Should We Pay Church Musicians?

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If you have spent any amount of time working on a church worship team, you have inevitably encountered the discussion of paying musicians to play. This is a conversation I have had more and more lately. I should preface this blog by explaining I have been leading worship at my local church for over 10 years. We run around 250 people each week. Our team has consisted of gigging musicians, born-and-raised at this church musicians, and relatively young musicians actively growing in their skills. So when is it appropriate to pay musicians in church?

There is not a criteria checklist to go down in order to determine this answer. So let’s begin by asking you some questions.

  • Is your church in a financial position that it is able to pay the musicians?
  • Are the musicians truly professional in their roles? (i.e. Are they on time, have they adequately practiced the songs on their own time and learned the tunes, is their skill worthy of compensation?)
  • Are their alternative options within the church body capable of filling the need?
  • Do you value them?

Because I am pulled a few different directions on this topic, let me first speak in favor of paying the team members followed up with the arguments opposed.

IMG_0407I think it safe to say we can agree that Sunday morning services are the most important service for local churches in America. As such, the efforts and skill of the Sunday morning team should be quality. No doubt there are many “musicians” who think they are great. All they have ever heard their whole life is mom or dad tell them how great they are. Let’s face it, most musicians are not as great as they think they are. Plus, unnecessarily arrogant musicians are kind of annoying – especially when they have a bad attitude as well.

As a worship leader who is also responsible for many other areas at the church, I have a plethora of things on my mind every week. I shouldn’t have to worry about whether the electric guitar player is going to show up or if the drummer has gone over the songs. We should be able to get together for a practice and already have a good baseline to go from. When it comes time for a sound check, there shouldn’t not be a need to constantly ask other musicians to stop playing while we are getting levels or dealing with other issues. I shouldn’t have to identify a poorly tuned instrument early in practice because that musician didn’t see the need to tune before we started. And the question, “will musician X be able to play with the click?” should not ever run through my mind. Nevertheless, these are the types of things that one encounters with unpaid musicians.

If you are capable of landing those professional musicians, there is also the ability to increase expectation since compensation is included. Furthermore, if their respective craft is how they earn a living, it is only fair to treat them as such.

Perhaps you aren’t aware, but a common problem within the church world is that people get grinded up in the mechanical wheels of the “church machine.” The betterment of the church tends to supersede all else including the health of ones family, relationships, and sadly, their own spiritual wellbeing. I have seen this time and time again and it almost always leads to burnout or a callused view of church and Christianity. This primarily happens when one’s profession is able to be exploited by a church. You wouldn’t see a pastor expect a lawyer to give free legal services or an architect expected to design a new church building for free simply because they are a Christian who attends that church. But get a bass player, sound engineer or camera operator in your church and it is just a natural thing to ask them to use their craft for free in the name of “serving God.”

But does all of this argument mean we should pay musicians? Ultimately, the whole discussion comes down to a heart issue in my opinion. When I say “heart issue,” I’m referring to that of both the musician and the church.

Paying musicians Blog imageMany of the paid church musicians that I know take the gigs simply as just that, a gig. I have rarely seen a true buy-in to the vision of the pastor or the other aspects of that church body. I never hear these individuals discuss attending a small group, Sunday school or even services that they aren’t on the schedule to play at. This is an issue for me. I want a high level of professionalism on the stage. And of course I want our Sunday service to be at its best. But where do I draw the line? Is there no value placed on those who serve on stage interacting and being in community with those who do not? The job of the worship team is to lead the congregation in worship and point them to the Lord. Something is lost when one who leads has no relationship with those he or she leads.

Is it possible that bringing outside musicians in robs existing decent musicians that already worship at the church from having an opportunity to use their gifts to serve the body and glorify God? I can envision the professional responding to this question by saying “The other musician is just not any good.” Likewise, that other musician, as previously mentioned, thinks they are great. I can actually recall times when team members have made comments along the lines,

“We don’t even need to practice because we are that good when we get together.” These can be referred to as “Big fish in a little sea.”

Not paying musicians has put me in a bind on more than one occasion where I had to go without various instruments. How about when you don’t have a sound engineer? This is possibly one of the most important roles during a Sunday morning service.

You can have the best musicians in the world but if the sound is bad, it won’t matter.

Our small church simply does not have the budget to pay musicians. So what do I do? How do I overcome this obstacle?

First and possibly most important, I try my very hardest to always appreciate those who volunteer. Whenever I am able to do this tangibly, I do my best. And when I am not, I make it crystal clear how much I wish I could. I look for opportunities to take members out to eat, do appreciation cookouts at my place, put gas in the tank, or find more specific ways to say thank you. I never blow up or act less professional towards them than I would expect them to act towards me. And I tout their praise to others as best I am able.

This is part of that “Heart issue” comment. I want the musicians to give their best and care about the vision and community of the church. But it is important that I treat them with the respect and appreciation they deserve.

The truth is, team members should take their role serious as if they were being paid top dollar regardless of their compensation. And I should treat team members with appreciation and respect as if they were top musicians offering their services for free. The underlying principle behind this thought process isn’t due to the Golden Rule either. It is because we were given our talents by God and if we are going to use them to worship and glorify Him, as we should, then He deserves our very best rather than our leftovers without thought of how we are compensated.

Going back to those initial questions, if you are a church capable of paying musicians and you have quality professional musicians who don’t just treat the church like a gig, then I think you should treat them just like you would the lawyer or architect. Don’t make exploitation a practice in the church. Conversely, if you are unable to pay musicians, there is still an obligation to appreciate those who serve.

For the musicians out there, never treat worship as a gig. Be genuine in who you are and recognize where your talent comes from. Use it to glorify God. Though you might do the same songs in service, don’t be lazy. Learn those songs. Practice those songs. Improve your craft and never stop looking for ways to serve the Lord. Your compensation is not in money even if there are times when money is involved.

How about you? What has your experience been? How do you feel about these things?

15 thoughts on “Should We Pay Church Musicians?

  1. Great post. Very thought-provoking. I’m on the fence with it. There are times I’ve had to hire musicians from the outside, just to fill slots. It’s definitely not the route I prefer to go, but I will if necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pay outside musicians! If you need them, they will help you present your worship music with consistency and without distraction. The truly professional musician will be prepared and in place on time and will not voice opposition to the gospel or the congregation’s vision. You have hired them to fill a role you can not fill from within the body. They are a “live” version of using a track – you don’t make the studio musicians who recorded the track buy into your pastor’s vision or attend a small group; Just like you don’t require that of the plumber you hire to fix a broken toilet. Pay the musicians you need who are not available as volunteers from your church family. If your church musicians have an issue with not being paid (“because it’s not fair”) you have a bigger challenge to deal with.


    1. Thanks for the reply. While I am clearly in the middle of this debate as demonstrated by blog, I will play Devil’s advocate to your post.

      While your argument for the backing tracks makes sense, it fails because the musicians on the backing track aren’t seen on the stage whereas live musicians are. Let’s just use an extreme example and say for instance that one of those musicians is seen at a sketchy place that evening. The congregant who happens to recognize them from that morning service (but obviously is a the same sketchy place) doesn’t know that the musician is just a hired hand. The implications are obviously unacceptable. The people placed on stage in a church service are considered a part of the worship leading team whether they like it or not. While they may not be sketchy people, if they aren’t a part of the life of the church, where do you draw the line with the expectations you place on them?


      1. Hey hi. Really great article and well crafted. I would suggest a bit more proof reading to clean up a few grammatical errors. I’m a fulltime musician and getting paid is always better. If money isn’t easy to come by then food or gas is definately appreciated. The amount of time spent preparing and performing is often under-appreciated in and outside of the church. As for going to a home group or other church function while we are in the same town as the church, that is something that is definately a good idea.


  3. I’m a (decently skilled) volunteer musician and I play with the praise band on rotation with others. I see my role first and foremost as a worship leader. It’s disturbing to me when I recognize in myself and other musicians, a casual, self-centered, disconnected attitude about the offering we are making to our Lord and King. When I read about the sacredness and exclusivity of the role of worship leader in the OT, I get very uncomfortable thinking about God holding me accountable for my attitude and motives and for every word I sing (or play). I take this very seriously – our music is an offering. How can this be done by those who are just performing a gig? Strive for excellence? Of course! But I suspect that God does not see that as trumping the attitude of the worshipper. Whatever we do brings honor or dishonor to the name of God. What about the supremacy of the Lord’s name in all of this?

    I love to play in the band and consider it a privilege and joy when it’s my turn. I spend hours in practice and do my very best. But my stance on being paid is this: You can pay me when you start paying Sunday School teachers, youth workers, and other volunteers who put in as much or more time than I do. Why should musicians be considered differently from others who minister just because it has something to do with music?


    1. Your attitude seems appropriate. We are responsible for our attitudes and our own worship. But as a pastor, the church still has a responsibility to those who serve. If the response of the pastor or the board is, “this is your responsibility to the church,” it is a wrong attitude.

      As for your comments on the OT, God very specifically talked about a percentage of money being given to pay those who served the body.


  4. As I read about the volunteer vs the paid professional my thoughts led me off your subject a little. I have been a servant leader and a paid leader in the church for years. Within the church, I have worked alongside those with academic degrees, professional certifications, and various other merit badges to their credit. I also work in the private sector with “skilled people”. In both worlds I have witnessed and had to deal with professionals of all sorts who just don’t live up to the expectations of the organization. What I would like to interject is that just because a person receives compensation for a task guarantees your organization will get you what you want or need.

    What do call the guy who finished last in his class at Medical School?



    1. Great point old friend. I think the difference is that there is a bit more accountability (or should be) if there is compensation. I would have no problem simply hiring another musician if a current one isn’t following through with what was expected. Nevertheless, this isn’t me taking the side of paying. I merely feel the church shouldn’t be so quick to be opposed to it.


  5. I’ll take a volunteer who’s been called by God into Praise & Worship over a “hired gun” any day.
    The one called will see it as an offering to God and will want to give his best. The anointing is an awesome thing !!
    He’ll not worry about what “man thinks” and know that pleasing God, Jesus and The Holy Spirit will in turn bless the church….


  6. I am a pro and was hired to conduct at a church.. well the problems you list are problems every band leader deals least your musicians show up sober. they wanted to call me a worship leader but i said no. so i bring in to pros to help me a drummer and a keyboard player who was trained to sing opera. first off a chief of musicians is also a music teacher this is the nature of this gig in the temple of GOD. So the vocalist had to practices on Tuesdays with my key/opera singer..they were all singing in unison and that bothers me. had to get it fixed. full band on Thursday every one…was not long before we had a horn section and other musicians because of the instruction they were rhythm section practiced for 8 hours on Saturday they were pros so it was no big deal. then a run through before the show. the kind of sound would not have happened if not ran by a trained pro… people and pastors think musicians should be a lot of things .. we just play music. yes there are evangelist that also play. preachers who play . but they are not musicians they are preachers.. GODS musicians have a singular focus to worship and are not really interested in anything else. we want to worship then go home and worship some more. well the elders decided to stop paying us much to the grief of the pastor the church no longer exists to make a long story short a beautiful thing lost. and a house of worship that was on its way to 24 hour worship with all the music lessons that was going on.,


  7. Thank God for this blog, we have a small church and we cannot afford to pay a musician. However, the Pastor has tried but failed to find musicians who won’t treat the church as a gig. Several musicians will play a basic tune to gospel music and I cringe while singing because its not correct. They have left immediately after they have played. From my perspective no commitment to the church….The bills at the church are not getting paid but we need a musician? Do we?


  8. It is a tricky subject to deal with. I like the story that the Levites, when taken into captivity in Babylon, found themselves suddenly without income, as the temple had supported them before, so they had to basically start to sing for their money. This has carried on through the ages up until today.
    Also, the demand on churches to keep up with modern contemporary Christian music , I think, has also left us with the dilemma of , if we want to be at that “level”, to pay or not to pay. My opinion is that too much pressure is placed on the church music teams to produce ‘good’ music that we listen to from CD’s made in studios by professional musicians and we try and mimic that in our own churches (Live for that matter). This is a daunting task… and…. sorry to say that I don’t have a solution or answer for my own statement…..yet. 🙂 (I am a paid musician and pastor at my local church)


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