When We Monetize Mission

I come from the “follow your dreams” generation, the generation that rejects the notion of grinding away at one career until retirement. Many of us work for larger organizations, but even as we do we work for ourselves too. We contribute to the company as the company contributes to us. It will be loyal to us so long as we uphold our end and we’ll be loyal to it so long as it meets our needs and desires. It’s a tenuously symbiotic relationship.

But when our dreams find friction with our employer then we break ranks. We find a new symbiotic “host organism”. We branch out and start something. We chase our dreams because they are driving, defining factor in our lives.

Somewhere along the way “chase your dreams” naturally and logically became “get paid for your dreams.” The ideal existence, then, is to fulfill one’s passions in the most lucrative way possible – thus the flood of entrepreneurship, creative endeavors, start-ups, platform building, and self-employment. We want to do what we love when we love to do it and get paid for it. And there’s nothing wrong with this. So much good has come from this – art, creativity, productivity, genius, inventions, good causes, people helped. When this balance is found it’s beautiful.

It gets weird, though, when this mercenary mindset merges with ministry oriented dreams. Every cause becomes a non-profit business. Every speaker and writer is a sole-proprietor seeking to build a platform and define their personal brand. And of course there are a thousand “branding experts” waiting to take their money to help them make more money. People doing gospel work end up making decisions based as much on business principles as ministry impact. We want to do good and get paid for it.

My aim is not to condemn or judge the motives of Christian entrepreneurs but rather to draw attention to the tension and oddity that exists when we take good causes and biblical messages and monetize them. Being fairly compensated for good work is right. Always demanding or expecting compensation is not. Determining when each is right is not a simple matter with clear lines. Here are some questions to consider as you chase your dreams and consider turning your cause into a 403-B.

What if not every dream is a job?

Maybe it’s a hobby. Maybe it’s a volunteer effort. Maybe someone else has already made a job out of it and you can contribute in some way. Maybe your church or another ministry is turning your dream into reality and you can be part of it.

Isn’t it worth doing good for free?

Good is still good and the gospel is still the gospel even if we can’t make money off it. If we find ourselves hesitating to start a venture, write an article, create art, or help someone until we can earn a buck we’ve gone far astray.

Can you be generous and ask “How can I get paid for this?”

I am not entirely sure. I think you can be generous in other things. But if we are looking to get paid we are not looking to give. We’re looking for an exchange of goods or services not a sacrifice of self.

Is something worth doing even if we’re not in charge?

Starters have a hard time joining “someone else’s” cause. It’s much easier for them to build something than join it. But if someone else is doing the thing you’re passionate about and doing it well might it be worth being part of the work? The “I must do it my way” mindset might be a hindrance to both your dream and doing good.

Is getting paid for my dreams what God had in mind?

The concept of pursuing income for our dreams seems to have taken a bizarre prosperity gospel shape. God gave me a dream, therefore it is good, ergo I should pursue it for money. Really? What if that’s not what God had in mind? What if my dream is not God’s dream for me? Where was income promised for doing ministry in the Bible? It’s certainly not wrong, but if we base the pursuit of good dreams on the level of potential income we are decidedly divergent from the Bible.

The crux of the issue is motivation. What drives us in our pursuit of dreams? Is it to use the passions and gifts Gd has uniquely instilled in us to do work that honors Him by helping others [full stop]? OR is it to use the gifts God has uniquely instilled in us to do good work by helping others so long as it is semi (or extremely) lucrative?

I wrestle with this every week. I think about platform and content marketing and books sales. I also think about readers and truth and tone and connecting with people. I think about page views and site traffic, but I also think about individuals reading my work. The questions I come back to are these: Would I do this for free and would I do it like this for free? For me, if answered honestly, these filter out the greed and pride that seep in.

All of us in the dream pursuing, entrepreneurial, self-employed, cause-driven world need to check our motives. We need to gauge our actions against standards and filter out our pride and self-service because those traits will kill our service to God and others.