Paying the Piper: Readers Respond

In Reformed Worship 9 we invited readers to respond to the article 'Paying the Piper." Many of you took the time to respond, some in greater detail than we could include here. But judging by the responses that follow, there is considerable need for more discussion and reflection on the issue of compensation for church musicians. (Some names have been withheld at the request of the authors.)

In Reformed Worship 11 we will conclude our three-part series with some principles, guidelines, and resources for churches and musicians.

Musicians are Ministers

Before determining whether or how much the musician is paid, one must determine the role of music in the parish. Is music part of your congregation's total ministry? Are your hymns meant to be part of the congregation's response to the Word and sacraments of the liturgy? If so, do you consider the theology of Wesley, Watts, Pratt Green, Wren, and others whose hymns you sing to be at least as capable as your own, and thus worthy of meaningful presentation? Does music play an integral role in worship and other areas of congregational life? If so, then your musician is, I dare say, performing a ministry in your congregation. If not, then the organist is just another tool to make the service more pleasant—like the microphone, the bulletin, and the pew cushions.

I don't know how to deal with a theology of the musician as tool. Having served both as a church musician and a parish pastor, I am forced to see my organist-choir director as part of a ministry team with me in the congregation. And I do not know what I would do without her.

For us, music is a central element in presenting the Word of God during worship; I count on the Holy Spirit to reach through music those whom my sermon did not touch. The hymns and anthem are chosen only after careful planning: my organist and I each choose hymns based on the lections I have chosen, and then we discuss the merits of our choices before deciding which hymns will be used in worship. Since the choirs—adults and children—share with me in leading worship, the organist-choir director has the responsibility for teaching them how to be good worship leaders, as well as leading them to a level of Christian fellowship and spiritual development appropriate to a church group. In addition, she is resource person to our Ministry Commission, helps to coordinate our Concert Vespers services (an important part of our outreach to the community), and is available to provide music for hymn-sings and other gatherings. She is a minister to this congregation. Even if her only responsibility were for worship (which is hard to imagine, because it means divorcing our worship life from the rest of our life), she would be performing a ministry.

In the RCA—and, I would assume, in the CRC—the congregation takes on the responsibility for supporting a minister of the Word so that he or she may be free from material concerns in order to devote attention to the ministry. If this is necessary, then should we not take some responsibility for the support of those who minister through music? It costs money to learn how to be a competent church musician (and what is the point of any other kind?). It costs money to continue to refine one's knowledge and skill. And church musicians have to pay their bills and buy their food with money just like everybody else. A good church musician enters into a pastoral relationship with a congregation; the congregation has a responsibility to that relationship.

As of this year, our organist-choir director has been paid with a salary which is reviewed annually—just like mine—and adjusted to reflect inflation, increased experiences, and so on. We had been paying the organist by the service, and so not paying her for her weeks off, but that seemed to violate the spirit of our pastoral relationship; it seemed to say she is less a part of the ministry of our church when the choir doesn't sing or she takes a vacation.Based on that logic, a pastor should be paid less for the week after Easter, and not paid at all if he takes vacation. As part of our commitment to that relationship, we also provide an allowance toward the musician's continuing education.

We do these things because we have begun with the notion that music is an indispensable ministry of our church. If music is something else to you, you may have a different outlook. If you argue that you cannot afford to ask for such high standards for your music ministry or your musician, then I must ask how you can afford not to expect high standards of anything which you include in your worship to our Lord.

James L. H. Brumm
1st RCA
South River, New Jersey

Avoid Inconsistency

This is my fourth congregation to pastor, and the methods of payment in my four congregations are as varied as your survey indicated. My own opinion comes closest to the person who wrote, "They would be offended if they were offered pay. We would hope that Reformed Worship would not try to kill that attitude nor commercialize the worship service by making everything 'service for payment rendered.' "

There is a principial issue not addressed in your article. That principle is consistency. All the part-time assistants who make church possible should be treated alike. Organists, choir directors, soloists, janitors, teachers, youth leaders, Coffee Break people, worship assistants, etc. should all be under the same council policy. Some churches pay the organist but not the choir director, the custodian but not the grounds-keeper. The inconsistency causes more hurt feelings than the dollar amount the congregation decides to spend—or not to spend.

Two things we do I think should be done by all churches. We have $600.00 for organists' lessons and we pay them to attend any workshops for enrichment. Every congregation ought to encourage their organists to grow in their skills. If there is that encouragement and their remuneration is in line with a consistent council policy, then that church is doing right for its people.

Name Withheld

Grossly Underpaid

First we must realize that congregations, like humans, come in various sizes and have a wide variety of needs. If the small, financially troubled church is fortunate enough to have the services of a CAPABLE musician who is willing to offer his or her services free of charge, God bless them. But let us not forget that music is an extremely important part of not only worship, but the entire life of a thriving, healthy congregation. As a result, many churches have come to depend on the professional church musician, and many church musicians therefore depend on church music for their livelihood, either full- or part-time. Many of these musicians have spent four or more years in college at great expense, and many untold hours in workshops, seminars, and clinics preparing to better serve the Lord through music. Should these people now be expected to work for little or nothing? A "thank you" and a pat on the back does not put food on the table or a child through college. To put it in perspective, do we expect the church secretary to sit in the office as typist, receptionist, and general problem solver every day for nothing? Do we expect the sexton to keep a large building clean and maintained without pay? Or do we ask the minister to offer his services free of charge and then go out and get a pay-ingjob in his "spare" time?

Also to be considered is the degree of responsibility of the various types of church musicians. At one extreme is the Minister or Director of Music who alone or with a staff of people under him provide such services as organist, pianist, director of various choirs (adult, youth, children, etc.), directing of handbells, conducting of instrumental groups, etc. At the opposite extreme, is the organist who has only three hymns and a prelude once a week with no choirs and no rehearsals. {It is hoped, however, that he or she still practices.) To lump together these extremes and everything in between as "the church musician" can be a bit misleading.

In general today, it has been my experience as an eastern United States church musician, that, considering their education and experience, most church musicians of all types are grossly underpaid. Unfortunately many find the only way to get a substantial raise is to change churches. It is too bad that so often a church discovers only when trying to fill a vacant position, what the "going rate" for that position is.

Regardless of what one buys, "quality" costs money. Let us concentrate our efforts on making the "quality" of church music, regardless of congregation size, worthy of Him whom we worship, and be willing and ready to take whatever steps that demands.

Kenneth R. Nelson
First RCA
Scotia, New York


The last issue of RW brought up the interesting subject of compensation for church musicians. In the fifteen years since I earned my degree, I have learned that the conception of "music as work" is foreign to most evangelical congregations, and especially to Reformed congregations. The operative principle seems to be that "your music skills are yours as a gift"—therefore, "freely you have received, freely give." A staggering number of musicians, some still paying off their college loans, have bought this argument.

On the average each rehearsal hour represents six other hours. When I share this fact with music committees they are shocked. "What possibly could take all that time?" they ask. We are foolish to expect nonmusicians to understand. The performance is only the tip of the iceberg so to speak. Score preparation and selection, administration, recruiting, filing and sorting scores, rehearsing accompanists, and performing are all time consuming. Five choirs? Multiply by five.

Another interesting fact: those who do not understand music as a valid field of academic inquiry cannot comprehend placing a vocational value upon it. If they considered it a "punch and cookies" major in college it is only natural that they would consider it a "punch and cookies" vocation. A vocational musician will be required to take a permanent voluntary assignment for which he/she earned a college degree, practiced for thousands of hours, and sacrificed dearly.

The depressing conclusion is that once a church musician has finally landed a full-time position, (and I have had several) the only way to bring the wage up to a living-wage level is to increase your liabilities. Officers who cannot understand paying for music in the first place frequently view the salary as a gratuity. Increasing your liabilities (indebtedness, family size, etc.) is the most likely way of securing increases in salary.

A musician with a B.A. degree, working 35-50 hours per week, should receive a living wage. A woman should make exactly the same wage as her male counterpart, whether or not hers is a second income. "A living wage" is variable from region to region and by congregation, but a simple guideline is "not less than an entry-level school teacher but not more than the median family income in the church." In most areas this would be $16,000 to $32,000 plus benefits. For each five years of full-time experience, or for each additional degree in music, compensation should be increased about 10%.

Name Withheld

Principles from Scripture

Before deciding if a musician should be paid, one must look at what is required of a musician and use scriptural principles to evaluate his or her qualifications. In his book The Endless Song, Kenneth W. Osbeck outlines guidelines to assist in evaluating musical leaders:

  1. They were chosen from the levitical priesthood—not just anyone could serve in this capacity (1 Chron. 15:1,2,11,12; 16:4-7; 37:41,42; 2 Chron. 20:21; Neh. 7:1).
  2. They were well organized—they were assigned specific work and were individually appointed to their tasks (2 Chron. 7:6; 8:14; 29:25; 31:2; Neh. 11:2).
  3. They were educated and trained—teachers as well as scholars (1 Chron. 15:22; 25:1-8; Neh. 11:22; 12:42,46).
  4. They were efficient performers—punctual and systematic. The word "skillful" is often used of them (1 Chron. 16:37; 2 Chron. 8:14; 15:22; 31:2).
  5. They were consecrated; that is, they had clean hands and pure hearts (Num. 8:5-16; 1 Chron. 15:12,14,16; 2 Chron. 5:11,12).
  6. They were models of obedience to God's Word (2 Chron. 34:30-32).
  7. They were set apart by wearing distinctive robes (1 Chron. 15:27; 2 Chron. 5:12).
  8. They were paid for their services (Num. 18:21; 2 Chron. 31:2-10; Neh. 10:38-39; 12:47; 13:5,10,11). Homes were provided for them (Ezra 2:70; Neh. 7:73; 12:28,29).
  9. They were treated as other religious leaders, with no discrimination (Ezra 7:24; Neh. 10:28,29,39).
  10. They were to be mature (only those age 30 and over). The worship of God was not to be performed by the young and inexperienced (Num. 4:47; 1 Chron. 23:3-5).

To minister musically in Old Testament days was both a great privilege and a solemn responsibility. It required special people who were well prepared. This should still be true of the music ministry in the church today. In some senses, those who minister musically now are New Testament Levites. Therefore the principles established by God for the levitical priesthood can be used as valid guidelines for music leaders in a New Testament church.

Those who have been called by the Lord into the music ministry must look at these requirements and understand them. Church musicians should be familiar with worship (meaning and planning) and the role that music takes in worship. They should comprehend what an awesome responsibility it is before the Lord to serve in the position of music leader. And they should make sure that they get the proper training for his calling (probably at least 4 years of college).

One who goes into music as a profession/ministry should be paid, just as a preacher/pastor and other ministers are paid.

Barbara K. Williams
Vineville Presbyterian Church
Macon, Georgia

A Pet Peeve

In Reformed Worship 9 I read the article "Paying the Piper." I found the article very interesting and sometimes amusing. This topic has been one of my "pet peeves" for quite some time.

An organist, to be good and acceptable in his work, has to study, take lessons, or be a "self-made" organist (in which case there always will be flaws). Taking lessons, however, requires making quite an investment in time, money, and effort—which is difficult for a person who is working full time at another job during the day and has to use the evening hours for practice, study, and music lessons.

At a recent congregational meeting some people asked, "What is an organist getting paid for? He is in church anyway, he likes to play and knows how—so why not?" I felt like responding, "Does this mean that since a minister is in church anyway, likes to preach and has studied for it, we don't have to pay him?"

I think it's time for the church to take a hard look at the position of the organist, and not look upon him/her as a slot machine: put a quarter in, pull the handle, and there he goes. It takes hard work and dedication to lead the congregation in singing—especially at the present time, when there is so much new material.

Name Withheld

Oragnists' Association?

Where have all the organists gone? How do we keep organists in our denomination? What are some ways and means to train and retain good organists? If the present trend continues many of our congregations will be asking these questions.

One step toward correcting this shortage is to educate people about what it takes to become an organist—to make them aware of the many years of training, long hours of practice, and substantial outlay of cash that most men and women must invest in order to become good organists:

■ An organist may spend as long as 4 to 5 years taking lessons and will spend as much as $5,000-510,000 on a good organ repertoire at $25—$50 per lesson twice a month, nine months per year. The total investment is approximately $15,000-$20,000.

■ The organist should belong to an organist-society such as A.G.O. or R.C.C.O. to stay in tune with and improve as an organist. Such a membership involves annual fees.

■ An organist should attend regular workshops or church music seminars—another $500 per year.

The unfortunate truth is that an organist who has done all these things may be unable to stay in his or her congregation—especially if the congregation and the denomination of which it's a part don't promote this level of musical excellence. I think it's time we start a Reformed Organist Association to further bind our ties and to help organists grow. An Organist Association would ensure that music conferences occurred regularly in many areas. Such a group would also provide incentives for excellence among organists: several levels of service-playing diplomas, for example.

Congregations that wish to retain their competent organists and attain a high level of music in worship, will have to reward such organists. Some of the following ideas may help:

■ Set up a music budget to compensate organists, to enable them to further their organ studies or purchase music, and to give them the dignity they deserve.

■ Give each organist a subscription to RW.

■ Set up denominational organ-lesson scholarship programs for grade 8, 9, and 10 piano students. (The student eventually becomes the organist for the congregation who funded the scholarship.)

■ Purchase a suitable church organ. A good organ attracts good organists and will also encourage budding organists to continue in their studies. Many congregations avoid the topic of purchasing a new organ because they're convinced that a good organ will cost $150,000 and they know they can't come up with the money. The truth is that it's possible to buy an excellent restored organ for only $20,000 to $35,000.

The "Organ Clearing House" (P.O. Box 104, Harrisville, NH 03450), a non-profit organization, has placed several hundreds of organs. They will recommend an organ builder or help the organ committee with the installations. Most organs can be purchased at the cost of storage or dismantling.

Adrien de Jong
Trinity CRC
Abbotsford, British Columbia

Inadequate Pay

As a church organist for many years within the Christian Reformed Church, I have thoroughly enjoyed many services in various parts of the United States. I have also had the opportunity to fulfill organist positions within the Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches. Playing in other denominations has made me acutely aware that the CRC does not adequately pay their musicians.

I have often wondered why this is the case. Is it just assumed that well-trained musicians will volunteer time to direct our programs? Church musicians spend thousands of dollars on education and training to enable them to use their specific gifts in a God-glorifying manner. Is it wrong to expect adequate remuneration for this service? Many church organists spend hundreds of dollars yearly for music suitable for worship. Most organist "salaries" do not cover this cost. Is this right? These are issues our young people are struggling with when they think about pursuing the study of the organ and church music.

I would propose that each church take an annual look at its music budget and set up an appropriate pay scale with its musicians. The American Guild of Organists has made a study of pay scales which can be obtained by writing for the Financial Concerns booklet ($3), or The Work and Compensation of the Church Musician ($2), both published by The American Guild of Organists, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 1260, New York NY 10115. The pay should be awarded by considering several factors:

■ amount of time spent per service (practicing hymns, learning new music, working with the minister and liturgist).
■ amount of money spent by the organist to purchase music (most choir directors do not buy their own music).
■ amount of training and background of each musician.
■ travel considerations.

Of major concern to me is the fact that many of our best organists and church musicians are forced to accept Minister of Music positions in other denominations in order to earn a living. I have noticed a decline in organ study nationwide because there is very little incentive to pursue a degree in a profession consistently ignored by our church. Valuable CRC talent is being siphoned to the churches who presently feel a shortage of organists and encourage musicians not only in monetary ways, but also with great appreciation. For these reasons I would urge each church to consider how it can best meet the needs of its musicians and encourage them in their life's calling.

Joan Ringerwole
Dordt College
Sioux Center, Iowa

Joan Ringerwole is professor of music at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa, and a member of the Liturgical Committee of the Christian Reformed Church.


Reformed Worship 10 © December 1988, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.