Monday, March 30, 2020

Stop Paying Church Musicians!

June 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Christian Talk, News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

Like Love Haha Wow Sad Angry

( Let it sit. Stew in it for a few more minutes. Repeat.

Stop paying non-staff church musicians!

I don’t expect people who care about this topic to agree with me. In fact I expect to meet with a lot of resistance, if not outright hatred. But I’m not joking, nor am I holding back on the punch.

Stop paying non-staff church musicians!

There are clearly a million different directions I could go with this topic. But, for the sake of time and space I’m going to stick to three points. Those points are:

1)            Being specifically appointed, or called to your position;

2)            Is what you do an integral part of the gospel being proclaimed?

3)            With ministry comes sacrifice;

Temple musicians have always been a very important part of worship. This very topic is brought up in the Old Testament where we see King David actually appointing entire families to be responsible for worship music. In fact these families produced 288 people who were skilled and trained musicians (1 Ch 25:4) whose sole job it was to declare the greatness and goodness of God through music.

Still you might think that, “why are you against musicians being paid?”

Hang in there, we’re almost to the bridge (all of my musician friends, er,blackmusician ex-friends will know exactly what that means. If you’re not a musician it simply means we’re almost to the good part.)

Under God’s instruction when Moses divided the land of Israel among the 12 tribes, the tribe of Levi was strategically excluded. Instead it was their job to be the priests of the temple and preservers of everything associated with the temple. Because they weren’t allowed to do anything else God declared that they could have certain food offerings that were brought to the temple (Deut 18:1) in order to sustain themselves. Ultimately God tells the Levites that “I am your inheritance,” meaning that they were ultimately to rely on Him for provision.

It is here that the biblical foundation for who is supported by the ministry, I believe, is set into place.

This principle permeates the New Testament as well. You don’t think so?

In the New Testament the apostle Paul was;

a) specifically called from being identified as Saul of Tarsus to being called Paul, arguably one of the most influential apostles of all time;

b) His writings, teachings and mission work probably did more for spreading the gospel than any other apostle of his time;

c) He sacrificed earthly comforts and even his life (Phil 3:7-8). Therefore, it is my opinion that he passes the biblical litmus test for being supported by the gospel (even though he often chose to sustain himself financially as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3). He did, however, occasionally receive support from believers while he was working on behalf of the gospel (2 Cor 11: 7-9).)

Fast forward to today. I know that it seems almost obscene to say that churches are businesses, but they are. They have bills to pay and people to support. I believe that if a musician is not an official member of the church staff, meaning they’re employed by the church, then their position should be on a volunteer basis. To put it plainly, if it’s work (and no job at a church is simply just “work”) then you’re in the wrong line of work. If it’s ministry, (and I think it I’m in-bounds by saying it should be) well, read on.

I don’t remember anywhere in the scripture where God did not amply reward someone who sacrificed something for Him. Relying on God for your provision takes, dare I say faith? (And of course no one is expecting you to sacrifice your life to play the drums on Sunday.)

If a musician only shows up because of a paycheck the church has established a very dangerous and destructive precedence. On whose provision are you forcing your musicians to rely upon? At the end of the day a musician also has a soul that needs to be fed by good theology. I understand the heart of compassion that a lot of ministries have towards their musicians. I get it. But, at the end of the day these churches aren’t doing these people any good if they’re not being consistent in their teaching.

I believe that sound theology should permeate every decision and contract that the church enters into. And why shouldn’t it? Jesus addressed both the practical and spiritual needs of people in his very first recorded miracle, which was turning the water into wine. This profound event had both deeply spiritual and practical applications. The church is not immune from this same methodology. Just writing a check, in many cases, is taking the easy way out.

And lastly, have we come to a point in our society where the only acceptable way to acknowledge the presence of a gift (i.e. musicianship) is by way of money? Sometimes a talent displayed in a sacrificial manner is much more profound than it would be if paying that person is compulsory.

This is something that I’m very passionate about (can’t you tell?) because all too often I see good musicians holding church leaders hostage by fleecing the weekly offerings by turning their gift into a “pay to play” exercise. I’m not detached from this reality because I used to be a church musician. I understand and appreciate, intimately, a musician’s role in worship.

In the end, above anything, I hope that this opens up a conversation between church leaders and their musicians. Ministries are very creative and resilient. They can, and should, find a way that is both theologically sound and legal to show how much they appreciate their musicians. It just doesn’t always have to be in the form of a check or wad of cash.

Staff Writer; Steven Robinson

May also visit this talented writer over at;




19 Responses to “Stop Paying Church Musicians!”
  1. John says:

    Bring a sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. If God gave you the talent why not invest it in His eternal kingdom. God wants us….He doesn’t need our skills ,He gave them to us. We can choose to invest them eternally or decide to use it for personal gain. Glory for us or Him. I have been leading worship for years and was never paid. My soul, my family gained so much more than receiving money. Love is a sacrifice. Christ gave it all for every soul. If the blind could only see that the greatest gift is love.

    I am a father of 5. My oldest is 18 now. I started leading worship before my oldest was born. And all 5 are musicians. My youngest 2 kids are 11. Im sure the investments God gives won’t return empty. Money can’t buy anything lasting. I manage a restaurant and some how God takes care of our earthly needs. For me I will not take money for worshiping our Saviour who gave it all. I love Him and will give back freely in any way I can.

  2. Mark says:

    The musicians that YHWH chose to lead His praises in the Temple were fully supported, When they decided not to pay them, they all went home and there was no more praise. YHWH was very angry about this. The workman is worthy of his hire. Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain. Do not mock God. Treat people fairly and ministry will prosper. Cheat people and you will lose the ministry. How can a musician eat if you are unwilling to help support them and their work? The musician is commanded to be skillful. This takes a lot of work. Don’t send them away empty handed.

  3. Jordane says:

    I’m 50+ in age- been a church musician since I was in 7th grade. My mother would not allow me to receive a fee for playing for the church. It taught me how to be humble& appreciate whatever the church gave. I was always there for the little churches or the family needing help with weddings or funerals.
    I remember attending a music workshop where they laughed at my pay. I had never been paid therefore I had no clue. But even now I only receive $200 per Sunday. I sat there listening to them boast “…nothing under $500…thats my minimum….” I couldn’t get them to understand the reason why I do it. Money was never on my list. When a song moves me I know it will move someone else. And to see my first lady stand or cry out lets me know what moves the congregation. Where is the passion? The inspiration….the true love for this ministry?

  4. Brian says:

    As someone who has been a church musician for decades, and also is able to perform at a professional level, I am getting a little burned out by people who think that since I have a “gift”, I need to just give it away. My time is no longer mine to give, I’m required to give it. I’m not allowed to say “no” without a reason they just cant overcome.

    At some point, there is a real issue with respect and the value of a person. No, it’s not all about money. Would I appreciate a love gift of some kind on occasion? You bet I would. A stipend of some sort for a lot of long and very regular hours? Maybe.

    I can tell you that I get very burned out when it is EXPECTED that I just WILL do whatever their whim generates. “We’re having our church harvest party this weekend, and we want you there!” Translation, I get to haul my keyboard and sound system to someone’s house, play music for 3 or 4 hours outside in the cold while other people have a wonderful evening around the campfire. And then I hear how wonderful the music was and if I’m lucky, someone will help me load up my car to head home. The end. Who paid for that $3k worth of equipment I’m hauling around that doesn’t last forever? Who pays for the gas, insurance, car payments, to get me there and back home? “And oh, there is a funeral day after tomorrow, we need you to be there to play. The service starts at 2.” Again, not even a whimper of remuneration. No gesture of substance. Not even a tip jar!

    I’m getting tired. And I’m not going to lie, when I am treated like I describe above, I start to feel very conflicted… irreplaceable… and somehow worthless at the same time. There has to be somewhere in the middle that works.

    This is my perspective, someone who gives and gives and gives and gives and gives, without being paid. People like me often come to the point where they eventually just say, “God, I don’t want your gift anymore, take it back.” And they walk out the door never to return. I don’t want to get there. But this attitude that anyone can just walk all over me anytime they want to because I’m a “musician”, and for heaven’s sake, don’t ever give me money for anything, ever, that just needs to end.

  5. Kurt Kelley says:

    I have the same question as Valencia Jackson. If God-gifted musicians should not be paid for their services, than why stop there? Why do we pay pastors? After all, shouldnt they be sacrificing to serve their God, like the musicians? Oh, and comparing the two, the Old Testament temple considered the Worship musicians of far more importance than a preacher/teacher.

    Moreover, as another comment mentioned, what about us VOCATIONAL musicians? You see, not EVERY musician is a hobbyist, with a professional, traditional 9 to 5 occupation, who doesnt need extra income on the weekends. For some of us, music is the main gift, talent, and calling God gave us. My best positions have all involved music as my main duty. Such as playing bass full time aboard cruise ships. This is what I am best at. And God gifted me, because I never had a lesson in my life. Who else but God gave me the ability to play at a professional level, despite no formal training, no theory, cant read a note, etc…

  6. Sibusiso Dlungwana says:

    Some people are musicians, it’s not a hobbie. How do you expect them to live when you encourage that they don’t get paid while the same church prohibits them from playing in clubs and so forth. If I don’t get money in the house of God for my “occupation” then I will go elsewhere for survival then I’ll be labeled as “worldly”, statements like this are responsible for the backsliding of 90% of musicians that the church took advantage off and when they made their grievances known they were said to have demonic influences.

  7. Truthbetold says:

    Musician can play anywhere
    And get paid if people want there services so when we are at church playing we could be somewhere else working or playing whatever you see it as.I see it as working and supplying a service.

    So If musicians didn’t get paid you will have a lot of churches with musicians that can’t play and can’t work anywhere else but a place for free..

  8. Steve says:

    @Worship Pastor:
    I can sense your passion on this topic in your question. I understand that sometimes a ministry IS facilitating the spiritual needs of a person by being attentive to their physical and practical needs. There are many ministries that have found that balance. Traffic does travel both ways in my critique because there are some ministries that still only value a musician for what he or she can do during praise and worship. In these situations there is little if any effort made towards their continued spiritual development. This is a problem as well. I agree with you that the balance has to be made, going forward, to both edify and support church musicians. I’m simply saying that it doesn’t always HAVE to be a financial arrangement. This does not apply, in my opinion, to an on-staff minister of music who is required to work full-time. As far as those members of the body that possess your pedigree, I’m glad that there seems to be a shift in mentality. To me, that shift is not happening fast enough, resulting in a large out-migration of the younger generation. Lastly, what statement about musicians did I make that seemed outside of the pale of orthodoxy?

  9. worship pastor says:

    No, I don’t receive any funds from the church or church(s) that I render services for. The reason being is that, I have a career with our school district. It seems to me that, you are very well established in your career field. Of course, that’s irrelevant at this point. My question is, how come we are not focusing on a persons spiritual life and their relationship with the Lord rather than meeting their natural needs if needed. By the way, I was wondering if you sought the Lord about your statement towards musicians, especially those that are saved and with degrees like myself. Just asking.

  10. Steve says:

    @ Music Ministry:
    Your point of exploitation from the pulpit down is very well articulated. It sounds like, in the example you gave, the gifts of a musician are definitely being relied upon a little too heavily. More so than making this into a doctrinal issue, which I in no way endorse nor am implying that you’re doing, musicians and other church workers should always be treated with respect and grace. The problem often arises when one person’s brokenness, i.e. the inability to treat others with respect and dignity, is disguised as holiness. That’s a separate issue altogether. But your point is very well taken. Hopefully we can come to a point of understanding and soundness on this issue. The way things are now, in many cases, is unsustainable.

  11. Music ministry says:

    I totally agree that there is no place in church services for hired hand. We shouldn’t get to the place where persons just show up because there is a pay check at the end. However lets consider the faithful servant who is always there and who we expect to be there for every occasion in the church.
    I have seen cases where the leaders are fuming mad with a musician who did not show for church programs.
    The truth is there are some congregations who take their musicians for granted,
    while always paying for some evangelist to preach up a storm in their service.
    In the Caribbean where churches host funeral services, weddings and other religious events regularly a musician is most time expected to be available and in some instance not even the courtesy of asking ahead of time.
    I believe if you are called to service and God has anointed you to serve in any capacity then serve, we really wouldn’t need to pay pastors and evangelist as they sometimes only need to show up on some occasions.
    Hey pastors go on vacations with their families….anointed musicians go to a nine to five job, show for practice mid week, show up for service and all the occasions as he is needed…. why not pay him too if he is expected to be a “minister of music”

  12. blackmale61 says:

    None of this comes close to solving the problem. Of course if you are not aware there is a problem this won’t matter much either.SMH.

  13. Northern_Magnolia says:

    You have a good point… there is a difference between the ministries, taken over the long view, of those musicians who need to be paid a hundred or two or three to just show up, and those humble servants who serve and rely on the Lord to meet their needs. Wait and watch ten years or so… the humble do seem to not get ahead by the world’s terms, but when God wants something big done for His glory, He honors His own with the leadership, while the others who need a few hundred just to show up are still doing the same thing… just ten years older, with a new generation of like-minded younger musicians to compete with. Thus, jealousy and disharmony and mess is kept going in the local churches… a lot of it would indeed stop if fewer church musicians were paid… and if, as a consequence, the church version of the “chitlin circuit” were also shut down.

  14. Aaron says:

    I must agree with Valencia. I don’t believe folks now should be paid for the Gospel. The Levites were given tithes because their duty as the chosen tribe to be the priests. (Hence why Moses was chosen to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt as a Levite). But those tithes were livestock…the real wealth-being able to live off the land and not need something man created such as money to live. There are no true Levite priests now that I know of. The church is a den of thieves that leads the children astray.

  15. Steve says:

    F. Ingram, I like the passion. Please, don’t hold back.
    Legally speaking, and this is something that is very upsetting to a lot of people, but in the eyes of the law a church is a business that happens to be a house of worship. That being said there is a higher standard that God’s house should operate in. It should not only be a place where people go to get paid. It should be so much more. Unfortunately a lot of modern day hustlers have turned it into an ATM machine.

    Please know this, I have no problem with church workers getting paid. Those who labor for the Lord should be able to receive a reward while here. I believe that is both biblical and ethical. However I don’t believe that, by virtue of walking into a church building and performing a perfunctory task, that a person is automatically qualified to receive a check.

  16. F. Ingram says:

    Excuse me, how do you pay tithes on that even if you have a regular job how does that work? Let me shut up before I get in trouble… Thank you for this stage.

  17. F. Ingram says:

    Brother, I understand you whole-heartedly. I have gotten into arguments with saints on this very subject. The idea that the church is a business is repulsive to me , it’s makes the church seem cheap and watered down. In essence, God’s house is being hustled… Lord forgive me. Brother the church is losing its power,and we are giving it away.

  18. Steve says:

    That is an AWESOME question!
    Pastors, or ministers, are typically staff employees. As staff they are legally entitled to a salary. Likewise if a musician is part of the staff then they are legally entitled to a salary as well. My argument is not that people shouldn’t be paid for their services, it simply classifies those who do get paid versus those who don’t.
    Paul, as an Apostle, met all of the legal, social and ethical requirements of his day to have received financial support from those believers who he had helped. However, as the scripture that I referenced illustrated, he did not always accept financial support. He had every right within both the Jewish and social tradition of that day, but he often refused.
    Why? Because I think that church leaders need to show a level of humility and spiritual discernment that exceeds both legal and social norms. Sadly, and I suspect you feel the same way, I often don’t see this in today’s church leaders. Just because you can take the money does not mean you always should.
    My answer, albeit extreme, is to remove the “pay for services rendered” paradigm for part-time musicians whose dedication lies squarely somewhere between the front and back of their wallet/purse.

  19. Valencia Jackson says:

    [scratching head]…If you are indeed serious, shouldn’t you have FIRST suggested that churches stop paying the MAIN ministry, that being the “preaching” ministry and the Preacher him/herself? Citing the very same biblical verses that you mentioned, especially those referring to Paul….just seems off that you would skip right over that and spotlight the music industry. Please, explain, if you would. Thanks.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!