May Your Silver Perish With You: or Why Not All Church Musicians Get Paid


    In writing this document, yes, I chose a bit of a powerful title.  It might almost be considered a click bait title.  But I really wanted to address something that's been bothering me in Christendom.

    It's been difficult, being the worship leader of a small church, to entice musicians to come volunteer at our church.  It's a struggle for sure.  And I personally believe that church musicians should be something God adds organically to your church, i.e. in that we should focus on inviting people to church and telling the lost about Jesus over merely finding musicians.

    But an odd thing has been happening that I wanted to talk about.  I would post advertisements to ask for volunteers but the 3 or so people who answered wanted to know if the position paid.

    In some ways it's almost insulting because I get paid less for leading this church's worship ministry than the average person wants to be paid to just come play an instrument.

    But recently a person on Facebook even went so far to say that it's a "fact" that church musicians should all be paid.  I found that to be a rather alarming statement.  So I figured I would research this and post this article.

Evidence From Scripture

    I would first point out some preliminary reading.  It's already pretty obvious that church leaders should be paid, like this article in Church Tech Today.  It cites 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10 about Paul being paid, first.  But it also points out that Paul was an example of working very hard, night and day, for the church.  I would carefully suggest that the average church musician does not meet this requirement: I've never seen a church musician practice night and day.  Not even I can practice that often or that much.

    The next scripture cited is 1 Corinthians 9:9-14 about being paid for our work in the church.  Paul is applying this to himself and others, but it says in verse 11, "if we have sown spiritual things among you...."  It may be possible to say that a church musician would qualify as sowing spiritual things among the church.  However, the majority of church musicians I have led and been in praise teams with are only at church on practice and service days.  I have politely encouraged my team multiple times to go to Wednesday Night Bible Study because I want my team to be a part of the church, not just showing up on Sunday.  I am the only one that regularly attends Wednesday Night Bible Study.  My schedule hasn't permitted me to attend a Saturday morning Church Work Day either, though I will attend this as soon as I can.  None of my team have ever, to my knowledge, attended on a Saturday Morning Church Work Day except one.  I would cautiously recommend that if a church musician is to be paid, they should be in church every time the door is open, to be an example, not just attending services and practices.

    This link then cites Luke 10:7 when Jesus sent out His followers, telling them to eat and drink what is provided to them when they go out on witnessing trips.  I can see this as proving that your church musicians ought to get breakfast.  Indeed, ideally, I would cook breakfast for them before Sunday Morning rehearsal.  But it describes food and drink in this context as wages.  As well, note that this is not describing church musicians, but traveling preachers.

    One final scripture cited is Philippians 4:16-19 where Paul thanks the Thessalonica church for supplying his needs.  Note here that the church supplied his needs, not his wants.  I can see this pointing out that the church worship ministry should pay for the needs of its musicians, such as strings, in-ear monitors, drum sticks, reeds, valve oil, etc.  I think I've only been to one church that bought me strings.  As a worship leader, I've been trying to do this.  But as for wages, I don't see this passage describing wages.

    As for previous history, note that in Davidic worship (i.e. between when David brought back the ark of God and the finishing of Solomon's Temple) was done by Levites.  Levites in OT times were fed and paid through sacrifices and tithes.  They had no land inheritance, for God was their inheritance.  Their full time job was ministering to the people for God.  I thought about this for a long time and I wished I could use it as a comparison to modern day worship leaders and worship musicians and singers.  But I don't think it's a congruent comparison.  The way the world economy is now set up, I strongly doubt a church musician could be paid only for their service and do nothing but this.  But then if you think about it, what types of worship musicians and singers are paid full time?  Worship leaders.  There are not enough worship musician jobs that a person could do that full time and get paid enough to live.  Most our services are on Sunday, and even if you got hired with a Catholic mass gig, those are maybe 3-5 per week: still not enough to live off of in current economic conditions.

    Whereas your worship leader is doing a lot full time, like arranging music (especially in large churches with orchestra instruments), often helping the pastor with biblical counseling and visitation, etc.  Unfortunately the church musician cannot do it full time.

    Does this mean worship musicians should not be paid at all?  No, I don't think there's enough scripture to say that a worship musician should be paid any more than they must be paid or should not be paid.  I don't think the Bible gives us enough to call it a "fact."

So Then What Type of Worship Musician Should Be Paid?

    Having shown that there really aren't enough "facts" to "prove" that worship musicians should be paid, I have some opinions on the type of person I would be willing to pay as a worship musician.  Understand that these are opinions, not facts.

  1. The worship musician who deserves pay should be professional.  The first thing a church leadership team will think if their paid musician is acting unprofessionally is "why are we paying them?"  This means behaving like a Christian towards others in and out of the church, as well as knowing how to be in a music rehearsal so as to not detract from rehearsal.
  2. The worship musician who deserves pay should be able to play difficult passages or songs without fail.  Anyone can pick up a guitar, for example.  A paid electric guitarist, for instance, should be able to play just like a studio musician: difficult stuff like Lincoln Brewster.  A paid electric bass player should be able to play crazy bass lines like in WhiteHeart's later songs.  A paid tenor should be able to handle Phil Wickham songs.  You get the point.  What is being paid for is not practice, for all musicians should practice.  People who are studio level have often taken lessons and done many years to hone their craft.  It is this level of capability that is being paid for.
  3. The worship musician who deserves pay should be more than just someone who shows up on Sunday.  They should be a part of the church.  Most those who have asked me for pay to play in our church have asked for as much money as I already get, and yet seem also unwilling to join our church.  For me, being on the worship team and being a member of our church are one in the same, much less being paid.  The worship musician who deserves pay should be in the church every time the doors are open and even capable to handle a tiny bit of biblical counseling (i.e. they are a strong and knowledgeable believer who is able to teach).

My Church Doesn't Pay Me.  What Should I Do?

    If you really believe you meet the criteria above and yet your church isn't paying you, I'm sorry but maybe your church doesn't have the money.  Guess what my music budget is per year?  $500.  That's it.

    I would recommend praying and asking God what to do at this point.  God may want you to stay at your church.  God may want you to train to become a worship leader.  God may want you to find a worship paying gig.  It's up to God.

    Your volunteering, however, is an act of service to God.  God will reward you eventually.

    Note that Psalm 33 and Psalm 150 do not tell us to praise God with voices or instruments only if we get paid.  We are all commanded to do this.  So attending a church but refusing to fill a needed musical position because you're not being paid looks an awful lot like sin.  I can't tell you it is sin, but it sounds close to it.

My Church Doesn't Have the Money to Hire Musicians

    I'm in that situation right now, and I can tell you it's not fun and games.  But it's also not a problem.  Let me explain why.

    God wants us to worship Him.  God also wants us to use our talents for Him.  Psalm 33 and 150 don't tell us to praise God with our voices or instruments only if we get paid.  We're all encouraged to praise him with our voices and our talents.  This is universal.

    But at the same time, nothing in Scripture says you have to have drums, electric guitars, etc.  So I would recommend, if you're a worship leader with meager resources, just do your best with what God has given you.

    I would also recommend against using tracks.  This is just my own personal opinion, so feel free to reject it, but as a musician who has scouted out churches before joining their worship team, nothing is more annoying to watch a live stream that sounds identical to the original song only to see (in various camera angles) fewer musicians on stage than are needed to pull that off.

    Churches need to be comfortable in their own skin.  They need to be organic and authentic.  Sounding exactly like Phil Wickham gets boring after a while.  If anything, I recommend inventing your own version of every song you play in church.  I am not against tracks, and they aren't wrong or sinful.  I just don't like them.  And in an age where millenials are rising up in churches looking for authenticity, we owe it to their future, the future of our children and grandchildren, to be authentic before we are fake.

    So just be comfortable with what you have and use what you have.  Minister to your worship team.  Tell them they are enough, because they are.  God wants the sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 51:17), not a professional level concert.  Godspeed to those who can pull off a professional level concert.  But that's not the majority of churches in the US, much less the world.  It's more about us praising God than us being like Phil Wickham (though I love Phil Wickham's music).


    I don't think it's possible to say that "church musicians should be paid, and that's a fact."  I think it's a good thing to try to do, to pay your musicians.  I think, more than anything, however, we should help our musicians with their needs: perishables like strings and cables should be purchased by the church, in my opinion.  But pay should probably (my opinion) be reserved for studio level musicians and singers.