Traveling ministers and the pastors who invite them most both welcome correction.
The money changers’ sin was simple—they attempted to use God’s temple for personal gain. They were focused on making a profit. This resulted in one of Jesus’ most violent reactions, and I believe a similar reaction is coming to a corrupt ministry scheme today. ~Snake Oil MinistryOf my nearly three decades of ministry, I've spent many years as a pastor inviting guest ministers in and I've spent many years as the guest minister, traveling to serve a pastor when called. Wholesale reform in this exchange must come if the impact we are hoping for is to be realized. Of course, there are many humble and pure-hearted itinerant preachers and many local church pastors who are godly and ridiculously amazing. And, of course, there are many who are not. Caught in the middle, I suppose, are many more who are simply unaware of what appropriate itinerant ministry looks like. My hope is that we can shine a light on the issue and call for an adjustment.
REVIVAL CAN COMEI propose the reasons for inviting in a guest minister are few. The underlying desire should absolutely be to pursue an outpouring and to stimulate the fires of revival. A move of God is the motivating factor. The guest minister will certainly carry something the preachers of the house don't. Their ministry should be valued and given room to bring impact. Again, revival is the goal. However, in order for this greatest of pursuits to have even the slightest hope of kindling, we need to see significant change come. Listen to the podcast…
HOW ITINERANT MINISTERS MUST CHANGE
Don't travel unless you are truly carrying the burden of the Lord.If you don't have a burning message from God seared into your spirit, you should question whether you should accept an invitation to minister. Today we have too many professional guest speakers who are regurgitating messages that may have held impact years ago but are now nothing more than spiritual information devoid of anointing or timely weightiness. I propose you pray and seek God for a heavy, transforming word for the people you are about to minister to. The pastor and the people are paying greatly (or, they should be) to bring you in. Anything less than full investment is dishonoring to them. Bring the new wine and a “now word” of God, not a collection of lifeless notes from yesteryear.
Get out of the green rooms.If a guest minister isn't engaged with passion in the worship service and is instead hiding away in the green room or the pastor's office awaiting the perfect moment to make their appearance, they should stay hidden away. Go away. Don't take the microphone. If revival is the goal as it should be, the itinerant preacher has no option but to be right in the middle of the flow of the service. They should be interceding, discerning the atmosphere, declaring breakthrough, engaging in spiritual warfare and worshiping with abandon.
Stop with the marathon money grabs (I mean, offering times).It's the pastor's job to ensure you are very well taken care of financially (we'll get to them in a moment). Leave that part of it alone and focus on the job at hand. You are called to preach and to ignite the fires of revival, not breaking in the middle for 30 minutes to receive (or, actually, take) an offering. Becoming a distracted money-changer when you should be flowing in an overwhelming anointing for breakthrough is dishonorable. Oh, and if you attach their breakthrough to their giving in that service, I fear for your soul.
Weep with the people.If you can't feel the hearts of the people and if you aren't invested deeply in their freedom, you have no business standing behind another leader's pulpit. It's easy to know when itinerant ministers are simply professional public speakers. They confidently deliver their well polished message and are already thinking about selling some books, heading out to lunch and jumping on their flight to their next destination. We need those who will be in the moment, people who will weep when the people weep and dance when they dance. Develop relationships, fight for their breakthrough and go to battle for their souls!
Stop the embarrassing theatrics.Quit pushing people over at the altar. Quit measuring success by how many people come to the altar. Quit hyping up an atmosphere. Just quit. Many times when I travel and minister I won't have an altar call at all. I won't attempt to create some sort of faux energy or stimulate a hypnotic atmosphere. While I'm all for wild and bizarre manifestations of the Holy Spirit, I'm certainly not going to manufacture it. Preach with passion. Fight from the platform. Engage the enemy. Welcome the Holy Spirit. Respond accordingly and get out of the way. You may not have an Instagramable pic of people flooding the altar, but that's okay.
Be submitted in a local church.Itinerant preachers, be they prophets, apostles, evangelists or whatever, must be covered in a local church. They should be active members and in a position of learning as they sit under another's leadership. Itinerant ministry is not a promotion out of the church. It's an expression of the church. I personally wouldn't be comfortable inviting in a guest speaker who isn't locked into a local church. I've done it in the past and much of the time there was a strong, prideful, independent spirit at play in their ministry. Pastors can't afford for their people to be infected with that.
HOW PASTORS MUST CHANGE
Be prepared to give a lot of money to your guest.
Itinerant ministers aren’t being paid for only one hour of preaching. They have given more than that. They have invested much by leaving their family, expending energy as they travel, paying for their food on the road, sleeping in unfamiliar beds and, possibly most importantly, stepping out in faith believing that God would provide their every need. If their monthly family budget (you know, money to pay for their teenage monsters to devour entire sides of beef, braces for crooked teeth, Christmas presents, car payments, vacations, toilet paper, shoes, etc.) is $6000 a month, that means anything less than $1500 puts them in a compromised position. It’s usually their spouse who is handling the bills and taking care of precious and wild kids who gets hit the most when the finances aren’t coming in. Being an itinerant minister is an extremely challenging life and I want to do my best to relieve the financial pressure from them and their family. ~Snake Oil MinistryI personally believe $1000 per time your guest speaks is a bare minimum, and, by all means, send them home with the honorarium. Don't expect them to be happy about your lack of preparation when you tell them you'll have to send it to them in the mail the next week. Remember, I'm coming at this discussion now from the perspective of pastors, not the itinerant minister. Traveling ministers travels must be willing to do what they are called to do for nothing. But, pastors shouldn't put their guests in that position. They should also have integrity with the offering:
I have found that people love to give, especially when I tell them 100% of the offering will be going to the guest speaker (after expenses are covered). If one million dollars comes into the offering, the church receives nothing and the guest is now a millionaire! I believe this approach deals with any scrutiny that may be in people’s minds when giving. They love the fact that they are able to have 100% of their gift go directly to the guest! ~Snake Oil MinistryI've had some cringe worthy experiences as a traveling preacher. While the vast majority of visits have been amazing, there are a handful that still make me shudder! I'm going to battle for traveling preachers everywhere because I know that leaving after a grueling, tiring weekend filled with long travel and uncomfortable situations with only a few hundred dollars can be tough.
Give them room to minister.If revival is the goal, you can't expect even the most anointed guest speaker to move everybody in that direction in 30 minutes. The people should be well aware that it's a special day and what is normal in their culture is about to be violated. You should have done your homework before you invited them in, meaning you are fully comfortable with their ministry and you can confidently release the reigns. Let them know they are free to preach as long as they'd like about anything God puts on their hearts. No limits. Now, back to the guest speaker for a moment: if you are boring, losing the crowd or if it's just an off day, stop the bleeding and put the people out of their misery. Get off the stage and head off to lunch with everybody else.
Get them a nice hotel.I'll sleep on the floor if necessary to bring the burden of the Lord to the people God is sending me to. That being said, I can't express how blessed I am, and relieved, when I hear my host is putting me up in a hotel instead of a host home. Staying in a place where I can be alone to rest, study and pray is priceless. While many host homes have been amazing and I've had a lot of fun spending time with the host families, it's almost always better to stay alone. For example, I stayed in a beautiful home with an absolutely amazing family many years ago. I can't express enough how impressed I was with them and how much I enjoyed hanging out. However, I was unable to rest as my calendar was filled up with activities and my sleep schedule was disrupted as I was served an incredible 7am breakfast. The problem? I don't eat breakfast and I stay up very late at night. I was exhausted. I know that sounds like a silly or even a selfish, thankless complaint, but the cost of that scenario is a de-energized preacher who isn't able to pray and get alone with the Lord in preparation for the services. Just get them a hotel and ask them what schedule they'd like to keep.
Don't try to undo what they did after they leave town.Again, the purpose of bringing in guests is to be catalysts for an outpouring. They are supposed to do things differently than the pastor and local leadership. They carry a different anointing and they can break through things in a different way. Many are called to disrupt, to trouble and to initiate a great shaking. Allow that process to happen. Unless clear heresy is being preached, don't try to set back up what the preacher has been called to upset. I once heard about a pastor who tried to put the people back at ease the week after I preached with fire, sending God wanted to remove them from their ease. It was a fearful message of holiness and salvation, and, unfortunately, the pastor encouraged the people, correcting what I said and ensuring that they were nice and saved and should not be concerned in any way. Honestly pastor, if you are going to do that, don't waste my time. It's costly enough to preach a message like that without it all being undone the moment I head for the airport.
THE BOTTOM LINEHave a pure heart, contend for revival, give largely, honor deeply and give God a lot of room to move. Revival has launched through the ministry of guest preachers before and it can happen again, but I believe it's clear we need reform in this area before we can legitimately expect it to happen.
A shakeup in the culture of superstar, itinerant ministry would do us all some good.
We’ve all become frustrated, or even disgusted, with much of what we are seeing in today’s Christian landscape whether it’s on Christian television, at conferences or online. Some of that irritation is absolutely warranted, while some of it may be our own inappropriate judgments based on a lack of information. What I mean is, the way someone comes across publicly may rub us the wrong way due to misunderstanding their motive or not really tapping into their hearts.
We should be careful when arriving at such judgments to ensure our own hearts are pure.
We also need to be discerning enough to know when reform is necessary.
In this article I want to narrow down the focus specifically to itinerant ministers.
We’ve all been in a church service with a special guest speaker at the helm. By and large I’ve been positively impacted by these men and women of God and I can easily endorse their ministry.
However, even while honorable people are traveling from church to church, conference to conference, I’m seeing trends and a developing itinerant ministry culture that leaves me frustrated.
I also travel and am not at all immune to what I am going to discuss here. It’s extremely easy to fall into traps, presuming them necessary to keep the ministry moving forward. Motives can be pretty good while the execution leaves something to be desired.
Some itinerant ministers enjoy a cult following, and they are masters at drawing in the crowds. We need a raw, inconvenient reformation to come to itinerant ministry. God will not be mocked.
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8 (ESV)
9 NECESSARY CHANGES FOR ITINERANT MINISTRY CULTURE
Stop with the hype
I never want to adopt a suspicious, cynical attitude regarding moves of God, but I have to admit it’s becoming more and more difficult. I absolutely affirm flowing in whatever charisma and stage presence that God has given to us as ministers. I believe that is a gift. What needs to stop is the tired drama and efforts to make a meeting appear more substantial that it is. Folks, it’s a meeting. It will be over in a few hours. Quit making it out to be more than that.
When we hype something we are lying. In fact, we are edging close to a terrifying category of ministers: False Prophet
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 (ESV)
Of course, many ministers aren’t deliberate in their deception. I understand this. Some are overzealous which is a mark of immaturity. We don’t want to sit under false ministers or immature ministers. If you are in either one of these two categories I’d recommend repenting and growing before you proceed in your ministry.
Become accountable to an apostolic leader who will call you out on your reports. Stay humble. That’s the quickest track to true moves of God that will not need your hype.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 (ESV)
Counterpoint: God will always out perform hype if we let him. We should definitely expect remarkable moves of God in our meetings, and when that happens it should leave us speechless—not hype machines that have to promote something in the hopes that your superstar status grows. If God is moving, by all means, spread the word. But be honest. If you want to use hype I believe you’ll limit God to what you can imagine and are falsely reporting. In fact, God might not hang around for long at all in such an environment.
Huge altar calls aren’t mandatory
Every traveling minister loves to post to Instagram or Snapchat wide angle shots of masses of people responding to their amazing message. Come on preachers, you know it’s true! I can’t deny that it feels great to see people rushing the altars, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s when we manipulate the service in such a way to get that photo op that problems arise.
Altar calls are actually a fairly recent innovation. Charles Finney popularized them. I don’t believe seeing people at an altar is a good measure of truly converted and transformed lives. It can very easily be a false positive.
George Whitefield, who historians identify as the key preacher of the Great Awakening, refused to speculate on how many of his listeners had been converted. “There are so many stony-ground hearers which receive the word with joy,” Whitefield said, “that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits.” Revivals were the sole work of the Holy Spirit, and the test of time either confirmed or disproved these conversions. ~www.christianitytoday.com
It’s actually quite common in meetings I’m leading to forgo the altar call altogether. I often want the weighty message to rest heavy on people as they go home. I don’t want to give an artificial sense of completion to their decision to respond to the message. Some of my most memorable services have resulted in empty altars as people filed out the door and into their world with burning spirits.
In fact, true biblical preaching will often lead many to become angry and to leave! When this happens we may be on to something.
I think we should shoot for services that cause many to be amazed and many to mock. The altars might not be full but the message will shock the city!
12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” Acts 2:12-13 (ESV)
Counterpoint: I’m waiting for the days when people can’t even make it through a heavily anointed message before they rush out of their seats to an altar in repentance. Very big, legitimate calls to the altar are in front of us, so as God leads let the people come in as a flood!
Praying for people isn’t mandatory either
Understand, I’m a prayer freak. I promote prayer relentlessly, so it may come as a surprise to you that I’m suggesting that prayer lines aren’t always necessary.
Something in my gut just doesn’t feel right when people attend a conference or a meeting with the primary motive of receiving prayer from the person bringing the message. Itinerant ministers often use this desire to their advantage as they call people forward, again, for that photo op or Facebook report.
Do I believe in praying for people, laying on of hands and activating the power of the Holy Spirit in their situation? Absolutely. I will never be able to give human language to encounters with God that I’ve had through other people who have prayed for me. However, it only happened when I was pursuing God alone and not some superstar preacher.
I often end services when I’m traveling without an altar call and without praying for people. I can often discern when people are craving some magical touch from a stranger they’ve never met instead of simply hitting their knees and encountering God themselves. I don’t typically like to play into that, unless God gives me the green light.
I’ve had pastors walk up to me after the service on many occasions asking if I’d pray for people. It seems the culture has been set and people are looking for that touch. In honor of the pastor who I am in submission to, I always comply with joy. However, I think we need to be led of the Spirit. Pray for those God highlights. Prophesy over those God points out. Often I’ll have people spread out in the room, find a place to pray and go hard after God alone as we close a service. The pressure to always give people that magical touch needs to stop.
In fact, do we understand that many people who want a touch are living in sin? They are unrepentant and are in search for healing or a prophetic word. The Bible is very clear regarding this:
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 1 Timothy 5:22 (ESV)
We can’t bring affirmation to a person’s situation by praying for blessing to manifest when they are unrepentant. There have been many times people have asked me to pray for them and the word God gave me for them had nothing to do with their supposed need. God would reveal a heart issue and their need for a loving rebuke.
I think we need a reformation in the prayer lines. Lets see God really work in power and have the fear of the Lord land again.
The prayer lines that result in people falling over for no real reason need to be dispersed. The circus atmosphere must come to an end. If God’s in it, and prayer is his plan for the service, then go for it. If not, it’s more appropriate to close another way.
Counterpoint: God will most definitely call ministers to pray for people. I’ve spend hours after a service was over praying for and prophesying over every single person in the room on many occasions. If God’s directing it, you have to do it.
Shut down the green rooms
I was a workshop speaker at a conference several years ago. A well known worship leader was brought in, and though I absolutely love her ministry I was disappointed by a complaint she aired to me. She was extremely irritated that there wasn’t a green room for her to hide away in during down time. I was disappointed at her apparent spirit of entitlement. She felt special because her name was on the program.
Now, it is true, it’s a wonderful thing to have a private place to retreat to when you are expending all sorts of energy—physical, emotional and spiritual—when traveling and ministering. The efforts some churches make to bless visiting ministers in this way are really wonderful. The issue is the attitude.
I had no problem, at that conference, with hanging out with the people and resting on the floor or in a chair just like everybody else did between sessions. Why are guest ministers in hiding except when they are on the platform or behind their book table?
It’s time we see guest ministers in pre-service prayer meetings, in the foyer after the service and serving the people with great passion.
We aren’t there just to bring a message or to sing a song. We are there to serve. If there’s a church picnic between services, go to it! If there’s a special prayer meeting, you have to be there! When I travel I do my best to act just as if I were a member of that church. If I attended there, what would be expected of me? I guarantee I wouldn’t be hiding away in a green room.
For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. Luke 22:27 (ESV)
Counterpoint: Traveling ministers do have unique challenges and needs. Will there ever be a time when retreating to pray and rest is needed? Yes, in fact it will be quite common. Hosts need to keep this in mind by not putting too much on their plate. If such an opportunity is given, guest ministers should receive that gift with thanks. If not, jump in with the rest of the body.
Stop focusing so much on money
Yes, it takes a lot of money to function as an itinerant minister. Churches, if you are hosting a guest speaker for a day or two, please ensure they are leaving with at least $1500-2000 in addition to their travel expenses if not much more. They have bills to pay that are much greater than you may realize. They should never have to even think about the money. You are hosting them. Be a really great host.
When I was pastoring, we had a very simple rule: Every dollar received in the offering for the guest minister, beyond expenses for the event, would go to them. If we received $10,000 in the special offering, all of it would go to the guest. If it was $1,000,000, the guest would become an overnight millionaire while the church received nothing.
Now, traveling ministers, the way many are approaching finances must change.
Please, stop the offering sermons that are nearly as long as the main message. We get it, you want a lot of money.
We also need to stop determining where we are going to minister based on the number of people there. What if a church of 10 wanted to bring you in? What if you had to sleep on the floor in the church basement? Would you go? I know many would, but many would not. I believe this attitude is shameful.
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Luke 9:58 (ESV)
Why would you not go? It usually because there would be no notoriety, no crowds, no money. Shameful.
For those who have a minimum honorarium requirement, I’d encourage you to go to the Lord with that plan. If you won’t travel and minister for a few hundred bucks, what does that say about your pride? Trust me, you aren’t all that important.
If it isn’t worth your time and energy to minister for a few dollars, that is extremely telling. Building people up, training disciples and saving souls isn’t worth your investment? Again, shameful.
Counterpoint: I do believe a certain emphasis on financial giving is appropriate. Certainly receive an offering. Communicate truth in the Word as it relates to giving. Share a testimony. It’s good to keep this in front of the people. However, it’s about giving to God and not to your ministry.
Shut up with all of your demands
No, you aren’t a rock star.
If you place a minimum number of stars on the hotel you will stay in, you’ve fallen into a superstar delusion. You have become a prima donna.
a very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance.
You don’t need a certain type of bottled water, first class seats on the airplane or anything else that worldly celebrities might demand. Trust me, you aren’t all that special.
If you won’t sleep in a host home and eat what’s put in front of you I question your qualifications for ministry.
Remember, Jesus stayed in a one star hotel as he began his mission to serve all mankind. His accommodations included hay for a mattress in a smelly barn under a bright star.
I’ve stayed in some very uncomfortable places over the years (but nowhere near as uncomfortable as what baby Jesus experienced). I’ve stayed in homes with people that I don’t click with. Rooms I’ve slept in were musty and caused my allergies to go haywire. I’ve eaten meals from a can heated in a microwave. Is that what I prefer? Of course not. But, it’s not about me! I’m not there to be served! I’m there to lay down my life, my demands, my opinions and to serve with unrelenting passion!
You are there to give, to bless, to serve. It’s not the other way around.
43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:43-45 (ESV)
Counterpoint: I believe it’s just fine to communicate what type of food you prefer, what type of accommodations would be most comfortable and other points that would make your visit easier. Just don’t make them into demands. Honor them and don’t require them to honor you.
Quit exaggerating miracles
I know, people will flock to your meetings if they think miracles are happening. That’s unavoidable. What is avoidable is lying.
When reports of healings and miracles get most of the press instead of mass repentance and surrender you should be alert. That doesn’t mean God’s not moving, but it does mean that there may be exaggeration in the mix.
In the Bible we do see people repenting and excitedly reporting about healings and miracles. What we don’t see is Jesus blasting them all over the press of the day.
If healings aren’t clear and obvious, just steer clear. Quit reporting on possibilities.
A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish. Proverbs 19:9 (ESV)
If you are called to preach the Truth in your meetings, and you are lying about what God is doing, you should be trembling in the fear of the Lord right about now.
Counterpoint: We should expect miracles! When God is moving we should see great and mighty works before our very eyes. When this happens, shout it from the rooftops! You should find yourself without words to explain exactly what happened instead of wordsmithing something that needs your marketing skills for it to be convincing.
Stop giving the people what they want
Itinerant ministers are avoiding necessary scriptural truths in their meetings for the sake of drawing a larger crowd.
The topics of the hour seem to be prosperity, healing, encouraging words, signs and wonders and personal growth.
16 Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” Jeremiah 23:16-17 (ESV)
We need preachers who will come out of their prayer rooms on fire with a message from Heaven! Preach the room empty with a striking, convicting word for the hour. Preach in such a way that people either hate you and leave with their money still in their wallets or the fall in love with Jesus.
Quit trying to make friends from the pulpit! Stop building your mailing list with admirers! Preach with the conviction of Peter on the day of Pentecost!
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. Acts 2:22-24 (ESV)
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:37-38 (ESV)
Counterpoint: No, every message doesn’t have to cut to the heart. There is a time to teach on blessing, healing, abundant life and other such topics. In fact, some people are raised up to teach on such topics often. But, there must be the searing Word of God burning through them. Messages of repentance and surrender simply cannot be forsaken.
Stop being dishonest about your meetings
I suppose this is related to the issue of hype. How often do you see posts on Facebook from a traveling minister that go like this:
I preached with passion and am hungry for an outpouring, but this service was a dud. The anointing wasn’t really there. People weren’t impacted. If I were sitting out there I’d be thinking of what I’m going to eat for lunch.
How refreshing a report like that would be! An honest evaluation of an event should lead to an honest report. Come on everybody, God doesn’t always do big things in a service. If he doesn’t, don’t tell the world that he did.
And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. Mark 6:5 (ESV)
How powerful is it that God himself reported on a bad service! (For Jesus, a bad service meant only a few sick people got healed!)
Is it possible your faith, your preparation, your anointing or your skill isn’t up to standards? Jesus was perfect and he experienced a bad service. My guess is you and I will experience many that are much worse…and often it’s because of our own lives and not the unbelief in the people.
Counterpoint: I would say it’s great if we report in faith, without lying. If we communicate that we sense God is desiring to do a great work in the midst of a challenging situation, that is a smart move—if he really said that to you.
Would I minister anywhere God led, regardless of financial benefit?
That was the question I had to answer when responding to the call to ministry over 24 years ago. If I ever allowed the thought that I was God’s “special chosen one” to enter my mind, I would be disqualified on the spot. My service must be just that—service. That’s what ministry is. It is a commitment to serve with no thought of personal gain. My passion must be for the transformed lives that are hanging in the balance! They are my motivation!
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment… Romans 12:3
The thought of analyzing just how financially beneficial a particular ministry opportunity might be is actually quite sobering for me—the fear of the Lord rests on me quite heavily. The idea that I may be tempted to choose one assignment over another based on money is enough to drive me to my knees in preemptive repentance, if there is such a thing! I can’t allow the enemy’s offer of material gain to weigh on me whatsoever.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Matthew 4:8-10
Snake oil salesman showed up in America’s historic towns on wagons filled with tonics and elixirs. Their motivation was not making sick people well. It was actually the exact same motivation the money changes in the temple had:
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Matthew 21:12-13
The money changers’ sin was simple—they attempted to use God’s temple for personal gain. They were focused on making a profit. This resulted in one of Jesus’ most violent reactions, and I believe a similar reaction is coming to a corrupt ministry scheme today. Notice how Jesus immediately restored the temple to it’s proper function in the very next verse:
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. Matthew 21:14
Snake oil ministers aren’t looking to heal the sick or save the lost as much as they are attempting to build their own ministries. For some it’s clear and intentional deception. For others it’s simple compromise that results in a focus on prosperity.
Brian Ming included the following lyric in one of his worship songs:
God forgive us for building kingdoms of man on doctrines of demons in your name.
That’s snake oil ministry.
Over the last few decades I’ve traveled to regions to launch local ministries and also as an itinerant minister, and the principle remains the same—go where God sends you. The decision on where to go is much easier when you eliminate irrelevant arguments against the move. Listen to God’s voice and respond immediately. Don’t think about money, don’t take the prosperous road. Just go.
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:6-10
If God tells you to go somewhere that will cost you instead of benefit you, will you go?
A year and a half ago I had scheduled a very important ministry trip. Their ministry was struggling and my assignment was to show up, rally support and encourage people to financially sow into their mission. I knew going in that I wouldn’t be receiving a cent, and I was thrilled to serve with that in mind. I actually rented a van and drove 24 hours with my team to this critical assignment. The mission was mine and God made that clear.
Just after I made the commitment, I received, entirely out of the blue, a last minute invitation to replace another speaker (who had to cancel) at a large conference in an influential, sizable church in the UK. All expenses would be paid and I’m sure the honorarium would have been wonderful. That surely would have been a fun and powerful trip! I immediately replied with my regrets, thanking them for the offer. I had to decline.
The reason I share that story isn’t to trumpet my own valiant decision. I simply want to communicate just how easy that decision was. When God speaks, every other voice and every other invitation loses significance. If God is sending you somewhere as an itinerant minister, NEVER consider the financial reward, the accommodations, the size of the platform or other benefits. That is a prostitution of your service. We are called to lay down our lives, expecting nothing in return.
Might I suggest to other itinerant ministers, if you have lost the passion for investing into people and are thinking more about mesmerizing and entertaining the crowds, you should probably step away for a season. To grab the mic, shout your lungs out and then disappear into the green room just won’t cut it anymore. God won’t allow snake oil to replace the oil of the Holy Spirit.
When I travel it’s extremely important that I capture the vision that God has for that region. If I don’t own that vision, why would I even be called on to serve there? I have my strategic intercession team spend hours on conference calls where they pray together and receive prophetic direction from the Lord. They then forward that on to me just before I head out. They then shift to covering me in intercession as I travel and minister. They also own the vision, even they they aren’t on the trip with me. My team is amazing, and I believe a model for itinerant intercession. Their investment matches my own and I would suggest we need to even go further. The places I go burn on my heart before and after I leave.
If I lose that passion, it will be time for me to step away.
A pastor recently shared with me the experience his church had with a rather well known itinerant minister. The guest preached, received a large offering and moved on. There was no relational investment into the people. The report from the body was that they just sowed significant finances into someone who just preached at them for an hour. That’s it. That minister probably doesn’t realize it, but he apparently won’t be returning.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Matthew 10:5-14
I received an invitation to minister at a church in Houston recently. I listened to one of their young ministers teaching with unbridled passion out of my book 20 Elements of Revival. He was owning that message maybe even more than I was! I was provoked! Soon after, the pastor wanted to let me know something that he felt would cause me to cancel. They only had four members.
All I could think about was that powerful message by that young man. The numbers didn’t matter at all! He told me that they were yearning for some consulting and investment into their ministry. I told him that all he had to do was get me there, keep me there, feed me there and get me home. If they wanted to take an offering for me, that would be nice. My heart was to eliminate as many hurdles to a fulfilled assignment as possible.
I didn’t care if I slept on the floor, ate beans or had a small offering—I was craving to serve and pray with them! I was passionate for revival in a city that was not my own!
Again, I knew that if I allowed finances to make an entrance into my decision making process, I’d risk joining the ranks of the snake oil salesmen. I must believe that God is my provider, not the people I’m serving.
Might I suggest to all of you itinerant ministers a simple protocol:
- Communicate what your travel expenses are, and request that they are covered.
- Request a love offering of any size be received for you.
- Go at your own expense if God calls you to.
- Be willing to sleep on the floor, eat little and minister to any sized crowd without a minimum required honorarium.
If you’d like to take a look at my personal booking form, which includes a lot of specific communication, you can do so here: www.johnburton.net/booking.
LET’S TAKE A LOOK FROM THE OTHER SIDE
If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 1 Corinthians 9:11
In addition to spending a lot time traveling as an itinerant minister, I have also led local ministries for years. I know what the other side of the coin looks like.
I’m not saying I have mastered hosting out of town guest ministers—others have hosted me more elegantly than I have done so myself—but I have learned to value the importance of honoring them as well as I can.
As Paul stated in 1 Corinthians, material blessing is expected. We should do all we can to ensure guest ministers are leaving town honored and financially prosperous. The responsibility to provide financial blessing is to be handled by the host church, not by the itinerant minister. Paul knew this as well:
If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights… 1 Corinthians 9:12-15
We need to understand that a typical itinerant minister has four paydays per month, and they always fall on a weekend. What I mean is, if they are with you on a single Sunday morning, they have surrendered one fourth of their workable days to you. This means that they need one fourth of their monthly expenses to be covered by you. Paul also understood this.
On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come… 1 Corinthians 16:2-3
Itinerant ministers aren’t being paid for only one hour of preaching. They have given more than that. They have invested much by leaving their family, expending energy as they travel, paying for their food on the road, sleeping in unfamiliar beds and, possibly most importantly, stepping out in faith believing that God would provide their every need.
If their monthly family budget (you know, money to pay for their teenage monsters to devour entire sides of beef, braces for crooked teeth, Christmas presents, car payments, vacations, toilet paper, shoes, etc.) is $6000 a month, that means anything less than $1500 puts them in a compromised position. It’s usually their spouse who is handling the bills and taking care of precious and wild kids who gets hit the most when the finances aren’t coming in. Being an itinerant minister is an extremely challenging life and I want to do my best to relieve the financial pressure from them and their family.
If we have someone come in, and we aren’t confident a sufficient offering will come in, we will communicate very clearly before they commit to the trip that the finances may not be what is necessary for them to live on. I don’t want them to leave with a sad surprise.
I have found that people love to give, especially when I tell them 100% of the offering will be going to the guest speaker (after expenses are covered). If one million dollars comes into the offering, the church receives nothing and the guest is now a millionaire! I believe this approach deals with any scrutiny that may be in people’s minds when giving. They love the fact that they are able to have 100% of their gift go directly to the guest!
I also want to honor the guest’s time and other needs as they travel. If they are most comfortable being left alone most of the time, I will set them up in a comfortable place and leave them be. I find that most itinerant ministers prefer a lot of down time to re-energize and spend time with the Lord. Others may want to hang out for each meal and after the service. If that’s the case, I’ll be at their beck and call!
A gift basket is a great way to bless someone who has been traveling all day and, instead of heading out to eat after they get off the airplane, they can go to their room, jump in a cool, clean bed and chomp down on bananas, candy and nuts!
The point of this entire article is that we are to serve, to minister.
If we honor other well, and refuse to use them or withhold from them, the Kingdom of God will truly advance with great integrity and power.
We are going to need the circuit riders to hit the road again, completely unhindered.
For the circuit rider, they must head out without any excuse or hindrance.
For the host ministry, they must honor the man or woman of God with excellence.