! What if others are put off by us asking to be paid? What if they can't afford it? We worry about others taking offense, or even rejection...

It can help to have some stock phrases ready: "I'll have to check my calendar" always buys some time, and is also a gentle way to say 'no' if need be. "I can't work that into my schedule" will suffice, even if what you mean is "I don't want to."

If you DO want to, you can say something like "I would love to, and I will send you my booking information." This sets the tone that this is a professional engagement, and sets the expectation of payment. It helps to have your rate sheet ready! Some people will definitely say, "I can't afford your rates!" That's ok. You won't work with everyone. You can also have a 'plan B' available (if you want to), such as a webinar or a video chat that is more affordable. 

By setting up our own clear services and pricing, we help others be clear when and how they would like to work with us.  

3. Serve others by educating them  

Claire's basket-giving congregation probably didn't have any idea that she expected payment for her talk. They may have even discussed whether they should offer an honorarium, and succumbed to their own awkwardness over how to discuss it with her. Groups sometimes worry that ministers will be insulted if we are offered money for our work! (It's true - I have had people say things like that to me). 

Making compensation expectations clear is a way of educating others. As the church changes, and ministry with it, the rules are not always clear about how and where we serve. In so many ways, we are defining it as we go! Being paid on contract for our work can be unexpected, so it is a kindness to share the parameters we use for this. 

Not everyone will want our service if they have to pay for it, of course. And some won't be able to afford it. That's ok. Social media and other digital presence offer opportunities for us to share content for free (like this blog!). And those who value what we do will find ways to support us and our ministry, so it can grow in the world. And they will be happy to do so.  

The End of the Story

Claire has a thriving speaking ministry now. She has clear rates for her services, at a variety of price points that are affordable for different-sized groups, while also supporting herself with her work. It has been a journey for her, one she continues on, as she grows in understanding of the value of her own work, and what she brings to others.

Maybe you have a 'basket story' of your own - how has it helped you understand your own ministry? Where are you growing as a result? Click HERE and let us know.  

Free Range Priest is here to support your ministry!



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