Merchandise and Ministry—Are They Mutually Exclusive?

Can I sell books and CDs without selling-out God’s life in me? I get this question about every month or two, so I thought I’d let you look over my shoulder again at a recent exchange I had with a brother I don’ know. I appreciated the gentleness and openness of his heart in broaching a difficult subject. He wrote:

In my surf travels, I encounter many web sites with great material – people pouring their hearts out as they journey deeper into the Father’s heart. Lately, I have been feeling something deep inside, a stirring, whenever I encounter merchandise for sale at these web sites (audio, video, books, devotional material, etc). I don’t know what it is, and I’m not comfortable with it. I am trying to understand it.

The confusion I am feeling relates to one side of me saying that any knowledge coming from our hearts as given by the Father should be offered freely. I understand the fact of life in the cost of running a web site, shipping/handling, recording/duplication expenses and living expenses. The
struggle I am having has to do with my tendency to compare our way of doing things (our system) with the way early followers of Jesus “did things”. Commercialism of teaching and material did not exist, as far as my limited knowledge is concerned.

Wayne’s response: I can appreciate your dilemma, but I’m not sure I can sort it out for you. I’m not sure what God is stirring into your heart and to what end. I do not think there are clear ‘principles’ that should guide these issues. I am convinced that as God sorts out his life in us we will know what he is asking us to do. I can share a bit with you how we have sorted it out at this point in the journey. But I don’t consider we’ve arrived at a permanent spot, and are still being refined by the Lord’s working.

The conflict between offering ministry freely and charging for materials is a real one. We’ve wrestled with it from the beginning and still do. Here’s how we are currently sorting it out: The content of what I do is offered free of charge to anyone who wants it. The website articles and BodyLife mailings content the bulk of the content that I share with people. I also answer emails, phone calls and talk with people individually or groups without charging for my time or even requiring my expenses be paid. Sometimes people want to share in those, especially if I’m traveling, but most do not even think of it. We withhold nothing we have from anyone who needs it it. We often send books to people who cannot afford them as our gift. I also do tent-making work outside of Lifestream as God provides to help cover my living expenses.

We look at books and recordings as a different packaging of similar material. People who want those and can afford to pay for them help offset the other ways we serve the people Jesus has asked us to serve. And for the vast majority of people who will spend $12.00 for a movie or $40.00 on cable TV, buying a book is not a burden to them.

Do I think it is ideal? No. A few months ago we released the PDF version of He Loves Me , which is the most important book I’ll ever write. Anyone in the world can read it free of charge now and we did that because God made it really clear to us that this is what he wanted. I don’t know how that will affect book sales. We consider the results of that up to God not us. We still sell the book because man people would rather read a book in their hand than sit so long in front of a computer screen.

I would love to see the day when everything we have is given away freely and those who have been touched by it in one season, would help us meet the financial costs of passing it on to folks who will be served in the next season. That’s how I see it working in the New Testament. Paul made tents in some locations and in others he was supported by the generosity of others he’d been with previously. That way anyone receiving the gospel from him received it without cost or obligation. I love that.

That’s often how my travel, speaking and consulting works, but people don’t seem to have the same awareness of the expenses of printing and duplicating or of web design and availability, much less the time it takes the craft the content for those. We still make them available, however, offset by book and audio sales and gifts from a few folks who regularly share in this task with us financially.
Our desire is to keep listening to him and do what he asks of us. Though I don’t expect that we’ll ever do that perfectly, I am amazed by how he has blessed and cared for us through the last decade of our helping people live free in Christ outside the box of religious obligation.

Yes, part of that has come from book and audio sales, but it is far less than most people think. Very few people make significant money in publishing of any kind. I’m not sure how God will lead us in days to come, but our heart has always been to help people first and deal with the costs as a secondary issue.

There’s one other thought I’ll add to really tie this into a knot. I’m not sure I consider the wisdom God gives me to do what he asks of me is any more Godly than the wisdom he gives a child of his who is a carpenter to build, a CEO to manage, or a teacher to teach. Doesn’t all wisdom come from him, and isn’t he involved in our lives just as much if it isn’t ‘ministry’ as if it is? It’s interesting that some think they have more a right to be paid for their services if they are secular in scope than if they are helpful to others in the kingdom. No one questions my being paid for the mediation I do for public education when that requires just as much of God’s wisdom and favor as it does sitting down with a burned-up couple and helping them sort out the reality of Jesus. I wonder why that is?

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8 Comments
  1. John March 14, 2005 at 11:44 pm

    Actually Wayne, I agree with the comments of this brother. I do quite a lot of surfing and come across quite a lot of blatent merchandising of the gospel which I too find distastful. Some of this is on quite well known sites and I am sure that for some "super-ministries" it provides quite a nice little sideline.

    There is a balance to be struck here between commercialism of Gods word and ligitimate income – maybe if everyone who follows Jesus was as free with their property, "sharing with everyone who had need" like the early christians things would be different.

    But I would like to add that I appreciate the way that you, Wayne, have shared so freely what God has given to you. It is appreciated and is a blessing worldwide, true Manna! The right kind of balance I’m sure.

  2. John March 15, 2005 at 2:44 am

    Actually Wayne, I agree with the comments of this brother. I do quite a lot of surfing and come across quite a lot of blatent merchandising of the gospel which I too find distastful. Some of this is on quite well known sites and I am sure that for some "super-ministries" it provides quite a nice little sideline.

    There is a balance to be struck here between commercialism of Gods word and ligitimate income – maybe if everyone who follows Jesus was as free with their property, "sharing with everyone who had need" like the early christians things would be different.

    But I would like to add that I appreciate the way that you, Wayne, have shared so freely what God has given to you. It is appreciated and is a blessing worldwide, true Manna! The right kind of balance I’m sure.

  3. Allen March 15, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    A teacher is worthy of his hire. Paul said he had a right to make a living of the gospel. It isn’t merchandising God. It is simply compensating a man who gives his time developing the books, tapes etc, while the rest of us make the bread for our tables at our employment.

    Of course it can be overdone and the airwaves are full of that kind of example.

    For whatever my opinion is worth, Wayne. I think you are striking a balance that is far to the conservative side. (Although I wish you had told me you were going to pdf "He Loves Me" before I bought my copy!) Just kidding.

  4. Allen March 15, 2005 at 8:14 pm

    A teacher is worthy of his hire. Paul said he had a right to make a living of the gospel. It isn’t merchandising God. It is simply compensating a man who gives his time developing the books, tapes etc, while the rest of us make the bread for our tables at our employment.

    Of course it can be overdone and the airwaves are full of that kind of example.

    For whatever my opinion is worth, Wayne. I think you are striking a balance that is far to the conservative side. (Although I wish you had told me you were going to pdf "He Loves Me" before I bought my copy!) Just kidding.

  5. maryann March 16, 2005 at 9:43 am

    i think Wayne struck on an important part of this in saying that they released the free pdf from of He Loves Me because GOD TOLD HIM TO. there is the gold standard. If we are following God like we "say" we are…He will tell us what to do. Charge for it or give it…take it freely or send the money…

    wayne…i have been so immensely blessed by your site and your books and your wisdom…thank you.

  6. maryann March 16, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    i think Wayne struck on an important part of this in saying that they released the free pdf from of He Loves Me because GOD TOLD HIM TO. there is the gold standard. If we are following God like we "say" we are…He will tell us what to do. Charge for it or give it…take it freely or send the money…

    wayne…i have been so immensely blessed by your site and your books and your wisdom…thank you.

  7. Rick March 17, 2005 at 9:32 am

    Every man and woman will have to give account for what they did with that which comes from God – not to us web surfers but to the One whose judgment will be just and right.

    If those in Jerusalem at the time Jesus cleansed the temple were mightily shocked (the merchandisers were providing a necessary service – though skewed by avarice), I wonder how shocked we might be with the Lord’s pronouncements on what was done in His Name.

    Rom. 14: 13 – Paul reminds me it is not for me to throw stones, Wayne; nor to hand out kudos. My judgment is not righteous or just. Then he adds, " determine … not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way." That is your challenge. Tough spot for anyone.

    Farther down in that passage (vv. 22) he reminds the Romans ‘the faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God." You don’t have to make a defense to us only to Him. I don’t envy your position and the account you have to give because what you are doing is so public – and world wide. All the best on judgment time! 🙂

  8. Rick March 17, 2005 at 12:32 pm

    Every man and woman will have to give account for what they did with that which comes from God – not to us web surfers but to the One whose judgment will be just and right.

    If those in Jerusalem at the time Jesus cleansed the temple were mightily shocked (the merchandisers were providing a necessary service – though skewed by avarice), I wonder how shocked we might be with the Lord’s pronouncements on what was done in His Name.

    Rom. 14: 13 – Paul reminds me it is not for me to throw stones, Wayne; nor to hand out kudos. My judgment is not righteous or just. Then he adds, " determine … not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way." That is your challenge. Tough spot for anyone.

    Farther down in that passage (vv. 22) he reminds the Romans ‘the faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God." You don’t have to make a defense to us only to Him. I don’t envy your position and the account you have to give because what you are doing is so public – and world wide. All the best on judgment time! 🙂

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