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Two schools of thought on paying musicians

By Jeff May

In a recent ministry blog, a pastor wrote, “One thing that really bothers me is having to pay musicians to play in worship. My worship leader insists that since they are professional musicians we have to pay them. We have professional teachers teaching Bible fellowship classes and leading small groups, and none of them ask me to pay them for teaching.”

This is an argument that has been discussed for many years between church leaders. Before you read any further, just know that I cannot give you a definite answer to this age-old question. I can, however, offer some thoughts based on personal experience and observation.

To pay or not to pay

There are two schools of thought on this issue. The first is the all-or-nothing philosophy, which says that either every musician is paid or none are.

One of the churches in my hometown pays every choir member, musician and technical operator. No volunteers. Everyone takes home a paycheck. This is a lucrative set-up for many people. The churches that pay everyone on their team tend to have extremely high quality music programs. The downside is that their passion for the vision of the church can potentially get lost in the “gig” mentality.

Most churches, however, operate on the other side of this coin, where no one gets paid. This is good for the budget and church unity, but quality often suffers.

It is also important to note that just because people volunteer doesn’t mean that their motives for being involved are pure. Musicians often want the spotlight to fill their own needs and insecurities. This need transcends a payroll. The second school of thought is the pay-some-but-not-all philosophy.

This has its own set of advantages and challenges. The success of this approach hinges on clearly defining what positions get paid and what their responsibilities are.

Additional responsibilities

If you only pay some of your musicians, I would suggest giving them additional responsibilities for which they are being paid. Those responsibilities can go beyond just playing: things like organizing music, leading a sectional rehearsal or transcribing music. This can minimize the tendency for the volunteer musicians to wonder why they aren’t getting paid too.

If the church decides to pay the musicians, it is important to have a consistent scale that is clearly defined prior to hiring a musician. Each scale is different based on the community where the church is located.

In a time where churches are looking for ways to trim their budgets, it is important to be creative with alternatives to paying musicians. For instance, if space is available, consider opening up a church classroom during the week for your musicians to give private lessons, or give them priority when recommending musicians for outside paying events, such as weddings.

Using volunteers

My experience has taught me that the best results are achieved with a volunteer team of musicians who are led well. It is the job of the music director to challenge, inspire and motivate their team of musicians.

Everyone wants to be part of something great! If the music director is doing his or her job, they are constantly raising the bar of excellence and pushing the creativity to a point where people are lining up to be part of the team. As a music director, I intentionally build in frequent opportunities for our music team to surprise themselves with their ability to execute seemingly impossible music. This success creates an energy that cannot be replaced by a paycheck.

The final answer in the debate over paying musicians really lies within each team and its core values. Serving is not a core value of some churches. In those churches, paying all of the musicians is probably a better option.

In a church that promotes everyone serving and utilizing their gifts to better the local church, a volunteer team is usually the best option. There may be a few key positions within those teams that are paid, but the core is made up of volunteers.

People receive great fulfillment in knowing that they are a part of something that is contributing to a greater cause — the cause of Christ. It sounds very cliché but there is value in building treasures in Heaven that last. Teams that serve their church with passion and excellence are storing away treasure for eternity.

Jeff May is director of music ministries, North Point Church, Springfield, MO. [www.northpointnow.org]


Debriefing Worship the Monday After

“Our group comes together on Monday afternoons to debrief the service and design the upcoming services,” says Rich Nibble, director of worship arts, First Baptist Church of North Collins, CO.

“We’ve noticed that it’s very easy for debrief meetings to turn into ‘what I liked and didn’t like’ sessions without a lot of tangible takeaways.

“In order to stay on track, we’ve come up with a list we use as a guide so our debrief comments are geared toward making our services better in the future,” he says.

Vision — Did we hit the vision of the church?  Did the message come across clearly?

Climax — What and where was the climax of the service?  Is that where we wanted it? Action — What was the response we were looking for from the congregation? What were we asking them to do/learn/feel?  Did we get that message across clearly?

Connection — How well did we connect with the congregation (worship teams/announcements/drama/other creative elements/sermon/response/prayers/etc…)? Did we lead well?

Feel — Did the feel of the service match the message?  How did the flow of the service work? Did people leave energized/tired/pensive/excited/etc?

Language — Did we use insider language or would someone unfamiliar with our church (Christian/non-Christian) have understood everything that we talked about?  Did people need to bring any knowledge of the church to the service to understand certain things?

Transitions — Did we transition from element to element well?  Did we lose connection with people do to technical aspects?

Technical issues — Were there any technical issues that need to be fixed for future services or is there any training that needs to take place so we can communicate as clearly as possible?

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3 Comments for “Two schools of thought on paying musicians”

  1. Theodore Simmons

    It’s very simple really. If the musician is professional and music is his job and vocation then he should be paid. Pastors get paid on vocation, in most cases elders draw a salary as well. What is the difference? See our problem is the church has prioritized teachings and pastor over worship. That is wrong, plain and simple. In the bible, whenever someone was sick, whenever someone was oppressed, and in alot of situations when the people went out to war, the singers and musicians were called upon! As soon as King David became king and captured Jerusalem, the first thing he did was erect a tabernacle of worship and hit 4000 singers and musicians to be singing praise constantly. We have strayed from a heart of worship. We see worship as one or two fast songs, and intermediate song, and a slow song all sang in preparation to the message. It’s freaken stupid, it’s frustrating and it’s wrong.

    David knew worship was an access to God’s heavenly throne room. That worship was the key to the presence of God. I don’t care what people say about musicians being in it to soothe their insecurities. Everyone has insecurities. Show me one single creative person who doesn’t have (and wasn’t supernaturally delivered from) insecurity and I’ll relent my point. It’s natural. Regardless I guarantee that without knowing, everytime they create something unique they are touching the heart of God and drawing from Him. God gave us creative gifts so we could use them to have relationship with Him. That’s exactly what worship is. And theology when it comes down to its fundamental purpose, should be based around a personal relationship with God. We all have different functions and the tautly of that is that when we come together corporately with the right heart, and function in unity, we paint a full and entire picture of who God is. But what is unique about worshipers is that they have access to the direct presence of God.

    Isaiah 60:18 when Isaiah was prophesying over Israel and the Gentiles (since Romans says we have been grafted into the tree which is Israel) he says “you will name your walls salvation and your gates praise.” The gates of this heaven that he prophesied about were accessed through PRAISE. There is something real about worship that can only be accessed through worship. It’s the manifest presence of God. The story of Saul comes to mind when he sent not one not two but three armies to find David and his men who were praising and worshipping God at that specific time. All three times the armies that were sent out returned singing and praising God not knowing what came over them. Then Saul himself went out to see what was taking place and it says 7 MILES out the presence can upon Saul and he started praising God and prophesying. David was so centered around worship that the presence of God flowed so strong that it change the atmosphere of people who were 7 miles away.

    Teaching has his place, preaching has it place, but it is wrong and stupid I think that it is more important then any of the other gifts. One thing worship will do, or even music in general, is it is dynamically capable of changing the atmosphere. Even when it is not being used to glorify God. I went to a Coldplay concert and they sang about some obscure random stuff but man their music was incredible and it just hit you in the chest and you couldn’t help but have you mood and heart feel what was taking place and become a part of the very air that was vibrating with music. We new to get back to the days of David. He lived so powerfully and victoriously and everything he did evolved around worship and music. Look at the success bethel church and hillsong are having, and they prioritize music and worship. Ridicule the success if you want, but fact is they are literally changing the landscape of a culture while you church is stuck on making sure to not pay musicians and keep to their old ugly habits of playing church. Worship is everything. It’s corporate, it’s personal, it’s relational. It carries breakthrough and has the power to heal, to change lives, and to change atmospheres. Yes there are exceptions and people with bad hearts, but Musicians in my mind deserve to be paid more then any other faction or position in the church. End of story.

  2. Well, eveyone can have opinions but what is important is what does the bible say? Kevin Parker used a passsage of scripture out of context. The passage that speaks about ‘not muzzling the ox’ is speaking about those who exegete the Word of God. There is no scriptural support for paying anyone accept those who labor in the Word of the Lord. Now, it’s an admiral jesture to pay the musicians so don’t get me wrong. The issue is when musicians who hold the church hostage over money. This is not quite the Christ-like spirit that needs to be displayed in the House of God. Now, specifically I’ve noticed that my white brothers and sisters do not put a hugh emphasis on paying musicians, although some may but it’s been my experience that most do not. Some of our black church is another story. We would rather pay a musican than move toward making every effort to learn how to leverage everything God has given us. The Pastor is a gift to the church. Nowhere in the New Testament do you find a big emphasis on buildings (they met in churches) or music…it always was ‘getting the Word of God out’ and the Pastor does that.

  3. The issue about paying Christian musicians tends to be quite a “polarising” topic. It really depends on what the musician is expected to do really. If you are invited to conduct, perform and do so at a high standard and this involves travel and so on then yes. Costs are incurred and the church should be mature and meet the legitimate costs involved for the musician/s. They can certainly find the budget for the Pastors new car or the steeple to be fixed and the myriad other trade and service costs involved with their churches. The Christian musician can not be the only free link in the food chain. It just does not work like that out in the real world. We play several instruments which all require different strings. The van will not travel on fresh air; overnight accommodation and a host of other “real world” costing’s come into play. The deal is that either the musician is out of pocket or the church financially equips. No where does the Bible teach about freebies; quite the contrary; Muzzle not the Ox that treads the corn; He who sows should look forward to eating from the grain and so on. There is just no Biblical justification for using and exploiting people in the church. The formula is pretty simple; If the church community will not bless the various experienced musicians and so on then these ministries can not continue to bless the church community. If any one has difficulty with this then think about the literally hundreds of dollars and years of dedication to lessons, practice and son on to gain a high level of performance. Then think of the cost of buying Guitars, Mandolins. Bouzoukis and so on. Then consider the constant request to learn new materials and rehearse these to a satisfying level for both the performer and the congregation. Spiritualising all this is rather trite I think. We live in the real world with real demands and expectations placed upon us. These require real costs, financial and so on.
    I f communities want a certain standard and quality it costs the musicians a great deal to do this. The communities need to mature and realise that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Christian communities need to be prepared to contribute towards legitimate expenses at least and grow up; We live in the real world. Don’t complain when it becomes hard to find competent musicians in the future. Cheers, Kevin.

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