Revisiting the Church Musician’s Salary Scale

My article Music/Ministry/Equal Pay--Pick Two? has become the magazine's most requested resource. You can view that article by clicking here.

An Update

Since it has been a while, and since the salary figures quoted in the original article are long out of date, it is appropriate to revisit the numbers in order that you, as members of the Creator Leadership Network, can be "up to date" when you participate in salary discussions with your church.

First, even if you have read the original, a bit of "catch up"...

Given the nature of the duties of the typical church musician or worship leader, and given the specialized training and knowledge that church music and worship professionals must attain, it is a fact of life that practically the only one who can adequately judge the quality of a church musician or worship leader's work, is another church musician or worship leader. This fact, combined with the historical uncertainty of most church budgets means that few church music or worship professionals are paid what they are worth. That being said, it is my belief that most people who are in a position to "review" church musicians and worship leaders, and their salaries, are genuinely interested in paying a fair compensation for the task at hand. The key, then, to obtaining "fair compensation" depends upon the following:

• Providing outstanding work when doing assigned tasks
• Educating the review body on what "outstanding work" means
• Educating the review body on what independent authorities consider to be "fair" compensation
• Providing statistical data to justify any deviation from the "fair" benchmarks due to cost of living variances in your specific location
• Providing independent evaluations by qualified ministry peers do you do that. Here are some helpful hints.

Fair Salaries

The most commonly utilized salary guide for church musicians is the one issued by the American Guild of Organists (AGO). I'm tempted to say "read it and weep" but I'll just let you judge for yourself. The guide can be found by clicking here, but you're going to have to join AGO to see it. A few things to note:

• This is a "national" salary scale, and it may not be relevant in your locale
• While the document is quite detailed, with a matrix of education, experience, and job description, your own ministry position may not be addressed exactly, which may mean some adjustment from the numbers provided
• It is almost impossible, and probably unrealistic, for a church that is not currently in the AGO compensation "ballpark" to catch up to the numbers quickly--you may be looking at a (long?) graduated process to get there


The issue of benefits is often a large stumbling block to fair compensation. This is, in part, due to the fact that many church musicians and worship leaders are considered "part time" employees. It is a generally accepted principle (and the law in many states) that anyone who works 30 hours per week is entitled to benefits. The difficulty is that you and your church may have an understanding that your job is, let's say, a 15 hour per week position, but you are regularly putting in 32 hours when you add in prep work and other "non platform" time. Two things are absolutely true:
• You may never be compensated for all of the hours you spend doing your ministry tasks
• The only way you may be adequately compensated for the actual time you spend on ministry tasks is to provide an independently verifiable documentation of the time you actually spend on ministry tasks
It does no good to say "I think I spent xx hours per week." It is far better to provide written documentation that "Last Monday from 10:15-10:55am I made phone calls to Choirmember A, Worship Team member B, and Orchestra member C," for every ministry task.
My advice is to do as detailed a time and motion study as you possibly can. It may surprise you to find that you think you are spending 15 hours per week, but over a typical month (the minimum time for such a survey, in my opinion) you are averaging 28 hours. It is useful to do your time and motion survey in a busy month, like December, and in a "down" month, like July (if that is a down month), so that you can provide better data for averaging.
If you are actually averaging 30 hours or more per month, no matter what your contract calls for, then it is much easier to make a case for a salary adjustment, or benefits, or both. If neither is forthcoming, it is also easier to pose the question: "OK, if you only want me to work xx hours per month, what would you like me to cut out?" And, my advice is, don't agree to cut out "prep time." Ask your review committee if they pay the senior pastor for sermon prep time. It may be difficult, but, if you are truly willing to walk away from, for instance, leading your orchestra, in order to work for a "fair" wage, you may live a longer and less stressful life...and your family might see you more often to boot.   

Discretion is the better part of valor

It goes without saying that if you find yourself in a situation where the independent documentation shows you are not being paid the statistical norm for your ministry tasks, then being confrontational about that fact is probably counterproductive. Instead, adopt an objective (rather than emotional) attitude, and try to let the facts present your case for you. I prefer to believe that, given the benefit of better information, no review committee wants to deliberately pay you less than you are entitled. In discussing your independently documented salary shortfall, or demonstrated hours at task which qualify you for benefits, take a pastoral perspective. Help your committee understand why it is good stewardship, and Scripturally appropriate, to increase your compensation. I'm not going to do all the research for you, because it is better that you compile your own documentation, but my counsel is that you be gentle, yet firm. Understand that this is probably, at the very least, new information for them, and there might be a considerable paradigm shift needed to get where you think they need to go. Help them in the process, but accept that there needs to be a process, which may take some time.

But, what if?

The "dark side" of this process is that you may find that your committee believes that you should be, in essence, "donating" the extra time that you have documented, at no pay, because you are called to your ministry. There is no right answer here, but it is possible that by learning exactly how much "extra" you are giving, it will cause frustration, friction, or worse, between you and the committee. The end result of this may be that you decide to seek to serve elsewhere, where you may be more fairly compensated. You may decide (or feel trapped into) staying is your only option, and it may make you angry or bitter.
I personally believe that more knowledge is preferable, but you will need to decide for yourself where your comfort zone lies. Whatever you decide, however, do so intentionally, rather than just because "we've always done it that way before."

Final Thoughts


Ministry is, in the end, ministry. One of the difficulties is that, in general, ministry work is never compensated in the same way as equivalent secular work. Whether your church is asking you to be a "tent maker" or a "Vice President for Creativity" the privilege of serving in ministry brings its own rewards. May God bless your ministry, and you in it. Blessings.