Heather Gemmen Wilson
About the Author

Heather Gemmen Wilson loves to laugh. She says, "Through all the circumstances of my life, I have gained more than I have lost ... and I'm not just talking weight." Heather is married to her best friend, Lawrence W. Wilson, a pastor, and they have a colorful blended family of...

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  1. It’s an interesting question to consider.

    I worked at my church in SC for ten years before moving to TN; in the early years, I felt incredibly guilty for being paid (nursery director for a large church then later also program director for a parents’ morning out). What I realized as I gained a little wisdom and maturity is I WAS WORKING! I was using my professional skill set and applying it to my job in a very different arena–one that allowed me the flexibility to work part time and be with my babies.

    If you work in “ministry,” you soon learn there’s no such thing as part time; it can creep in to most of your waking hours. Is it that people who don’t work in ministry–heck, even those who DO–devalue what writers/speakers/authors have to offer? Why IS there a separate standard for them?

    I love how you make the point that believers ARE called to know and live out Christ to the world; that just because they aren’t working for a specific ministry, they’re still in ministry because of who they are in Him. 🙂 That line made me smile.

    I’ll be curious to hear what others have to say…this could be an interesting conversation.

  2. I believe that God uses each member of the body in unique ways. Some He blesses with finances (work, writing, etc); some He sends to live among native tribes in far flung parts of the world with no hope of income. In this way, He fosters community by leading us to care for each other – the finance person gets the blessing of sending donations to the missionary, the missionary gets to see the provision of God as they pour their life out for the lost, the finance person has an opportunity to befriend and share God with various business people they would otherwise have never met.

    I don’t believe we are all called into caves in the desert. Jesus prayed for us to be IN the world, but not OF it – our challenge is to participate in day to day life without letting it rule us, and to share God with those we meet along the way.

    There are those called into full-time non-working ministry to God (ie, prayer, missions overseas, etc). If no Christians made any money, how would God fund His work? 🙂

    • I love this. Thanks for the reminder that we’re all called to different things. I would go so far as to say that there are different seasons without our own lives that the calling is different. The day may come when I won’t have to charge a cent, and that would be so exciting!

  3. Great thoughts for today – those who commented already, too. What came to my mind as I read your post was the passage from 1 Timothy 5:17-18 – “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.'” The other thought I had is about the Apostle Paul – nowhere was he condemned for continuing to work to support himself while conducting his missionary journeys.

    If we are truly “laboring” in the ministry, that is our job! We “deserve” our wages. If even the lowly oxen get their reward from treading the grain, how much more should humans receive their recompense as they work in the ministry?

    • So true. I was thinking about that last night when I was speaking at a pregnancy care center fundraising banquet. The director had so much heart and she was professional, effective, and very good at her job—but she was working for peanuts. I wanted so much for people to see the great value she offered the organization; without her, they wouldn’t have been making the huge difference in their community that they were. If her pay doesn’t increase, will eventually burn out or have to quit for logistical reasons. We really do have to pay our laboring ministers fairly so that the good work can continue.

  4. I’ve wrestled this issue like a greased pig. For me it gets back to heart, the willingness to be led by the Spirit. There was a period of time where I thought of everything in terms of money or compensation. What that did was make me greedy and less dependent on God, more dependent on my ability to generate income.

    Recently I’ve learned to let this all go. Not that I won’t be a businesswoman. I will. And I’ll continue to charge for my speaking and books, but I will also hold all that loosely, being willing to give things and speeches away if that’s how God leads. It’s been refreshing and freeing to me. I wrote about the journey here: http://www.marydemuth.com/2010/11/the-beauty-and-freedom-of-free-what-i-learned-in-giving-books-time-away/

    That being said, everyone’s journey is different. Mine is different from yours. Yours is different from mine. The key is going to Jesus for His instructions.

  5. I agree. Everyone is in ministry if they are a follower of Christ. As someone who works in a church, I’m grateful that people are generous enough to allow me to serve God’s kingdom and pay my bills 🙂 Our church does give the resources we create away for free and we are passionate about that. However, I understand that some cannot do that. And everyone does what God has called them to do. I do think those who choose ministry as a vocation should be paid, however, my eyebrows are raised when some live in million dollar homes, etc. Now I understand there can be circumstances involved in those things (i.e. a spouse as a great paying job outside of ministry or you invested your money wisely in other things) but I think the world does do a double take when a pastor is living the life of a wealthy CEO. That’s why I think the integrity level of those in vocational ministry have to be set at a higher standard. Just my thoughts.

    • Good point. And I don’t think ministry workers should begrudge people watching their spending habits and/or ministry income. I don’t think of it as judgment as much as accountability. You’re right, though, to remember that sometimes the income comes from sources others aren’t aware of. Sometimes just living frugally and maintaining debt-free living frees ministry workers to be able to save up for what appears to be an extravagant item. Good comment! Thanks.

  6. God always provides, but he also expects us to be responsible. Being responsible means feeding and clothing yourself and your family. It may be an issue, as Carrie says, when you gather all sorts of expensive earthly treasures and live in “million dollar homes,” when it is not needed. I don’t believe that is living responsibly. God dosen’t intend for us to have treasures on earth, where rust and moth destroy.
    I know firsthand of his providence, being a student’s wife for six years and mom of two! We don’t really have anything, but we are thankful!

  7. God chooses to do different things with different people. Or ministry gives away one book as free. Because we feel its message is so important. Our staff promises to live frugally because we constantly see the need in Asia. We raise our own support do we can be totally poured out for our God. It’s a radical and sold out place. But who are we to say anyone else HAS to be where we are at. God leads each one of us down our own path to His glory.

    I often look at the church and wonder if they realize how truly blessed they are. We have so many resources and “stuff” availble to distract us. It is easy to lose focus. In many ways your blog discouraged me today. I’m one of those peole who quit their day job to do full time ministry. But God has always supplied our needs and even a few wants. We should be content where we are at, and then I realized I’ve never been happier. Money is just a tool when we realize that and put God in the drivers seat, it changes everything. I think God often uses “poverty” to grow our faith in ways “security” can’t
    Written on my itouch that was paid for with cash that was given to me with instructions to spend it not on grocerys but what I really wanted. So see God takes care of us sold out for the lost at any cost crazy missionaries.

    Were so crazy we raise our own support so as to keep overhead costs down.
    But remember that is what God called us to do, it’s between you and God as to what he has called you to do.

  8. How about flip-flopping this issue? Why would Christians in one of the wealthiest nations of the world resent paying for good speakers and books? These same people are usually quite willing to spend their money on other things (like McDonalds)…
    One question that has helped me to process this issue in my own ministry is: if it were within my means to serve a community who was unable (not unwilling) to pay me, but could really benefit from my teaching, would I go and teach them? As long as the answer to that question is yes, then I’m all for the “labourer is worthy of her hire.”

  9. Being the wife of a minister I know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s touchy to discuss ministry people “earning” money. But……coming at it from my point it seems a no-brainer.
    A physician attends college….years of med school and then interns. We pay him for his services.
    A teacher attends college…works under a student teacher for a period of time and then begins work in their own classroom. They are compensated as well.
    A ministry person…..attends college, training, mentoring….most go on to seminary and they also deserve to be compensated.

    Just because we call it “ministry” doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of pay. Many times the minister serving in the church pastorate has more education and training than most of his members….yet he is paid much lower than the members who make up his church.
    I know so many ministry families who struggle financially to make it. Work is work. Whether you speak at Pregnancy Care Center banquets or preach from a pulpit or watch babies in the church nursery for a Bible study……you’re worthy of pay.
    I sense a feeling of guilt for many on this issue…..but honestly feel it isn’t necessary.
    God provides the resources in order for that ministry to continue.
    Yay, Thank you GOD!! 🙂

  10. Frankly, I can’t believe this is even an issue. Ministry workers should be free to follow God’s guidance in choosing whether or not to receive compensation in each situation. And aside from accountability, it’s really no one else’s business. After all, Jesus can be trusted to guide us all, individually and corporately.

    • Amen, sista! 🙂 Like I said below, my time and money are HIS. I am just the steward, and I only have to answer to Him. Of course I need to treat others with respect and have some healthy boundaries, but this really is a personal and not anyone else’s business but God’s!

  11. I can understand why this is a touchy issue, but I think people make too much out of it. Men and women in ministry need to feed themselves and their families just like everyone else. It’s between the individual and God to determine how much income is alloted to luxuries, essentials, and tithing. I admit that when I see heads of ministry paying themselves ridiculous salaries out of donations, like 500,000 and up, I blanche, but each individual is responsible to God for what they do with their money. Just because Christians aren’t quitting their day jobs in favor of full time, unsalaried ministry doesn’t mean that the money they earn isn’t doing good in the lives of others.

    As a chronically ill adult living with my parents, I’m glad that my dad can work and earn a full time income because I can’t. Without that income, I wouldn’t receive the treatment I need and I’d probably die. Others might look at my family and judge us to be doing well enough financially and question why we don’t give more. What they don’t see are the stratospheric medical bills that siphon off most of that income. My point is that it’s futile and unfair to judge anyone based on how much they make, why they charge for ministry services, how much they tithe, etc. Each individual is faced with different challenges, different convictions, and different financial situations.

  12. Jesus himself said the worker is worth his pay. Of course that’s not to say you should always feel obliged to request a fee, if you’re feeling led to speak for free in certain instances.

  13. I think it’s really easy for people with “regular” jobs to point fingers at “ministry” people and condemn. And it’s probably easy to go the other way. A lot of us have this mentality that those in ministry are called to sacrifice everything.

    The truth is, ALL of us are called to sacrifice, whatever our job. But it’s not my business to tell you what you should be sacrificing. Or to say you have no right to make a living.

  14. I am struggling with the fact that I would love to just write my blog and help people who are suffering with stress, depression, anxiety and overload. But I also have to make some money somehow. My hubby and I want to be able to leave fulltime ‘work’ to travel around the country working and helping in ministry wherever we can, but we have to have some sort of income. My goal is that eventually my blog and some other ventures we are looking at will provide the income that we need, not to be rich, but to provide for our needs.

  15. I think the “do you need an honorarium” question troubles me most: does anyone ask at a restaurant, “do you need a tip?” It’s indicative of the asker’s struggle with money….

    I remember a quote from SARK: “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

    And I often think it’s a problem that we validate people by paying money. Martin Luther for instance abolished the laity, proclaiming the priesthood of all believers, yet we pay the real priests and the rest of us are “can’t quit my day job.” Women in seminary asked me why not also get a degree since I was sitting in on my husband’s classes…but I didn’t need one. In the old testament tithing system every 10 families would have supported one priest family. That seems so gentle, so “live at the level of your people.”

    What if you responded graciously by saying something like: yes, I do need the money for my time lost but how much could you prayerfully spare? Or put the verse about not muzzling the ox who treads out the grain and the worker is worthy of his hire on your forms!

  16. I get the heebie jeebies when people use the word “deserve”. Really, if we all got what we “deserve” we would be sitting in a pit, mired in our sin, and destined for hell. Maybe I’m mixing metaphors here, but I just think we should be cautious with that terminology especially in terms of ministry efforts.

    I think the crux of the issue is that this is a PERSONAL matter between God and the individual. Some people may be called to give freely of their time, while others may be called to be a CEO of a company. I think I need to be VERY sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s calling on my life and really each and every decision I make in the name of “ministry”. It’s so easy for me to value myself and my time, but I think each action must be weighed and sifted through His hands. Maybe one day He’s telling me to volunteer my time, and another that an organization can and should pay for my time. He is the ultimate authority, and my time and money are His. I am just the steward.

    I love the idea that we are all in ministry, no matter what our vocation. As a stay at home mom, I receive no monetary compensation for my efforts. But, it is my calling and my family is my ministry right now.

  17. This is one of my hot buttons. I am a Christian with my own business. I charge for my services and I am actually not cheap. I feel zero guilt. God has called me to be a good steward over my marketplace ministry and that includes not undervaluing or undercharging. My marketplace ministry allows me to give generously into the Kingdom and to Kingdom causes, it also keeps me from being homeless. So often we operate from a mentality of lack rather than being delighted to give knowing that God’s word says “Give and it shall be given to you.” I am always happy to bless another person’s business with my dollars and I don’t expect discounts or free. I truly believe that He is my provider and enjoy being a vessel in the economic cycle.

  18. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. At the time of the fall, God gave Adam the curse of working the ground to provide food. He gave Eve the curse to groan in child bearing along with the desire to rise above her husband. I think as women we get to demonstrate the free gift of Christ. I think we get to become scholars of God’s word and minister to our families and those in our neighborhoods. We get to represent Immanuel God with us by being available for family, friends and nieghbors. Our husbands need to work to provide. They represent Christ in marriage and we represent nothing in our hands we bring, simply to the cross we cling. We get to be the sweet gift of grace. Sometimes I think the sweetest part of the gospel and of Christ gets so lost because we all want to be important and paid what we deserve. Woe to us, if we actually get what we deserve.

  19. This year I took a leadership position at a homeschool co-op consisting of over 100 students. Please note: the actual teachers ARE compensated weekly by the students. My position is NOT a compensated position. Over the summer I spent hours upon hours in meetings with teachers and registering students. My sweet husband says, “In the business world, your skills are highly paid”. I stated, “I was told this position was a MINISTRY. Then began our long conversation…… How interesting to find others discussing the same thing!
    Thanks for the insight.

  20. The Bible is clear on this… ‘For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:18 ‘

  21. 1 Corinthians 9:14
    In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it. (NLT)

    In the OT, part of the tithe to the temple went to supporting the priests who lived and served within. And the above verse talks about how those that preach need to be supported by those who benefit. The bible supports those in ministry being paid, and I think it’s a relatively new idea that everything defined as “christian” should be free. Also, in the NT it says that Judas was the keeper of the money bag and he stole from it, so Jesus was not doing it for free. There were those who were donating money obviously to keep him and his disciples fed and clothed.

    God gave you the gift of speaking and writing, and I think sometimes he calls us to “donate” our gifts, but in those situations use discernment and those situations should not happen every week. God gave you those gift both for ministering and as a way to support yourself and your family.

  22. LOVE this post!

    I believe that we’ve been given our gifts from God and that they’re to be used to make money AND for service.

    I’ve been on a wild and crazy ride the last 22 months or so, being pregnant and dealing with NICU and newborn twins.

    I’m just emerging now and next year I intend to “tithe” my gift of speaking to the church where I’ll do a free talk for ladies once a month. The rest of the time I charge, and I charge a very fair amount.

    I do leave some leeway for some pro-bono work but like previous commenters said, this is your work and there is no shame in getting a decent wage.