Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hundred Dollar Sermons

A preacher friend asked me to fill in for him in a month or so, which I was very glad to accept. He mentioned the honorarium and asked if it would be acceptable. I told him the amount was fine and I was looking forward to being at the Church to preach.

The email exchange reminded me of when "back in the day" I was filling-in every Sunday at a different church. This went on for a lot of years. And it always seemed that things just had a way of working out. One church would pay very little - sometimes not enough to pay for the gas to get there, let alone actually being enough to help supplement an income. But the following week I'd be somewhere else and they'd hand me a check (or occasionally cash!) which not only was generous for that day, but also made up for what I didn't get the week before.

I've had to learn this lesson the hard way. Back in the mid 80's I had 2 children who were in diapers. I remember one day having to literally count pennies to take to the store to buy the diapers, and I ended up being about 4 cents short due to the taxes on them! The clerk was nice and said not to worry about it, and I left with plenty of Pampers! But I was mad. Steaming actually. All the way home I grumbled about my lousy salary, how I could be making a lot more doing something other than teaching, and how it all wasn't fair. I had a pretty good pity party all the way home. When I pulled into my driveway I was surprised to see two brown sacks on my porch, filled to capacity with fresh corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. There was no note or any indication who left them there, and to this day I don't know who gave them to us. But I knew I felt like the biggest jerk in the world, and about 2 inches tall! All the way home I expressed my doubt in God, and He already had me covered! I did some repenting and confessing that night for sure. And there have probably been some other failures on my part, but through it all God was teaching me that trust in Him is never a waste of time.

People occasionally call and ask, "How much do you charge to do a wedding?" My answer is always the same. I don't charge to do a wedding, but if people want to pay me for services rendered that is fine. Most often they'll ask what others have done, and I'll give them the range and that usually is all that needs to be said. Same thing for funerals, etc.

As I look back at nearly 30 years in ministry I can say I've never been late on my rent or mortgage or missed a car payment. God has always been faithful to me and has met my family's needs without fail. We've been blessed immeasurably more, I believe, because we chose to trust Him to provide. My desire to preach without written stipulations ahead of time has been met with God blessing us far above what I could ever ask.

During my brief stint as a Correctional Chaplain for the State of North Carolina I recall a meeting of all the Chaplains where an event was being planned. The conversation turned to the remuneration for paying the speaker. One Chaplain surprised me a bit when she stated very matter-of-factly, "I don't have no hundred dollar sermons." I bit my tongue and didn't say that I thought that for her that $100 would be over-charging a congregation.

But what it did do was remind me of Paul's views on being paid for ministry. He often talked about his right {and that of other Gospel workers} to be paid for preaching, i.e. 1 Cor. 9:4-11. Yet he often did not exercise his right because of the situation of the church, or their poor attitude about giving in general, i.e. 1 Cor. 9:14, 15. He knew he could have "charged" but chose to volunteer instead. Paul trusted that other churches would make up for the stingy attitude of churches that would not provide monetary support. See 2 Cor. 11:7, 8 where he says, "Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge? I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to serve you" (NASB).

Paul knew, like most preachers, some pretty 'lean' days. And yet he also knew of those times when the blessings, including material ones, were just off the charts. And through it all he learned to be content. His comments in Philippians 4:10-19 tell the story of going through some hard times and also being richly blessed. And in all of this Paul learned the lesson of contentment. I'm guessing Paul had his version of "Ramen Noodles" on many occasions, but then there were times when he had an "Outback" kind of night too. And either was fine with him! He said he needed "food and covering" and when he had them then he was content (I Tim. 6:8).

So I'm looking forward to preaching at this church coming up. It may not pay as much as the last one, or it may pay more than the next one! But either way I'm confident that God will meet my needs. And for that I will be thankful.

C'mon, Murphy, let's go outside!