Is it wrong for Christians to make money off of speaking and writing?
I’ve been blogging since 2008, and I recently received an email from a woman chastising me for allowing advertising on my site. I should never charge for spreading the word of God, she said.
That’s a comment that I’ve had countless times in my speaking and writing ministry. And I’m sure it’s one that you’ve had countless times, too! Likely it’s led you to second guess yourself. Am I greedy? Am I being unspiritual?
And so I thought that it would be worth dissecting that argument.
All gifts are spiritual and all gifts are important
When people say that we shouldn’t charge for spreading the word of God, what they mean is this:
If you have the gift of teaching, you should not make money off of it.
But what if you have the gift of hospitality, and you start a catering service? Churches rarely balk at paying a caterer at their events; they only balk at paying speakers.
What if you have a green thumb and you start a nursery? You’re allowed to charge for the plants you sell.
Ah, but that’s different. That’s not ministry.
But isn’t it? Paul clearly says that:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
We may make a distinction between the two, but Paul didn’t. All of us are involved in spreading the kingdom.
It’s interesting, because the latest woman to criticize me was the wife of a pastor. So she felt that it was okay for her husband to make his living with the word of God because “pastor” is a respected job, but any other way is somehow wrong.
“A worker is worth his wage”
Paul said a few other interesting things, too.
For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”
(1 Timothy 5:18)
And I’ll let Paul’s words speak for themselves from 1 Corinthians 9:
This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas. That is, Peter? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
We have costs
Here’s another thing I’ve run into, especially as a blogger: the bigger my blog gets, the more expensive it gets.
When I started out at To Love, Honor and Vacuum (my marriage blog), I used a free blog platform and I had no expenses. Eventually I had to buy my own domain. Then I had to hire help. Then I started to pay for graphic images. Then I had to pay for more expensive hosting.
Not to be crass, but it’s at the point now where my costs, just to keep the blog up and running, are close to $2000 a month. I used to pay not much to host, but then my site kept crashing. So now I’m paying for more than I need just so that it’s always up and running. Then I have my shopping cart costs, my mailing list costs, my graphics costs, my social media scheduler costs, and so much more.
Add to that that I now have three people working for me, at least part time. And running my blog gets expensive!
So what do I do to raise $2000 a month (plus all the wages and more expenses)? I have to cover them in some way.
We would not tell a Christian who owned a plumbing company that fixed toilets in churches that they should do plumbing for free and not cover their expenses, and pay their employees out of their own savings. We would not tell a caterer who worked at church events that they should pay for all the food that they supply and pay their employees out of their own pocket.
And so neither should we tell that to speakers or writers, too.
I think the woman who wrote in complaining about me doesn’t understand that putting something up online actually can cost quite a bit of money, if you want to do it effectively. It doesn’t have to, of course, but as you grow, your costs also grow. This is true as we speak, too! The busier we get, the more we need someone else to help us handle our bookings. The more we need to revamp our website. The more we need banners and other branding items.
So how should we cover those costs?
Being a nonprofit ministry can restrict Kingdom impact
Here’s what I also said to her, and which I hope people understand.
When costs get substantial, and when our ministries start growing, there is a temptation to start a “nonprofit”, where we raise money to keep funding our ministries.
If I were to decide to raise money to keep the blog afloat, though, then I would be asking my loyal readers to take funds that they might otherwise give to their local church or to fighting sex trafficking in India or to feeding the hungry and give those funds to me.
Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me making a living from blogging or speaking.
But what if I could do that without requiring Christians to donate money to me?
By allowing advertising, for instance, then Bed Bath ‘n Beyond and Kraft and all kinds of other companies are paying for my blog to be hosted, and then people can still read for free, and can still give their full amount to other Kingdom causes.
What an awesome win-win!
If you sell someone a product, you are not peddling the word of God. You are simply providing someone with something they want.
If someone buys my book and I make money from it, I am not the only one who has benefited from that transaction. The person who bought the book decided that the cost of that book was worth it, because they wanted to read it and have it impact their life.
We both benefit from the transaction (or there wouldn’t be a transaction in the first place).
Similarly, if a church hires you to speak, you are both benefiting from the transaction. The church decides that the chance for their people to hear your message warrants that much money. The church is benefiting, too (or they wouldn’t put the event on in the first place).
If people didn’t think they were benefiting, then they wouldn’t book you or buy your products.
People forget what goes on behind the scenes
I counted it up last year, and in 2016 alone I wrote over 350,000 words on my blog. That’s the equivalent of 7 books-totally free-for anyone to read.
I also work 9 hours a day, every weekday, plus some evenings and weekends. If I take a vacation, then before I leave I have to schedule multiple blog posts for when I’m gone. The blog doesn’t stop.
What about you when you write or speak? People may only see you up at the front, and it may look like you’re having a great time and that you got to enjoy a nice catered meal and talk to interesting people. But they don’t see how much of a physical toll all the travel takes on you. They don’t see all the administrative work that goes into booking these engagements. They don’t see the discouragement when we have to leave home in the middle of a crisis because we have a speaking engagement.
So they don’t see how hard this life can be. Despite what it may look like, this is not necessarily a glamorous life.
Finally, the issue is not making money. The issue is what you do with that money.
The Bible never says there is anything wrong with earning money or making money. The Bible does say there is a ton wrong with hoarding money or with not helping those in need.
Like every other Christian, speakers and writers have a responsibility to take the wages that we earn and use them to further the Kingdom of God. This money is not our money; it is what God has entrusted us with, and we must be good stewards.
That’s how the Kingdom gets multiplied. We speak and write, and people decide that they want to hear the message, so they pay. We may even get sponsors or advertisers, so that other companies are transferring their money into Kingdom work. Then we take that money and potentially hire others to help us. Then we, and our employees, take the wages that we earn and donate a portion to furthering the Kingdom of God.
I work very hard, and I know many of you do, too. If there were no monetary reward, then it’s unlikely many of us could continue at this for very long, because our families would start to feel neglected, and we’d have to earn an income some other way. There is no problem making money doing what we are doing, and we need to stop feeling guilty for it. There is strong scriptural support for it.
We are not making money off of the Kingdom of God. We are contributing to the Kingdom of God. And if we are good stewards of the money that God has trusted us with, then we will be part of expanding the Kingdom of God greatly.
Let me know: do you struggle with making money at what you do? Do you often get criticized for quoting a fee or for trying to sell books or other products? Let’s talk in the comments!