Don’t be Scrooge to your guest speaker

Money is not something we talk about easily in churches, especially when it comes to the remuneration of visiting preachers. We have become slightly more open about salaried pastors. But, when it comes to itin-erants a variety of approaches exists.

I am now an itinerant preacher after 45 years in full-time pastorates. In ‘the old days’ the treasurer would either sidle up to me in a conspiratorial manner and slip me an envelope as though doing a street corner drug deal; or he could openly flourish the envelope in public as though it were an award ceremony. Some were discreet.

Either way, a cheque would often be in the preacher’s hand as he made his way home. The compensation varied enormously from nothing for a 620-mile round trip to preach to 300 students at a Northern University to £500 in advance for three Sunday mornings in Shepherds Bush.

When I was in full-time work my church paid my travel expenses and I gave my church any honorarium I received, thus ensuring that my home church was ‘in pocket’ for releasing me to serve elsewhere. Now that I’m retired, any money churches give me is a helpful supplement to my income. But that’s not why I preach.

I believe the ideal arrangement is for preachers to be willing to serve freely just for the joy of preaching the word, and for the churches to take seriously the biblical encouragement ‘the labourer is worthy of his hire’.

Another complication that has surfaced recently is the promise of a bank transfer. ‘The cheque’s neither in the post nor in the hand, it’s in the Internet’! Sadly, in my experience, it has not been.

At a basic discipleship level this is breaking a promise. At a church level it’s not honouring those who labour in the word. Surely we can do better.

As far as the actual size of an honorarium is concerned, there must be flexibility. Some small, struggling churches might be served for nothing (I recently refused anything from a church plant that asked me to travel to Scotland to serve them for a church holiday. It was a privilege to serve them as a gift).

A senior colleague has made the following policy recommendations:

1. Review your reimbursement policy and do so bi-annually.

2. Be determinedly generous.

3. Send the preacher the gift and expenses in advance of his visit.

Let the preachers preach freely and without charge! Let the churches take their responsibility thoughtfully and generously.

An itinerant preacher