Should churches hire their worship band musicians?

bandI’ve been asked this question before: Should a church that wants to do music in a pop/rock style pay for musicians to come in and play?”

It is a question that churches usually ask when they are starting a new style of service with the intent of reaching out to a younger demographic. They realize that having a new service with poorly executed music might have the opposite effect. There might be a few instrumentalists or vocalists willing to form a band, but rarely are there enough volunteers to fill out a full band (especially in smaller churches). Something is usually missing: maybe a keyboardist, electric guitarist, or drummer. Someone will usually suggest that the musical vitality of the service is worth investing in. On the flip side, mega-churches routinely hire out full ensembles of studio musicians to make sure the musical quality of their services lives up to the hype.

I’ll share a couple of stories from personal experience:

  • A church had music in worship led by a pianist who was employed by the church part-time. A person joined the church and volunteered his keyboarding skills for the service. After a couple of months of both the staff pianist and volunteer keyboardist leading music together, the volunteer keyboardist approached the church leadership about being compensated for his part in worship. The keyboardist felt that it was unfair for two people to be serving in the same capacity but only one be compensated. The church leadership disagreed. The keyboardist became angry and moved on. Awkwardness abounded.
  • Another church had three Sunday morning worship services. The first service was accompanied by a small volunteer orchestral ensemble and two part-time employees, a pianist and an organist. The second and third services were led by a band entirely made up of volunteer musicians. One of the volunteer musicians happened to play in all three Sunday morning services. It became evident to the church leadership that perhaps it was unfair that the organist and pianist were being compensated (for a rehearsal and one service), while the volunteer was not being compensated (for two rehearsals and three services). The church leadership decided that having some church musicians compensated and others not was unfair. The pianist and organist stopped being compensated for their musical contributions, but remained active as volunteer musicians.
So what is a church to do? Pay to play or pray for players?
Here are my thoughts and suggested guidelines for how churches should navigate these waters:
  • There is something to be said for wanting the offering of music in worship to be done with excellence. God is pleased when we offer a skillfully executed sacrifice of praise (“Sing praises with a skillful psalm.” Psalm 47:7). 1 Chronicles 15:22 says, “Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful.” (NASB) It is also part of hospitality and welcoming people into worship – which is less easy when there are mistakes and flubs musically. So it may be responsible to hire musicians to help the church offer excellent music.
  • On the other hand, God gives us everything we need. Just because your church doesn’t have a drummer or a bass guitarist doesn’t mean you are incapable of corporate worship. Sometimes the musical device used for worship can become crippling to worship. “We can’t have a service without (insert name of instrument).” It is preferable to look at your context, see what God has provided you with, and go with it.
  • I have also heard it argued that if you pay one or two professional musicians to join your volunteer group, the overall excellence of the team will rise. If there is one person coming to rehearsal every week with charts organized and marked, songs learned, and tempos perfected, the professionalism will raise the standards of the volunteers as well.
  • Deciding whether to pay worship band musicians is something a church has to decide for itself. My opinion is that it is preferable for a church to use what gifts they have been given and be content with it. But I’m sure there are circumstances when paying a musician or two to augment the band also make sense.
Also read Vicky Beeching’s post on this subject for more thoughts.
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3 thoughts on “Should churches hire their worship band musicians?

  1. What do you think about churches that insist on not paying their musicians irrespective of talent, time, etc. and will only take the best musicians who will play for free? Is the church, in that case, denying some of the “gifts that they’ve been given?”

    And for context, the particular church and the particular situation to which I am referring has a volunteer policy that’s focused on an “unfettered” worshiper. And by that they mean they want people whose motivations to play on Sunday morning aren’t going to be about money.

    But some of the musicians are hurt by that because 1) they spend as much as time and have as much talent as the lead worship leader, and he gets paid 2) They actually REALLY need the money most of the time, and 3) Motivation being questioned is offensive.

    • Yeah that sounds like awkwardness abounds. Paying a key leader/pastor and not the rest of the band is different. And I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to strictly use volunteers in the band. But the church has a responsibility to equip and utilize all the talents it’s been given. So even if a musician isn’t up to the level where they can hang with the band, they should be finding them a place leading kids, youth, prison outreach, etc. or equipping them with training if their heart is in the right place.

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