Music is Life

Church Musicians

Should Church Musicians Be Paid?

Even though I think it’s hilarious that this is even a question I can understand why it’s an issue for many churches. I’ve come to the conclusion that these sorts of thoughts derive from a lack of education, people simply don’t know how to value the arts.

I was surprised to see many articles on Google regarding this and there are good arguments to be had on both sides. Author Joshua Weiss has a short but great list of criteria (see article here) that helps answer this question: Are the musicians truly professional? Do you value them and their time/skill? Can the church afford them? Are there alternatives?

In my personal experience I played for a particular church for many years without pay but was grateful to do it. I never really thought about getting paid until I was finishing up my MFA. At that point in life I just could no longer afford to perform for free anymore. I gave them a year’s advance notice that I would need to start getting paid or else I would have to leave, not as a threat, but simply to earn a living elsewhere. Sad to say they let me go. Even though I felt disappointed I was glad. You see, it had become a burden in many ways: the time, the travel, dealing with toxic behavior from some of the other band members, and the feeling of “carrying” the whole band. If I wasn’t there the worship was mediocre at best. It’s a flattering notion but a burdensome one as well. One of the things Weiss alludes to is people getting “ground up in the church machine” which “leads to burnout or a calloused view of church and Christianity.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, this is exactly how I felt. It didn’t even feel right to lead worship for FREE, my heart simply had no more joy.

At this point in life I see things not necessarily as right vs. wrong but more in the vein of beneficial vs. destructive. Applied to this case the question turns from “is it right/wrong to pay church musicians” to “is it beneficial/destructive to pay church musicians”. The answer becomes much easier to answer now. Most Christian churches today strongly rely on music as part of their ministry. I can’t see how paying skilled musicians a fair and reasonable amount for this vital aspect can be destructive. In my case the church wasn’t wrong for not paying me but that turned out to be non-beneficial for them. If this story is true of me I’m sure it’s true for thousands of other people and churches across the states.