Recently I attended a smaller worship conference – the type where you sorta get to know the other people in attendance.
The overall theme I kept hearing time and again was interesting and sad at the same time: everyone was dirt poor. In conversations I’d hear things like “I can barely make ends meet on my church salary.” One worship leader told his tale of woe to the entire class and asked for prayer – he and his wife felt called and accepted his worship leader job at a church under the promise they’d be paid a decent salary over time – and that extra pay never materialized. They’re trying to stay alive with food stamps but can’t quite catch up with their daily living expenses. I’ll never forget the blank stare in his eyes, tears welling up, as he said haltingly “we’re… just… so… tired.”
Throughout the years I’ve heard many similar stories. At a visit to a famous megachurch I was a bit taken aback that every church staff member I met oddly interjected something like “I sure wish I made more money here, I can hardly make it” into routine conversations about tech equipment or song selection (you’d think megachurch salaries would be great but that isn’t necessarily the case, evidently, except for the grossly-overpaid Rock Star Worship Leaders.) Some music director friends I have, even ones at mid-sized ministries, are poor as church mice and wonder how they’re going to put gas in the tank.
Personally I’ve never even had a full-time church job. I had health insurance once for about six months – I’d been working in the music department at a megachurch for two years when they upped my part time pay enough to qualify. However, the conditions were literally so oppressive and hellish I took a $6000 pay cut (with no insurance) to become the part-time music director at a church plant. At this new church I drove around in a car with the door bashed in as I had to use the insurance money from the accident to pay bills.
Despite all this I had the time of my life at this church and both WorshipIdeas.com and HymnCharts.com were born out of the experience (a great lesson, come to think of it – the Lord might lead you into something that doesn’t appear to be ideal but amazing things can come out of it.) I rarely thought about the low pay and my dad always laughed that I was the “happiest poor person” he’d ever known. When you’re called to ministry you know the Lord will take care of you and boy, does He ever have to work overtime to compensate for the lousy salaries.
So Church, how about you start paying your worship leaders enough to live on!
Of course we’re not in ministry to get rich, but it is a bit easier to minister when you’re not constantly worried about how you’re going to pay your rent every month. And in every case I’ve mentioned, I’ve not heard one time any regret over choosing the worship leader life – everyone who’s called loves it – they just want to make a decent living.
And here’s the kicker: from my own anecdotal evidence, people who work in churches could be making a whole lot more if they left. One former youth pastor I know who was so poor he had to rely on Medicare to have his kids is now worth millions thanks to his own business. A former church IT guy now makes over a million every year with his own tech company. I can think of two former worship leaders I know who have been wildly successful in music publishing and production.
Here’s why former church workers often flourish in their new, non-church careers: when you work in a church you learn the skills to do a lot with a little. You learn to manage many different things at once. Think of all the plates you juggle as a worship leader – you coordinate praise team schedules, write chord charts, plan services, manage budgets, rehearse musicians and work odd hours. These are all habits of highly successful entrepreneurs.
If you’re frustrated in your church job I hope this article does not… necessarily… encourage you to quit. But enough might be enough and you’ve got kids to feed. Maybe it’s time, if the Lord leads, to either look for a ministry who values you or to strike out on your own.
My main intention with this article is to remind the Church that she has some very valuable and skilled servants. She might want to start taking better care of them before they leave – to merely make a living.