Frequently Asked Questions

Salary Matters

Compensation for Organists
(Good Advice)

Horror Story
(Avoid this Bad Situation

Compensation for Organists

This appeared on Bill Rayborn's Church Music e-mail list and we asked Ginny to allow us to post it on the Handbell FAQ  web page.   Thanks, Ginny, for sharing such a interesting presentation.

Of course, we may adapt the "organist" positions to Music Directors or  Handbell Directors, but we prefer that you do that for yourself  rather than edit Ginny's thoughts.

Date: Sun, 4 Feb 2001 14:00:47 -0600
From: "Ginny Allen" <>
Subject: Re: [Church-Music] some idea please

Kathy Herman asked about determining fair pay as she interviews for an organist position:

Response:  Because payment of musicians in the church is a sensitive matter, I am taking time to share what I have found as considerations in looking at pay. This is a little long, but I hope worth my time and yours in being helpful. I am coming from the perspective of a preacher's kid, a minister myself and a spouse of a minister   I have a lifetime in a ministry family.  I have experienced both the pastor's side and the musician's perspective.

Do a little research with other churches in your area, county-wide.  Ask them for the name of their organist and then call and talk to them.  Do a tally of each church's membership, number of services weekly, rehearsals weekly, that organist's background, experience, education...any of the areas
below and then ask their salary scale so you can establish what is fair for you in your area.

I did this 10 years ago on behalf of some unpaid church pianists serving under me as their interim.   I found that male pianists in Mobile, AL were paid 3X what women were in the equivalent position.  But since in "Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female" this should not be an issue in a church situation.  So I would not make gender an issue as one in your statistics.

You can present your findings to the interviewing church. Point out where you fit in the scale and they will see what is the norm for pay of someone with your credentials.  Usually, churches do not want paying UNDER average.          (POSITIVE peer pressure!)

Come at the position professionally as a church musician and communicate your job expectations up front.  If you have it in writing, you protect yourself and the church from misunderstandings later.  Better to let them  know what you feel you are worth and what will make you happy, up front.  If
you don't and try to let them try to figure it out as non-musicians, they have no way to be able to arrive at that information and you will be frustrated.   Along with frustration, you will have to deal with feelings of being under-appreciated, under-paid and totally misunderstood.  That's how m usicians get the reputation for being temperamental...they blow up at some little thing that has been eating on them for years because they expected everyone to know what their job takes...and they can't know unless they are informed.  These attitudes will eat up your mental and emotional  health...not to mention how they suppress your Christian witness.  Better to let them know what is needed, expected and what it takes to get you there - from the beginning.  If they feel like they cannot meet your needs, then save time for everyone, and save your energy and emotional health.

Instead of having a dollar figure in mind, go with an itemized list of what doing that job requires.  Non-musicians DO NOT KNOW what it takes to be a musician, anymore than you or I know how to appreciate what is required to be a brain surgeon...except that both musicians and brain surgeons are life-savers!  A service without musicians is as dead as a body without a brain!  : )

I.  What have you invested in your preparation for this a specialized field:

A.  How much private lessons?
B.  How much education?
C.  How much experience doing performance? (non-church)
D.  How much church music exposure and experience?
II.  Then itemize the amount of time it will take for you to do this job each week?
  (NOTE:  Do not say an hour for a worship service, but the actual time that you will be there to get robed, to the time you hang up your robe to go to your car.  That is TIME ON THE JOB)
A.  Include actual time at services
B.  time in rehearsals
C.  time practicing
D.  time for special services around holidays.  Ask them what special services they have:  Maundy Thursday, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Sunrise Easter, Community Singing, Thanksgiving service, Christmas Eve services, etc.  Allow for additional pay to be allowed when additional services are required.  Ask how many rehearsals are required for that special service.
E.  If there are different style services, (Vespers type, Contemporary, Traditional) do they require different sets of music to be prepared?
III.  Include how you want to be compensated for weddings/funerals/anniversary.
A. that is to be a set fee incorporated with the church being used for these events
B.  Do you want to leave it open ended and up to the families.
IV. Special Events
Include amount you want to be compensated, if you want to be for special church functions, like
A.  church fellowship meals
B.  women's club accompanist  , etc.
C. Is an annual organ recital welcomed, expected?  What is that worth in pay?
V. Include how you want the purchase of music to be handled.
1)  A percentage split between you and the church
2)  You turn in receipts for music purchased to be reimbursed in full
3)  A dollar amount for organ music is added as a line item in budget for music (suggest a reasonable amt, they won't know) This would mean you can spend it on what you need, when you need it - up to that amount.
4)  You go to minister of music for clearance of your selections/prices and it comes out of the music budget.

VI.  Professional

A.   Dues for Clubs & affiliations:  AGO
B.   Include continuing education:  AGO Conference  percentage of tuition, or all; travel/transportation cost; housing
VII.  Include benefits you need:
A.  How sick days will be handled, will you be responsible for finding sub. if you have to miss?  Or will they?
B.  Will you need paid sick leave, or forfeit when absent?
C.  What about vacation time allowance?  Do you need a break or not?

VIII.  As the church music ministry/program expands, will you be called upon to handle rehearsals of ensembles (Handbells, children's choirs, youth choirs, instrumental)  ?

Most part-time jobs do not get benefits for health or medical needs, but if you need coverage and the church has a group plan, let them know and they may be able to work something out.

Most misunderstandings in church staff relations - any relationships - are due to LACK of communication, NOT  miscommunication.  So talk.  Come with an attitude of wanting to avoid misunderstandings so that both sides are happy from the beginning.  Don't be defensive or angry and get past any former hurts...or you have lost already.  Come ready to compromise some, make it
clear you want to work WITH THEM to come to a work agreement.  If you see your musical offering as a ministry, make that clear that this is your attitude/approach.   If you see your job as a professional performance, make it clear that is your perspective.  This is an individual thing that affects what and how you do your job, so tell them.

"A laborer is worthy of his hire, a worker that needeth not to be ashamed." You may want to look over what the Scriptures have to say about musicians and pay.  Don't come to the interview defensive or apologetic, but confident that you are a person of worth and that God established payment for musicians.  I know no better foundation to justify payment for offering of your gifts than the directives in scriptures.  Here are just a few:

Singers over the business of the house of God

Nehemiah 11:22-27
Exodus 35:33-35
God established that worship leaders were to be paid
Numbers 18:21
Nehemiah 12:47; 13:5 & 10-11
Musicians were given homes (physical needs met)
Ezra 2:70
Nehemiah 7:73; 12:28-29, 44-47
Musicians were not taxed (allowances, accommodations)
Ezra 7:24
IF they don't see it that way, don't try to convince them. That's God's job. Shake the dust off your feet and your organ shoes...and move on to the next pedal board!  Pray that God directs you to the place He has for you and rest in knowing that He will.

Blessings to all you church musicians who give of your time and talents to glorify God and to make being in church a worshipful experience as God speaks to our soul through your gifts.

`·._.·´¯`·._.-> Keep in step with the Spirit who moves like the wind and keep a song in your heart.`·._.·´¯`·._.->

Ginny Allen, Assistant Pastor
Prayer, Communications, Evangelism, Outreach, Study
First United Methodist Church
Chipley, Florida

BME, Oral Roberts Univ.
MCM, Southern Baptist Theo. Seminary
Ordained Southern Baptist Minister
BMI Composer

Horror Story
The matter of negotiating salary is a delicate one for a Church musician.  After all, aren't we supposed to One of the participants on an e-mail list wrote this article eschuing the necessity of being sure your salary agreements are understood by both parties and the problems she has faced because the supposed agreement was changed without consultation.

"I posted in the past (umm - 4 years ago?) asking advice on how to ask a church (United Methodist) to pay me.  I finally am paid by  that church but only after being hired by another church (Lutheran).   It also helped that the 2 seniors pastors from these 2 churches are  racquetball buddies.  All went well for a year.

"Then late last fall, I was told by the UM finance person to estimate my hours I was putting in.  A time sheet must be turn in by me to follow tax code requirements.  I asked where was the citation was in tax code.  Never got an answer to that.  But I was told that my salary would not change, but if I failed to turn in a timesheet that I would not be paid.  I protested that statement vehemently as heavyhanded and insulting.

"I turned in my estimate and forgot about it.  Big mistake.  I turned in a timesheet in January for almost half the estimated hours and I  was paid half the usual monthly salary.  I've talked with the finance person and we didn't come to any agreement.

"I still wonder about the tax code requirement for church musicians to turn in timesheets.  And I wonder if I must lie on my timesheet in order to be paid the amount agreed upon."

So much for good feelings and working relations in the Church.  In a business, one might contest the change in the courts, but that would be unheard of in the Church, would it not?

I am an ordained minister of music and had never negotiated things like working arrangements and salary.  After I was "terminated" at a large Baptist church, I interviewed at several churches for a interim position, some that may have developed into full-time situations.  One of the items on my agenda during the"mutual exploratory visit" was to discuss the hours required, time away, and compensation, including benefits.

One church turned me down flat because I was "more interested in money than ministry."  This was not true, but their perception, and probably the fact was that they did not want to be bound by a contract.

At churches I have served since that time, I have told them the work I was willing to do, the approximate hours I expected to spend, and the salary I expected to receive.  In every case, I gave far beyond what my unwritten contract required.

Negotiating a salary and working agreements is important in any profession and certainly important in a church position.  Once settled, this subject does not have to come up again, unless circumstances change.

The ugly story above should not have happened, but did.  It might have been avoided with communication.  Had the reason for listing hours spent been given, the information requested, IRS rules, been given up front, and had there been a willingness to discuss the problem, the situation could have worked out amicably and feelings and working arrangements would not have been hurt.

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