Should our Church Musicians Be Paid?

By: Rev. Larry D. Ellis


Rather than limit my discussion to my own personal thoughts on this subject, I contacted a number of clergy and church musicians around the country and asked them to share the best reasons for and not for paying musicians in their churches. The following is a summary of some of their ideas.

There are many churches in which this question has never been pondered. Some churches believe that music is a ministry therefore, it must be done with volunteers. There always seems to be someone available who will play the organ or direct the choir in the weekly anthem. We expect all of our congregation to offer their time and talents to the work of ministry in the church. We don't pay our Sunday School teachers, elders or deacons. Even our church secretary, treasurer and financial secretary are volunteers. Many of these people invest at least as many hours a week as the church musicians.

There are other churches which maintain a prestigious standard of either classical or pop Christian music. They expect to pay a salary to maintain the standard repertoire of vocal, choral and organ music. Often some large churches even employ choral and instrumental arrangers on their music staff because they do a great deal of original music in their churches. The music budget is often quite large to make certain that this great tradition continues. There may be endowments established to help with the funding. Some even produce recordings and charge admission to concert series to establish suitable level of income. Not only is a director hired but also several instrumentalist and choir members are hired to assist particularly for the demanding music of the annual Easter and Christmas productions as well as the standard weekly music. These people understand the scripture about the workman being worthy of his hire and that it's application is not limited to the preaching pastor. We all understand that when a person is paid, the church has a right to expect a higher level of commitment.

In order to answer the question title of this treatise, we should indeed look at both sides of this issue and formulate our position in light of our own theology and circumstances.



When the amount of time needed to do the work exceeds what is reasonable for a typical church member to give, typically ten to fifteen hours per week, and the church feels the particular ministry is very important, many churches choose to pay a person. This will help ensure that the ministry will not be crowded out due to a busy schedule of a volunteer. In this case the time often limits their availability for their other employment.

When we hire someone as a choral director, organist or choir section leader we are providing leadership to the congregation to equip them for ministry and not just maintain a program. They bring a significant historical perspective and vision to our worship. Our music minister actually is much more than a song leader. He spends considerable time selecting and music as well as planning our corporate worship. He leads the worship service. He is an initiator in ministry. Our organist works with three others who are volunteer helpers. This means we can always have excellent keyboard support throughout the year. He identifies and frequently practices with a number of brass and string players in the church, who volunteer to use their musical talents in our music ministry.

We want to employ a wide spectrum of music in our worship. We are called to be stewards of God's gifts to us ­ music in particular. For that reason, we want to have the benefit of people who have prepared themselves for the ministry of worship and music just as we do in our preaching pastor with the ministry of the Word. A good church musician is one who has prepared for many years. The person usually has studied music privately for ten or fifteen years investing thousands of hours and dollars in education. Many times they have majored in music in college. Many churches even require a graduate level degree to be considered for their part time music staff position. In addition to musical proficiency skills church, hopefully musicians are expected to operate with a significant theological perspective congruent with the traditions of their particular church. Often seminary training is also expected. These prerequisites require significant personal discipline over years of practicing.

We use all the available people from our church in our music ministry. However, there are some significant needs that cannot be met from within our church. Therefore, we supplement our work with professionals outside our church from time to time. Sometimes we hire orchestral musicians for certain programs. This actually strengthens our overall ministry and allows us to attract musicians into our church, who might never otherwise be a part of our ministry.



We are a small church with a limited budget. We cannot afford to pay anyone. What is done here must be by a volunteer. We do provide a great opportunity for someone who would like to test their spiritual gifts in music.

Our theology of spiritual gifts brings us assurance that God provides us with all the resources needed to do all that he calls us to do as a church. Therefore, to go outside the church to hire someone to make this happen seems to contradict our theology of spiritual gifts.

We aren't looking for a "professional" church musician. We prefer the old type hymns. We really like a full orchestra for the choir so we use prerecorded accompaniment tracks. We have invested a fortune in our great sound system.

Our church has a different emphasis, we concentrate on social ministries. Because we have significant paid staff in these ministries, we do not want to add paid musical staff to the church budget.

To us worship is an experience we share together. We want our musical leader to lead us in that experience. We do not want any choirs drawing attention to their performance. We do not want music prepared in advance. Everything we do is led by the Holy Spirit as he leads us.



There might be no universal answer to the question as to whether or not the musician should be paid. However, evaluating some of these ideas in light of your particular situation may assist you in your decision. If Christian churches hope to develop a celebration of worship, Christian musicians must be able to spend the time necessary to provide this leadership. If you want a full-time ministry you should expect to pay a full-time salary. Such positions pay from 75% to 100% of what the pastor is paid including benefits of up to four weeks paid vacation, health insurance and continuing education time and expenses. Part time positions generally pay a little more per hour, comparable vacation and reduced other benefits. Volunteers are paid only in satisfaction of their work done. There can be an additional satisfaction in their sacrifice of money to help bring about a ministry in a particular venue that would otherwise not be there. For some people this blessing of being able to minister is fully adequate. For others financial needs means that they cannot offer ministry to the church as they would like because they must work other jobs to provide for their financial needs.

The temple musicians were called by God, gifted, trained and skilled for their ministry. Hopefully, we desire and will accept no less.