This is a great subject to discuss – and is discussed frequently in many churches. Do we hire really good musicians who may or may not go to our church, or should we use musicians from within our own local body? There are benefits and deficits to both models. Here is my opinion, as someone who has played on BOTH sides of this fence in the 44 years I have been involved in church ministry as a musician.
These are the guys that are tried and true pros. They need very minimal supervision, they are very professional in their approach to the job (and to them it IS a job), and you know you will get a very high-level musical product. And if your church does NOT have a cadre of good musicians, this might be the only way you can pull off the Sunday services. I get that. This is not a case of “hired guns bad/home grown band good”. But there IS a down side to this model, in my opinion, and here it is. Sunday morning is another gig for the hired gun. They show up, they play the notes well, take the check and exit through the side exit. They are not (usually) emotionally vested in that church, and are usually not part of that church’s culture. They are there to play the music, and then move on to the next gig. This isn’t new, either. Churches have been hiring musicians for hundreds of years. I have piano and organ playing friends of mine who play at different churches every Sunday. Again – this is NOT a bad thing… it’s just a thing. You are hiring the expert musician, much like you would hire an expert mechanic or expert plumber.
As a church-based music teacher (I teach private lessons in my home church throughout the year), I have the honor of teaching primarily children of our church and from churches around me guitar, ukulele, Bass, music theory, and music composition. Our church uses only musicians from within our congregation (except sometimes we hire out auxiliary musicians for big events to augment our choir, orchestra, and band.) Though our church’s music standards are very high, we have the luxury of being able to put seasoned, pro-level musicians on the stage every Sunday all of whom attend our church regularly and attend different Sunday School classes. People know us by name, and we are part of the life of our church. On Sunday mornings when we play we don’t see an audience – we see our friends and loved ones with whom we sing. Many of my students are from this church and not a Sunday goes by when I don’t see some of them and wave at them. Some of the younger ones come down to the front row so they can watch me play. Over the years I have “raised” a crop of musicians who are now scattered throughout the Metro Atlanta area, working in other churches, leading worship, being a sideman, etc. Before they went out and started “adulting” they learned the art of being a Christian Musician at our church – lessons from me, and when good enough, taking a spot in our worship community as part of the worship band, orchestra, or vocalists. And the little guys who come down front to watch me worship and play, are in awe when someone who is a student begins to play with the band. Currently, there is a 14-year-old girl student of mine who can play guitar, mandolin, or bass anywhere in our church. She can hang with ALL of us oldsters. On Sundays when SHE plays – these little ones are watching HER worship and play, many of them dreaming of one day when they can be where she is. And THAT demonstrates the cycle (in our church) of worship musicians. We train them to play, they join us on-stage for a season to learn the art of being a worship musician, and then they are released to take their skills and heart for worship elsewhere. I currently have students who are worship pastors, sidemen – some are them that are the “hired guns” we spoke of above – and even Christian secular musicians (one of our former youngster church musicians made it a long way in the American Idol competition). I am currently on the cusp of moving some more young musicians into the worship community of our church – the cycle continues. In summary, the “hired gun approach” looks at the music as a tool to move us through the service – and I find nothing wrong with that. Find the best musicians and pay them to play well. The “home-grown” approach looks at music as not ONLY part of the worship service, but takes it one step further – realizing that music can, in and of itself, be a ministry that reaches beyond the weekly service, aimed at a very particular sub-group within that church – musicians. The former meets the immediate need (we need music). The latter takes a long-view approach i.e. “we need to find the musicians in our congregation and train them, utilizing the Sunday services as our framework for developing the final product – a skilled Christian player capable of playing anywhere”. Mr G