I make some of my living by playing drums for a variety of denominational and non-denominational church worship services. The services I play for range from "house concert" style acoustic music, to full-blown theatrical experiences that have more in common with live television or a rock concert than most people's traditional notions of a church worship service.
In no way is this blog post trying to judge anyone or incite someone to anger. I know that church budgets are tight, and often times we face an uphill battle trying to convince church leaders that yes, indeed we do need to pay that drummer, or guitar player, or bassist. But I think that if we can come together to educate each other about the issues and difficulties we all face, we may be able to come to a consensus that ultimately allows for more excellence in our worship and greater professionalism (grace, courtesy, respect, and trust) all around.
I love that I get a chance to worship and participate in so many different congregations. And I take my role as a drummer for worship very seriously and with great reverence. I truly want to serve the congregation and help lead congregations closer to God through their worship. I have invested in my education, experience, equipment and come to each rehearsal and service prepared to serve and play to the best of my musical abilities.
However, I get disheartened at the lack of importance placed on paying for quality talent and skill. Often times it seems that "good enough" is more important than true excellence. I sometimes feel that churches expect me to play for free or at such a reduced rate that I wonder if I should someday ask for an offering plate to be passed for me, or if I should go about a letter campaign asking people to support my "itinerant drumming ministry."
Even as I post this, I wonder if I will feel the backlash from those who believe that church musicians should not be paid. Still, I wanted to put together a list of resources that I've found via the internet, as a way to encourage all of us involved in church ministry. Often times it's the things that are most difficult to discuss that must be discussed before growth can occur...so without further rambling, I've posted links and quotes related to this "elephant in the room" below:
From Creator Magazine circa 2007 "Music Ministry Equitable Payment Pick Two" by Vernon Sanders:
"...worship ministry is the only activity that involves every member of the church. One Pastor for Worship Ministries says, somewhat lightheartedly, "every dollar specifically earmarked for the worship ministry will bring back $10 in the offering plates."
While this person is speaking of program budgets, the point is well taken. Non-worship activities at churches tend to be "self-supporting" (that concert series comes to mind) or "subsidized" by the general budget (there may be a Sunday School that generates enough money through children’s offerings to pay for the Children’s Ministry Pastor, but I don’t know of one).
If the worship ministry is truly important to a particular church, paying a "living wage" to the employees of that ministry seems to be only the proper thing to do. Some (many I would guess) churches may need to "work up" to the current Guidelines, but all should acknowledge the worth of the ministry itself, and how it has changed."
There’s an old saying in the printing industry: quick, cheap, good—pick two. What have you or your church chosen?
A book from 2006 by Darrell Alexander, "Excellence in Worship: Should Church Musicians Get Paid?" gets some interesting comments like the following from "L White":
"I found this book to be very profound, and it hit on some very interesting points. After dating a musician and being aware of the preparation, time, and energy that goes into the music and choir selections as well as special programs, this is a full-time job in itself. It rates the same spiritual level as a pastor preparing his sermon to the people. It prepares people to receive a spiritual blessing if done properly. If you pay a pastor, who is said to be called into the ministry, why not pay the musician, who could also be called into the ministry, only in a different way!! I don't believe the pastor could do as an effective job without the musician."
Reader John Hunse writes to the Reformed Worship magazine (though he is referring to organists, I believe you could make the argument for other musicians as well):
"The denomination should set a suggested remuneration schedule for musicians, just as we have for ministers. It is difficult for individual musicians at the local congregational level to present a case on their own behalf without being misunderstood and misinterpreted."
And makes the following case:
"The talent of the musicians should be viewed no differently than the talent of the building contractor, the carpenter, or the electrician. All require time and effort to develop and deploy. Yet no one would expect carpenters and electricians to "donate" materials and services week after week, year after year"
I found this salary guide from the National Association of Church Musicians that I thought could provide a look into a salary structure based on years of experience and other factors. The chart is from 2004 and by adding a 3% increase per year (since 2004) I came up with a 2009 minimum wage (for someone with minimal to no training working for less than 11 hours a week) of around $225/ per week/service (including rehearsals). For someone with my background (BM degree and over 5 years professional experience), the numbers work out to be a minimum wage somewhere around $325 or so, per week/service. Download NACM Salary Guide 2004
I also found this article with the following salary guidelines posted below the story (please note these figures are at least 10 years old!):
Guidelines for Paying Church Musicians
ENTRY-LEVEL SALARY RECOMMENDATIONS
ALL SUGGESTED SALARY RATES INCLUDE PREPARATION TIME
These figures do not include fringe benefits
*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.
Note: If we are to adjust the figures for cost of living (3% per year), the minimum hourly wage gets up to around $9.00. I think these figures are a bit low personally, but they provide a nice "counter-point" view to the salary guide put out by the NACM.
Often times I think that most music ministers aren't opposed to paying for professional musicians, it's just that the model for payment has changed (it's no longer just a pianist and organist that are paid) and it's hard to know what a fair and reasonable amount would be to offer. And how do you adjust for the musicians experience (or lack there-of) and take into account his training and education? Without answers to these questions, it's hard to go to the leaders and financial folks in the church and ask them to re-evaluate the budget for worship.
May you find the links and information above helpful and may we all continue to work towards finding an equitable way to deal with church musicians in a financially responsible way. I think if we are to ignore the subject of paying our church musicians, we risk alienating and burning out some of our most passionate and "invested" members.
New info: February 28, 2009 I found this blog post over at the NorthPointe Music Blog, seems they were talking about this same subject back in December. I like that they advocate using a percentage system, so that worship team members are paid a percentage of what the main worship leader is getting paid. Nifty.