Redemption. It is such a beautiful word. A word that holds a meaning so rich and so deep mere words can never fully describe it. Without the redemption afforded us by Jesus’ sacrifice our Christian faith would be no more than another moral code by which to live. However, as the church camp song I sang every summer as a teen so plainly stated,
“He paid a debt He did not owe. I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sin away.”
Jesus paid the ultimate price in order that He might redeem us from a debt we would find otherwise impossible to pay.
As a Christian songwriter, redemption is at the forefront of my mind; in my own personal journey, in the songs I write, rehearse, and perform, and in the time I spend doing the business of music ministry.
I’ve been involved in independent Christian music for many years now. By independent I mean not affiliated with a major record label. As an independent artist I wear a number of hats, among them performer, songwriter, roadie, sound tech, booking agent, secretary, bookkeeper, bus (or in our case van) driver, and road manager. In other words, Independent Christian artists do a lot more than simply have fun playing music, we are truly answering a call to encourage the Church by putting into words feelings that most otherwise would simply be unable to audibly express. As a friend of mine often says, “We put words on the lips of the Bride to sing back to her Groom.” Our work inspires a response to live a lifestyle of worship by stirring the soul and adding beauty to the human experience.
Living in Nashville allows me to enjoy life lived in a creative bubble where musical expression is normal, but having spent the vast majority of my life in the Midwest I know that creatives, especially those who perform music vocationally for the Church – are anything but understood. And nothing expresses that lack of understanding more than the subject of honorariums.
I recall someone once saying during a finance meeting of the small country church I used to attend, while responding to a proposal to raise our pastor’s meager stipend, “Why does he need a raise he only works two hours a week?” As if by divine download he received the Sunday sermon on the spot, and with no regard to the hospital visits, emergency phone calls, or counseling he was expected to provide. I too have heard some say defensively, “That’s a pretty good wage for a couple hours work.” When seemingly trying to guilt me into a lower “honorarium”. Another common retort is, “I thought this was a ministry, not a business.” I could go on detailing specific instances, but I will refrain. However, in an effort to be both transparent and vulnerable I will attempt to explain the honorarium of the vocational Christian singer/songwriter.
This truly is a calling, a faith walk, and a sacrifice. I know people who have “put their hands to the plow” only to experience the difficulty and turn back. Deciding somewhere in the process playing music for fun beats the required risk, sacrifice, and sometimes ridicule. Not to imply that every musician or songwriter needs to be vocational to be relevant, but simply that I have seen those who have so much more to offer give up due to criticism or lack of support.
To combat criticism we need to hold fast of our why, our mission statement, the story of God’s redemptive work in our own lives which compels us to share His goodness. This message is absolutely 100 percent FREE!
As Christian artists we are not asking for an honorarium because it is our “fee” or our “charge”. The honorarium is not based on an hourly, daily, or even weekly wage. It is, however, the second fundamental reality of redemption in the life of the Christian artist, the first being the message of Jesus’ redemptive work we freely strive to express. The second is the honorariums we receive which allow us to redeem the time we would otherwise necessarily use to earn a wage that would provide for our needs and the needs of those we support whether it be our family, our band, or in some cases our support team which would include our management, publicist, etc.
This is the big financial picture in the life of the vocational Christian artist. The honorarium is the tangible way the Church uses to redeem our time so that we can add beauty, inspiration, and comfort to the lives of those we serve. We are no different than a small business owner who works in his shop through the week to serve his faith community in the evenings or weekends, its simply our work days are spent booking concerts, writing songs, fixing the brakes on the tour bus (or van), replying to emails from those who seek us out with questions about music, faith, or personal struggles, and pressing into the Word as we seek to follow Jesus more closely and point others in the same direction.