Professional Development for Church Musicians – Who Pays?

by vernsanders on March 5, 2010

There is a famous line about the final gold medal sport in the Vancouver Olympics: I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.

I kind of feel that way this week. When making  what I though was a helpful reference to the resources that the Creator website provides – an article that provided specific solutions on a topic that was inquired about on a discussion list – I got these two responses:

You have to pay $3 for this article?


The need to pay can be frustrating … especially when funds are low and the topic is of interest!
Truly, I understand being paid for one’s work. After all, I’m a church musician!! I realize that time and effort goes into the creating of each article and that there is value therein.
So, for the most part, I end up living without the benefit of articles Vern Sanders and Creator Magazine provides.

so I wrote this response to both the posters <edited here for relevance to this blog entry>, and copied the entire list.

First, <person 1>, I feel your pain.

<person2>, thank you for your excellent explanation of the dilemma, and I understand your decision.
I am not unaware that church musicians are underpaid, and, more importantly, undervalued when it comes to professional development. The most downloaded (free) article on our website is my Music/Ministry/Equal Pay: Pick Two? which, at over 9000 views, makes this case in detail.

I wish we could give away all our content. But several years ago we chose to give some things away in order to serve, and also to let our readers know the kind of quality they might expect when they subscribe to the printed magazine, or buy an article pdf. Our hope is that our credibility and content quality will speak for itself, and that people will, as professional development needs arise, turn to us for help.

This article costs less than a visit to Starbucks. On the other hand, and I think this is important, the model in music ministry assumes that professional development should be funded by church musicians out of their own pockets. That, in and of itself, is not unusual. What is different, however, is that, unlike people in business (who generally have professional development paid for by their employers) or teachers (who generally have to pay for it themselves) there is no “reward,” financial or otherwise, that ensues when a church musician pursues professional development.

Don’t think so? Anyone here reading this who has not had to deal with understanding and/or developing a seeker service? A cafe service? Multi-site? Contemporary? Did your church expect you to create all this IP? Did they pay to train you to do so? If your church paid for your training, put your hand up… I thought so…there are a few hands in the back there…

Please pardon me if I sound a bit like a union organizer in that last sentence. Not my intent. Rather I’m trying to paint the picture that we find ourselves in, even now. As I was asked in a recent interview: “Are church musicians still being treated as servants, in the manner of the 18th century…coming in and going out the back door, financially speaking?” My answer was, “in most cases, yes.”

In a “fair” world, paying $3 for an article which tells you exactly how to solve a problem shouldn’t be a financial issue. Yet I know it is. So I’m going to send these folks copies of this article without charge.

Finally, Creator‘s website does provide free content, most notably our Monday Morning Email resource which delivers leadership helps, anthem reviews, interviews, and yes, back articles from Creator‘s knowledge base to our 3000 subscribers each Monday. You can read the current MME here. We also have a 24/7 streaming audio resource which is free, which you can listen to here.

But we want to make our articles more accessible. We had already started a website redesign intending to give our magazine subscribers free access to all of our back articles online. We think that linking our knowledge base to a subscription is a better way to serve church musicians and worship leaders, and pay our bills too.

Of course there is more to the story. I got a nice email back from both of the original emailers, and one of them is enough to break your heart. For that person, $3 for an article is just too expensive due to circumstances beyond their control, and I am happy that I was able to provide the article to someone who will truly benefit from it.

I think that my key points about professional development are what need to be taken away here, though…so I ask these questions:

  • Does your church expect you to pay for your own professional development?
  • Has your church ever “rewarded” you as a result of professional development?

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  Remember that every comment left this week makes you eligible to win a prize.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Birge March 5, 2010 at 11:00 am

I have to confess to being one who chooses not to download an article if I have to pay for it. I do, however, subscribe to Creator Magazine (at my own expense) and take advantage of the “free” information available through MondayMorningEmail. I also appreciate the FaceBook postings by Vern Sanders and Doug Lawrence. These provide me with great resources and information. Thank you very much. I like the idea of linking your knowledge base to the magazine subscription. You need to earn a living, too. Thank you for all you are doing and have done to provide resources, teaching and information.

Our church has tightened the budget in recent years, but we still have a small line-item in the budget for professional development for worship. We have been using this for two people to attend MusiCalifornia. In the past, I have paid for my own hotel, off-site. For the first time, they are paying for us to stay on-site at the conference. Our new pastor feels we will have a better experience if we stay on-site. We are excited!

See you at MusiCalifornia.

vernsanders March 7, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Thanks for the input, and the positive feedback about our plan to link access to the articles to a print magazine subscription. It is good to know what people think.



Janice T March 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Yes. My church expects me to pay for professional development while at the same time arguing about whether it is counted as part of my vacation time! I have finally negotiated a “time off” policy that is capped at 8 weeks which will include PD as well as vacation or any other Sundays I need to be away. Extra time off in lieu of adequate pay. Most of the church leadership is not cognizant of the benefits to them of both my time off and any professional development I might either lead or take part in. Nor do they want to be.

And yes, the musician is still being treated as the servant that enters through the back door. Many of us thought we had truly changed that here at our church — but then sadly learned that people will give the pastor any and all kinds of power (whether appropriate or not), so will take their cues from him/her as to how to treat the musician.

Oh Vern, you got me started!

vernsanders March 7, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Thanks for the comment. I have had a standard negotiating position for the last 4 churches at which I’ve served: 4 weeks vacation plus 4 weeks for conferences, etc. It is much easier to make the case when you are speaking at conferences as opposed to attending them, but when I first proposed this, some 25 years ago, it was accepted nonetheless. One thing about changing positions is that you can say, “At my last (x) church(es) this has been the standard” during the hiring negotiations.

And if I’ve got you started…don’t stop…



Carolyn March 9, 2010 at 8:37 am

I receive Creator Magazine at my own expense, and I truly appreciate MME and the Facebook group. I am given a set dollar amount each year for professional development. The time away for PD is paid, and not part of my vacation. There is not limit to how many Sundays I can be away. However I get only 2 weeks of vacation until I have been on this job for 10 years.
Thanks for all of the help you have given me over the years.

vernsanders March 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

Thanks for the comment, Carolyn…and for being a subscriber to the magazine. I think it is great that your professional development is underwritten. Has this been true in all your positions? What denomination is your current position? Have you noticed denominational tendencies?



Karen March 15, 2010 at 10:40 am

Thank you for these comments. I’ve been at my first and only church job for the last 10 years (I had to ask that I have 2 weeks vacation included in my package 2 years into the job). This week I meet and arrange the package with a new church music job. My husband thinks musicians shouldn’t be paid-it’s their volunteer work–but he keeps quiet around me cause he knows my view- it is a big commitment from us and we should be compensated!!!! Thank you for the encouragement and ideas.

vernsanders March 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Thanks for the comment, and good luck on the negotiations. This article might help…and it has salary guides:



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