“Why do we have to pay you to conduct the choir?”
I didn’t make this one up. I sat in the audience as I heard this exclaimed from across the pulpit during a service I attended recently. I could say a lot about the statement, but I’d rather get to the root of the issue: the lack of value placed on music ministry within the church.
I always say, if I don’t speak up for myself, no one else will.
So, I’ll speak for me and on behalf of countless others.
My job as a choir director and worship leader does not begin on Sunday morning. I don’t walk into the sanctuary on Sunday morning after sending an email with YouTube clips to a group of professional or paid singers and start waving my arms. I direct a church choir. A true church choir. With varying skill sets, varying levels of vocal training, and even varying interest in gospel or choir music in general. From singers who could very well be professional gospel singers with their own ministries, to singers who are in the choir for the fellowship or simply to be involved in something at their local assembly, it is my job to blend their voices together into a harmonious union that not only sounds good, but provides ministry and encouragement for those who attend our weekly services. This involves rehearsal, sometimes grueling rehearsals, listening intently, nit picking parts and multiple approaches to singing, all for the goal of collective excellence and the glory of God.
My job doesn’t begin with rehearsal either. I work within the confines of the expectations of our music department, one of which is for me to submit music for my assigned Sundays at least 2 weeks in advance. This is not a task I take lightly. I take time to ask God what He would like for us to minister on any given Sunday. I listen to music, not just for my enjoyment, but for the purpose of selecting the right music for my choir’s skill level and for the services for which we are assigned to minister. I must merge selecting music that is appropriate for our audience with music that is enjoyable for the choirs I lead. I must merge selecting music that is at the choir’s current skill level with challenging them beyond where they currently reside musically. I must take into account what the overall season is for the church, what the upcoming events are that we will minister for, and what music we currently have set in our repertoire that will benefit those ministry opportunities. And if there’s nothing currently that fits the bill, I have to plan out teaching time to make sure that by the time the event arises, we are ready to minister from a most relevant and appropriate place.
I attend meetings. Meetings to talk about the direction of the choirs I lead individually, as well as meetings to talk about the direction of our music ministry at large. I am required to be an active and vocal part of our music ministry’s leadership, especially because I stand in a unique position as only one of two directors who doesn’t also hold a higher position (minister of music, assistant minister of music, etc). I have to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on within the ministries I lead so that I can hopefully preempt issues and problems that arise that can effect the growth or stability of the choir, especially in an ever-changing church environment.
I adhere to a schedule that’s set out for me by the institution that I serve. Over the years, this has included taking time off of my full-time job, paying out of my pocket for travel expenses to support church leadership and church sponsored events, purchasing robes, suits, shirts, that I then sweat out repeatedly in service to God and the His house. This is in no way a complaint. I’ve done it without reservation, from my heart, and for the glory of God.
In addition, I spent 3 years studying voice in college, with a professional vocal coach who taught me skills, techniques, and repertoire that I still use to this day in my ministry life. I freely pass on the information that I’ve paid to learn (as appropriate and applicable) to those who I lead without it costing them.
I spend time learning more about God (and myself) in prayer, Bible study, and worship, individually and corporately.
If these reasons do not adequately answer the initial question, maybe the scriptures will help. Biblically, the Levites were paid for their service in the house of the Lord because of their constant sacrifice to make sure the Lord’s house was maintained and that worship was carried out according to God’s specifications. Google that.
Now, I believe wholeheartedly in giving of my time to my local church in a way that I’m not compensated, and I have done and continue to do this in various ways. But, I can’t help but wonder why the topic of compensation for professional music services is still up for discussion, and more importantly, why it’s still being tried in the court of public opinion. I think the answer to this question is that even today, even after all of the ministry, skilled singing, skilled playing, anointed worship leading, concerts, rehearsals, recordings, weeknight services, last minute adjustments to accommodate the service needs, traveling with the pastor and countless other skills and sacrifices, there is still a lack of belief in or appreciation for what music ministry, musicians, and music ministers, psalmists, and instrumentalists add to the life of church, church worship, church services, and even church growth.
I exist to change that perception……more to come.
Visit my website at www.jeremiahworrell.com for more information, blogs, and resources.