Gifts for Visiting Preachers (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)
Most pastors will remember good and bad experiences of visiting churches to preach. How should churches show their gratefulness to visiting preachers?
From time-to-time churches contact the FIEC office for advice on the suitable reimbursement for visiting speakers. As it happens, I’ve been on a mission these past years to encourage churches to review their practices in this regard and be joyfully generous to their pastors and visiting speakers.
Speak to any pastor or preacher who has been in ministry over 10 years about their experience of being a visiting preacher and a consistent pattern is likely to emerge: namely that churches divide into ‘the good’, ‘the bad’, or ‘the downright ugly’!
Everyone will have an ‘Ugly’ horror story.
My ‘favourite’ involves a friend of mine who completed a 120-mile round journey by car to speak at a rural church. If the cars in their car park were anything to go by, this was obviously a wealthy congregation. After the service, the treasurer shuffled up to him in time-honoured fashion in the car park with an envelope, which he discreetly slipped into the preacher's Bible, whilst whispering, in best Spooks fashion: “Something for your journey, brother”.
On his way home my friend stopped for a coffee and opened the envelope. It contained three boiled sweets! Fortunately, ‘Ugly’ is rare these days, and one consolation is that this wasn’t an FIEC church!
Who qualifies for the 'Bad' category?
Well, it’s churches who give a gift no different than what they gave 10 or even 20 years ago. Or churches that fail to give a gift on the day (“Sorry the treasurer’s on holiday!”) and all too frequently then fail to send one. Or churches who fail to give any travel or refreshment expenses or offer the visitor a coffee on arrival to express their care.
Yet all is not lost! It is possible to move from ‘bad’ to ‘good’ instantly by responding to three things:
The generous nature of God
God is fabulously lavish. He is the giving God!
In creation, the indiscriminate nature of his generosity is seen in that he “sends the rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45) and he “gives us all things richly to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). But then in Christ the nature and extent of his giving is on another level altogether, captured in the most famous verse in Scripture: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
Jesus' whole life was one of giving. Think what he has given the believer in the gospel: light in the darkness; pardon to the guilty; peace to the troubled; hope to the hopeless; sight to the blind; forgiveness to the guilty; life to the dead; salvation to the condemned; and a home to the lost!
God is overwhelmingly generous. As the old chorus put it: he giveth and giveth and giveth again!
Therefore, the church, entrusted with this gospel of grace, must reflect the family likeness and the character and heart passion of the Father. The real value we put on Christ is reflected in a willingness to be lavish to others.
A church possessed by God’s Holy Spirit will be instinctively generous. A church that is miserly in spirit and action denies the very God they claim to follow.
A generous valuing of God’s servants
In Scripture, there is no lack of instruction and encouragement to the church in this regard.
For example: the “double honour” principle (1 Timothy 5:17-18) towards the elders (which includes finance); the Macedonian church whose “overflowing joy and extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” and who “pleaded with the Apostle to share in this service to God’s people” (2 Corinthians 8:2-4); the warning and promise from Paul that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6) followed by the reminder in the next verse that “God loves a cheerful giver”.
We could go on but the lesson is blindingly obvious: a church must be generous towards those who lead and serve and minister.
This call to a generous treatment of visiting preachers is equally applicable to pastors and church staff.
A generosity in giving
So down to brass tacks: what is a fair and generous gift to a visiting preacher or speaker?
Consider for a moment the time involved for the preacher: the preparation of the sermon (8 hours average), travel (2 hours average), the church service itself (2 hours average). A total of around 12 hours on average.
A minster’s fee for a funeral these days is at least £150, which reflects the elements mentioned above, including visiting the family. I would suggest that good practice would be to give the same amount to a visiting preacher as a ‘minimum fee’: £150 per message. And it would not be out of place to give more, where church circumstances allow.
In addition, add the train fare or mileage (45p per mile is the current recommended rate allowed tax-free by HMRC) and something for refreshments on the journey (I'd suggest a minimum of £10). In the cases of those itinerant preachers and evangelists who have no regular stipend, why not double or even treble the gift? It would be a wonderful reflection of honouring the Lord and his servant.
The Misers and the Magnanimous
If this article has resonated, it may be that you could take the opportunity to revisit the remuneration given visiting speakers in 2020 and, where appropriate, send them a ‘top-up’ gift. Or you may need to look at the levels of remuneration currently being given church staff.
We all remember the Misers (for the wrong reasons) and the Magnanimous (for the right reasons). Let us in FIEC be known as the latter, for grace fuelled generosity that reflects the heart and will of our Father in heaven.
You see; it’s not hard to go from 'Bad' to 'Good', is it? Go for it!