The 1998 movie The Truman Show is a film about a man named Truman Burbank who—unaware—lived his entire life inside a simulated reality TV show. In order to pay for the show, the producers filled Truman’s world with cleverly placed ads of all kinds, even within conversations that Truman had with his wife (who was really a paid actress). At one point Truman and his wife are in the middle of an intense conversation, and she suddenly holds up a product and says with fake chipperness: “Why don’t you let me fix you some of this new Mococoa drink. All natural cocoa beans from the upper slopes of Mount Nicaragua, no artificial sweeteners!” This would be unsettling to most of us, especially in the context of something sacred like a marriage relationship. We instinctively feel that there are certain things too holy to pollute with ads of any kind. Some things in life require honor and respect, but when those things are turned into advertising opportunities, honor and respect are stripped away.
Before going further, we should define what advertisements are. At their core, advertisements are unsolicited intrusions into our experience of the world that seek to persuade us to buy a product, service, or idea. Essentially, the goal of any ad is to influence perception and behavior in favor of the advertiser’s merchandise. Even if the ad is for a Christian resource, it still gets in the way of the content the viewer is actually seeking. No matter what kind of ad it is, the objectives remain the same: capture attention, influence attitudes, and drive profitable action for the advertiser.
Christian ministries face enormous pressure to monetize their content through advertisements. YouTubers in particular often face the question of whether they should monetize their channel or not. The logic often goes like this: “Ad revenue will help provide regular income to grow the ministry, so we don’t have to rely just on donations from supporters.” I want to make the case from biblical principles that running ads on ministry content is wrong. Truth, holy things, the work of the Spirit of God, and all kinds of Christian edification are like marriage or friendship–too sacred to exploit with advertising.
Forcing vs Freedom
In another article, we explain the important biblical difference between giving as payment and giving as support/colabor, which is a key issue when it comes to running ads on ministry content. It’s important to remember that Scripture teaches that the support for spiritual work must be provided voluntarily and out of a desire to honor God and support the work of the ministry. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” This verse emphasizes that giving to support the work of ministry should be done freely and willingly, without any sense of obligation or pressure. In other words, the person giving shouldn’t be forced or manipulated to give, or put in a situation where he’s exploited indirectly. But that’s exactly what ads do.
When we apply this principle, we see that forcing people to see or listen to ads puts the receiver of ministry in obligation to the minister rather than to God. The person targeted by the ad doesn’t have the choice to joyfully and freely give out of a sense of gratitude to God and thereby partner with the one doing ministry. Ads create relationships of obligation at odds with Paul’s instructions.
In 1 Corinthians 9:7 Paul asks, “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?” In those days it was the king who ensured his soldiers were paid, but he himself received money through taxation. So when citizens give taxes, they do so out of obligation to the king, who then pays the soldiers their wages. They’re not obligated to the soldier. If the soldier circumvents the king and demands payment from citizens directly for his work, it’s wrong. That’s called extortion. And this kind of extortion is exactly what ads are. If I am the one receiving ministry, I get access only in exchange for payment. But in this case the payment is indirect. I end up paying with my attention, my time, or simply by enduring the annoyance of the ad. This imposes a sense of reciprocity and indebtedness that should not exist between minister and recipient. And it goes contrary to the concept of bearing one another’s burdens. The minister instead forces me to bear the burden of paying for what God is responsible to provide for; and the minister does so by pushing a manipulative, distracting thing into my life. This fails to reflect the law of Christ (Gal 6:2), circumvents the ways God has chosen to support ministry, and betrays a lack of trust in God to provide in the ways he has already promised to provide (through the free generosity of his people).
Mixing Financial Incentives with the Sacred
Again, it’s important to emphasize that mixing financial incentives with spiritual and sacred things compromises the purity of motive and mission. And when ad revenue drives content, the focus can subtly shift from serving, to maximizing clicks.
Again, as we’ve said multiple times on this website, Christian workers deserve wages (Luke 10:7), and ministries require financial resources. But biblical support stems from collaborative generosity, not commercial exchange. Those who receive blessings should give voluntarily to spread blessings to others. Any contribution must flow from the Spirit’s leading, not worldly coercion.
Paul echoed this principle by refusing to peddle the word of God (2 Cor 2:17). True ministers trust God to provide through His people. They don’t resort to treating others as impersonal revenue streams.
These objections will focus on YouTubers, but the implications can be applied more broadly.
I feel guilty for living off of the sacrificial giving of others.
Many think that dependence on the Body of Christ for ministry support is not the ideal. They feel guilty asking for or receiving donations from other believers. In addition, there may be donors or other voices in their lives who actively encourage them to become “financially independent” of donations as soon as an opportunity arises, such as monetizing a YouTube channel with many subscribers. Donors can be just as confused as those doing ministry, and exert pressure on ministries to find a way to minimize or eliminate their reliance on donations.
But God has called the Body to work together to advance the kingdom rather than rely on secular revenue models (1 Cor 12). The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you because YouTube’s partnership program now sustains me through ads” (1 Cor 12:21). When a ministry uses advertising, it immediately discourages people from colaboring or partnering with that ministry in gospel work through donations. They often assume that all the needs of the ministry are being covered by secular revenue models, and so it’s not necessary to give and bear the burden of support with them. This is a loss for everyone, since the potential giver loses the joy of giving, and a potentially edifying relationship between the two brothers or sisters in Christ is forfeited (Phil 4:17). In addition, the minister wastes time setting up or negotiating the ad, and the receiver suffers the irritation of the ad. A brother punishes another brother for the sake of worldly means of gain and for lack of faith.
YouTube is running ads on my videos whether I monetize them or not, so I might as well get something out of it.
This is a common argument with several problems. First, this objection assumes that pragmatism is more important than principle, which should never be the case, as we have already argued. Biblical principle should guide our actions supremely over practical concerns.
Second, the objection assumes wrongly that it’s impossible for ministers to communicate clearly with those to whom they minister. Those creating ministry videos can easily and transparently communicate that they do not run ads on their content. This can be done on their website, in the description of each video, in the video itself, etc. There are plenty of ways to let people know that any ads they see are put there against the creator’s will by YouTube.
Third, these ads that YouTube forces onto non-monetized videos are usually far less frequent and intrusive (and this frequency can depend on the country). Many times viewers will be able to watch non-monetized videos without any ad interruptions. However, when a creator has intentionally placed an ad in a video, the ad will run much more frequently (unless an ad blocker is used). And if the creator decides to make the ad non-skippable, it will always be non-skippable.
Fourth, very rarely does ad revenue from YouTube amount to much. Most ministry channels don’t tend to have millions of views per month, and rarely reach even tens of thousands of subscribers. It would be sad to go against a biblical principle just for the sake of a few extra dollars (Prov 28:21). One should consider the question: “Will it be worth it to risk sinning against God for a tiny amount of money?” Scripture gives us examples like Judas and Esau for a reason. And ministries will never know how many potential donors they drove away by annoying them with ads or by causing them to assume that the ministry was covering all their expenses with ad revenue. Is it worth driving away a donor who would have given $2,000 for the sake of an ad program that pays you $20/month?
People can just use ad-blockers if they don’t want to see my ads.
This is true for computer browsers, but not for the YouTube mobile app, which many people use. Again, this attitude places the burden of ad-avoidance on the receiver of ministry and follows the voice of pragmatism rather than principle. Although YouTube is one of the most strategic places to host ministry content, it’s helpful to serve others by providing an ad-free environment to enjoy the videos you create. Having an Odysee.com or Lets.Church clone of your channel makes your videos freely available without ads, and it’s a good idea to make them downloadable via torrent (as I have done for Aleph with Beth). Providing these options, along with clear public communication about your commitment to never monetize your channel, shows the heart of a true minister of Christ who seeks to serve others rather than force them to watch ads in exchange for paltry worldly wages.
In conclusion, God can and does sustain and expand ministries through prayer and Spirit-led giving alone, and he has clearly given us biblical principles for ministry support in his Word. Let us trust him and not lean on our own understanding.
Practical Application for YouTube
There are several ways you can beat YouTube at their own game and rid your channel of ads.
- Enroll in the YouTube Partnership Program, which is normally intended to enable you to monetize your video. In order to do this you’ll have to reach some milestones to qualify. Once you’re in, simply don’t turn on any ad monetization on your videos, and this will increase the likelihood of no ads being shown.
- Avoid having YouTube flag anything in your video with a copyright claim. If you have a copyright claim on a video, it will trigger an ad every time.
- Post your videos on Lets.Church and Odysee.com so that people have an alternative to view and download them ad-free.
The short answer to this article’s title is: no, ministry should not be supported by ads. Instead, it should be supported by the free generosity of God’s people. When we are pointing people to Jesus, it is counterintuitive to point them to ads. Our Father is a faithful provider, and he can advance his Kingdom through us without resorting to secular revenue models. Let’s stop pushing manipulative, distracting things into other people’s lives in the name of Christ, and instead reflect his servant heart, bearing one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2).