Money or Ministry
Should fees be charged for ministering God's Word?
As with many issues among believers, this question is one that must be examined and discussed in a prayerful, humble, Christ-like manner. We must not judge one another's hearts (Mat 7:1-5), yet we are commanded to iron sharpen over beliefs and practices for our Father's honor and the best benefit to others (Acts 17:11; 1 Cor 9:-18). So my effort here is simply a loving, "nouthetic" challenge to my fellow Christians (pastoral counselors, preachers, etc.) encouraging all of us to put this issue on the table and reexamine it in the light of God's Word.
Decades ago, I wondered if it was acceptable before God to charge fees for ministering God's Word, like counseling hurting souls. I assumed that because others did it, it must be okay. Yet to assume that a practice is biblically legitimate, merely because the majority does it, has never been the way of Christ. God's authority overrules man's majority. In fact, the majority way, "the broad road", has historically headed in diametric opposition to the Way of the Son. So I took the time to carefully investigate the issue in light of Christ.
First please note that it is obviously okay for physicians, attorneys, speech therapist, etc., to charge fees for their "counsel" or their physical service. Their counsel and activities are not based on the ministering of God's Word to others, though they might mention Scripture verses and principles occasionally. Their counsel and activities are based on areas of knowledge beyond Scripture, primarily from their training in science, or legal laws, etc.
This article is not focused on the professions like physicians, attorneys, tutors of math or science students, etc. It addresses people who are offering counsel or teaching that is based exclusively on Scriptural passages and principles.
When and where did the modern practice of charging fees for COUNSELING originate?
Dr. Thomas Szasz, professor of psychiatry emeritus, State University of New York Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, author of over 400 articles and 19 books, has written many works addressing the legal and pseudo-scientific problems with the field of psychology including: Psychiatric Slavery, also The Myth of Mental Illness, and its sequel, The Myth of Psychotherapy, The Meaning of Mind (Praeger, 1996), and Fatal Freedom, (Praeger, 1999). and in 2001 Pharmacracy: Medicine and Politics in America.
"Patients came to Freud for the diagnosis and treatment of their alleged or actual nervous diseases, and he had to do something to justify charging them a fee. Charcot and other institutional specialists in nervous diseases had it easy: they received salaries from universities or hospitals, their institutional patients were mainly indigent, and they could therefore simply study their patients as bodies and examine their brains. However, that approach could not be applied to patients who had money and who often were of a higher social rank than their doctors. Confronted with such cases, the physician had to offer the patient treatment, and if he did not know how to cure the illness he at least had to pretend that he did - to survive as a professional. That is how the complementary pretendings of patient and physician were built into the social situation in which modern psychotherapy originated"
(p. 105-106, The Myth of Psychotherapy, 1988, Syracuse Univ. Press)
I have many friends in the Christian counseling field who charge fees for pastoral counsel regarding the soul (psyche) and its relationships with God and others. I'm convinced that most sincerely believe it's appropriate to charge fees. Yet, I now encourage them to reexamine the issue as they would any other matter of faith and practice, that is, by prayerful and extensive, systematic exegesis of Scripture.
Certainly it is biblically permissible to receive voluntary donations for ministering God's Word to individuals and families about their relationships with God and neighbor. This has been the practice of biblical servants for 2,000 years.
1 Corinthians 9:14 "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel."
1 Timothy 5:18 For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,"
and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
But is it the character of Christ to sell the counsel of God to those who are hurting, confused, and seeking abundant life? As bond-servants of Christ and thus voluntary servants of one another (Gal 6:1-3), our greatest concern should be to avoid doing anything which would dishonor our Lord or cause someone to stumble.
2 Cor 2:17 "For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God;
but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ."
"peddling" = kapeleuo =
1) to be a retailer, to peddle
2) to make money by selling anything
A reflection of Christ's family ministry, or the world's business model?
Many people in our communities are broken, hurting and in desperate need of the extensive and personal ministry of God's loving counsel. Many are minority men struggling to hold their families together, battered or abandoned women, abused children or troubled teenagers.
Matthew 10:8 "Freely you have received, freely give. "
2 Corinthians 8:9 ". . . for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. "
2 Corinthians 9:7 "So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, . . . not of necessity (compulsion) . . . ."
2 Peter 2:15 " . . . Balaam . . . who loved the wages of unrighteousness. . . ."
Jude 11 "Woe to them! For they have . . . run greedily in the error of Balaam for . . . ."
Since money and its powerful temptations can often become a stumbling block in ministry, we as servants must carefully answer a number of crucial questions. Why do we all agree that it would be wrong for a preacher to stand before his congregation and demand an up front fee before he will minister the Word of God publicly? Similarly, why do we all agree that it would be wrong for a pastor to charge a fee for each session of the personal ministry of God's Word for individual discipleship of the soul (psyche)? The reasons that the above examples would be wrong, are the same reasons that it would be unbiblical to charge fees for Christian counseling. Then why do we now turn a blind eye to such "Christian counselor" fees? Is there really a qualitative difference if both are offering the sufficient Word of God. Please remember that medical physicians deal with the physical body, while psychotherapeutic counselors address only the non-physical psyche / soul, just as a pastor.
Dr. Thomas Szasz: ". . . . psychotherapy . . . consists simply of talking and listening. Since this conversation, regardless of how pretentiously we name it, concerns the question of how people should live, it is axiomatic that psychotherapy is a ministerial rather than a medical enterprise." (p. vii, The Myth of Psychotherapy, 1988, Syracuse Univ. Press)
Many Christian counselors who charge fees have been taught in graduate school the same rationalizations made by secular therapists. They often claim "it makes people work harder", "it's a science like medicine", "professional counseling is worth paying for", etc.. The accumulating evidence demonstrates, however, that the world's way of charging fees for soulcare is often insidiously deceptive - the way that seems right, but ends in destruction, not the glory of God (Prov 14:12). The following quotations shed some much needed light on the erroneous claims originated by secular counselors to justify their practice of fee-based soulcare.
Tana Dineen, Ph.D., is the author of, Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People. Robert Davies Publishing, 1998. Dr. Dineen is the former treatment director of a large psychiatric hospital in Canada, and a former psychotherapist. In response to the growing evidence, she resigned from her psychotherapeutic practice in order to research and write this comprehensive expose of the mega-business of psychotherapy.
"The growth of psychology as an industry is conveniently ignored or over-looked in most records of the history of psychology. . . . . a parallel history exists involving deceptions to mislead consumers, economic associations to advance the profession, and biased attention to whatever pays." (p. 104)
Dr. Robyn Dawes, Acting Department Head, Dept. of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, winner of the APA William James Award in 1990, in his book, House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth, 1994, published by The Free Press says:
"We also know that the credentials and experience of the psychotherapists are unrelated to patient outcomes, based on well over five hundred scientific studies of psychotherapy outcome." (p. 38)
"Psychotherapy, has often been categorized a medical procedure, but as we have seen, it lacks the scientific grounding that characterizes modern medicine." (p. 133)
"Professionals in psychology and psychotherapy clearly benefit from a New Age psychology - it brings them clients. Unfortunately, they in turn contribute to and reinforce that psychology. . . . . the professionals' ‘view' has become highly compatible with the new Age view. In particular, that very egoism . . . has come to be viewed as a necessary component of ‘mental health.' . . . they are highly influenced by cultural beliefs and fads: currently, the obsession with ‘me.' . . . . in particular, a view that feelings and self-esteem ‘cause' certain problems, in the absence of evidence." (p. 250)
The following principles (derived from both Scripture and from nearly two decades of practice) summarize the prayerful "reason for the hope that is in me" regarding this vital question. I welcome your feedback, especially anyone who might present an argument, that is truly based upon Scripture, in favor of charging fees.
Principles Derived From Scripture:
1. Ministers of God's counsel have the responsibility to reflect the self-sacrificing character of our Lord Jesus Christ. He lived by faith in our Father to provide for His needs, as He freely gave counsel for the soul and soul-relationships. This is the model His servants have followed for 2,000 years (Mat 10:8). In fact the most provocative, historical examples of men who sold the counsel of God for profit stirred protests culminating in the Reformation.
2. Thus the counseling relationship should be based on Christ's love, not required financial return (2 Pe 2:15; Jude 11; Mic 3:11; 1 Tim 6:10; Luk 16:14; Eze 33:31; Act 19:24-26).
3. Not only is partiality to the rich who can pay a fee unacceptable, but the heart of Jesus made the poor, oppressed minorities a priority in His counseling ministry. (Jam 2:1-13; 2 Cor 8:14).
4. The biblical model for Christian counseling is centered around the pastoral elders (1 Tim 3; Titus 1; Heb 13:7&17), who bear the primary responsibility to feed the sheep not only through public preaching, but especially through the private ministry of the Word, to each unique family.
5. In addition, the pastoral elders should train and oversee a network of equippers and volunteer counselors within their local church (Eph 4:11-13). If the equippers are compensated, then they could receive church based salaries from the general budget or direct voluntary donations just as other church staff (Eph 4:11 ff; 1 Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-2:10).
6. Crucial to the ministry of biblical counseling is that it function within the context of potential church accountability and discipline, when necessary (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:9-13). In such situations, the charging of fees would be counter-productive to say the least. (See the separate article on "Church Discipline: When God's Love Requires More Than Just Words")
Principles Derived From Practice Through Our Church:
1. Many of my counselees have surrendered to Christ as a direct result of receiving "free" counseling. It proved to them that our motive was not like the world's desire to use them for personal profit (Mat 20:20-28).
2. I have found (after nearly two decades of counseling) that a counselee's level of effort in counseling is not directly related to the amount of money he donates. In fact, it is often inversely related to donations. Many who could pay large fees, might then expect the "hired" counselor to do all the work. In contrast, those who can only donate very little are often the most grateful and responsible in their efforts to study and apply God's counsel.
3. When the counselor is diligently investing time and effort in the counseling process without demanding a fee from the client, this allows the counselor to challenge the counselee to also invest at least the same time and effort toward change (homework).
4. Very few families can afford a sufficient fee and its resulting financial stress (for the length of time needed to work through the discipleship counseling process) which would support a counselor. Common fees range from $50-$150/hour in order to "earn" a living, and sessions are often kept short to allow for more sessions per week. In contrast, our "free" sessions last from 1.5 to 3 hours of personal, intensive, discipleship counseling, and Bible study.
5. By observing those counselors, who used third-party insurance reimbursement, I believe such insurance-based fees are also not beneficial to anyone for a number of reasons:
a. Few families have insurance, which adequately covers the cost of counseling.
b. The insurance system increasingly demands the diagnosis of theoretical "mental disorders", before they will provide third party reimbursement. Thus people are labeled for life. And, counseling facilities tend to "over" diagnose "counselees", even beyond the DSM criteria in order to ensure insurance coverage. Also, insurance companies are increasingly dictating the number of sessions, scope of treatment, etc..
6. When a counselor's income is dependent on counselee fees, a number of inherent problems could develop, albeit unwittingly (Jer 17:9). They can be summarized as follows:
a. Even sliding fee scales can lead to favoring counselees who pay larger amounts.
b. A tendency to keep a high "paying" counselee in the counseling process longer than necessary.
c. Counselors must limit the time of each session in order to have enough sessions per week to average out to a viable income. The common 1 hour session was a monetary decision of Freud.
d. As a result, counselors must schedule so many sessions per week that their effectiveness is greatly reduced, because the vital koinonia character of the relationship is hindered or destroyed.
e. "Reaching out" (to those who are in need yet reluctant for counseling) produces the "appearance of evil", when fees are involved. It is analogous to the proverbial lawyer or physician chasing an ambulance for income. Regardless of heart motive, the danger of dishonor to our Father and our Lord Jesus' character is significant.
One last question. If we live by faith and depend upon our Lord to provide for our needs, what will happen. May I answer with my own personal testimony. My wife, Linda (a homemaker without income), and I have six children. In addition, our son, Michael has had six heart surgeries. My faith has often wavered. OK, I admit it has crumbled at times as I needlessly worried. But our Father has always been faithful to provide all we need to continue serving Him (Eph 3:14-21). Even if and when we must work bivocationally, God is still providing. May He train us all (especially me) to walk in such a humble, joyful faith that it will cause others to look up and say, "That's not natural, it must be supernatural. I want the self-giving love, joy and peace that those Christians obviously have". (Gal 5:22-6:3)
Dr. Thomas Szasz:
"When Luther attacked the sale of indulgences and the priestly corruption that countenanced it and profited from it, he assumed a position vis-a-vis the Christian establishment of his day that was for all intents and purposes, the same as that which Jesus had assumed toward the Jewish establishment when he attacked the scribes and Pharisees."
". . . . Every aspect of Luther's world-shaking "Ninety-five Theses" bears out the contention that its impact derives largely from its effort to restore the cure of souls to the people - a right they had been deprived of by the Church." (The Myth of Psychotherapy, 1988, Syracuse Univ. Press pp. 34-35)