To My Fellow Church Musicians: Make It Free

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To My Fellow Church Musicians: Make It Free

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Freely you have received; freely give.

Matthew 10:8

As Jesus is sending out the twelve apostles in Matthew 10, he gives them a lengthy series of commands and encouragements. Verse 8 concludes with the exhortation to give of themselves freely, since they had been given so much from the Lord. John Gill says it this way: “With respect to the Gospel, as the knowledge of it was freely communicated to them by Christ, and gifts qualifying them for the preaching of it, were of his mere grace and goodness bestowed upon them, so they were to dispense it without making a gain of godliness, or discovering in the least an avaricious disposition” (Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible).

In 2007, Matt Perman, at that time Director of Internet Strategies for Desiring God, wrote a lengthy article titled “Make It Free.” In it, he laid out Desiring God’s reasons for posting all their resources online completely free of charge, and he called on other ministries to do the same.

I’m echoing this call to my fellow church musicians. Make it free. As you labor to compose music and write texts and arrange and orchestrate songs, give them back to the church. Release them to the great digital outdoors, with no strings attached.

This is a topic that I’ve thought long and hard about, and it’s not easy to write. I have a number of friends who sell their music, either privately or through major publishers. Several are editors of publishing companies. If all church music were free, these companies wouldn’t exist.

Our church music ministry budget includes a line item for purchasing instrumental and vocal music, and I’m glad for that. The fact is that there are individuals with profound musical gifts who make their living composing and arranging for the church. Not only is the quantity of music more than I can produce myself, but the quality often far exceeds what I would be capable of creating – even if I were freed up to write and arrange full-time. I rejoice that God has given such individuals as gifts to the church. And our church’s music budget represents the value we place on music in corporate worship. Music is a sacrifice of time, energy, and financial resources. We should continue to support artists who support themselves and their families through composing, arranging, and teaching.

But I believe there is a substantial quantity of music that should be released to the church. There are musicians who are laboring to create and craft that don’t need the revenue they might get from their work. Those whose material needs are already met by another vocation ought to consider their motives. Notoriety? Crucify it. We know the names of the twelve, but the seventy-two in Luke 10 are just anonymous servants. Extra income? If we have food and clothing, Paul says, we should be content with that. You were given musical gifts; give them back.

Briefly, here are a couple possible objections to the main premise. I don’t intend these as straw men.

I won’t get distribution if I self-publish.

Twenty years ago this was a legitimate hurdle, but the proliferation of digital media and the internet has largely eliminated it. Build a simple site (or even a blog), connect on social media, and spread the word. The Google will help you.

People don’t appreciate what they don’t pay for.

This strikes me as superficial, much like saying to my son, “Now this time, say you’re sorry like you mean it.” I can’t control whether people appreciate what they’ve been given. But more importantly, it doesn’t matter. We aren’t making music to be validated and appreciated; we’re making music to glorify God and edify the church. Asking people to pay has nothing to do with that.

My creative work won’t be legally protected if I give it away.

Not so. You can join ASCAP to protect the integrity of your music, but copyright and its requisite legal protections have nothing to do with whether a creative work is free or not.

If everything is equally free and available, it will be hard to wade through the junk to find the excellence.

This is a valid point. When CPDL became open for anyone to contribute, the overall quality decreased dramatically (Edit: at the time of writing this, CPDL wasn’t even working correctly. Yikes). When it comes to making music, desire and skill aren’t the same thing, and there are plenty of examples of this on the web.

But the best stuff will rise to the top, as it does in any discipline. Anyways, that’s hardly an issue at this point.

The worker is worthy of his wages. I worked hard to create this, and I should get paid.

But this is the whole point of Matthew 10:8. Or consider 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive?” Your musical abilities are gifts from the Lord. Give them back to Him and to the church.

“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'”

Luke 17:10

I’ve read many excellent books saying that the church needs to value the arts and support Christian artists, and I resonate with them. But part of me wonders whether Christian artists don’t sometimes expect a special privilege. Perhaps we need to be reminded that Luke 17:10 applies to us as well.

I need the income.

Maybe you do, and this is what you do for a living. As I said before, we need to continue supporting vocational musicians. I’m all for that.

Or maybe you don’t need the income. Maybe you earn a living through another means. This is not a call to voluntarily live in poverty, as if that were somehow more holy. I’m only asking whether your material needs are met. If they are, give of yourself in faith! God will provide.

 

Friends, consider. There is no greater cause than the gospel of Jesus Christ. For the building up of His church let us spend and be spent. Leave aside all thoughts of personal significance or financial gain, and pour out your gifts in His service. Like Mary, you may be sure that the Lord will not forget your extravagant sacrifice.

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

CT Studd