How to Get Paid by the Church

by Brad Harmon on December 2, 2009 in Entrepreneurs

empty offering baskets 600x360 | marketplace christianityA frequent complaint I hear from Christian entrepreneurs is not being paid for work they perform for the church.  They love their church, and want to help, but their Church often expects it for free. Many report that they feel ostracized for even asking about payment when called upon by the church.

Some have even left a church because they no longer felt welcome.  Many others have been made to feel so guilty about the matter that they do the project for no cost, even at the expense of the financial stability of their small business.

Should the church be expected to pay for services from its members?  Does a Christian entrepreneur have the right to ask for compensation?  How do you effectively get paid by the church without causing an issue?

Christian Small Business – Ministry or Business?

In Should You Advertise as Christian Owned?, one of the issues I pointed out when deciding to slap the Jesus fish on your small business is that other Christians, and the church, will be looking for the “family discount.”

Christian Small Business - Ministry or Business?I was going to quote from an article that Melanie Hope wrote for Examiner.com on October 7th called Does the Church Take Advantage of Entrepreneurs, but it appears the article has been removed. Perhaps she was pressured to take it down?  I don’t know.

In the article, she expressed her frustration at how the church approved a major renovation expense from a contractor that was not a church member, but caused a minor uproar when she requested payment for a conference she was to host for the church.  The church had historically paid the host each year.

She eventually decided to perform the services for no charge, and maybe she decided in the end that it was a offering so she took down the article.  It does bring up the question though, is your business a ministry or a business?  Maybe it’s both?

To Charge or Not to Charge

When Christ sent out the 72 men ahead of Him to prepare the people to hear the Gospel, he told them in Luke 10:7 to not worry about paying for lodging or meals because “the worker deserves his wages.”

It’s a verse often used to justify salaries for pastors, church musicians, and even for Christian entrepreneurs.  While this is true, it doesn’t really answer the question regarding the church paying for services from its members.

Here’s how I approach the issue with my business.  If I pitch services to my church it is always as an offering.  If my church approaches me, then I earnestly seek God’s will through prayer and do what He places on my heart.

Your Small Business Services as a Donation

Your Small Business Services as an OfferingAs a general rule for all my businesses, I bill for everything – including donations.  Many times we are taken advantage of by our clients and the church because they do not appreciate the value of the service you are providing.

This is the small business entrepreneur’s fault – not theirs.  How are they to know how much all the little extras you provide to your clients cost, or how much your donation was truly worth?  You should bill them.  There’s two approaches you can use.

Approach #1 – Bill, Collect, & Donate

Under this first approach you bill the church, receive payment, and then donate the money back to the church (depending on your structure, this could become a transaction upon which you pay taxes).  It maintains your business as a business in the eyes of the church, yourself, and other parties that may look at your financial statements.

Approach #2 – Bill & Credit

This approach works great for clients who frequently calls you for a 10 minute freebie consult, but also works concerning work performed for the church.  Simply invoice your client itemizing the price as if you were to charge them, and then list a credit on the invoice or in a credit memo.

This method avoids creating a taxable transaction, and it also is reflected in the financial statements and tax return.  While not as effective as the first approach, it does reinforce the idea that your time is valuable and you are running a business.

Get Paid Without the Church Knowing

There’s another method that some Christian entrepreneurs use, and I must admit that I have been tempted to do this myself.  If you do not believe that God is speaking to you to donate your services to the church, but you feel there will be an uproar if you ask for payment, deduct it from your tithes and offerings.

I really feel for those entrepreneurs who feel they must use this approach, it seems like such a logical way to avoid confrontation and not appear to be a greedy Christian.  For me, I can’t shake the image of Ananias and Sapphira dropping dead at Peter’s feet in Acts 5.  I’d suggest looking for another church.

Give Them a Way Out

The best approach I’ve found when asked by your church to provide your services for free, when you do not feel led to do so, is to be direct and provide them a way out.

After prayerful consideration, the best that I can do is X dollars.  I understand that you were hoping to receive my services for no charge, so please do not feel obligated to accept this proposal.  If you felt led that God wants this service provided to the church for no charge, then I will pray with you that the church finds that person.

Will this satisfy everyone?  Probably not, but we cannot live our lives by what others think we should do.  Even Christ faced this issue when some thought He should be somber when He and the disciples were merry.  You can’t please everyone.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Rita December 2, 2009 at 8:59 pm

In my church it is called being a good steward. I volunteered to be a recording secretary of one of the women auxiliaries, which costs me about an hour a week. However, when I was approached by my Pastor about my services as an virtual assistant for the church, I told him at no discount. I won't even give my family discount rates.

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Paula Quick December 2, 2009 at 9:03 pm

I really enjoyed this article. Business or ministry can be an eternal issue for the Christian entrepreneur. I think you laid out the possibilities (as far as payment for services by your church) in a very thoughtful way. Excellent job!

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Brad Harmon December 2, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Sounds like we think a lot alike, but I need to learn your discipline when it comes to discounts. Did you receive a hard time about not giving away your services?

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Brad Harmon December 2, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Thanks Paula, my pastor is found of saying that the Lord loves a cheerful giver, but He'll also take money from a grump. While I am pretty sure he is joking, I feel bad for those who give out of a sense of guilt or obligation. They miss out on the eternal returns.

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Rita December 2, 2009 at 9:35 pm

It is a learning process, but my pastor has not hired me. If he decides to, he already knows what to expect. I haven't received any backlash. I'm an outspoken person; so, he wasn't surprised at my response.

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brandonacox December 2, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Brad, you're a brave man, my friend, to approach this subject. I agree with you that a business person should be respected as such. We have members who use their gifts and don't charge us, but as the Pastor, I always offer and insist on getting an invoice. I make it clear to them that it's the right thing to do and that they should have a clear conscience.

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Leon de Rijke December 3, 2009 at 5:30 am

Interesting point to address. I heard from graphic (web)designers who found it really difficult to get paid by (their) churches for the work they did. Often people don't recognize the work someone puts in it to create value.

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Brad Harmon December 3, 2009 at 8:54 am

You are a wise and generous pastor. If I ever venture up to Arkansas I am going to have to stop by your church. I've found, and experienced, that it isn't usually the pastor that causes the issues.

It tends to be the self-appointed “faithful” who won't give up their God-ordained spot in the pew for a visitor. The ones who mentally keep track (well I hope it's only mentally) of who attends every work night, church function, fund raiser, etc. I'm sure you know who I'm talking about (now I'm getting brave). I'm a recovering religious self-appointed “faithful” church member myself so I know of what I speak.

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Brad Harmon December 3, 2009 at 9:03 am

It's why I always invoice clients and the church for any work I do, even when I list a discount or credit zeroing out the amount due. Many innocently do not know how much time or effort is involved, and we tend to play down our efforts to try and appear humble (I don't think that works though).

It's not a “here, look at what I've done” motive when I invoice, but I think many would be surprised at how much time and effort some of their requests require. Sometimes, too, we build a mansion when all they wanted was a sandcastle. I think if they knew you were going to build the mansion they would stop you to let you know they only wanted something much smaller.

If your point is that the church has been invoiced and simply refuses to pay, then that is another matter altogether. Unfortunately, I have heard too many cases of this happening too.

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Karen December 3, 2009 at 9:32 am

Christian entrepreneurs may want to consider being a “Cheerful Giver” by visiting http://www.cheerfulgivers.org

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Brad Harmon December 3, 2009 at 9:51 am

Karen, What a great organization! I would love to do a blog post and spread the news about your group. Who do I need to contact to get permission to use your logo and pictures from your website in my post?

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Melissa January 25, 2010 at 4:22 am

This is what I think. The provider should be assumed to get paid. The church needs to assume paying someone. Donations should not be expected, but should come from the heart of the person doing the work.

One thing I've found is this:I am single and I provide graphic design and photography services to churches.
If one is married, not working and has the luxury of a husband being the breadwinner (or vice versa), then one could donate their time more easily, or even consider a smaller salary. As a single person, forget about it. Single people really don't have that option.
I make my living with no spare time, because I'm already volunteering doing church ministries, and the rest of the time is sleeping and working, barely having a social life. So any work for a church has to be paying jobs for me to live on.
In any case, I've had good luck getting paid from churches with a good reputation to follow. You have to draw boundaries and not be wishy washy if a church approaches you to do work. I've learned that you have to say right up front something like " thanks for considering me for this, but I have to tell you that I'm not in a position to offer up ministry work at this time. It sounds like an exciting project, but I can only service paying jobs, but here is a reference of someone who might be able to help you.."
9 times out of 10, it sparks a discussion of at least negotiating some form of fair payment.
It's tough because I think most Christians like myself would prefer to support our churches for free, but the reality is, we aren't in heaven yet, and that money issue has to be addressed. The real thing behind it is TIME. Most people who don't specialize in what you offer have no idea of how much time is really need to do what is asked. Time cannot be manufactured on an assembly line. Once it's gone, it's gone. I think that needs to be respected too. It's a little tricky.

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Brad Harmon January 25, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I really like the advice not to be "wishy washy" about your fees. Oftentimes, we can confuse the client if we are not up front and clear about our services and fees. I also appreciate your description of the struggle that entrepreneurs go through when dealing with the church. I wish more church leaders were in tune with this struggle.

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Melanie Hope October 5, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Brad, this is a great post- and thanks for the mention.

I did take down my article because I ended up nearly leaving the church over the issue and I did not want to stir any further controversy. While I positively despise rumors and gossip, I was on the receiving end of some vicious comments (of course, being out of the loop, I found all this out much, much later). I was UN-invited to the retreat for which I offered to speak, even for no fee. No one bothered to tell me, they just announced at the end of the service that they decided to not have a speaker at all.

I chose not to address it, as I was so very hurt and feared of further recourse, but things still got ugly even without my participation. I won’t go into detail, but I will say it is this type of behavior that makes me understand atheists. If Christians treat each other this way, against even their own supposed beliefs, what kind of example are we setting for non-believers?

I do still tithe, and I do still attend, but I am no longer involved as I once was. They continue to pay the pastor, accountant, custodian, youth leader, office staff and other speakers – but I will never offer my services to my own church again. I feel very blessed that I am strong enough in my walk not to let the church interfere with my faith.

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Brad Harmon October 26, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Thanks for solving the mystery Melanie. This post was very much inspired by yours, and I appreciated the struggle you wrote so eloquently about in your article. I don’t think churches realize how much this type of behavior affect their congregations. It even happens when compensating church staff – especially when it comes time for a raise. Some churches do a great job when it comes to this topic, but too many still need to rethink their approach.

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Ryan December 5, 2010 at 10:35 am

This money issue is one of many reasons I quit going to church. It has corrupted Christians and the church from the get-go. It don’t make sence at all. Salvation is free yet afterwards churches make you feel obligated to pay tribute the rest of our lives. Saved into a financial obligation. Yea, no body likes to give away thier gifts and time to let God pay them in His way. I served years for free and God has rewarded me in more indirect ways. I got rather burnt out from doing too much.

Since I quit church, I find Christianity is actually free, but no one will ever have true freedom in Christ inside the walls of a church. I don’t hate God and I don’t hate Christians. I’m just not going to get my Christianity from an institution that is run like the world because of its enslaving nature. I say enslaving as in the guilted obligation to serving and giving in order to build up the business and keep the business side of church in business.

The whole business aspect of church just makes it a divided place where it is serving both God and money. Christians can survive without the church institution but the institution and those making a living off it cannot survive without Christians.

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Brad Harmon December 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I think your frustration has been experienced by many people in the church Ryan. Even Jesus became angry at what was being done by the moneychangers in the temple. I’d like to vehemently refute your characterization of the church, but I know there are far too many that fit your description to a tee. That being said, there are also many churches that collect tithes and offerings and use the money following sound Biblical principles.

Perhaps it is unfair to throw the bath water out with the baby? I can’t agree with you that people will not experience true freedom within the walls of any church – particular churches, sure, but not any church. I firmly believed that we are called to a people in the form of a local body joined together to serve each other and worship God. There are fewer and fewer churches that pay more than lip service to this though.

I pray that God will lead you to one of these churches and show you what a body of authentic believers looks like in practice. Thank you for sharing your heart, frustrations, and comments with us.
Brad Harmon recently posted..Christmas Songs that Make Me Think and Cry

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Hank Griffin August 20, 2013 at 9:43 pm

I dont think we should deduct from our tithes. I dont think thats Biblical.

-HFG

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