All of us who work at Engage Worship have been employed by churches in various capacities. Over the years we’ve spoken in depth to many other paid worship pastors. In 2022 we conducted an online survey of current and former paid worship workers, digging deep into their experiences.

The picture which emerges from these varied sources can be summed up in Dickens’ opening to A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Being appointed as a church worship pastor (or under some other title) can feel like a dream come true, a great opportunity to use one’s musical gifts for the glory of God. Churches can be thrilled to have someone with skills, passion and time on their payroll. 

And yet at the same time, we hear far too many stories of worship jobs ending in discouragement, frustration, and spiritual or physical burnout. Some reasons for this we’ve observed are: 

  • Often churches will recruit a fresh, enthusiastic and moldable young adult, but fail to see that this person needs training, development and formation in their faith and role.
  • Expectations can be too high for this person to "generate" God’s presence or create powerful evangelistic experiences, and they can buckle under the weight of this.
  • Church staff culture can be excessively busy and intense, lacking space for true rest, refreshment and spiritual growth.
  • Creative people can feel stifled within the narrow expectations and restraints of generating music and art for church events, and the weekly and yearly cycles can grow monotonous.
  • Relational struggles or clashing aims for the ministry can go unacknowledged or unresolved, whether between staff members or with volunteers.
  • As they grow and mature, worship leaders can feel that their role has a glass ceiling with no prospects for an increase in responsibility or renumeration, and so instead they move on to ordained ministry, parachurch or a secular position (moving to a different ministry/vocation isn’t necessarily wrong, but it is sad when this decision is forced by stifled job prospects).

We began Evergreen in 2021 as a way of intentionally addressing these issues with young worship leaders (18-35). We run retreats, offer resources and have a formation year called Evergreen+ which also includes mentoring and spiritual formation exercises. This ministry and many other experiences have led us to see that churches need more help, guidance and assistance when it comes to employing a worship minister. We are going to approach this through three articles:

Before Advertising (below)

Advertising and Interviewing

After Appointing

Before Advertising

Should You Recruit a Paid Worship Employee?

Music and worship are central to many churches today. In many places volunteers serve diligently and provide all that is needed for a congregation. However, some churches may identify particular gaps in their team, or see avenues for potential growth in some aspect of their music and worship life. At this point they may consider employing someone to meet this need. Investment can bring much needed inspiration, organisation, spiritual growth and missional impact. 

However, before you begin to consider discussing a role in depth, here are a few starter questions for your leadership team:

  • What would a paid person bring that we can’t find in our volunteers? 
  • Is our church and volunteer music team open to leadership and development?
  • Is there financial provision to commit to this role for at least 3 years?
  • Do we have the managerial capacity to oversee and care for this employee?

Having looked at those kinds of questions, if you conclude that you should begin a recruitment process then here are some further things to think through: 

Deciding priorities

There are always more things to do in the church! And when it comes to the church’s music and worship life, leadership teams and congregations can spend all day listing the multitude of things they would like to see happen. A paid employee can seem like the answer to all these needs. However, there will always be limitations: one person only has so many hours in their week, and no employee is gifted in every area of music, technical, pastoral, administrative, liturgical and creative life.

Begin by allowing all your stakeholders (staff, leadership, existing worship team, representatives of the congregations) to feed in their thoughts of what could be done by an employee. Then, as a leadership team, take a step back and engage in a prayerful, thoughtful discernment process: What are your real and immediate priorities for this position? What is on God’s heart for how your worship life might grow? 

Be real about who you are as a church: what opportunities do you have, what gifts are already present? Avoid trying to copy another church or imagining that a new employee will immediately transform Sunday mornings. Think about what can be achieved in the long term, and what needs to be addressed in the short term in order to begin that journey.

Once this process is done, be careful to communicate these priorities to the church and existing worship team, and make these priorities clear on your job description and in your interviewing of candidates. A focused role, which all the key people are bought-into, is absolutely key to fruitfulness in ministry.

A do-er or a team builder?

Many churches lack skilled musicians and worship leaders, and therefore they will recruit someone who can fill those gaps. It is the modern equivalent of paying an organist to play for services each week, and in many cases this can work fine.

However, there are potential pitfalls to this approach. This employee may begin enthusiastically, but after a short time the repetition of having to provide music every Sunday can lead to resentment. Relying on one person also means that when they leave, or take vacation time, the church can be left without musical provision. Furthermore, latent gifts in your community can go untapped if the employee does not encourage them, and volunteers can step back assuming that the bulk of the work will be done by the staff member.

What is it that a church leader is supposed to do? After all, Paul's envisions church leadership quite differently:

  • "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Eph 4:11-13)

In this light, it is perhaps a healthier and more sustainable approach to look to recruit someone whose primary aim is to build up your volunteer worship team. You should probably recruit someone with music and worship leading skills, but perhaps even more important is that they are gifted and encouraged to identify, train and release other people. This will build up the body of Christ, and ensure a wider pool of volunteers to be involved in worship. It will free the employee up to go beyond the weekly task of “needing to fill the rota” and create space for them to be more creative, pastoral and outward looking in their role. Ultimately, they may be able to “do themselves out of a job”.

If this approach resonates with what you want for your church and employee, consider prioritising gifts of coaching and team building in your person specification. In terms of character, look for someone who is quite happy not to always have the platform and is more about raising up and encouraging others. It may be that a certain amount of life-experience is necessary to develop some of these gifts and character traits, so also consider the life stage and experience of your candidates.

Full-time or part time?

The reality is that most churches can’t afford to pay someone full-time for a music and worship role. In our experience, overseeing music and worship for an average local church is about a 2-3 day/week role (if you don’t add other responsibilities or projects).

There are some people who will be very happy with this kind of arrangement, perhaps because their spouse works full time, or they actively want to do another job alongside their church role. However, other people can find this difficult. Some will feel they can’t afford to work part time, or find the experience of juggling two jobs stressful (this was reflected in our survey). Avoid employing someone part time but then piling expectations and tasks on them in such a way that the hours can’t possibly cover the workload.

Additional responsibilities?

In response to the challenges of a part-time position many churches will combine more than one role to make up to a full time role (in our survey, 10 of the 16 responders had a combined role which involved other duties). This can be reflected in a job title: “Youth and Worship Pastor”; or it may be that the employee has one main role (eg “Worship Coordinator”) with numerous other responsibilities bolted on. 

How you navigate this can be absolutely vital to the success of the role and the flourishing of the employee. One person responded to our survey that “being tasked too deep into secondary areas of ministry which weren’t really my area of gifting and passion” was a major negative during their employment. You will need to be relational and transparent about expectations, and attentive and responsive to the gifts and passions of the individual. A certain amount of work outside our gifts and passions is manageable, but it is easy for these things to swamp the areas we genuinely feel called to. 

If you’re combining two roles, think through the practicalities of how this will work. Can someone oversee youth work at the same time as musical worship, when the two things may be happening simultaneously? Does someone gifted in music also have the administrative, or pastoral, or youthwork skills you’re looking for? 

Ideally, the scope of the additional responsibilities ought to grow from the calling and abilities of the employee. For example, music can be under-used in outreach, and church musicians can feel creatively stifled in regular services. Addressing this, why not make part of their role include community music (community choirs, school visits, music lessons for children, music in retirement homes… etc)? Other such solutions can be discussed in an interview situation.

We hope this gives you plenty to reflect on and discuss. Feel free to ask further questions or make suggestions of your own in the Comments section below, or email us. In the next article we’ll look in more depth at the process of recruiting your employee.