I received a thoughtful email from a reader last night asking why my workshops are priced, in her words, so high. I figured if one person had the courage to ask, maybe more people wanted to know. That's what this post is about. That and what it looks like to pursue a career in ministry outside the congregational context.
For the past six years I've been writing regularly on this site (and my previous one). I write about seeing God. I write anywhere from one to five posts per week. Some posts are popular. Some not so much. Each post takes anywhere from two to ten hours to write. For my genre of writing, I have a significant readership. Last year I became a featured spirituality writer on the Tumblr platform. I regularly receive and respond to readers' questions; some weeks, like last week, I'll spend 10 hours doing just that. For all of that writing--approximately 10 to 20 hours a week of work--I receive no compensation.
Now, let me say this: I have chosen that reality. I am happy to write for people who sincerely desire a growing relationship with God. I love your messages. I like serving my readers.
But let's be clear--that's what I'm doing. I'm serving you.
I get no physical or financial benefit from people reading or sharing my writing. You're not doing me a favor by reading my posts--I mean that in the least snarky way possible.
I'm encouraged to know God's working in readers' lives through me. And the work of writing is fulfilling (though other, less taxing avenues of writing would be similarly fulfilling). Best of all (and the reason I'm still doing this after all this time) is the satisfaction of knowing I'm doing kingdom work.
So, I write for you (for God). And I give it to you for free. And that is my choice and pleasure. Not my obligation.
Which leads to the reason I charge for workshops.
I charge for workshops because they require skilled work. And because, as Jesus said, a worker is worthy of her support.
I give away 80 percent of what I write, and I charge for workshops. I charge less than comparable one-day events led by similarly-qualified people.
And I think that's okay.
My husband is a preacher. He works within the context of the local congregation and receives a salary. He's paid for preaching, visiting sick people, planning church events, leading initiatives, sitting on committees, and even for going to church. No one has ever asked him why he charges so much for his services.
That's because both Jesus (in Matthew 10) and Paul (in I Corinthians 9) make a case for paying ministers. Paul writes:
"If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? [...] the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel."
We get that with preachers. Associate ministers are cool, too. Even youth ministers (though we sometimes pay them just enough to eat Ramen). But what about people working outside the traditional congregational contexts? People who don't fit the ministry molds to which we're accustomed?
Writers, filmmakers, scholars, artists, storytellers, activists, organizers, church elders and most women who feel called to full-time ministry... We are all striving to proclaim the gospel. We do it differently than the man in the pulpit might. But our efforts are as sincere and often as (or more) wide-reaching, compelling and effective.
I've found it very difficult to procure sustaining financial support from those in whom I've "sowed spiritual things." And I find that frustrating. Sometimes so frustrating, I'm tempted to give up.
The workshops I do in the summer cost money to put on. I fly to the location. I provide print materials, object lessons, etc. And I make a "profit." If by profit you mean I'm compensated at or slightly above minimum wage for my efforts, efforts above and beyond the twenty hours I'm devoting to writing and the many hours I devote to serving my church and community.
The truth is I hate charging for stuff. I want you to have it for free. I want you to come to this prayer workshop I'm doing, and I want it to change the way you pray. If you can't afford it, I'll happily pay your way (I've said as much on the webpage). But know, I'm paying your way. It costs me something to give it to you.
Everything worth having or doing costs something. And that's another reason I think it's good for you to pay for gospel teaching--because we pay for the things we value and we value the things for which we pay.
The Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 9 that some churches were totally willing to support him--even when he left them and went to do work other places. He also said some churches wouldn't support him. But he said (basically), either way, I'm going to do the work God wants me to do.
I want to be like Paul.
I'm up at two in the morning writing this post. Because I couldn't stop thinking about it, and because I wanted to figure out a way to do what Paul does. I've tried offering scholarships to events, but no one ever asks for one. So, I want to try something different.
From today forward my summer workshops will be "Pay What You Will." That means you can pay exactly what you think the workshop is worth and/or what you can afford.* It doesn't mean the workshop is free, and I hope it doesn't mean you grab your tickets cheap and buy a new pair of shoes to wear to the workshop. What it means is that I'm encouraging every potential participant to consider what they can pay and want to pay for thoughtful, hands-on, helpful, re-orienting counsel.
I don't think God requires me to use this payment acquisition method. I think He's just fine with a $115 price tag. But I want to do it for your sake. Because I don't want something as insignificant as money to get in the way of you connecting with God.
May God bless you (and me) with wisdom, generosity, and perspective. And may He use us as channels to bless His people.
You can find out more about In Practice: A Prayer Workshop HERE.
*Workshops must generate enough money to cover my airfare. Otherwise, I won't be able to hold the event and all payments will be refunded.