Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Paying Your Church Musicians

Once we start on a topic involving money, watch the temperatures rise! People tend to get emotional about this issue. Some musicians see it as a matter of respect, others as a means of making a livelihood. Some church leaders and members may feel think, 'it's a ministry, people should do this entirely on a voluntary basis'.

People can get very confused when discussing this, and end up at cross-purposes with each other just because there is a large spectrum of musicians, work assigned to musicians, and different levels of pay. So here are some questions that will help you clarify the matter and help in your decision making.

Important Note:

All this is written for church leaders and pastors who are in a position to decide on church musician salaries. If you are a musician, don't take my material and use it to try and get yourself paid. That's not what it's meant for!

1) How much work is a musician doing? Is the musician

• Just playing?

• For some services or all?

• Leading the practices and settling the music arrangements for a not-so-musical worship leader/pastor?

• Small group leader (giving some form of pastoral care) for the rest of the musicians?

You will have to decide on how much work should they do before it's justified to pay them. This will be largely based on how much you want from the musicians (demand), how easy it is to find what you want (supply) and how much time it takes to fulfil those duties (price).

I had this conversation once. A member of church staff was asking me how to find and hire a pastor who would be highly qualified, possess a wide range of skills, be willing to go the extra mile especially in terms of working overtime AND do it all for a wage that is lower than the market rate.

I had to tell her that if they do not already have such a church member with such qualifications volunteering in the church, it's nearly impossible to find such a person. I threw the question back at her: if you were highly qualified, widely skilled and habitually go the extra mile for whatever organization you work for, would you rather do it for lower wages or for higher?

And if someone whom you don't know (from another church, perhaps) claims to be highly qualified, widely skilled, willing to go the extra mile and is willing to work at your church for a lower wage, wouldn't you be suspicious? I know I would be!

Some churches bring musicians on staff, but they also give the musicians other duties as well. They may double as administrators, do some pastoral work, lead other musicians or even write songs for the church. Most musicians I know dream of a cushy job where they are paid a good wage for sitting down behind their instruments and doodling all day, but if they ARE good musicians, they will have skills and abilities that carry over to other types of work as well. Consider the precedent we see in this passage of Scripture:

2 Chronicles 34:12-13 (NIV) - … The men did the work faithfully. Over them to direct them were Jahath and Obadiah, Levites descended from Merari, and Zechariah and Meshullam, descended from Kohath. The Levites—all who were skilled in playing musical instruments- had charge of the laborers and supervised all the workers from job to job. Some of the Levites were secretaries, scribes and doorkeepers.

The ability to lead other musicians carries over to the ability to lead other people. The attention to detail that some people bring to playing music is great for admin and accounts work, while the creativity some musicians have carries over to other forms of expression as well (such as writing).

2) Where does your church stand on the performance and participation scale?

If your church is more performance-based (putting up a show to wow people) rather than participation-based (getting worshippers to sing their hearts out), then what you want from your musicians will probably harder to acquire. It can take many years to develop skills suitable for performance, and not everyone with such skills actually enjoys putting up a show week after week, service after service... It will be easier to justify paying musicians for such specialized skills.

But if your church is more participation-based, and your vision is to mobilize a large portion of your congregation to volunteer, then you cannot indiscriminately pay all the volunteers. So you will have to plan out some guidelines, such as those who serve at small group do so on a volunteer basis, while you pay those who serve for the main service. If you come from a small church, start having some idea about it now, so you aren't caught off-guard when your church expands.

What I personally believe is that if your church believes in mobilizing the people for the ministry, especially for the worship ministry, then you will want to pay the musicians who lead and teach the other musicians.

1 Tim 5:17 (NIV) - The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

But if you want to pay your musicians based on the principles of how you pay church elders, what you require from your church musicians should also be based on what the Bible expects from elders. More on that later…

3) Besides paying musicians, other things you can do for your musicians include just paying for petrol and guitar strings (many musicians appreciate even such small gestures) or making sure they have food if they are playing for an evening service. You may want to sponsor them for a seminar/conference or pay for them to take a couple of months of music lessons.

One church I know gives a stored-value farecard for travelling on the Singapore public transport system to two of their musicians. Those two musicians are foreign students studying in Singapore, and such students usually have a tight budget (Singapore public transport isn't cheap). You can guess how much they appreciate this gesture! Use a bit of creativity in finding ways to show appreciation to your church musicians. And sometimes simple ideas are the best.

4) Finally, ask yourself what are YOUR expectations from the musicians?

If you pay them, what else do you expect from them other than turn up and play? Are they going help you manage the equipment too? Are you expecting their 90% attendance for Sunday services? Evening bible study meetings? Small group fellowships? Will your church expect a certain level of consistency and discipline in their personal prayer and devotional life? And if you pay for their music lessons, are they committed to serving in the church that is investing in them?

And here is the question I do not often hear addressed: when do you stop paying a musician? For example, if you appoint a musician to teach the rest of the team and this musician does not teach effectively, are you going to stop paying him or her? Once you pay musicians a wage, they have a corresponding obligation to your church. And if they agree to that obligation and you find that they are unable to fulfil it, what are you going to do? How will you handle the situation?

More complications that can arise: For example, if you decide to pay only the head musician and not the rest of the band, that could give problems. What if I am one of the musicians and I happen to think the guy in charge is a total incompetent, a waste of church resources, and that the money would be better spent on ME? The same thing applies even if you pay every musician but pay the head musician a bit more.

Yes, money complicates things. Then again, Paul doesn't avoid these issues. In the above passage (1 Tim 5:17), he said the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor (financially). This opens a can of worms - how will you know if they are doing well? Who decides? What will you do if church members disagree with your assessment? Handling all these worms is part and parcel of a pastor's or church leader's job.

So if you are new to this, I hope this post has helped you anticipate and plan for any problems that might come up, so that you will not be caught off-guard when issues arise. Be blessed!


Rosemary Bridges said...

Wow this brings up some bad memories. My husband and I left a church seven months ago after doing all the music ministry with them for three years as leaders with two other volunteers. I was doing all the arrangements for two different Sunday services. A contemporary and a traditional. I was spending 25 plus hours a week on this, had a heart attack and was under extreme micromanagement criticism from the pastor who was a very insensitive, frustrated musician who could not play at our level at all but wanted everything his way. One volunteer was an unskilled guitar player who refused to practice and the wife of the pastor who was a singer with no musical knowledge. She was nice but wanted to pick music half the time and always picked weird stuff that I would have to learn....then arrange on the fly = stress. Basically a nightmare, but I wanted to serve the Lord so much I did it. I was very frustrated though because right after getting out of the hospital for a stress induced heart attack no person there would even help me carry in heavy equipment then my husband came down with MS and could not go on at all. I decided to leave the church because I knew they would not leave me alone to lick my wounds. That was hard but I am now going to a very small church and am just basically an instrumentalist on the team. It is hard because I am the only one on the team the knows anything about music but it is usually fun although a little frustrating at times because they seem to resent most suggestions. I play piano (not there because they have a keyboardist already) and winds. I used to hate the thought of paid worship leaders but now I have a different view. A little support in moving my equipment and cost for equipment would have made a difference and allowed me feel at least a little support but I would have not taken money in this situation because of attitudes in leadership there. The leadership would take off to music conferences I was too poor to go to and leave us behind to just do the grind. I did feel a little resentment when I had to hear the wonderful vacation they had and how the worship was so great there...sigh.

Junjie said...

Hi, Rosemary!

I wish that all that didn't happen to you. God can turn all these things for our good, but even then I would not wish those experiences on anybody.

I'm glad to know you are out of that environment and in a healthier church setting. Do let me know how things go for you at your new church! :)

Carolyn Davis said...

Our church membership is very small, approximatley 25 members, most of them seniors on limited income or with disabilities. We can barely pay rent( we rent a space). Our musician who is a self taught guitarist and can only play certain songs, has been getting $800.00- $1,000 a month for the past 13 years. We could not then and can't now afford it. He cannot teach music and although had a youth choir and an adult choir, taught everybody basically the same songs. The youth have all left. They wanted different music.When we went out, he wanted extra money and would charge people gas money. This man had a good paying job,with health benefits and I felt was robbing not only God but the other minimum wage members of the church, My husband as pastor and myself as co-pastor were working and trying to meet all bills and I feel this person was just using the church for greed. My husband the pastor, never received a salary and until about three years ago never received anything. He only takes$75.00 a Sunday. I feel this is just greed and as trustees we have allowed this man to rob God's house

Junjie said...

Dear Carolyn,

It angers me to know there are such people who come to the house of God to take from God's people. Such a person could get away with it only by convincing others he is so special and irreplaceable, and that they should feel honoured that he was there to play music for them. The very thought disgusts me.

At my home church I have served as a volunteer (without pay), been taken off the worship team because they were unsure I was in the right frame of mind to serve; or they doubted my character, restored to serving on the team again when they felt time had proven me fit to serve. For now. If in the future any doubts arise in the minds of the pastoral staff or the church leadership again, I fully expect to be asked to step down again for a season, and that is exactly how things ought to be.

I am sure you know what you ought to do about that person, but let me share this from my experience. When a church worship team tolerates people who give that much trouble to the ministry, good people will NOT join the ministry. Why would they, if the problem-people are so firmly entrenched? Seek God in prayer about this; but I firmly believe the sooner you get rid of such a person, the sooner you will find good people joining your worship ministry.

Let me know how things go for you and your church? :)