The following article is written by my friend Jeff Goins.
Here’s my introduction to it.
If you’ve been a subscriber to this blog and you follow my work, you know that virtually all of my ministry is free of charge. You also know that I don’t profit personally from my book sales nor do I demand an honorarium when I speak.
This is abnormal in a day when most pastors and teachers make big money from their ministries.
My over 900 blog posts are free.
My podcast episodes (125) are free.
Three of my eBooks are free (Discipleship in Crisis & Rethinking the Will of God & Where’s God?).
My audio seminar (The Next Reformation) is free.
My weekly UNFILTERED emails are completely free and contain some of my best writing.
And on a regular basis, my publishers offer my books free to people (recently, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, Reimagining Church, Jesus Now, and From Eternity to Here were all free for a limited-time).
I don’t profit personally from my published books. But I have no problem with authors who do, because if you’ve ever written a book, it’s incredibly hard work. No matter what subjects you write about.
Regardless, publishers must charge for the books they publish because they cost money to produce. But the royalties I receive go to the poor and ministry expenses. (Those of you who know me are aware that my ministry is focused on helping the poor and the oppressed.)
Again, I don’t demand an honorarium when I speak, and whenever I’ve planted or worked with a church, I’ve never charged a dime. My in-person ministry comes free.
In addition, it takes a great deal of time and an astronomical amount of time to produce a course. And those costs are ongoing.
Despite all of this, about once every four or five months, I’ll get a nasty email from someone I’ve never met whining and complaining because I’ve written a book with a publisher (and the publisher sells it) or because we’ve made a course or other premium resource available for sale (all of which costs a great deal of time and money to produce).
Either that, or someone who voluntarily subscribed to my mailing list will write some ugly, ungracious, condemning remark that equates me with the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and the Unabomber simply because I let my subscribers know about a new resource, a free resource, or a discounted resource at the very end of the update.
What’s remarkable about this is that each update contains valuable content that’s completely free. And only at the end, I’ll let subscribers know about a new, free, or discounted resource.
We do this because 99% of my readers ask to be updated on such things. Not only that, but when people subscribe, they are informed upfront that they will be alerted about new resources.
Strikingly, these people who complain never offer to pay the expenses of these resources themselves so we can give them all away for free, but they feel quite emboldened to level flaming accusations against those who serve others, even though they don’t know them personally.
Someone recently wrote me about this and said,
“Frank, I can’t believe anyone would criticize you for charging for some of your resources. I don’t know anyone in ministry who speaks free of charge and gives most of their ministry away for free as you do. I’m grateful that you don’t profit personally from your ministry. But even if you did, I’d still pay for your books and courses. Do these complainers not realize that they are talking to the wrong guy about this?”
On that score, the following is a guest post written by my friend Jeff Goins. In it, Jeff shreds a profound misunderstanding that some Christians have about money, selling, and marketing.
I’ve addressed these questions myself in years past (see the links at the bottom of the post). But Jeff’s article does a terrific job dismantling some of these misinformed ideas about money, promotion, and selling that some Christians have imbibed.
Should Christians Sell, Market, and Promote Products & Services?
by Jeff Goins
**The Worst Part About Being a Christian Business Owner**
A few times a month, I get an unpleasant email. It never fails. The message usually goes something like this:
“Wait a sec, I thought you were a Christian?! How can you in good conscience be selling me something?
The gospel is free, Jeff. Why are you trying to make a buck off me? Jesus gave freely to any in need, and you should do the same. God will provide for you.”
Let me explain.
I am an author who writes books and helps other people get their messages to spread. And one of the ways I do that is by occasionally selling things. Books. Online courses. Events. That sort of thing.
And when people find out that I’m a follower of Christ who is selling his “art,” they sometimes say not-so-nice things. Like I’m not trusting God enough. Or I’m doing the devil’s work. Or who knows what (I’ve heard it all).
But the truth is this: God’s people have always had to manage this tension between paying the bills and pursuing their calling. And that’s just what it is: a tension to manage, not a question to answer.
What I have discovered, though, is that for the Christian artist, selling their services or products is not wrong, bad, or “unChristian.” In fact, it can be a very noble calling, if you do it right.
**Embracing the Third Way**
There are basically two ways to pursue a creative calling as a Christian.
First, you can go into vocational ministry (as I did for seven years) and ask people to support you. This takes time and it may include some awkward conversations, pledge drives, or capital campaigns.
It’s not for everyone, but it’s not necessarily wrong, either.
When I understood that inviting people into my ministry was actually a way to serve them, it liberated me to let people know what I was doing without feeling like I needed to coerce or manipulate them into giving. And as a result, those who gave were excited to give. My ministry flourished, and I learned a lot about my own misconceptions about money.
Second, you can get a job or go into business for yourself and support yourself that way. In your free time, you can volunteer your time at church, go on mission trips, and give discretionary income to ministries and causes that you believe in.
Those are two main ways, and I would be surprised if you weren’t familiar with both. But there is, in fact, a third way.
The third way is this: If you have a gift, a talent, or skill that the world needs, you can and should offer it people in exchange for money. If you have value to offer, you should let people pay you for it.
But we don’t always think this way, do we?
We think we’re greedy if we sell our art. Or have too bold of aspirations. We see the world pursuing wealth, using any means necessary to acquire it, and we think, “That’s wrong. So money must be bad, too.”
As a successful businessman once told me when I was seriously considering whether I should continue pursuing business opportunities, “Nobody said you had to keep the money.”
And therein lies the beauty of Christian entrepreneurship.
You can create value, let people compensate you for it, and then use those resources for God’s kingdom.
***How Selling Products or Services Helps People More Than Giving Things Away ***
I loved my season of vocational ministry. I learned a lot and was part of something bigger than me. But I didn’t get to give much. It was just the nature of that position. I didn’t make much money, so other than tithing to our church and the occasional financial gift here and there, those were the limits of my philanthropy.
But since going into business, I’ve been able to make enough money that we’ve started giving to a ministry in Kenya, helping them build two different buildings just outside a leper camp (one of which is a sewing workshop that allows local woman to come and create products that produce an income for their families).
Do I think every Christian needs to go into business for himself or herself? Of course not.
But I do think those with marketable gifts—those who write songs or books or jokes, those who counsel or coach or lead, those who organize or orchestrate or bring people together to do incredible things—are worth their wages.
Yes, dear Christian, you are worth the work you do and the wage you earn.
Perhaps, though, you are in the other crowd. You are the spectator, the potential customer, maybe even the complainer.
Well, here’s an idea: what if we Christians were the first to patronize each other’s work instead of criticize it? What if we supported one another instead of tearing each other down?
The next time you see another Christian artist or author “selling out,” maybe instead you should thank God for them.
Remember, when you accuse a Christian of “selling out” because they are selling a product or a service, then this means you shouldn’t accept any work from a Christian . . . including paying for a movie made by a Christian, buying a CD made by a Christian, paying for a plumber, a handyman, or any other service that’s owned by a Christian.
And saying “Paul didn’t sell his letters” is really a stupid way of thinking. I don’t sell my letters either, but a book isn’t a letter. A book cost money to produce. And all Bibles are sold. Even those Bibles that people give away for free were paid for by someone to produce.
As for “the gospel is free,” I’m not selling the gospel. A Christian book or course or event isn’t “the gospel.” So it’s ridiculous to make that charge.
Promotion and marketing aren’t dirty words. Jesus promoted and so did Paul. Promotion simply means making people aware of a message or an event. Marketing carries the same idea. I’m marketing right now with this blog post.
I’m marketing an idea that I hope will correct some wrong thinking on the subject of money, marketing, and selling that’s still alive in the minds of some Christian people.
An added note from Frank
What Jeff says here is dead-on. To add to his points, most people don’t take advantage of what’s free.
Case in point. I’ve given away tons of books for free over the years as well as some courses. The result? About 99% of those people never read the book or took the course.
But when they paid for the book or the course, they had skin in the game. And they ended up going through it to their own benefit.
The former CEO of my publisher (Thomas Nelson) — Michael Hyatt — stated publicly that every time he’s given a free ticket for someone to come to one of his conferences, it was those same people who complained about it, missed sessions, and created trouble. Point: Most people don’t value what’s free.
Regardless, most of my work is free of charge anyway.
But in this regard, Jeff is right in that selling a product or service often ends up helping the person consume and benefit from the product or service.
I know for me, most of the things I receive free of charge get filed to an oblivion folder or put on my bookshelf to collect dust. But if I buy it, I’m committed to consuming it. The fact is, giving things away usually causes people to neglect them. Like it or not, people value what they pay for.
I’ve heard this same testimonial over and over again from people. So consider it.
In closing, if you are a Christian who has a business or ministry, and you feel it’s wrong to charge people for any of it, then you should follow your conscience. But refrain from judging others by your own personal standards, for this is the sin of legalism that Paul condemns in Romans 14 and other places.
Clergy Salaries vs. Selling Products and What 1 Corinthians 9 Really Means – when you get to the page, search for the October 6, 2011 question & answer.
Writing, Ministry, and Money – my own practice in these areas.
Frankly Speaking: “I Don’t Like Christians” & Why Christianity is a Joke to Many – addresses those demanding a “handout” from hard-working artists.
My Interview with Ray Edwards on the Twisted Way that Many Christians View Money – Ray hits it out of the park on this subject.
Answers to Questions on Pagan Christianity – how clergy salaries are different from supporting missionary and apostolic work.