From time to time I am asked if church musicians should be paid to play or sing in a church’s weekly services.
In a sentence, I would say don’t pay them–especially not up front. And don’t make any promises for it to come in the future. (Please see the exceptions below.) The scriptural principle is 1 Chronicles 21:24 where David said, “I will not sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” Your praise team members will have the privilege to offer a sacrifice of praise to God as they use their gifts from week to week. They should be willing to “pay” through their time and efforts for the opportunity to play and offer their sacrifices.
The most important quality you must have in your players is a heart that loves God and understands that their music is a ministry to God and others. What better way to test their motives than by seeing if they are willing and wanting to play without financial renumeration?
I have found that quality draws quality. Great musicians love playing with other great musicians. Rather than enticing people to come and play for money, play with excellence and effectiveness each and every Sunday — even when you only have 1 or 2 players. Word will spread about how God is using you and about how “tight” your musicianship is. In time God will bring you the other musicians you need. And they will be more than stoked to get to play with your group.
That said, let me include a couple exceptions to the “Don’t pay” guideline.
1. If and when your group gets paid to play at an event, then you need to “share the love.” In other words, if your group goes out and does concerts for a love offering or an honorarium, then you need to be good stewards with the income. You can either divide it equally among your members, or you can place that money in a fund to help you purchase sound equipment and other needed items for your group. Or you may want to donate that money to your church or some other worthy cause. Just be sure you talk about it openly among your group and make a decision about how the money will be distributed before you go out to play.
2. If you are in a large church where your players are required to play multiple services and practice multiple times each week, then I believe putting them on the payroll is not only a good idea, but a needed one. The 1 Chronicles 21:24 principle applies to churches as well. Churches can’t lift up corporate praise each week through our praise team(s) and not expect to have to pay something for it. We need to support our musicians in every way possible financially. For example, we as church leaders cannot expect our worship teams to sing and play with excellence if they don’t have excellent equipment and tools, which the church provides for them. In the same way, if we are going to tie up 10 hours or more of their time each week, musicians should be reimbursed for their time. That’s the equivilent of a part-time job. The last thing you as the pastor or main worship leader should want to do is burn them out. You want to show them in a tangible way how much you appreciate them and their efforts.