“I’m fixin’ to quit my day job and go on the speaking circuit.”
A 23-year-old, single-mom led with this statement at the beginning of our consultation call, and I sat in stunned silence. How could I tell her the truth without deflating her passion?
I didn’t doubt her calling or her passion. I felt sure that she could build a speaking ministry over time, but I needed to give her advice that wouldn’t land her and her child on the street. I couldn’t think of a way to sugar coat it, so I just plunged in, begging her not to quit the job that created a regular paycheck, paid the rent and kept the lights on.
Here’s the truth as I know it. There are lots and LOTS of people who would love to turn their speaking dreams into a full-time gig. Including me.
Contrast that truth with another one I know for sure. Even though I’m on the speaker team of a nationally recognized ministry, I don’t earn enough through my speaking fees to even come close to a full-time salary. In fact, there are only a handful of speakers I know that speak often enough and are paid fees high enough to make a living just with their speaking.
One last truth. There is no speaking circuit in the Christian ministry world. Or if there is, I haven’t found it after 15 years of speaking professionally. When most of us think of a “circuit,” we think about having month after month of related events that roll into each other. All my events are earned separately, and my schedule can be sporadic. That’s the way it is for all the speakers I know. Even speakers that are part of large tours generate their own events to fill the gaps.
Now I’ve said all the hard stuff, so you can take a deep, relaxing breath now. Encouragement follows!
Is vocational ministry possible for Christian speakers? Yes. But there are two realities that you should take into account.
- It takes patience and years of building.
- It may not look like what you dreamed when you started.
Building Patience and Persistence
As with any skill, developing compelling speaking takes training and practice. Most great speakers started with a little natural talent and then worked hard to cultivate the seed of gifting that they had.
Reading books about effective communication, attending speaking conferences and observing great speakers are just a few ways to grow. Practice is also key. Take any opportunity you’re given at the beginning and treat it like it’s the most important thing you’ve ever done.
My friend Leah calls the beginning years of speaking the P.I.T.—Put In the Time. It’s the phase when you’re payed with “Thanks!” and maybe a Starbucks gift card. It’s the phase when nobody knows your name, but you serve whole-heartedly for The Name anyway. It’s a stage when you’ll probably keep your day job to pay the bills and grow the level of trust in your ministry community over time. The early years are the time to speak for free or for an honorarium in order to build your speaking muscles and your reputation.
It’s hard to work through the P.I.T., but it’s a foundation that every speaker has to lay. I wish I could offer a shortcut, but there isn’t one. Cheerfully serving in the P.I.T. will help start a speaking ministry that you’ll be proud of later. We’ve all started here, so you’re in really good company!
My vocational calling is more like a jigsaw puzzle than a masterpiece painting. I’m making a living, but my ministry has unfolded over time to include coaching and writing as well as speaking. If you want to speak for a living, consider spaces outside the box. Ask yourself some questions that may broaden your opportunities.
Are you qualified to speak in secular settings as well as churches? One of my clients is a breast cancer survivor. Although she tells her story at women’s faith events, she has expanded her speaking by speaking to doctors at medical conferences.
Do you have another skill that pairs well with speaking that would open additional doors? One of my friends who speaks also sings. Sometimes she’s the speaker. Sometimes she’s the worship leader, and sometimes she negotiates a fee to do both. I’ve used my teaching skills to develop a speaker coaching business that helps to create income.
Can you develop saleable resources that can be sold at your events to boost your fees? Another speaker friend of mine makes necklaces that she sells at her book table with her books. There are many events where she makes more on her jewelry than on her books!
Your speaking ministry may not look like everyone else’s, but watch for doors that God may open to broaden your reach, your appeal or the skills you can share.
If you’re patient…
If you work hard and joyfully in the P.I.T…
And if you accept that a vocational speaking ministry might look a little different for you than for others, then you’re on the road to building a full-time speaking ministry.
and speaker coach at Next Step Coaching Services. You can always find her trying to figure out one
more alternative to cooking dinner.