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. []

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?


14 Responses to “Two schools of thought on paying musicians”

  1. if anything is done in gods name, then you cant charge a fee for it as god does not charge anyone for anything. god will bless you and you will get a reward in heaven as a bonus. this is the mentality of the mainstream church goer. i do not agree with it. in my younger years i was down on musically gifted singer/musicians who left the church and took their music into the secular world for monetary gain. as an older musically gifted believer, i now understand why they did what they did- the church paid them little or nothing for what they brot to the table. the lack of musical excellence in the body of christ is due to the unwillingness of the church to compensate the musically gifted for their time and talent.

  2. Willie Bradshaw jr

    Responding to the question should church musicians be paid
    30 yrs experienced Bass player/musician
    Currently considering new equipment upgrade(professional equipment)
    1 MESA 6X10 BASS CABINET NEW $1700
    1 MESA 800+ HEAD NEW $1000
    1 CORD $55
    I’ve always purchased my own equipment yes I do upgrade plus I have equipment at home for my rehearsal time church not buying this and I don’t expect it so to answer the question should musicians be paid absolutely

  3. wow, this is really great
    it’s change my thoughts as a musician
    i am a keyboardist I play for my local church but I am not been paid but sometimes people give me small money just for thanks

    you should check out my site too
    I have great content there also

  4. dwayne burns

    I have always used my talents of a musical instrument for the Lord and the local churches I’ve attended (2 churches over the last 40 years). I played at one of these for 23 years for free and never even received a single love offering while watching the pianist and organist get weekly paychecks and a yearly christmas bonus along with applause. That really was hard to swallow at times . After a while you really just feel unappreciated by the entire church body and just hope that the Lord is keeping notes. The church I am currently playing at pays no one but the pastor .None of the musicians gets paid or receive an end of the year love offering but let a missionary walk in the door and out comes the plate. Don’t get me wrong it’s not about not receiving money, it’s the lack of thoughtfulness of (let’s do something nice for our musicians ). It’s my impression over the years that music is not as important to anyone in local churches as it is to the musicians. We are glad to use our talents for the Lord but a kind word of appreciation goes a long way too. So churches don’t take your musicians for granted and musicians , don’t take your place of worship for granted either. God sees it all and will reward accordingly.

  5. Carlos Pacheco

    I have been part of both sides of the coin. Playing for free as a volunteer and as a paid musician. What I learned over the years is that there is nothing wrong with getting paid. I actually volunteered at a large church for 4 years with over 15000 members and 6 services a weekend; all as a volunteer and even though I did it with passion and love I felt abused. I think the good things in life come with a price! That goes for everything. To put this into perspective, I am pretty sure that when churches invite other guest speakers they come with a fee (In the thousands at times).

  6. Jim Suber

    Church leadership must not “..muzzle the oz the pulls the plow.” It is your responsibility as leaders to discern the spirit of the people involved. Teachers are gifted in many ways but not as musicians. If you are a musician you were born a musician. Any real musician who does anything else for a living will never be really happy. So OK church leadership, do you want them in the bars or in the church? Anyone who wonders whether or not to pay church musicians probably labors over whether or not to tip a waitress – while sporting 6 figure salaries and gold watches. I can’t even believe this question.

  7. I enjoyed reading the responses here. I am currently my church’s main musician. We are a very small congregation but nonetheless have wonderful worship services. I do nearly all of the singing, leading some songs, rehearsing the choir, choosing music, making copies of the lyrics/music for the choir, ordering new CD’s/sheet music (with my own money) and providing music throughout the entire service. Additionally, I provide solos and lead songs when choir members are absent or just don’t show up. Unfortunately, some don’t have the commitment and don’t realize how it affects the service. Maybe they’re too tired that Sunday or the kids get sick. Then I may then have to change a song hoping the rest of the group is familiar with it enough to pull it off. Its interesting that people are confused about whether an organist or keyboard player should be paid for their services. So consider this: It was MY parents who paid for my initial music instruction and ME who continued my music education throughout my adult life (fitting time in with family and home life) while playing AND singing for various services on the church calendar. Not one of these people paid for any lessons I took, seminars, courses, workshops, conferences I’ve attended to advance my skills for the kingdom. So why then, should we, after all that has been put out, provide services for free? I hear over and over how the church wants to have great music, excitement, worship, excellence and an experience on Sunday morning that will keep them inspired and encouraged throughout the week. I encourage those who don’t understand or agree to further consider these things. By the second or third service of the day, my back hurts, my throat is sore, I have to take my clothes to the dry cleaners regularly because of sweating them out and even carrying equipment sometimes. Bass players and drummers transport their equipment back and forth and pay for the maintenance of them. As a Christian musician, I truly have respect for the worship service and like someone before me said, It is hard walking into a church and see that they have no musician on hand and not jump in and help when needed. I have played and sang many, MANY times for free and without complaint but to EXPECT one to do it without pay on a regular is truly inconsiderate. Whether for the Lord (in church or some other Christian event or service) or on your job, you want to, and should be appreciated for what you bring to the table. Lisa

  8. Benjamin Keenan

    I’ve played for free and for pay in both secular bands,clubs, events, and church’s. I know when I enter a church that I belong on the drum kit. It is an immediate unpleasant reaction to be invited to a church that has a poor worship service. In a world filled with such amazing worship songs that truly move you, it is hard to worship when you are listening to out of beat rhythm, bad tuning, extra loud instruments or vocals, poor sound, and clashing noises. My point being that it does take sacrifice and money to purchase, practice, and execute these incredible songs that resonate within people. A true church musician feels the atmosphere and reacts to it. I feel the Holy Spirit move when I play.

    In case you believe that everything should be free because your talent is free. Here is a partial list of what you are getting when you hire me for any musical endeavor or service:

    – Independent rehearsal (about 20 minutes per song, depending on the song) Take note that I have dedicated a portion of my home to have a drum kit setup for rehearsal and equipment to play the songs for rehearsal separate of the church. Also note that I had to purchase all of this equipment.

    – Transportation of myself and equipment is provided. HUGE deal especially if you travel to large cities. Also, in the event of an accident, the church is not liable for any damages incurred. It is not the church’s responsibility.

    – Professional attitude and excellent at taking direction from the worship leader

    – Able to direct the instruments if asked to or needed.

    – I also am able to start and stop any tracks if the necessary equipment is provided at my kit

    – Play to a Metronome (Click Track)

    – I am responsible for all of my own costs and damages when using my equipment. Drum sticks wear out, cymbals crack, heads wear out or break, stands may wear down, drum thrones especially wear out over time. These items well reaching over 1 thousand dollars if you purchase good quality equipment.

    You want all of that FOR FREE! Ask that from anyone that has any kind of business mind and they may tell you some choice words and where you can stick it.

    If we all had this attitude that worship is free, then quit your job and work for free right now. God will take care of you.

    I on the other hand believe with my whole heart that God has given me breath, brains, muscle, health, and has kept me safe from disease and given me knowledge to work and create revenue to sustain my wife, kids, and myself. If your church needs a dedicated professional musician to play, then pay a fair wage so that he/she can continue to work for your church. Because in NO way is it fair to ask anyone to do what you are asking for free. EVER. No matter how much equipment you buy and no matter how much you believe that this person is up here to just glorify himself or make himself feel better some how by playing music, a professional only does something for free when he is donating it.

    And on another note, time is not tax deductible so good luck figuring that out with the government and your taxes. Which is another Real problem. Because if you pay your musicians, they have the ability to give and tithe to the church. When you don’t pay them, you are robbing them of the ability to tithe. And so what do you do now? Is playing an instrument or singing for the church tithe and offering?

    I’m just saying that everyone makes this way more complicated than it is. Skilled labor deserves pay. It should be called working an instrument, not playing an instrument.

  9. Gary Randall

    I agree with Kevin. I’m the Worship Leader/Director of the New Orleans Church of Christ. I’ve served God for the past 20 years and have wrestled with the seemingly narrow perspective of Christians/Disciples as it relates to paying the musicians who dedicate hours and hours away from their loved ones to make the Worship of God excellent. I am not paid, so I spend my days working my day job and do my best to balance my time after work and on the weekends to find time for personal practice, rehearsals, and general organizing of the services for each week of the year. I believe the churches are using/neglecting their brothers and sisters, who happen to be musicians, in the name of God.

  10. Rob Dattilo

    In my situation I started out as a professional drummer, then played for free in a Evangelical Chirstian band for around 10 years as well as for free at churches. I continued free churches for around another 20 years, then being laid off from my new chosen career, started playing at a church that paid all it’s musicians, some strong Christians some not. I then started work & other changes ended up ending that situation. I also started to do some sequelor music again, at the same time I started doing some free work again for my home church. Then with another lay-off someone from the previous paying church started a church, & asked me to start playing. This was a paying church event pretty far from my house. I worship whole heartily, & often pray for the team & services. I guess I play sometimes for free & play for money. The flip side to this coin is, I don’t play the later Saturday night stuff anymore, & somewhat made a choice to focus on the church early morning stuff. Again, in the begining I gave up my career as a musician to play for the Lord for free, but have ended up in this situation. I don’t think it’s wrong to play Christian music for money, but would play for free in the church of my choice. At this point I do pray that God’s will be done, & feel that I’m somewhat on target for now.

  11. Marcus Brown

    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.

  12. Kevin Parker

    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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