Should Church Musicians Be Paid?

Should church musicians be paid?

The question has raged for many years.

I want to attempt a discussion of the topic as fully and holistically as possible.

These are the issues I’ll be covering:

1. Terms and definitions: Who qualifies to be called a “church musician”? What do you mean by “pay”?

2. A bit of history: Can we find “church musicians” in the Bible, or is this is a more recent thing?

3. The Case for: Why We Should Pay Church Musicians

4. The Case Against: Why We Should NOT Pay Church Musicians

5. Is there a Middle Ground: Rules, Exceptions, Conventions and Expectations

6. My Personal, Very Biased but Hopefully Now Very Clearly Objective Opinion

Alright, let’s begin.

Definition of terms:

Who is a church musician? Or, who qualifies to be called a “church musician”?

Believe me, my goal is not to be long winded and messy. I’ll cut right to it.

A church musician is anyone who plays any role in the music ministry of a church. Now, this would cover singers, band and instrumentalists, sound and technical, and even administrative roles in church choirs or music ministries.

Now just so this article isn’t boring, I’m going to be including photos, yay! Pictures to illustrate almost everything I’m talking about, so you don’t feel like you’re reading a thesis paper.

So, in this first section that clearly defines who a church musician is, I’m going to go ahead and give you pictorial examples of the kinds of persons we’re talking about.

Alright, here goes.

(don’t worry, I’ll add the pictures later. If you saw this, then you got here before the article was done. Hurray, and thanks, you’re one of my best readers! 🙂

Alright so, next.

What do you mean by “pay”?

Yes, it may sound silly, but I promise you, in the midst of all the debate, some things get exaggerated, overstretched, misapplied and certainly misunderstood. So I’m not taking chances.

When we say, pay, what exactly do we mean?

Same thing it means anywhere else – basically an agreed package of benefits that are given to a person in exchange for their services and commitment in some regard, in this case, the fact that they are musicians in the church who do what they do as part of the church’s events, programmes and activities.

It could be money or any other set of benefits of demonstrable monetary value. That’s just English for in cash or in kind (the kind of kind that is worth some value and costs money).

Sidenote: Only in English can we say “the kind of kind” and it’s correct. 😉

Hopefully I don’t have to show pictures of money, or any other financial benefit to illustrate this.

Also, it occurs to me there is in fact a “pay scale” of sorts, in talking about this. There’s different ways that payment can take, so maybe let’s explore a list that makes it clearer.

The payment can take any one of the following forms:

Formal or structured payments

1. There is a binding contract, which specifies what tasks the person is to handle for the church organization, and what benefits package (salary and/or benefits) the church will in turn give to them.

2. There is no “binding” contact, but a discussion between some leader in the church (perhaps the pastor or the leader of the music ministry) and the musician(s), whereupon the leader commits to supporting them in some way for their time and contribution to the services. This token payment can take the form of cab fare or transportation, an unofficial salary; however, it is consistent, and relied upon and received week-on-week without fail.

Informal or unstructured payments

3. There is no binding contract, neither is there a prior discussion, but out of the blue, the leader (pastor, music director, choir leader, etc) directs that a certain amount be given to the musician(s). This appears to be done of free will; there is no structure to it, so it can be done sometimes and neglected sometimes. In some cases, you find it’s adhered to very regularly, so even without a discussion, the leader is careful to provide it week in, week out. In other cases, because there’s no contract or no discussion, it’s always a gamble for the musician whether or not you’re going to receive something from the church leadership after a given engagement or not.

4. There is no discussion whatsoever of payment. However, the church considers on a case-by-case basis to be extremely helpful to these musician(s) in anything that comes up regarding them, and attempts to support them where financial support may be required. Some musicians can rely on this expectation of support, though not previously agreed and this “unspoken expectation” persists without it ever being discussed.

Then I have to mention this last form: let’s call it the “policy vs practice” form.

5. In this form, the church has an open, known and public position on not paying musicians. Typically the pastor may announce it several times in the church. However, the pastor or leadership understands that, naturally, some remuneration, in whatever form, is always appreciated and is a morale booster, and similar to the previous mode, gives attention to regularly, (but not necessarily weekly) appreciate the musician(s) in some cash or kind form, for their continued loyalty and service to the church.

Wow, didn’t expect that to be so long, but I’m glad it is. The intricacies of this issue are so many that, I feel unless all are brought forward, sometimes the discussion misses the right context many times, and people become entrenched even though there are good points on both sides.

Alright then, so these are the “payment modes” that we’re talking about.

Moving on.

A bit of history: Can we find “church musicians” in the Bible? Or is this a more recent thing?

Ok, so since when do we have “church musicians”? Is that a thing at all? How old is this?

Well, the simple answer is, as long as we’ve had the church, we’ve had church workers, and that includes musicians.

While that answer is straightforward, there’s more to it. Here’s where it gets a bit more “technical”.

There is an argument – an old one – that the church today is synonymous to the religious nation of Israel that God dealt with long ago. I’m not going to go too far into that; I only brought that to narrow in on the relevant reference.

The relevant reference is that, the temple and the activities around the temple is the representative of the Christian church and the activities around the church today. In that mapping therefore, the workers around that religious structure – the temple – are comparable to the workers around our religious structure today.

Simpler said, the temple workers, or Levites (tadaa, one technical term) of those days are synonymous and comparable to the church workers that we have today, which includes church musicians.

Please remember this analogy; it’s a very important point in this discussion, so we’ll intentionally come back to it, even if I’ve already said everything there is to say about it. (how else can I say it’s important, right?)

Ok so, the short and sweet answer is:

Yes, we can find something that is relatable or synonymous or comparable to the current structure of having musicians in church and being considered as church workers.

Now, whether you agree with that or not, kindly hold on to your thought, because like I said, we’ll get back to that point. (This was not us getting back to it, by the way; it’s too close to the point – we’d need to go several paragraphs down, and then I remind us of “that earlier point” 😉 )

Ok so, we’ve got a few things out of the way:

Who’s a church musician? – check.

What do you mean when you say, pay? – check.

Is “church musicians” even a Biblical idea? – check.

Now we get to the meat, or the beef, or the substance (or the money), whichever you prefer.

As I mentioned before, (still not this) this issue has been very polar and divisive for many, many years. There are those who are vehemently for it, and there are those who are vehemently against it. Now, since I used vehemently in both instances, I’m sure it’s clear that the argument is strong on both sides.

I’ll try to sum up those arguments in this post, to the briefest and best of my ability.

The Case for Paying Church Musicians

Don’t say, why or why not? We need to make the case.

Maybe it will help if I add some additional structure:

Who is for this?

What’s their argument and basis?

What in the Bible might they use as a support?

Great, I just added more sections to my post (hope you like reading it)

Ok so, let’s do it:

The argument for:

In simple terms the argument is two-fold: the Biblical example argument and the organizational expediency argument:

First the Biblical argument: Do you remember that very important point I said we’d come back to (hooray, feel free to scroll back and read that before you come back here).

The Biblical argument says that, the church musicians of today are synonymous with the Levites of the Bible (the Old Testament specifically) and so, like their work in God’s house was paid for by the administration of the temple, church musicians of today should similarly be paid to provide their music knowledge, expertise and skills and put them to use in the house of God.

Levites did all kinds of work in the Temple then – and yes, some of them were musicians. And so it follows, that that’s where we all started from, and that’s where we should continue on with.

So that’s the Biblical argument.

The second is the organizational expediency argument.

That one goes something like this:

Church musicians are essentially working for the church. They spend time, energy, resources delivery a skill-based service to the Church. And depending on the church, the level of time-commitment and involvement can vary greatly, to the point where you probably talk of people who are exclusively musicians in church, and do nothing else.

So if that ‘s the case, then like every other worker in church (think pastors, administrative staff, sanitation workers, artisans and anyone else who is employed and paid by the church) … errm, like every other worker in the church, church musicians should also, similarly and in equal recognition of the fact that they are working for the church, should be paid.

Organizational expediency says that, if I’m rendering a time, effort and money consuming service to an organization, that constitutes work and that should be paid for.

Who’s for this argument?

You’ll find people everywhere on the spectrum of those who agree with this. There’s church musicians (surprise, surprise), then you have some pastors, some church members, some family members of church musicians, and generally most people who feel that the commitment of time and resources is substantial enough that it should get paid for.

There’s a number of videos to embed; I’m wondering currently when to include them – perhaps later on in the discussion.

Let’s move on for now.

The Case Against Paying Church Musicians

Here as well, there are two arguments: the Biblical argument (or should I say, lack of) and the personal commitment argument.

The Biblical argument (or you could say, the not-biblical argument)

This one says disagrees with the attempt to classify church musicians of today under the same relationship with the church body as the Levites in the Old Testament of the Bible.

This is an opinion piece article. Feel free to agree or agree or agree with me. 😉

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