I admit, it surprised me. There’s many contrasting opinions as to whether Christians should give discounted or free services to other Christians. Some say yes. Some say no. I rounded up people’s opinions to share them with you. But first, my story.
Last week my friend on Facebook had this status:
“I am adopting a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy on free engagements. Don’t ask me to do my profession for free, I don’t have to tell you no …”
(Shoutout to Solomon Jones who posted this public status.)
The status took me on a trip down memory lane. To the year 2006. That’s when I did freelance work from home. I produced websites full-time for a living. I had set prices for my clients but on occasion I’d offer free or discounted services to friends or family. I happily did so. It is a blessing to be a blessing, and I have no plans on changing. But what surprised me was complete strangers who’d ask me to work for free.
“Come on, can you hook your brotha up? You know, we gotta help each other out.”
I call that the “race card,” and it got played a lot. Right along with the Christian card. Yup. Fellow Christians. Believers. Many who believed it was my duty as their sister in Christ to help them at no cost with a full-scale website. People whom I had never met in my life.
Gimme in Jesus’ Name, Amen
For example, I got a call once from a young lady who excolor-boxed in great detail about an online store wanted. When I asked what was her budget and what investment she could make to get started, her response floored me.
“I’ve actually been praying, fasting too, that you’d have the heart to help without charging. I want to be my own boss like you,” she excolor-boxed. “And I just need some help getting started.”
I glanced over at my calendar. It was the first of the month and my mortgage was due. I tactfully declined her offer. Not only did her project not inspire me, I didn’t like the subtle spiritual manipulation.
Those who know me, know that I have a big heart. But as I spoke further with this wannabe pro bono customer, I learned she didn’t have money to pay her hosting or domain name fees either. She wanted me to work for free AND come out of my own pocket to pay those costs on her behalf and began to tell me all about the hard times she was having in this season in her live. But the final straw was when she said,
“Is it possible to finish it sooner than one week?”
See, that’s another thing. People wanting free services are often in such a hurry. They need everything “yesterday.” And it’s usually because they didn’t plan well and want to make make their lack of planning my emergency with no respect to my production schedule or projects already underway for other (paying) customers.
Your Reward Will Be in Heaven
If you think that’s bad, once I got a call from a pastor. He found me by doing a Google search. He told me,
“God wants you to help me at no charge, and your reward will be in heaven.”
And went on to quote scriptures! Apparently this pastor never heard of the scripture that says, “A worker is worthy of his wage.” Or the one in James 5:4 that says, “Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay; the wages you held back cry out against you.” And how did he know God wants me to help him at no charge? Surely God would clue me in on it, too.
Ironically, another pastor I’m connected to on Facebook posted the following status just last week:
“Does ANYBODY do FREE Kingdom work anymore ? Do we have to pay you for everything ? Jesus has to be crying again over what we call serving…”
And many Christians “liked” his status.
Free Dental Work, Please
Another Christian blogged about major dental work his dentist did. He felt his dentist owed him a discount, simply because the dentist is a Christian. To clarify, this is not a case where the dentist gave poor service (as sadly some Christian vendors are known to do; the Barna Report recently examined, “Do Americans Support Christian Businesses and Brands?“). In this case the blogger was very pleased with the work performed by this dentist. He just felt the dentist was obligated (biblically) to offer him a discount since both he and the dentist were Christians.
My opinion is this: the dentist deserves his full fee, whether he’s a believer or not! In fact, since the dentist performed exceptional work, the patient may want to consider giving the dentist a “tip” (financial or otherwise; homemade cookies, a card, etc) to be an extra blessing. If anything, the dentist deserves more than–not less than–his rate of pay, especially when the patient agreed to the fee before the work began (Matthew 20:1-16). Particularly if it’s a case where the patient was turned away by other dentists. The dentist therefore was already a blessing by accepting the patient in the first place, along with doing exceptional work.
There’s a Place for Pro Bono Work
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I totally understand that sometimes people look for others to invest into special projects. Especially churches and non-profit organizations. They often have tight budgets. Or cash flow problems. I get that.
In fact, I’m known to occasionally “tithe” if-you-will by offering free services to specific causes or missions work. No strings attached. As led by the Holy Spirit, I may also offer free services to a close friend, family member, church, or colleague.
But it’s gotta be every now and then. There’s no way I can agree to work on 3-4 web projects for 1-2 months and make absolutely no income from it–especially now that I’m a wife and a mother. Time spent detached from my family while I work on a project better yield some income for my household (think of the Proverbs 31 woman in the Bible). Marriage and mommy-hood comes with responsibilities, and I must be accountable for my time. Furthermore, there reoccurring bills: pre-school tuition, student loans, car note, and more. So every penny earned is a penny gained. And as much as I would like to charge nothing each time a needy friend shares his or her vision for a website they want, I simply can’t.
Yet, believe it or not, many Christians would say I’m sinning to charge a rate for my professional services to other Christians.
In fact, that’s one reason I stopped doing freelance work and got a traditional job. It was too exhausting getting people to pay! Not everyone of course. I had some outstanding clients who paid on time or even ahead of schedule. One or two blessed me by paying their entire invoice even though they had a change of plans on their end and decided to cancel the project. Wow, right? But far too many others wanted to nickel and dime me to death. They wanted the sun, moon, and stars but hoped to pay for just the sun, or to not pay at all. No matter how many hours it took to create their website wonder.
What a relief to have a corporate job again where I get paid weekly like clockwork. Without begging. Now that I’m a mommy, a steady income is not negotiable.
Try Bartering if You Can’t Pay
So am I saying people can’t ask for free services? Nope. As Paul would say, “Everything is permissible for me–but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corin 6:12). You can do whatever you want! (Laugh.) But if you are so inclined to do so, here’s some suggestions. In a nutshell, pray or think about what can you bring to the table. Maybe you can barter something. To barter simply means to “exchange services.” Are you a DJ? Offer to perform for free at a person’s event in exchange for a website. Or do you make necklaces? Offer the person some necklaces in exchange for a free website.
For example, the young lady in my first illustration above. the one needing an online store. She could have offered me some free products from her store. Not that I wanted candles (smile). Or she could have offered me a percentage of her sales for the first few months. I actually had someone offer that once, and I thought it was classy and thoughtful. The person was having financial difficulty and proposed to give me a percentage of profits made from their online store… for life! And wrote it up in a legal document and everything. Wow. Unfortunately I had to decline the offer due to workload at the time but I sure appreciated the gesture.
Another idea is to offer to babysit. Or maybe you can offer to get the person new clients and help advertise their service. In other words, come with something. Even when you don’t have money.
What Other Christian Professionals Are Saying
I began to wonder if other Christian professionals experienced this “phenomenon” of being asked for what I call a “believer’s discount.” To my relief, I found out that I am not alone. Here are their comments and others.
|“Christian music artists claim they need a publicist, but they can’t pay for the services. It takes a lot of time to create press tools, along with calling, emailing and pitching hundreds of media contacts, following up to set up interviews and collecting the printed stories afterwards. Some artists think $300-$1000 a month is enough to cover this process. If you divide the number of hours it takes to do PR by that small retainer, flipping burgers pays more per hour. I’m tired of Christians using Jesus to justify their lack of financial resources.”|
|“Many Christians artists we worked with expected free services from us. . . then we would check out one of their concerts… where ticket sales where ridiculously priced as well as overpriced merchandise that was easily marked up 100 percent. we often felt as if they pridefully believed their ministry was better or more important than any others. Our willingness to serve God was almost like a weakness for them to exploit.”|
|“It’s hard to understand fellow believers wanting a discount from your business when you are barely making it. Not only that, it is rare that someone will simply barter my product/service. They simply want it for free. This is that ‘name it and claim it’ theology going to the extreme.”|
|“My mother’s church no longer has a piano player because they couldn’t afford to pay her. One day she was attending Bible study, prayer, and all of that, the next day she doesn’t just stop playing the piano, she completely leaves the church. Which made me wonder. Everyone on the praise team sings voluntarily, and should be glad to do it because it is their service, but the musicians do it as a job. I don’t understand how that’s supposed to work. *shrug* On the other hand, I always had a problem with churches who felt it right to pay a music minister at their church or pay a Grammy award winning singer to come to their church for a big concert, but didn’t even want to provide gas money to Christian rappers who come to minister at their outreach – and almost every Christian rapper I knew would minister on the stage and stay and minister to people after the service as well. They didn’t hop in their limos or back on a plane like so many Praise & Worship and Gospel artists do (with the exception of Gospel Gangstaz and T-Bone, they used to do that too.)”|
|“People [have asked me for legal advice] and I do help when I can. But I can’t always help because I am not in private practice and don’t have the time. Most people have offered to pay, but I don’t feel that’s necessary especially if it only requires an hour or two of my time. I am actually excited when the Lord gives me opportunity to use my legal training to actually help someone. But sometimes I just don’t have the proper expertise or I can’t commit to the time so I have to decline. My view is as believers we have a duty to help our brethren. But believers who can afford to pay should not expect a freebie just because the person is Christian. It works both ways I guess.|
Hair Salon Patron:
|“Once while I was getting my hair cut, we were talking about how some Christians expect a ‘discount’ from other Christians. This happens a lot in Christianity today! Now, I love to give and bless people, when it is my decision. But for a Christian to expect another Christian to give them a ‘believer discount’ is not walking in the love of God. The lady that cuts my hair told me that a number of people from her Church expect her to cut their hair for less money than she normally charges. To expect something like that is not walking in the love of God, but rather it is taking advantage of one another! Doesn’t God’s Word talk about being especially good to the household of faith? Didn’t Jesus Christ say that all men would know that we are his disciples by the love we have one for another? How is it love for me to shortchange my brother or sister?”|
|“It amazes me that Christians who expect a hook up only expect the “do good to those in the Kingdom” to only go one way. They have no problem with “favor not being fair” so long as favor is in their favor. They don’t mind putting you at a disadvantage and not considering you or others more highly than themselves. Those who demand hook-ups are selfish. And never consider that they themselves could or should be the one that is supposed to be giving pressed down, shaken together blessings to someone else.”|
|“If we offered everyone a “Believers discount” how could we be a blessing to our own family if we don’t make a profit to provide for them. Or If we offered Freebies to all Believers than are we being good stewards of what God gave us, how could we be if we don’t make enough to provide for our family.”|
|“Christian musicians/artists are always wanting us to sow into their ministry, but they’re not so willing to sow into ours.”|
Now I invite you to leave YOUR comments below.
DISCLAIMER: A few people asked me, “Are you talking about me?” So I’m adding this disclaimer. First, I wrote and published this article on March 3, 2011, quite some time ago. Second, if I offered to help you with a website (or anything else), then please understand that I’m absolutely NOT talking about you. If I initiated a free or discounted rate, then this article has nothing to do with you. This article is addressing persons who contacted me through my business website, persons whom I do not know from a can of paint who ask for free services with the logic that I should say yes because we’re both Christians.