22 September 2014

should churches pay sunday musicians?

Any conversation involving the intersection of church and money is bound to raise hackles.  The discussion around paying church musicians for their work on Sunday mornings is no exception.

There are basically two positions:
  1. Musicians should use their God-given talents to praise and honor God, and any expectation of payment for using those talents in a Sunday morning context is, at best, misguided.
  2. Churches should honor musicians, who have not only prepared for a specific service but have spent years, even decades, in becoming better musicians, by offering them stipends.
My experience in this is all over the board.  I doubt the churches that I grew up in ever paid our musicians, and one congregation had two pianists with doctorates in piano.  In another congregation, the musicians were primarily members of the pastor's family.  However, since about college or so, I have been more and more in contexts, including my current parish, where musicians are regularly paid.  I have worked with talented church musicians who refused to be paid, and with talented church musicians who demanded to be paid.

To be honest, my question is not really about whether or not we should pay musicians.  I'm in favor of it and hope that wherever I'm serving can offer stipends to musicians.  But I'd like to think about this question from another perspective:

Our parish has regular Christian Formation classes during the school year, at 9:30 AM, and the classes go from 45-50 minutes.  As the pastor, I'm usually the one teaching these classes, but when others with teaching gifts are able and willing, I am happy to hand over the lectern.  Recently, I approached one member of our church family and asked him if he could teach a series of his choice for the class.  He prayerfully agreed to do so, selected a book for everyone to read, and led a number of excellent classes.

So the question is: why didn't we pay him?  Why didn't we even offer to pay him?  This man is top shelf, a retired university professor who spends his summers teaching theological German at one of the most outstanding graduate schools of theology in North America.  In addition to his deep faith and genuine Christian love, he is a preeminently gifted teacher with a Ph.D. and all the academic accolades you would want.  But if I had asked the treasurer to pay him for teaching, he most assuredly would have laughed at me.

We pay musicians: why don't we pay educators?  They put in serious prep time during the week getting ready for Sunday.  They have years, decades of experience, training, and education.  What's the difference between a church musician and a church educator that compels us to pay one and not even consider paying the other?

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