Sunday, January 10, 2010

What's wrong with publishing ministries?

So today when I was looking at the music I was playing for church I read this, and finally realised why I think CCLI is wrong: "This score is illegal unless used with a CCLI licence. Please don't undermine our ministry - support it!"

I've felt for a long time that there was something wrong with the CCLI model of music distribution, because it seemed to restrict and put up miles of red tape around what should be our free praise. But what could we do, it is what the law demands. But when I read this on the bottom of the sheet music I realised something I hadn't before, which is that these publishers are ministries, which now makes me even more convinced that the general publishing models they have are wrong.

I wondered whether Christian music composition should really be thought of as a ministry. It's not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, but then there were musicians in the temple. More importantly, when it's done well the writing of good Biblical songs should be thought of as what the Bible calls a "word ministry".

The Bible describes and supports many forms of ministry: part time or full time, tent-making, asking for support, not asking for support. All of these are fine. What is not good is selling the gospel for personal profit (2 Corinthians 2:17.)

Now I can't say that the Bible definitely excludes the way most Christian publishers operate, but I think it does present a different way of supporting ministry. The main way is that other Christians support ministries, through prayer and financially, to enable the Christian workers to use all of their time to do God's work freely. To receive that work is entirely free - even if you do support them. But we don't support these authors, composers and publishers like that (usually). Instead of supporting them so they are free to work freely we instead buy the results of their ministry. And for the composers who wrote the music I played tonight there is basically no way at all in which I can benefit from their ministry other than paying for their music (or paying someone else to buy it.) This is wrong.

I am not sure I am seeing the whole Biblical picture here, and would love to be corrected. I want to call on all Christian publishers to change their distribution models. They are operating as secular publishers do, but instead they should operate as other ministry and mission agencies do - being supported by fellow Christians so they can afford their living essentials, while offering the products of their ministries for free. This doesn't mean they have to offer their big expensive books for free, just as if you requested a copy of your church's sermon they might ask for a dollar or two to cover the disc. But it does exclude charging much more than the cost price, because they are not getting a living from the profits of their work, but from being supported by other Christians. And there's no reason why they can't offer electronic copies of their resources for zero monetary cost.

Thank you to the few publishers which do offer all you have freely!


  1. One flaw I see in this is that it costs money to put things up on the web. If you are getting a lot of music together in one place, you need a lot of storage, and that costs money. If you have a lot of music in one place on a site that is easy to navigate and up to date, it also takes quite a lot of someone's time, and they may need to be paid for the time they are putting in so that they can eat whilst putting the time in that the site needs. It is quite difficult to convince people to pay people who do this kind of infrastructure work.

    If you want to share your music with lots of people rather than just the people at your church, then there needs to be some level of advertising. To do this well again takes time. It is much better for someone who is good at this to do it than for the musicians, who are good at composing music, to try to do it in their spare time.

    There are lots of people doing Christian ministry who are being paid by their local congregation or their regional body, but their work is done in that local area. The work of musicians benefits a much wider group of people and it's much more difficult to get people living all over the country or the world to contribute to someone they don't know and have never met, but they will often buy music.

  2. Hi Judy, thanks for your comments, but I have to disagree with most of them.

    It's true that storage costs money, but nowhere near the bandwidth costs. However even in that case there's no reason why the many free web services that are available couldn't be used. Music can be put up on for instance, or sheet music on Google Pages. For advertising would probably work wonders too.

    But more on advertising... how much is your church music selection influenced by advertising? Do they buy music just because it's on the front page of the Koorong brochure? Or on the web? I think it's far more likely that any new songs that get introduced at your church were introduced because someone on the music team heard the songs at another church or maybe a conference. I think that church music advertising is still mostly word-of-mouth. That definitely my experience in the many years I've been involved with music at church.

    It's difficult in general to raise support. I don't see why music ministries are fundamentally different. The only thing I can think of is because they've tricked us into this non-Biblical model of support. If they acted like ministries they'd find it easier to be supported like ministries.

  3. It's the difference between giving money to support Christians to work freely full-time, and paying for the results of the time they spent previously.

    It's the difference between giving without knowing the results and paying for only what pleases you.

  4. I appreciate you bringing up the issue of copyrighting Christian resources. Although I think that people should be compensated for their work and allowing others to use it, it's troubling to see money taking precedence over spreading a message. However, even more troubling is the willful disregard many Christians have for both others' property and the law when they purposely ignore copyrights.


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