By Mark Roach
I’m gonna go there. I’m gonna tackle one of those hot-button issues discussed among worship leaders. I’ve heard it discussed at conferences—entire breakouts built around the discussion—even books have been written about it. The issue is (drum roll) paying musicians.
Now, if you read last months submission by yours truly, entitled Somewhere In-between, then you probably won’t be surprised at all by my stance on this controversial topic. It’s also worth saying that we fortunate few who actually get paid to do what we do in the first place (yes, I’m aware that are many out there who do what I do for absolutely zero compensation) need to address this question carefully, as we are obviously kinda living on one side of the line already.
I’ll start with my general philosophical stance: In my opinion, we should try NOT to pay musicians to serve in our ministries.
Now, that may surprise you. Many assume that churches the size of Morning Star Church all pay musicians—maybe even just because we can (we actually can’t. I’ll get to that.) We don’t. We almost never do. I’ll get to the exceptions in a minute, but first, allow me to justify my philosophy a bit.
Let’s start with the obvious: we don’t pay the dozens (or hundreds!) of children’s ministry or hospitality volunteers, so why pay musicians? If we do, should we pay the sound operator? Lights? Where do you draw the line? Ok, how about the budget issue? Even a big church like ours shudders at what those numbers can look like. We have almost enough to pay one full band for one week in our annual budget. Bottom line is this: if you’re looking for your choir, band, orchestra or whatever group you’ve assembled to be great and that’s all you care about, you could certainly just budget for that and bite the bullet. That said, if you’re interested in shepherding a group of Christ-followers who want to use their gifts to worship their Creator, you might want to rethink that.
There is true beauty inherent in a group of people voluntarily sacrificing their time and talent for the greatest cause of all, and I believe that is often lost when money enters the picture. As for churches paying the leaders who assemble, direct and vision-cast for those volunteering? I’m certainly NOT challenging the idea of paying anyone making a living implementing arts in the church. They’ll likely need to produce, lead and just plain show up on a different level than volunteers. I am saying that building your ministry around unpaid servants who are invested in your church and so volunteer their time is a win/win for all involved.
Ok, my BIG exception to this rule is pretty simple: I pay someone when no one is available to fulfill a role that needs to be fulfilled. The best example I can give would be a weekend all of our drummers are simply out of town. If I have a raucous, high-energy worship set or feature planned, I simply can’t steward the voluntary gifts of the rest of my band to deliver that set or feature without a drummer. I will pay for a guest to come in if it allows our entire team to continue serving without a hitch. I’ll also pay for specialty instruments from time to time, like a cellist or a horn section, if we need them to pull something off, but don’t have them in our congregation already.
I know this a hot-button issue. I always welcome thoughts, concerns, etc. I hope this perspective is valuable, and look forward to next month!