Honouring the Speaker
It was an interesting observation, and question. My immediate twitter response was:
I would guess it is, 1. The faith/generosity of the event leader, 2. The size of the event, 3. How profitable the event is, 4. The event ‘culture’ i.e. You’ll probably get more from Pentecostals than Baptists - which links back to #1
I think I’m probably broadly correct in those four points (not least from personal experience), but the subject of honorariums deserves a little more thought than that. I would guess that a significant number of Think readers either at times receive honorariums or are responsible for assigning them – I fall into both categories, so it is a subject I have had to think about.
In deciding what to gift a visiting speaker (whether at a conference or in a local church) there are some biblical principles to be followed. That the ox should not be muzzled is clear, but the wider biblical theme of generosity and showing honour would indicate that financial generosity is appropriate. This is especially the case for those whose livelihood depends on the gifts they receive. Paul’s interaction with the Corinthian church on this one (1 Cor 9) is illuminating.
However, in the contemporary west most preachers – at least the ones I know – are salaried by their local churches. In such a case it can seem somewhat odd to give a generous gift to someone who is already being paid to preach. There is also the accountability factor to consider in that such gifts normally constitute taxable income – though I increasingly find that when we try to give gifts to visiting speakers at Gateway they request that it should be directed towards their home church.
Assuming a visiting speaker is paid by their own church I think a reasonable rule of thumb is that we should give a gift that at least covers their travel expenses, and ideally compensates their church for the time they have released in order to serve us. In this sense, an honorarium isn’t really a gift at all, but a recognition of the reality of the costs incurred by a speaker who has come to us. Of course, there is no reason why generosity cannot exceed these limits if that seems appropriate.
When I have been invited to speak in other contexts and received no gift it has felt a little strange: if nothing else it raises questions as to whether they are glad that they asked me! And it doesn’t always seem fair that my church should have to pick up the tab – though there are often settings in which we are very happy to do this, especially when ministering into situations where there is genuine financial hardship.
Applying these broad biblical and practical principles helps set parameters for giving gifts to visiting speakers – which makes me wonder again about Andrew’s observation. What principles were being applied, that led to a thirteen-fold discrepancy? I would guess that somewhere on that spectrum of generosity principles didn’t really come into play!