Before I address the subject matter, I will plead with you to read this carefully in the absence of denominational bias and presuppositions. I will base my arguments on Scripture and Biblical principles. I entreat you to study further on the matter by analysing other perspectives in the light of Scripture to draw your own conclusion.
The call to pay musicians has been met with strong resistance from the pulpit. Church leaders, especially in Africa are divided on the subject matter. As a matter of fact, there is no universal acceptance on the matter, there are two schools of thought. While some churches believe in offering their musicians salary or allowances, some also believe the service of the musician is his or her service to God and does not warrant a payment.
I have heard and read many sermons and articles that argue for and against paying church musicians. However most of these arguments are served on the back of wrong interpretation of Scripture, experience, personal philosophies or bias. For lack of time, I will just make my point and explain more if questions come up.
Let me start by establishing that, to Pay or not Pay musicians is purely a matter of opinion, preference, church culture or leadership philosophy, and not a command or doctrine. Interestingly, it is impossible to rightly interpret related scriptures in the Bible to support the position of not paying church musicians, especially if the interpretation will be done in the right context and with respect to Biblical coherency. What this means is that, we can only make inferences by critically looking at the matter from both ends and arriving at a reasonable conclusion that facilitates the work of the Church, makes provision for temple musicians, and also stays true to the Integrity of the bible.
Argument from Biblical Coherency
I won't go much into the history of organized temple worship because we already know the details. King David was the one who instituted it, and allocated part of the tithes as a support system for the Priests and Levites as commanded by God. In biblical narratives concerning temple worship, it is made explicitly clear in Scripture that the Levites (Musicians, temple keepers, Gate Keepers, Temple Judges, etc) were offered a portion of the tithe as what we may regard in our contemporary literature as "compensation". Indeed, it is even difficult to find the right word in our contemporary literature to describe what the Priests and Levites received for their service in the temple. According to Jewish history and Biblical narrative, at some point in time the levites abandoned temple worship for work in the fields because the tithes were not forthcoming. This is one of the chief reasons why God accused the people of robbery. There was no food in the storehouse and consequently no one to take care of the temple, the widows and the needy.
In our contemporary Christianity, the religious situation and context is different. Because of Christ's sacrifice, "priesthood" no longer need to be from the Aaronic Order, and "levites" no longer need to come from the tribe of Levi as far as grace is concerned. The implication is that, the tithing system - which was under the law - is no longer an imperative but an expression of love for God and His work on earth through the Church. Any imposition of Jewish civil laws and culture on Christians is a legalism that can never produce righteousness or faith. What the contemporary church practises today is a tithing principle according to wisdom, not according to the detailed command given to the early Jews. It is important to note that, without tithing it will be impossible to run the affairs of most Churches. It is one of the major revenue sources of most churches. Tithing under grace is good, beneficial and necessary for Kingdom Advancement.
Why am I talking about tithing when the subject matter is about temple musicians? I am doing this to establish that the argument from tithing cannot be used as a case for paying church Musicians or even Priests/Pastors. When it is done, it is done from a wisdom and understanding, not from a command. At best it is a necessary and beneficial concession. The Bible does not teach that Pastors or musicians should be paid a salary or allowance. In the OT, both Priests and Levites had a right to a portion of the Tithes and sacrificial offerings. Similarly, under the new covenant, laborers of the Gospel or workers in the church have a right to a portion of the tithe and offerings.
In 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, Apostle Paul argued saying:
Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the alter share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the LORD commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
Paul was a student of the Law before his conversion, so you see how he borrows from the OT to argue for the need to compensate laborers of the Gospel. By principle, Paul is saying that those who serve in the gospel deserve a compensation. When he said the Lord commanded, he refers to Matthew 10:9-10 where Jesus sent his disciples out and commanded them not to acquire anything (no gold, no silver, no bag): for the laborer deserves his food. That is in a defined context and should not be misapplied. In the verse 8 of the same chapter, Christ warns against profiteering from the Gospel by making the popular statement "freely you received, freely you must give". This is the principle by which Paul argues for the laborers food, meat or compensation. The laborer, even though has a right, cannot tie his services to a wage, so it is just proper that the church members cater for his needs to reduce his burden.
Paul did not teach that the laborer should be paid a salary (a monthly income for the exchange of his service). He simply said that the laborer of the Gospel has a right to compensation, that is those that receive him or in our context, the church members have to develop a generous spirit to take care of those that labor in the gospel or in the church. Taking the aforementioned Scripture out of context but in principle and with respect to our contemporary context, this may imply that every laborer/worker in the church, that is pastors, musicians, cleaners, ushers, church keepers (security), administrators, accountants, etc whose work in one way or the other contributes to the propagation of the Gospel deserve a compensation.
For those that may argue that the aforementioned Scripture can only be applied to Pastors, it is important to note that no Apostle was paid a salary. Paul argues for provisions to be made for a pastor as he visits a church or embarks on preaching the gospel. The church in their time was not as organized as we have it today: it was structured differently. So it is impossible to interpret Paul's statement to suit our context. It can only be applied in principle and that same principle can be applied to other parties who labor for the work of the Church. This is not a doctrine.
A critical interpretation of the scriptures shows that the laborer has a right to compensation, but he must also be careful not to negotiate for his spiritual services to the Gospel in such a way that he will only perform his service if a payment of a certain amount is made. Let me put it this way, he has a right to a compensation, but not a right to sell his service to the church or the Gospel. That said, if we are to look at temple musicians as fellow laborers (not congregants) in the work of the Gospel or as church workers, then they also deserve compensation. By implication, if we decide to pay salaries or allowances to pastors for their work, then musicians who are also laborers in the temple deserve same. Also if musicians are expected to offer their services freely as worship to God, then freely has all laborers of the gospel received and freely they must all give.
Argument from Inadequacy
From another perspective, we must understand that not all churches are financially strong. Some have the capacity to compensate their workers, while some lack the financial capacity to do so. Some churches with sufficient financial strength make provisions for their workers. Full time pastors, musicians and administrative staff are paid salary with provisions made for their social security. Whereas part-time ministers of the Church are paid allowance or nothing at all based on agreement, not imposition.
In the case where the church is financially handicapped, it will not be wise to pay her ministers considering the many expenses the church has to make. It will be wise for such a church to invest in her interested youth by enrolling them for musicianship training alongside discipleship so they grow with the Church's culture as they reach mastery. In such cases, the church will benefit from investing in their youth in the long run. If discipleship is taken out, the musician after mastery will abandon the church.
If such a church decides to employ the services of a professional or skilled musician, the Church must be willing to satisfy the demands of the musician. It is not proper to misinterpret scriptures or use manipulations to coerce the musicians service. That is wickedness and the LORD hates that.
Argument from Ministry
Let me ask these questions:
Is the musician a minister?
Is his service relevant to the work of the Church?
Does his work facilitate the work of the Church in any way?
Can the church still function effectively without the musician?
The answer you give to these questions is an expression of your understanding of music and God's Sovereignty. When we think of the Church musician, we mostly think about praise and worship. But his work goes beyond that. Music has therapeutic abilities which we have not given attention to. Many people are healed during worship. Many also have their faith restored during ministration. God can use music to save someone from suicide, restore hope, elicit faith, rebuke unto repentance, etc. If we extend our understanding of music to include these spiritual aspects of music, we will reconsider the position of not paying musicians. It takes great skill, consistent spirituality and mastery over years of training to understand how to use music for church growth.
Churches that understand the impact of music on church growth invest in their musicians through pastoral care, workshops, seminars, Biblical studies, prayer, employment opportunities and financial compensations.
The work of the musician goes beyond singing or playing instruments in worship to God. Yes it is their service to God, and so is the pastor's work his service to God. The musician plays a spiritual role in the church; he influences the spirit of the church. He is a minister of the Gospel of reconciliation. He is a laborer in the gospel, a worker in the vine yard. He must be respected as a minister, not a mere player of instruments.
Let us not demonise musicians by calling them all sort of names for demanding compensation for their labor. If as a church, you don't have the financial capacity to do so, communicate it with respect and love. Find a solution that will provide mutual benefits for both parties. Don't resort to the use of special stories or revelations that are not supported by Scripture, to either manipulate or force your philosophies down another's soul. God doesn't think like humans do.
So what is my opinion? I don't see anything wrong with paying church musicians. But if a church has a culture or philosophy to not pay musicians, I will also respect it, yet I won't accept any attempt to misinterpret Scripture to justify that position or make one feel less of a Christian, a bastard, a hireling, Satan's cousin or demonically possessed. It is purely an opinion birthed from misinterpretation, experience or culture. The Bible doesn't support it.
Let us respect each other's gift and honor it accordingly.