Over the past several weeks, the question of paying musicians and singers in a worship environment has been a hot topic. If you ask churches who are paying their musicians, they have valid reasons for doing so. If you ask those who aren't, they too have valid reasons. What is the best scenario? What is the ideal for the local church?
To answer the question of whether a worship team member should be paid or not is a difficult one. There are so many factors to consider in every situation. For example: I have a rocking worship band in my church. We have set a high standard of musical excellence as well as a high standard of worship. Then one day I lose my piano player. Ouch! To make things worse, I have no one in the church that can play at the level needed. What do I do? Do I bring in someone with less talent and bring the level of music and worship down? What if there are no options but to hire someone?
This happened to me in my church. I lost a key player and had no one to bring in to replace the position. What were my options? To go without or to pay someone to help out. I decided to offer a stipend to an individual who lived in a neighboring city to come in and play. The amount was not much considering what we got. Now, was this the right thing to do?
Before I went looking for someone, I had my criteria in place. He had to be a believer, love worship, be a worshiper, and he had to be a team player. If he couldn't meet all of these requirements, I couldn't use him...no matter how good he may be. To make a short story long, I brought him in on a small weekly stipend that mainly took care of his gas and a coke. What was the result? We didn't lose a beat in our music and he brought a level of worship to our group that was needed. I know that this is the exception to the norm, but God blessed in this situation by allowing us to pay for someone that had professional quality to help us in worship. He has since joined the church and is a contributor to many other ministries.
Several things to look at when considering whether or not to hire musicians for worship:
1) What is the individual's motivation for serving? If it's for a paycheck, you probably won't get what you need from them. You may get great music, but the dynamic of the team will never gel when one of your key players is there only for the money.
2) Set your own criteria for anyone coming in who play or sing in a paid position. Even though it's easier to control a paid player, the sense of unity will be lacking if everyone is not held accountable by the same rules and expectations. Also, hiring those who are not believers for the long haul can bring done the worship experience in your church. We have to remember that worship is for the believer.
3) Is your need long term or temporary? You may be able to get by with a paid musician from time to time. If your need is long term, you may want to bring in someone for hire until you fill the position. Keep in mind that your main goal is to find someone who wants to do this as his/her ministry. Again, when a person does it voluntarily, usually they will give more and it will be a better situation for all involved.
What are some solutions to help avoid having to pay professionals to play in worship? Prayer. Pray that the Lord will bring you gifted, believing, worshipping musicians to serve in your ministries. I try to constantly keep this mindset. I pray that God would bring us people who are gifted worshipers who are team players. There's no room for showboats in worship. If you don't ask God specifically to send you these people, it's hard to get what you need.
Continue to enlist people who have the proper gifting in your ministry programs. Most believers view their talent contribution as ministry. That's not to say they shouldn't be paid for it. Develop relationships with those you know are gifted musicians. Network yourself in the music community. You never know who is out there willing to play if they are just asked.
In conclusion, I don't feel that the question of hiring people to play and sing is the issue. If God has gifted a lead guitar player in your church, it's worth it to me to pay him (assuming he meets my criteria for service). If he doesn't need payment, that's even better. If I could, I would pay all our worship leadership who play and sing. They are well worth it, in my opinion. Would it make a difference in our music and worship, probably not. They are there because they are gifted people who desire to serve. They are worshipers who want to use their gifts to lead our people in true worship. If the worshiper's heart is there, to pay or not to pay is just a formality. To say that it is wrong to pay people who play and sing is unfair. Who you pay and hire is a different thing. Keep focused on quality worship with excellence in music. Set a high standard for yourself and your team and continue to pursue it. If worship is the goal, it will not be hard to make the right decision.
One side note: Remember that every church has their own unique situation. How you choose to run your ministry is between you and God. We desire to only provide insight and options for the worship leader and music minister. Pray for God to bless your ministry and He will. It's ironic how we rely on our own gifts and talents to "pull things off" in our ministries. When we give them to the Lord, they run a lot smoother and with less complications.
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