Should Christian creatives work for free?

CommunicateJesus.com ran a brief interviewed Matt Busby Andrews about whether or not creative talent should be paid for doing work for the church. I’d encourage you to read the full article, but sufficed to say, his answer is a resounding yes:

Creative communicators are able to greatly accelerate the mission efforts of the church. Sure, you can pull favour here and there, and get a designer to do your next brochure. But the real step change occurs when you bring creatives in as paid missional partners.

So what do you think; should churches bring in creatives as ‘paid missional partners’?

As someone who makes his living as creative talent, I might be a bit bias, but I believe they absolutely should expect to pay for the work they’re asking for.

Over the last several years, I’ve had a number of Christian businesses ask me about doing some work for them. They’re excited about the job—up until the subject of money comes up.

“Oh, I thought, y’know, you could do this for free. After all, it’s ministry…”

Am I the only one who has experienced this silliness?

Here’s the thing: As a creative, I have no problem with doing work that I choose to do pro-bono when it’s appropriate. Appropriate being, if it’s for a cause I believe in or if I can afford to do it for free. I think it’s a great and wonderful thing for creatives to be able to donate their time and talents to their churches—but it should never be expected of them.

We don’t expect the plumber or the electrician to work for free when we call them. We don’t expect the contractor who is building the new facility to comp a building.

So why would we expect a designer or web programmer to comp tens of thousands of dollars worth of work? Would it not make more sense to bring someone on staff or build a relationship with a designer within the church community and pay a fair price for their services?

What do you think? Am I out to lunch here?

Leave a comment and speak your mind.

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  • Le Petit Geant

    Hi Aaron,

    You are not out to lunch at all. What you speak of is almost disease-like in the “Christian” world. I work for a corporation that does a lot of work for Ministries and Churches (for the record – I am a believer and consider myself saved through Faith in Christ as my Saviour) and it is unbelievable how your post rings true in my world.

    The company I work for has several (litterally almost hundreds) of examples of churches and ministries not paying their invoices, and then being upset (sometimes irate) that their service is pulled. Many times I have wondered if these churches and ministries treat other invoices (hydro, water, food), or even their finances as a whole, this way.

    This is brutal to say, but many times it is much better to work with corporations than it is to work with ministries. And what a terrible witness that could be to unbelievers. And in what ways are we doing similar things in our own lives rather than bringing glory to Him? (myself included)

    At the end of the day, I could argue that it is simply taking advantage of someone because they are a Christian too (in this case you). I bet if a church was doing an expansion project, they wouldn’t stroll over to Home Depot and ask if they can give a discount on the lumber since it is for a church.

    What all of this does is expose, however, is the reality of the world of capitalism. I’m not a commie, but one thing I have wondered lately (i mean this seriously) is what Jesus charged as a fee for his carpentry work. Did he charge the going rates? Did he undercut the competition? Did he do the work in return for food? Did he outsource to cheaper labour? Did he charge the maximum amount the market would bear? Interesting questions…..

    I believe a lot of this will come to light in the near future as we are moving to more and more business models that have little-to-no cost involved, and as we begin focusing on sustainability and rewables. Remember…it is almost within technological reach to feed, educate, and power the world. But we don’t because it costs money.

  • http://www.1truebeliever.wordpress.com wickle

    You should no more be expected to work for free than would an accountant, architect, landscaper, plumber, networking expert, window-washer, or anyone else.

    There are times when it’s perfectly appropriate for you to donate your efforts. There are also times when you should expect to get paid for your work. The assumption that you’ll donate your efforts is what’s out to lunch, not your expectation to be paid for your work.

  • http://cleverphrasehere.blogspot.com Amber Van Schooneveld

    Oh, as a creative, this could get me fired up. This attitude is based on the idea that creative work is simply worth less than other work. (Believe me, as an author, in the end you’ll probably be paid less per hour than anyone else whose work goes into the product.) There seems to be this notion that 1. Creatives are really just sitting on clouds and thinking poetic thoughts all day and 2. Anyone can do it. But in the end, you usually get what you pay for.

    I also have to agree with Le Petit Geant. I worked at a publisher who provided resources to churches (Bible studies, etc.). We often got calls asking if we could donate our products to them. When the answer was no, the response was sometimes, “But we’re a ministry! A church! Shouldn’t we get it for free?” Answer is: No. The people who create the products for your ministry have to feed their children too.

  • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron

    Excellent thoughts from everyone – thanks very much for taking the time to give some feedback.

    My hope is that the folks who give a poor witness to Christ through their business dealings are the visible minority, but I’m not sure if I’m just being naive in that.

    It is, as always, a good reminder (as has been mentioned in Le Petit Geant’s response) that I need to counter that in my own business conduct, because if what I do isn’t bringing Him glory it’s not worth doing.