Category Archives: Paying Musicians

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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