Charging people money to be ministered to is a rather bizarre idea in itself when one considers the definition of ministry. The essence of ministry is to give, not to take. When two agents exchange one thing for another, most accurately it is called business. Ministry, on the other hand, is the sacrifice of one for the other. One accepts the cost and the other receives the benefit.
This ministry dictum was expressed by our Lord, rather emphatically, when he instructed the Apostles in Matt 10:8 (NIV):
"Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep".One might argue that if we apply this principle we must then apply the latter, regarding our not being permitted to take money or extra clothing and paraphernalia. However, the two commands, while related in context, are differentiated themselves in focus. One was a prohibition against charging for ministry, the other for establishing an incumbent principle regarding the work of the ministry and the response of its recipients as reflected in the latter comment, "the worker is worth his keep". And these were special conditions for this event which did not preclude the ownership of material wealth, rather that ministry is not a mechanism for personal financial prosperity and any such elements in a ministry pointing it to that direction, must be removed. Calvinist teacher John MacArthur makes this observation:
"Since the gifts we have were freely given to us by God, we're to dispense them freely...Throughout the years I have been repeatedly asked about my fee for preaching. I have been preaching for over twenty years, yet never once in my ministry have I set a price on it, and I never will. The Bible says I received it freely, so I give it freely. Why should I set a price?...A faithful worker is worthy of his hire, and God will move through people to meet his need. If you never ask for anything, seek anything, or put a price on anything, then whatever comes your way you can accept as a gift from God."How Much Do You Charge?
So with regard to ministry and cost I ask, how much do you charge others for your ministry or is it, in reality, a business? One of my favorite contradictions which seems to be the elephant in the room when this topic is raised, are the Christian ministry musicians and singers who perform at events where people are charged money via personal fees at the door, in order to receive ministry. It is as if I hear them saying, "I am here to minister to you with spiritual music but you're going to have to pay, first." Odd in the least and truthfully, spiritually morbid as a practice.
Under this same umbrella is the arriving teacher of Scripture who either charges a fee to the host organization or directly to those attending in order for him to provide ministry. Clearly these examples violate the terms of ministry.
Is the Business Model Valid for Ministry?
The question is not whether business, itself, is valid but whether ministry may operate with the construct of a business. It is quite clear that the Bible does not forbid industrious personal commerce, the question is whether the Lord's work may engage itself with the priorities of business interests. Frankly I see no room for this and in the least, if this is their practice, let's not call it a ministry, let's call it what it is, a business.
Our greatest example of ministry (the Divine example) and its true definition, belongs to our Lord Jesus. At no point was his ministry of any cost to those receiving its benefits but of all cost to himself. From the wisdom and instruction provided to his Apostolic disciples to our Lord’s sacrifice for sin, at no point did our Lord (nor his Apostles) charge men, ever, for their spiritual care.
There is no paradigm in Scripture of our Lord or his Apostles taxing anyone for their teaching, never mind miraculous healing and so forth. There is no case where the cost Paul incurred in his journeys was something for which he charged others in order for him to agree to show up and provide Apostolic ministry which included doctrinal instruction. Nor did John or Peter impose a financial obligation to anyone before their ministering. You will not discover any such instance in Scripture, either from explicit instruction or implicit observation, the concept of ministry being something for which those receiving its benefits must foot the bill, first.
How Is Ministry To Be Financed?
So how do ministries gain support? You would think the answer to this question is obvious but to some, it is not. This is in spite of the fact that of what the text earlier taught, "the worker is worthy of his keep". That means those who are ministered to are to respond to the one ministering with material needs, just as Rom 15:27 and 1 Cor 9:11-12 reflects. And if the response is tepid, then one must examine both their ministry and its content along with God's providence at the moment. In other words, if you receive scant support, that may be an indication this isn't a work being promoted by God rather, managed by your own ambition.
But as well, as the text also indicates, you must reflect on your audience. That is to say, where are they spiritually? Babes in Christ are often only capable of sucking milk and have little ability, if any, to bear this kind of fruit.
Even further, the order of ministry and support is also clear; your ministry is performed and their response is given, in that order. Thus, it is not appropriate to arrest the prescription for ministry and money and begin charging people for ministry simply because you need the funds and cannot afford to do so otherwise. Again my dear brother, is it possible that God has not provided because what you wish to do is not his work!
Certainly every detail cannot be answered in this brief essay but some fundamental question can be approached effectively. And the most fundamental question is whether or not you are engaged in business or ministry, and whether or not you are charging people for your ministry?