Worship leading plumb lines – Part 1: “Hours of Discipline for Moments of Freedom”

Recently I was introduced to the wisdom of identifying “plumb lines” for effective leadership (credit to Larry Osborne’s Sticky Teams). For leaders, these are the handful of guiding principles that can be used to measure the success of your team when it comes to staying on vision. These are the things that, when people think of your leadership, they associate with you because you repeat them often. You regularly use them to define success. You use them to inspire. They are a natural part of your leadership vocabulary.

Here’s part 1 of a series on some of my personal “plumb lines” as a worship pastor.

Hours of Discipline for Moments of Freedom

When I was in college, one of my choir directors and mentors, Rod Cathey, used a phrase that has been ingrained in my head for the past dozen or so years. I can recall times that we would be in the midst of a grueling rehearsal, preparing to review part of a song again for (what seemed) the millionth time. And he would simply and gently remind us: “hours of discipline for moments of freedom.” We knew it was true. For something to sound effortless, even for a fleeting second in a performance, it takes repetition. It takes repetition. It takes getting frustrated enough at something to stare it in the face over and over again until you know it so well you don’t have to think about it any more.

The same concept is true for music in worship, and I try to let this principle spill into my philosophy of rehearsal. If I’ve asked my band members to commit their precious time to being at a rehearsal, I’m going to attempt to maximize every second of available practice time out of that time slot that we can. A rehearsal is not a necessary evil – it’s an opportunity. 

Understanding this also changes how you practice. If practice is something to “get through” because you have to, you simply run something until you happen to get it right (or sometimes, close to right). But if practice is an opportunity, you work something out until it’s right…and then continue running it some more. Something isn’t truly learned if you happen to get it right…once. That could very well be simply getting lucky. Something hasn’t been internalized, hasn’t been committed to musical memory, until you can play it effortlessly, repeatedly, and confidently – in other words, freely. Musical freedom doesn’t come when you arrive at the point of correct execution – it happens somewhere quite a bit further down the line.

Why is this important in a church context? On one hand, the value of what we do week in and week out as worship musicians can’t simply be measured in the successful execution of the music we play. Yet the reason we aim for musical freedom in what we do is because we are primarily servants. We aim to create moments for the church body where the Gospel can take root and Jesus can be celebrated (Col 3:16). One way this is made possible is by the musicians on stage being truly free to lead – not getting distracted by the music, confused about the arrangement, or unfamiliar with their part.

Do the work. And then enjoy the moments that result when the Holy Spirit takes over and uses what you’ve worked on, to the glory of God.


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