Recently, Stuff Fundies Like posted a list written by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist evangelist Phil Kidd detailing how a church should take care of a visiting speaker or evangelist. While those not raised in the IFB church movement likely are astounded at the list, I can assure you that Kidd’s ten points are standard operating procedure in IFB circles. Special speakers, Bible conference speakers, and evangelists are routinely treated like demigods. They are fawned over like movie stars are when drooling, wild- eyed fans comes in contact with them. Fans of movie stars will stand in long lines hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite actor. If they are lucky, they might even get the opportunity to get an autograph. So it is in the IFB church. It is not uncommon to see fawning church members seek out big-name preachers and have them sign their Bible. Teenagers are encouraged to have these larger-than-life men sign their Bibles so they will remember years later that they’ve heard so-and-so preach, a giant of the faith, a man mightily used of God.
Over the years, I heard countless speaker introductions that left the congregation with the impression that Jesus himself was the speaker for the night. These men are treated like royalty, given preferential treatment during their brief engagement at the local IFB church, college, or conference. During their stay they will be given gifts, fed food fit for a king, and when they have finished preaching their super-duper, candy-stick sermons (those that are preached over and over) they will be rewarded with a large honorarium, sometimes totaling thousands of dollars.
As with public speaking bureaus, the IFB church movement has a contingent of preachers who travel the country speaking at conferences, college chapel services, and revivals. Some of these men are pastors who treat their special speaking gigs as an opportunity to make extra money. Some of these men make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year humbly speaking about the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. It’s been rumored that some of these men are millionaires as a result of their sacrifice for Christ.
I spent 25 years pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church I heard numerous Bible conference speakers, special speakers, and evangelists. I could spend the next week writing about my experiences with the IFB luminaries of my day. While I met men I considered faithful, thoughtful, and humble servants, I also met a fair number of men who were arrogant, full-of-themselves shysters who were in it for power, prestige, and money. I will leave it to readers to determine what category I think Phil Kidd fits in.
While this post focuses on the IFB church movement, Evangelicalism in general has a similar problem. Traveling mega-church pastors and parachurch leaders are often treated like the best thing since Jesus turned water into wine. Often attracting crowds of thousands, these men and women make a financial killing through fees, honorariums, book and video sales, and the sale of Jesus Junk®. When confronted by the seeming vulgarity of their profiting off the ministry, these chosen ones remind their critics that it is God blessing them and that the laborer is worthy of his hire. After all, secular speakers make tens of thousands of dollars from giving speeches, why shouldn’t they be allowed to rake in the cash too?
Fine, but let’s quit pretending that these traveling preachers are doing the work of God. They’re not. What they’re really doing is using the gullibility of Christians and the pretext of preaching the Bible to pad their bank accounts, increase their retirement accounts, and collect the trappings of an affluent lifestyle.
Over the years, I had more than a few occasions to talk to notable IFB preachers about coming to speak at one of the churches I pastored. I was astounded by some of their demands. Instead of being humble servants of God, many of these men expected to be treated like they were royalty. They often demanded thousands of dollars in speaking fees (honorariums), along with travel and housing expenses. They expected to be fed well and have their every need met while they were sacrificially preaching the word of God at our church. Rare was the man who was willing to come for a love offering, trusting God to meet his every need. And even when they were willing to come for a love offering, giving them a poor love offering was a way make sure that they would never accept an invitation to preach at your church again
There was one man, however, who left me with a good example of how a traveling preacher should conduct himself. His name was Henry Mahan, then the pastor of 13th Street. Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. Mahan came to preach a two-night Bible conference for me when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset Ohio. This was during my early days as a Calvinistic Baptist pastor. Mahan was a well-known luminary in Calvinistic Baptist circles, and I was delighted that he was willing to come speak at our church.
When Mahan arrived he made it clear to me that he wanted no honorarium and no expense money. He told me that he would pay all of his own expenses. In fact, he paid the check every time he and I went out to eat. His reasoning? The church he pastored paid him more than enough money and a man in his church provided him with a new Lincoln Continental every two years. He had no need for more money. I was astounded when he told me this, and when I insisted that he take an honorarium from the church he made it very clear that he would not speak for our church if he was required to accept the honorarium. Needless to say, in 25 years in the ministry I never had another preacher tell me this.
As a preacher of the gospel, I never was comfortable telling a church or pastor that I had to have X amount of money before I would come preach. I felt it my duty and obligation to preach every time I was asked. In fact, I never turned down an invitation to preach. Did I have some churches and preachers take advantage of my willingness to preach on the cheap? I’m sure that happened, but I determined at the beginning of my ministry that I would never allow money to dictate whether I would preach for someone else. There were times that a preaching revival for a small church cost me more money in travel expenses than the church gave me in the love offering. While I knew that some churches were notoriously cheap, I never let that stand in the way of an opportunity to preach.
Do you have a story to share about your experience with a special speaker or evangelist? Please share your story in the comment section.
I should also add that tax fraud is quite common among traveling preachers. Expenses paid by the church are often not recorded and I had several preachers tell me that they preferred their offering in cash. One man told he preferred gold, but cash money was OK too. Churches are required to give special speakers and evangelists a 1099 for income tax purposes, so paying God’s chosen ones in cash means no 1099, no taxable income. I gave one such man over $1,000 in a brown paper bag. I know for a fact that he bragged about stiffing the government. Yes, the Bible says render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, but it doesn’t say how much, yes?