Fair Play

Models for Paying Church Musicians

We knew we were on to a subject of intense interest when we conducted a survey on payment of church musicians. So we weren't surprised when the responses poured in after we printed the results of that survey in RW 9. Many respondents offered helpful perspectives and suggestions, some of which appeared in RW 10 (also see p. 46).

In this issue we continue the discussion by offering our reflections on why, how, and when church musicians should or should not be paid. We are not so bold as to suggest that we have provided all the answers for those who struggle with this issue. We do hope that all these contributions encourage fruitful discussion on the local level.

Why pay a church musician? That question just begs another: why pay any church worker?

Basic to a biblical understanding of justice is that a "worker deserves his wages" (Luke 10:7 NIV). Therefore, we assume that a minister should be paid (though the concept of "tent-making ministries" is growing). But what about all the others who work in the church? Should we pay church school teachers, elders, deacons, choir directors, and choir members? What about the custodian, secretary, organist, bookkeeper, and guest preacher?

Any healthy congregation has a large number of members who volunteer their time and tal-ents to one or more ministries on a regular basis. Just how do we draw the line between those who volunteer and those who are paid?

Expectations, traditions, and size of a given congregation all play a role, probably in that order. A single list of solutions to this complex set of issues is hardly possible. So instead we will look at three models. Each church and musician will fit somewhere in these models; sometimes the church will fit one model and the musician another. To the extent that the two do not match, there is the potential for dissonance.

A Look at Some Models
Model 1: Volunteer Service

"This is my church; these are my gifts. I will contribute them to the church. There is no difference between my offering my gifts and the consistory (session) member and church school teacher contributing theirs."

1. For an organist*: playing for congregational singing; playing appropriate service music for Reformed worship; coordinating music to the theme of each service.
2. For a choir director: selecting and conducting appropriate music for Reformed worship. 3. For a congregation: showing gratitude to those workers(sometimes takes the form of an honorarium).

No one but the pastor is paid for any regular, recurring church work.

Music leaders are not required to have any particular training—-just the ability to sit down and play hymns with skill. Most congregations have several members who have taken lessons for their own enjoyment and enrichment. Often these are the men and women called on to play the organ or direct the choir. They volunteer their musical abilities as other members offer their abilities to teach, serve in consistory, or minister in outreach programs.

In such a church, musicians are not required to develop their gifts. No money is budgeted for study, purchase of music, or attending conferences. While regular practicing and attending conferences might be viewed as desirable, it usually occurs only at the discretion and expense of the volunteer. The congregation sometimes expresses appreciation to the musician by way of a small gift at the end of the year or a token honorarium ($50—$300) for the person's work and for the cost of new music.

Model 2: Contract Service

"I have been entrusted with musical gifts. I have developed these gifts by special training and continue to grow through regular study and practice. I provide a service just as the piano tuner, bookkeeper, guest preacher, and others provide theirs."

Responsibilities (in addition to those listed for model 1)
4. Participation in worship planning with pastors.
5. Knowledge of the theology and practice of Reformed worship.
6. For organists: regular practice and development of repertoire.
7. For choir directors: leadership qualities in building and administering a choir program.

The musician may or may not be a member of the congregation. He or she is accountable to a person or committee entrusted with overseeing his or her work. A job description and simple contract will make expectations clear, and an annual review process will allow for continuing discussion and refinement of expectations.

The contract is based on the estimated number of hours (on either a per-hour or per-service basis) the congregation expects the musician to devote to rehearsal and practice as well as the time he or she will spend directing or playing during the worship service. Compensation includes an amount for purchase of music and attendance at at least one workshop and/or conference each year. The position will be part-time.

Model 3: Pastoral Service

"I have been entrusted with musical gifts that are needed in the church. I have devoted myself to a calling and career specifically applied to the church. I have chosen this profession and prepared myself for service through a program of education and training akin to that which pastors follow."

Reponsibilities (in addition to those listed in Models 1 and 2 above)
8. Coordinating the entire musical life of the congregation according to the goals for ministry and the gifts of the congregation Payment is not a reward. Payment is a matter of justice.
9. Nurturing the musical gifts of the entire congregation, for both worship and church school, by generating ideas and working with other staff members and volunteers.
10. Nurturing the musical gifts of those already involved in the church music program.

The musician is a member of the congregation. He or she is a staff member alongside the pastor, with responsibilities distinct from the pastor. Responsibilities and expectations for the music director are clearly spelled out in ajob description. Like the pastor and other staff members, the music direction is evaluated annually against that job description.

Since the pastor has primary responsibility for leading worship, the musician is accountable for working under his leadership in matters of public worship. However, the pastor does not interfere in areas for which the musician is given responsibility. All other church musicians are accountable to the music director.

The music director's salary is determined on the same basis as the pastor's (i.e., equitable wage for experience and responsibilities, with benefits). The position may be part-time or full-time.

Analysis of Models
Model 1

If a congregation is small and has limited financial resources and if all roles beyond that of pastor are voluntary (including custodial, secretarial, and bookkeeping), the model of the volunteer church musician is entirely appropriate. Many small churches are blessed in having highly-skilled musicians who willingly volunteer their gifts for the sake of worshiping with that congregation.

Model 2

If anyone besides the pastor is paid, judgments about who should receive money and who should be classified a "volunteer" should be based on priorities in the life of the church and on justice with regard to the position— not on tradition in the marketplace. Secretaries, custodians, and bookkeepers have skills that are marketable outside of the church; organists who work at developing skills for public worship do not. Yet often churches pay the former group and not the latter.

Churches often give the following reasons for not paying their musicians:

Why should someone get paid for what they enjoy doing?
Often congregations fail to distinguish between the member who plays an instrument or sings for enjoyment (but without advanced skills) and the serious student of church music and liturgy. A person who really works at church music should be rewarded accordingly—even though he may enjoy what he is doing. After all, many of us enjoy our work, but we still expect a salary. Payment is not offered in lieu of pleasure. Payment is not a reward. Payment is a matter of justice: "A worker deserves wages."

Volunteer contributions are "good enough."
If the congregation has the attitude that an amateur's voluntary contribution is "good enough," a more serious approach to the role of music in worship is discouraged. The "it's good enough" mentality is hard to combat.

One would expect that the church would place its highest priority on public worship and that excellence, development of gifts and talents, and accountably of those who lead in public worship would be primary in the life of the church. The church sends a strong message when a building, for which volunteer efforts are not "good enough" to build or maintain, takes priority over the worship, for which the building was built.

Real kingdom workers ought to devote their time and talents to the Lord for the spiritual reward it brings them.
This argument is rooted in an unReformed understanding of what kingdom service is. People may have the notion that only a "secular" skill, such as bookkeeping, should be rewarded with "secular" compensation. Real kingdom workers ought to devote their time and talents to the Lord for a more spiritual reward. Such a dichotomy is thoroughly unbiblical and certainly unReformed.

Model 3

Few congregations have had experience with "pastoral" church musicians—trained professionals who have chosen a career in response to a calling to lead the people's song to the Lord. The struggles in developing an appropriate model for a pastoral church musician are many, because the concept is different from what many people associate with the "professional" church musician.

Many churches hesitate to professionalize a music position because of an appropriate reluctance to treat worship music as concert music. The secular university is still the place for training professional organists and choir directors. No wonder much of their training is geared to the concert hall rather than to worship. And no wonder musicians seeking a program in worship leadership rather than concert performance have a hard time finding the courses they need. Seminaries offer little in worship training for pastors, let alone musicians.

Another related problem is that some professional church musicians have missed the mark on what it means to minister to a congregation: the "church job" is their means of coming the closest to their stronger desire to be concert performers. The very word "professional" has developed a negative tone.

Few professional (or better, "pastoral") church musicians are so blessed as to be able to work in the denomination which nurtured their faith and to which they are committed. Many need to find work in other denominations or leave their profession— sometimes an agonizing choice— since there is simply no market for their skills outside the church.

In spite of these problems, the number of musicians on church staffs is increasing. Pastoral church musicians are slowly finding their way into congregations, both small and large, who have a commitment to excellence in worship. Some churches offer creative full-time appointments that combine musical/liturgical responsibilities with administrative, educational, or outreach The "it's good ministries in the congregation. More often, a musician needs other employment to earn a living wage.

Practical Suggestions

Our survey didn't tell us how many musicians are content with their current compensation. Judging from the widely varied practices revealed by the survey and the letters we received, the level of discontent is rather high. Many of these musicians are understandably reluctant to complain on their own behalf about an apparently unjust situation. It's a bit demeaning.

But both the discontent and the continuing uneven compensation have had a sad impact on the field of church music. The shortage of organists is increasing alarmingly. And because fewer and fewer college students are studying organ, the shortage Of well-qualified church musicians will continue to rise.

Those churches who rely on volunteers are also facing a shortage. We used to be able to count on volunteer contributions in many areas, especially from women who did not work outside the home. But those days are largely over. Everybody is too busy.

As the tensions increase over uneven compensation and too few musicians to fulfill needs, the church will face some struggles. Congregations and musicians alike must learn not to let these struggles and the difficult situations they create impede worship. Letting frustrations over different hopes and expectations prevent unity in the body is one of the saddest things that can happen to a congregation.

At the same time, don't avoid the issues. Work together in a spirit of mutual encouragement and service. Seek advice and ideas from other churches in your areas and from some of the following resources:

■For an excellent book on developing a pastoral musician for your congregation, read the recently published The Church Musician by Paul Westermeyer (see pp. 44—45 for a review).

■For help in determining salaries for part- or full-time church musicians, purchase the 1988 booklet entitled Guidelines for Committees Seeking to Employ Church Musicians in Presbyterian Churches, produced by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM). Contact: PAM, 1000 E. Morehead St., Charlotte, NC 28204 ($1.50; check must accompany order).

■Many educational resources are available from the American Guild of Organists (AGO). Two dealing specifically with compensation are Music in the Church: Work and Compensation (Seattle Chapter, AGO, 6th printing, 1987, $2.00) and The Work and Compensation of the Church Musician (Boston Chapter, AGO, 10th edition, 1988, $2.00). Contact: AGO National Headquarters, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 1260, New York, NY 10115,(212)870-2310.

Emily Brink is editor of RW and music and liturgy editor for CRC Publications.


Guidelines for Paying Church Musicians
These figures do not include fringe benefits
Weekly Salary
6 hrs/wk
Annual Salary
6 hrs/wk
Annual Salary
20 hrs/wk

Annual Salary
40 hrs/wk

B.M. or
Equivalent Plus

$9.15-$ 11.43*




M.M. or
Equivalent Plus
$11.43-$ 13.72* $69-$82 $3,566-$4,281 $11,887-14,269 $23,774-28,538
Ph.D. or
Equivalent Plus
$13.72-$ 17.15* $82-$103 $4,281-$5,351 $14,269-17,836 $28,538-35,672

*These figures should be adjusted regionally and reevaluated annually in accordance with the cost-of-living index.

Reprinted by permission from Guidelines for Committees Seeking to Employ Church Musicians in Presbyterian Churches recommended by The Presbyterian Association of Musicians.

Complete copies may be obtained from the national office of The Presbyterian Association of Musicians, 1000 E. Morehead Street, Charlotte, North Carolina 28204. A check for $1.50 each must accompany order.

When in Our Music God is Glorified

When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried,

How often, making music, we have found
a new dimension in the world of sound,
as worship moved us to a more profoundalleluia!

So has the church, in liturgy and song,
in faith and love, through centuries of wrong,
borne witness to the truth in every tongue:

And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night
when utmost evil strove against the Light?
Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight:

Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
And may God give us faith to sing always,

Fred Pratt Green, 1971.
©1972 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188.
Reproduced by special permission.
As found in Psalter Hymnal 512 and Rejoice in the Lord 508

*The article refers only to organists, not to pianists or other instrumentalists who may regularly lead congregational singing. We have focused on organists only for convenience (the organ is still the most typical instrument used in worship) and do not mean to discount the contributions made by a variety of other instrumentalists.

Emily R. Brink (embrink@calvin.edu) is Senior Research Fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and former editor of Reformed Worship.


Reformed Worship 11 © March 1989, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.