The New Norm? (Part 2)

In my last blog post, The New Norm, I asked if compensating band members in today’s worship culture is similar to compensating the pianist and organist from 20-25 years ago (and more).  I also was curious as to the impact on the church both financially and philosophically.  

For the purpose of continuing this discussion, I’d like to start with a handful of presuppositions based on experience and input from fellow music ministers.


  1. The “competition” for skilled band members (those who play guitar, bass, drums, etc.) seems to be more intense in metropolitan areas as opposed to less densely populated parts of the country–perhaps this is due to a greater number of larger churches.
  2. Band members who were already engaged in the life of the church and then were subsequently provided the opportunity to play an instrument more often than not served in a volunteer capacity and did not expect compensation. They see their playing as a ministry for their home church rather than just a “gig”.
  3. Band members who began playing in worship while not yet a member of the church typically expected to be compensated. While they may perceive their playing to be a ministry, their investment into the ministry is based on other factors.
  4. The number of hours expected from band members is less than that of the more traditional pianist/organist arrangement.
  5. Larger churches seem more comfortable with the idea of hiring a band.


So, here are some conclusions that have come from recent conversations and input:


  1. It appears that for those churches who still employ a choir format, the use of a paid pianist/organist is viable even if the remaining members of the band are volunteer.
  2. If band members are already present in the worship format or the addition of these instrumentalists would be welcome, one idea is to grow them from the student ministry. In fact, one of my ministry friends paid for lessons for his student guitarist and drummer with the understanding that they play for student worship on Wednesday nights.  This costs less than having to simply pay someone to play and also was a huge investment into the lives of those students!
  3. It is ok to start small–one guitar, some type of rhythm, and keyboard will work. You don’t have to go from keyboards only to full rhythm section.
  4. Make sure the congregation is prepared for this change and handle it carefully!
  5. If paying band members is an option, consider how that may change the personality of the group or the relationships within the group.
  6. If paying band members is a necessity, then endeavor to engage the players and families into the life of the church.
  7. For all worship leaders, some type of personal conduct expectation should be in place since paid or unpaid, they will represent the church and the music ministry.

What are your thoughts on this matter?  Is it inevitable that the primary musicians in our churches will ultimately be paid?  If so, does this undermine the ministry/service aspect of the volunteer within the church or does it simply reiterate the fact that often, paying for skill is worth the cost?  If paying instrumentalists is a necessity, where does the money come from and how are the decision-makers convinced to provide more resources?

The New Norm? (Part 1)

In the over thirty years I have served the local church as a minister of music, I have seen and experienced quite a bit of change.  Some of the changes were most definitely good and beneficial while others still cause me to shake my head.  And, as changes have been implemented, there has also been a trickle down effect on job descriptions, budgets, instrumentation, leadership and places of ministry.

For many years, the primary musical foundation for the worship services (as well as rehearsals) consisted of piano and organ.  Typically, these instrumentalists were fairly well trained and perhaps even degreed.  However, in more recent years, the musical “backbone” of the worship time has become a band or rhythm section, often consisting of drums, guitars, bass, and keyboards.  While I enjoy using a variety of instruments, debating which “style” is best is not the purpose of this post.

Virtually every church I have served paid their pianist and organist.  Their responsibilities included worship services, instrumental “specials” and accompanying rehearsals, soloists, and ensembles.  They were the “go to” people within the music ministry and in my experience, saw the position as more than a job–it was a calling.  Paying these individuals also created a sense of accountability beyond that of a volunteer since their contributions were critical to the success of the music ministry.

Fast forward a few years to when some churches started using band and rhythm sections.  More often than not, it seemed that these new members of the worship leadership team were volunteers as a different style of music gave options for other musicians to become involved. In my early years of adding new instruments, our group probably resembled that of a garage band– individuals who came together to play music within a group and were willing to do it for the sheer enjoyment of the experience.   Now, however, using a band isn’t a new or innovative phenomenon as seemingly most churches utilize at least some of these instruments as part of their normal Sunday leadership.  I’m all on board for allowing as many people as possible to serve but as this paradigm has matured, it also has potentially created a dilemma for the minister of music.


Here’s the BIG question!


If we paid the pianist and organist when they were the primary instrumentalists for the church, why would we not pay the band members?  

And, if we pay the band members, where does the money come from?  In many cases, transitioning from a keyboards only approach to a full band might mean adding 4-6 people to the payroll.  In a time of shrinking budgets, this can be a problem.  And if a church has only the present membership as a pool from which to pull from, how does this affect the proficiency of the players available? I’m all in favor of utilizing volunteers in as many aspects of ministry as possible but just because someone is available, that doesn’t mean they’re qualified.  Most of the members of my choir don’t sing solos because it’s not an area of proficiency and I believe that same standard holds true for instrumentalists as well. I’m sure everyone wants the music to be of good quality so is it better to simply hire professional players who can “deliver the goods” but may not be engaged in the life of the congregation?

Presently, my own congregation is facing some of these issues.  My drummer and acoustic guitarist, both young adults, have recently moved away to new jobs and locations.  There is no one available to replace them adequately within my own congregation and those outside the church expect to be compensated for their efforts.  However, my budget does not make allowance for paying even one or two band members so in order to accomplish that, I must make significant reductions in other areas of the music ministry. At this point, going without either of these instruments on a consistent basis is not an option. So, what is the best solution so that quality is maintained, accountability is present, and a sense of team and calling is present?  In my next post, I’ll share some ideas that I’ve had but in the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts!


Life Lessons I Learned from St. Nick (Part 3)

images-2This is the last installment of a 3 part series (Part 1 found Here and Part 2 found Here).  While I don’t endorse Nick Saban as an ideal model for Christians, I do think that much can be gleaned from having observed him over the years and how he has continued to thrive.    With that being said, here are my final two observations and lessons I’ve learned from St. Nick:



  1. Enjoy the Journey – Saban is constantly asked if he wants to return to the NFL.  However, he often responds that he and his wife love Tuscaloosa and he hasn’t finished his work yet.  Additionally, his daughter and grandchild live in nearby Birmingham and while Saban is still consumed with football, becoming a grandfather has definitely affected him in many positive ways.   In the midst of the journey, he has put down roots and is reaping the benefits both professionally and personally.



  1. Give Credit to Others – Saban had just won his fifth national championship (second only to Bear Bryant) and during interviews and press conferences, he constantly deferred the praise to his coaches and players.  He remarked how happy he was for his players and how they had taken ownership of the season.  In many ways, he was the grandfather listing the highlights and achievements of his grandchildren–he couldn’t have been prouder.  My father once told me that if you will always praise and thank your team mates in ministry, it will always be returned to your ten fold.  That was a valuable leadership lesson and Saban reminds me of it virtually every time he is interviewed after a game.


What do you think of my observations and lessons?  Are there others that should be included?  How do these lessons apply to your life? Let me know!


Life Lessons (Part 2)

Life Lessons I Learned from St. Nick (Part 2)


nick sabanIn the first installment (Read it Here!) of this three part series I shared what I observed about being yourself, adapting to change, and how life/ministry is a process.  In Part 2, we will look at three more observations from the life and leadership approach of Nick Saban as he continues to lead the young men of the Alabama football team.




1.Maintain Your Principles – Although Saban’s methods have adapted to play other teams, he always focuses on the fundamentals of the game such as tackling, protecting the football, performing your assignment, etc.  On more than one occasion, pundits and the media have declared the Alabama dynasty to be dead but Saban’s commitment to his principles never wavered.  What are you doing in your personal and professional life to build a strong foundation based on principles or fundamentals?


2. Trust Those Around You – On several occasions (this season), Saban looked like he wanted to strangle his Offensive Coordinator, Lane Kiffin, when the play call was a pass rather than a run.  Why?  Because Saban’s nature is incredibly conservative when it comes to playing the game of football and Kiffin’s nature is more of a high risk/high reward.  Saban likes to win by running the ball (wearing down the opposing team with a Heisman trophy winner!), playing oppressing defense, and strategically using field position.   This formula has worked well in the past and continues to work most of the time in the present.   However, Saban has learned to trust Kiffin as the play caller and as a result, he has been rewarded with a fifth national championship. Even though Kiffin’s approach appears to be completely opposite of Saban’s, he is allowed to try new things and be in control of the offense. Saban continues to be successful because he has learned to trust the leaders around him, even though they may be younger and have significantly different approaches to winning football games. I’m sure it hasn’t always been easy or without conflict, but it is working.  As a leader, have you learned to trust the insight and input from other leaders around you?


3. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Calculated Risks – Even though Saban is typically extremely conservative in his approach to football, occasionally, he will initiate something that seems contrary to his very nature.  A play that will remain in Alabama lore for years to come is the onside kick during the national championship game against Clemson.  Alabama had just tied the score but Saban felt the team wasn’t moving forward emotionally so he took what appeared to be a “high risk/high reward” approach to the kickoff.  The play resulted in a recovery and shortly thereafter, a go ahead touchdown.  What makes the play call so interesting is that while everyone in the stadium (including the Clemson team and coach) were completely shocked and caught off guard by what appeared to be a risky play call, the Alabama players knew exactly what to expect.  In reality, the team had practiced this play all season and yet, only implemented it during the final game of the season. Every day, this play had been rehearsed just for the right time and the right place and when the call was made, the Alabama team executed to perfection.  What seemed to be a huge risk was actually mitigated by the amount of preparation that had occurred during an entire season.  Are you afraid of taking calculated risks?  What “plays” should you be practicing so that when you need to take a leap of faith, you are comfortable with your decision and direction?

Life Lessons I Learned from St. Nick (Part 1)

Nick SabanAs I have stated before, discount while serving a church in Alabama, I became a Crimson Tide fan.  I was able to attend a handful of games while in the state, but I wasn’t truly hooked until I moved to Texas but had the opportunity to go to the National Championship game in 2011.  Since then, I’ve grown even stronger in my support for the Alabama football team and the incredible production by its head coach, Nick Saban (or St. Nick as he is often known to the rabid fan base)>


I must admit that early on, I thought that the coach was pretty overbearing, difficult, contentious with the media, and sometimes unreasonable in dealing with his players.  However, as I’ve watched the program grow under his leadership, I’ve begun to observe several characteristics that can help me be more consistent as a father, husband, leader and minister.   Here is Part 1 of the list that I compiled while watching the 2015 National Championship game against Clemson:


  1. Be Yourself – Nick Saban isn’t Dabo Swinney, Urban Meyer, Bill Belichick, or Bear Bryant.  He knows who he is, how he functions, and what works best for him.  As a by product, this also allows Saban to get the most out of his players and coaches.  While I’m sure, at times, he has doubts, the track record of consistency and success that has been amassed, allows him to be reassured and confident moving forward.  In the same manner, I need to remember who I am and focus on my unique skill set and giftedness as lead in ministry and my home.
  2. Life/Ministry is a Process – Saban’s “process” that he instituted upon arrival at Alabama isn’t  about a quick fix or defeating a particular opponent.  The Process is focused on creating an environment that provides long term success on the football field, increases graduation rates, and invests in the lives of his players and coaches.  So many times, I have been seduced by the lure of a get rich quick or some other “too good to be true” approach that promises great results with little or no effort.  In the real world, I need to remember that ministry and life is more of a marathon rather than a sprint.  By utilizing a “process” of analysis, action, and evaluation, I am able to be more consistent in all phases of life, both personal and professional and I’m not drawn off course by the quick and easy approach.
  3. Adapt and Be Flexible – I also could have named this one “Continue to Grow” because as the culture around college football has changed (spread/hurry up offenses, etc.), Saban has adapted to remain successful.  He now recruits players with different attributes and has hired younger coaches with a fresh perspective all for the purpose of maintaining relevance.  Too many times, I have seen ministers stop growing because of a variety of reasons and once their momentum has ceased, most never regained a forward focus.

Part 2 will be uploaded within a week.  In the mean time, what do you think of the list so far?  Do you agree or disagree with my assessment?  I would be very interested to have your feedback!