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Many worship leaders have been there: The great guitarist leaves your church to play for one that will pay her more; the perfect drummer starts playing at the church down the street because they have more musical resources; etc. Here's what to do when it happens to you.

Ten years ago, when I was the worship leader at a church plant that set up weekly in a public school cafeteria, we paid a guitarist. What a relief to have this talented musician around who could play any chart I threw at him and switch between bass, electric and acoustic when needed. Often, it was just me on keyboard, him on bass and a drummer. If the drummer decided to head for the beach Saturday afternoon (leaving me, of course, in the lurch) we could get by fine with a stripped down keys and acoustic set.

Then the talented guitarist told me one Sunday after church that he was leaving. The local Willow Creek Church Clone was offering him more money.

I was livid. Not at him — he was a super-nice guy, but really just a hired gun with no ties to the church. Did the big Willow Creek Clone really need yet another guitarist?

Ironically, the Clone hit a financial bump a few years later, stopped paying musicians, and every last one of them quit (including the guitarist).

Fast forward 10 years to a new era of stealing. A Ginormous Church has sprouted in town and has hired away a young 20ish guitar prodigy from a new church plant meeting in a movie theater.

The Ginormous Church isn’t being malicious. They are what they are: A big church who values quality music and believes a musician is worthy of his/her hire. More power to them — the world would be a better place if the Church supported the arts instead of letting Hollywood gobble up the talent, wouldn’t it?

And I don’t blame the young 20ish prodigy. The Ginormous Church pays each musician in their band $300 a week (can you imagine that budget!). His role will be much like an intern where he’ll play music he loves with top musicians while learning about recording (they have a recording studio) loops and other technology. It’s almost like being paid to get a music education. He’ll probably make more part-time at the church than he would at a full-time McDonald’s job.

But what happens if you’re on the losing end of this deal — a church plant who can’t compete with the big bucks? Pray.

When I lost our guitarist to the Willow Creek Clone, I had dinner with one of our lay worship leaders. We decided to pray and ask God to send us another guitarist. After we prayed, he suddenly said, “Oh, I just thought of the perfect person!”

This perfect person turned out to be another talented guitarist — in fact, still to this day one of the best guitarists I’ve ever heard. He and his wife had been away from church for years, and his playing for us brought them both back to the Lord. He was more than merely a “hired gun” (we paid him what we paid the other guy) — he and his wife had an amazing spiritual transformation and eventually became members of the church. After I left that ministry, he actually took over as the music director!

Bottom Line: Let the big churches steal your musicians — God will provide.  

Don Chapman Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.

More from Don Chapman or visit Don at

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  • Brian

    How about this: choose your musicians based upon their heart for God and love for your church FIRST, looking at their musical ability SECOND. If it means you have a little less quality….so be it. Then you won’t have to worry about musicians bolting at the first opportunity…

  • John

    Basically if you can’t afford to pay your musicians you can’t afford a pastor either. Most musicians I know invest more time, money & study with discipline than most ministers I know.

    • Jared

      Then you need a new minister if thats the case.

    • Brian

      Even if that were true, John. Ministry, ANY ministry, within the church isn’t a “for hire” position. I have no problem with people being paid to do minstry within the church. That is Biblical. But I do have a problem with people who consider their paid ministry position as a job, and treat it as such. That is VERY unBiblical, to say the least. Even playing an instrument on Sunday’s should be considered a CALLING, not a job. If you don’t feel called by the Lord to specifically serve in that area, and if you wouldn’t be willing to do it for FREE….then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
      And churches are just as much at fault if they hire musicians out of desperation and need, rather than if they feel God has called them to that church as well…