Should we pay Church Musicians?

I recently had a great email conversation with a good friend of mine who currently resides in colourful Canada. The discussion was centred around a Q&A session with Bob Kauflin and John  Piper; two Christian leaders who we both admire and respect (you can view the video here). My friend suggested I blog my commentary…so here it is – almost word for word. I now eagerly invite you into the conversation also…

I just watched the video at length. Overall this was a good watch with some helpful insights. It’s always good to have our leaders speak their mind ‘unscripted’…it also reveals some interesting bias that runs subterranean to their ‘public views’.

The comments which grabbed my attention specifically were the points about unbelievers in worship and the discussion about ‘paying muso’s’ in church. Whilst I agree with the position that the worship platform is no place for the unbeliever I note that Timothy Keller utilises unbelievers in his services. In D. A. Carson’s “Worship by the Book” (2002) Keller writes, “…we often include non-Christian musicians in our services who have wonderful gifts and talent. We do not use them as soloists, but we incorporate them into our ensembles. We believe this fits a Reformed ‘world-and-life view.’ (p. 239). I guess there are a range of views on what constitutes as a ‘reformed world-and-life view’.

Secondly, it is also Keller who supports the payment of musicians for their worships services. Again in Carson’s text he writes,

…we use only professional and/or trained musicians for our corporate worship services, and we pay them all. The reason for this has to do with our commitment to excellence. We are one of many congregations today that hire only professional clergy for their staff. Ministers (and other staff, such as counsellors) are expected to be schooled and trained specifically for their work and then paid for it by the church. However many of these same congregations single out and treat musicians differently. (p. 239)

The concern I have with Bob’s position (it’s preferable to not pay muso’s) is that he is almost certainly on a payroll for a role which almost certainly includes playing in worship services. From all observations his remuneration does not affect his humility or his sense of calling; which he seems to imply would happen to ‘lay’ volunteers if they were paid for their service. Bob later references the idea of excellence and skill-standards suggesting that practice is required by instrumentalists and vocalists on worship team. Of course I couldn’t agree more…but let’s not forget that those same people volunteering their time on the worship team (without pay) need to work, aside from their service in church, to earn a dollar. The consequence is people are super-busy with little time to practice the very craft (instrument) that they are required to be excellent on. As Marva Dawn writes in Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, (1995) “Think of the musical experiences that could happen in our churches if we spent more to pay good church musicians. Very few parishes have well-paid musicians, and yet music is a major part of the worship experience!” (p. 45). The issue of ‘to pay or not to pay’ is not an open/shut discussion as is suggested by this Q&A.

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About Dr Daniel K. Robinson

Daniel is a freelance artist and educator. In 2011 Daniel completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. He has served as National Vice President (2009–11) and National Secretary for the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing (2006–11) and was awarded the ANATS National Certificate of Recognition for service to the profession in 2012. Daniel is the principal Singing Voice Specialist for Djarts (www.djarts.com.au) and presents workshops and seminars to church singers across Australia and abroad. He and his wife Jodie have three children and live in Brisbane, Queensland Australia.

Posted on January 13, 2012, in Consumer, Entertainment, Ministry, Paying Musicians, Performance, Worship and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Very interesting question, actually two questions. It makes sense to me that worship leaders should know the Lord and, therefore, be genuinely worshipping. However, the question of pay is another subject. Of course, believers are called to serve out of a heart of love with no expectation of payment, and many/most people do. At the same time, those who spend most of their time in ministry should be fairly paid. I’ve seen too many churches and non-profit Christian ministries pay lower than market wages or presume upon people to work for low or no pay. Is that right?

    • Hi Judy…thanks for commenting.

      While it is true that Christianity has a well established culture of volunteer service (which I wholeheartedly endorse) the culture runs aground when expectations (stated or otherwise) are levelled at certain volunteers requiring expertise and refined skills. Musicians/singers certainly fall into this category. I guess it is all a matter of priority…if a church wants better music then they should be prepared to support their musicians as they attain to the standards required. Let’s not forget that the costs of music lessons, at all levels (private, tertiary etc.) are expensive financially…but the greatest cost to the developing musician is the time taken to honing the skills in order play the instrument. Again, this is all a matter of priorities. Most churches cannot afford to pay their muso’s, but those who can should! Of course I would add that if musicians are being employed by the church they should be suitably qualified and engaged with that specific local church. I most certainly do not support the ‘hired-hand’ approach. Musicians should be attached to a single local church…

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