This is the type of issue everyone wonders about but no one discusses. You ever wonder “How did that guy get to lead worship or preach at that event?” There are reasons, believe it or not. Also, “itinerant ministry” is one of the most popular search terms on my site (no idea why), so here we go:
1. Ministry = People. Never forget this. I don’t like using the word “business” in this context, but in all honestly ministry is a people business. When a church pays for you to come, the money comes from tithes and offerings—the literal representation of time, sweat, tears from hard-working people. The moment you start seeing God’s people as $$$, repent, tell your leaders (you shouldn’t be on the road without real accountability), and give stuff away. Did you record that teaching series or worship album to make you money…or to bless people? I understand the need to charge for merchandise, but don’t lose sight of who it’s for.
2. Relationship is key. Unless you’re so famous and awesome that you get invitations by merely posting a Facebook update, someone is going to have to put their name on the line for you. You have a buddy that convinced his church to let you preach at the event they’ve been planning for a year? Guess what? His name is on the line, and quite possibly your friendship is as well. I’ll never forget the guys that put their names on the line for me. I’m 23 years old and get an email: “Hey Mike, this is Pastor —-. Our mutual friend so-and-so recommended you for an event…would you be able to come?” I owed it to my friends and mentors to make them look good for recommending me. Conversely, I’m not going to risk years worth of relationships I’ve built for someone I barely know to simply have an opportunity behind a microphone. If you feel called to itinerant ministry, it will happen but it involves someone taking a chance on you. So, 1. identify the person you are in relationship with that can be your first endorsement and 2. do an honest inventory of yourself. Are you worth that person putting their name on the line for you?
3. Stay in touch. In itinerant ministry, “out of sight, out of mind” takes precedent over “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Follow up with emails or texts, send free copies of your latest album, use Twitter or Facebook. After the event, follow up and say thank you. We need to change our paradigm in ministry culture from contractual to communal, and this is at least a step in the right direction. When guys I’ve hosted for events text me months after with a message like “Thinking of you and Iris…hope you are well!” it does wonders. A tiny thoughtful gesture can go a long way.
4. Off-stage matters just as much as onstage. It doesn’t matter how great you are onstage—if you are rude, immature, or make life a logistical nightmare for your hosts, you will never get invited again. They will also tell ALL their friends to avoid you. Satisfied customers are the best advertising, and the meter starts running with the first email or phone call. When it comes to people you bring with you, your host will operate (rightfully so) under the assumption that they are of a certain maturity and fully represent you. The road is not the place to work out character issues. If I look into inviting a guest I always see if I know someone that’s had them to their place and ask the good and bad. When I’ve hosted guests for my events, I’m more concerned with how they interact pre/post event than their sessions. I already know what they can do as a speaker or worship leader (I’ve researched them), but my concern is, “Is this person someone I want my team and people to learn from and emulate?” That’s a major factor on whether I bring them back or it’s a one-and-done.
5. Be presentable. Be yourself (even if that means skinny jeans and scarves), but also realize that itinerant ministry—where you are the main contact point—means that you have to be able to rub shoulders with people different than you. Good pastors and event coordinators are sharp people, regardless of their personality. This doesn’t mean you have to be a type-A leadership guru, but you should be able to have a normal conversation (we’re adults, right?) with them. They are the ones writing your check, after all. If your host is an author or blogger, read up on them before you go. Chances are they’ve done the same with you and it will give some common ground for conversation. Always bring business-casual clothes in case. Shower regularly (I’ve had to tell musicians this). If you are a slob, you’ll never get asked to a church or event that does television. It’s kind of common sense.
6. Be realistic about finances. A worker is worth his wages, but at the same time be realistic. Iris and I have never had to depend on honorariums to live…we have jobs (revelatory, I know). I can’t tell you how wonderful it is not to have to solicit an invitation just so we can pay our phone bill. I can tell you how weird it can get when itinerant guys get pushy because they need a check. Ask yourself: “What number do I realistically need?” This is ministry, not billionaire CEO consulting…the financial pool is not the same. However, request the host to cover food, transportation, and meals. The honorarium/offering should be on top so the worst-case is that you aren’t losing money. I don’t do a set-rate but I do feel a church of 100 people shouldn’t pay me the same as a 5,000 member church. I’m upfront with what I need (especially for a band since they are taking days off work) and the caliber of our ministry. I’m also aware that I’m not 23 anymore and there are fewer events I’m willing to leave home for. But if you’re a young person starting out on this, don’t quit your day job and call it faith. Transition into it gradually vs. transforming into it overnight.
Friends, you can do all these things but God is the one who opens the doors. However, since those doors usually open up through people, fruitful itinerant ministers are launched from a track record, covering, and grounded-ness in a local body of ministry. Itinerant ministry isn’t necessarily a higher calling, it’s just different. If you’re not called to it, it won’t work, bring you joy, or yield much fruit. If you are called to it, there are things to be aware of so that you don’t squander opportunities, fall into a gig-mentality, or lose touch with reality. I’ll post some more on this stuff in the weeks to come, hopefully some with other friends that travel to provide some different perspectives. If you have any other suggestions, I’m all ears! If it’s a sensitive topic not to be discussed publicly, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope this was helpful!