Friday, August 17, 2012

Plumb lines for music ministry

I've been reading Sticky Teams by Larry Osbourne. I like it a lot.

He talks about 'plumb lines' - organisational proverbs that we write to clarify exactly what we value in a particular ministry area. They are a tool of alignment - when someone new comes onto your team, you share the 'plumb lines' with them to make sure that they are on the same page as you. They don't represent the only way of doing ministry, instead they represent your way of doing it.

I really like the idea of plumb lines so I thought I'd try to write some. Here are some that represent the things that I value in music ministry in church. These ones cover general stuff and how we play. I've not written any yet on how we choose songs. Any thoughts?

Plumb Lines for Music Ministry


Playing an instrument or songleading in church is not about being on a roster, it’s about ministering the word of God to people. A roster is about sharing the load so no one has to do more than their fair share. A ministry of the word of God, it’s about helping people know God better, better understand the gospel, and better love and serve Jesus. We want to do this as well as we can. Thoughtfully. Skillfully. Helpfully. Prayerfully.

Our job is to facilitate the singing of the congregation. We lead the music in such a way so that the congregation sings heartily. The measure of our success as church musicians is not in how good we sound, but in how well the congregation sings. 

The music is the first thing that a visitor notices about a church. We want our music to say that we are passionate in our love for Jesus, committed to biblical truth, contemporary but historically aware, and appropriately polished in our presentation.

How we play

The more often we play in church, the better we will get. It is unhelpful to be on a music roster only once a month. 

The more a particular group plays together, the better they will sound. So the same people play together as much as possible.

The more into a song we are, the more convincingly we present it to church. Before introducing a song to church, song leaders and band members make sure that they know it well and are able to articulate what the song is about and what it contributes emotionally and theologically to church.

The congregation will not be more into a song than the musicians are. We pray for the ability to feel the content and emotion of the song and to communicate it with our instruments, with our voices, with our faces and with our bodies.

The chart is servant, not master. We choose the key, the introduction, the tempo and the arrangement that suits our congregation. We work hard at developing our musical skills so that we can adjust quickly to changes in style and key.


  1. I notice whether I'm welcomed when I arrive. Music may be 2nd (it competes with checking out where necessary facilities like toilets are).

  2. Replies
    1. What would yours be Peter? Have you read the book?

    2. We read it as a staff team at Creek Road earlier in the year. Our session are currently working out plum lines for the church as a whole (not for individual ministry teams). I'd have to give it some serious thought before articulating music ministry plum lines. But you've articulated much of what I'm passionate about.

      I agree with Laetitia that a lot of people will notice the welcoming before they notice the music. But I also think that, far too often, people who love and value good music/singing have to leave a good Bible teaching, gospel-centred church to find it. It's criminal. That's why I'd like to go into music ministry after college.

      I'm a strong contendor for music as a word ministry. And a word ministry that gets about as much airtime as the sermon does. They work together: if one is done poorly, they both suffer. I like the philosophy of the Big Idea service - where everything in the service (including all songs) backs up the Big Idea of the Bible talk. I love the idea of a music team thinking of themselves as a ministry team and seeing that as their word ministry to a church, and not just a rostered job that they don't care about too much, and therefore don't put much effort into, and don't plan or prepare for. The music team enhances (or detracts from) every member of the congregation's word ministry to each other as they sing.

      I think I'd possibly add something about being ok with the different ways that different people express themselves during the singing. But I do like 'the congregation will not be more into a song than the musicians are' plum-line.

      I expect I'll have to articulate it at some point in the not-too-distant future.

  3. I really like the "our job is to facilitate the singing of the congregation". That's an excellent measure to use. I do think it's helpful when the music fits the message. However, I don't think all of the songs in a service have to fit with the one Big Idea. Because there are other things we do in a service than just listen to the Bible talk. If the earlier songs fit with adoration, confession and encouragement of one another, that's really helpful too. But I'd like the song after the message to be relevant to what's just been preached.

  4. These are really great.

    I think you've hit on an important one with "Our job is to facilitate the singing of the congregation."

    How would explain how this works in practice? It must surely be more than just standing up the front and singing / playing?

    (Bruce Benedict has some interesting reflections on the role of worship leaders and the role of technology - and the volume of music - in contemporary worship:

  5. ...and speaking of the not-too-distant future... I've just been asked to write some plumb lines for music ministry at Creek Road. It's funny that my comment above was a year ago today.

    Are these the final plumb lines you ended up using Simon? Mind if I steal some bits?

    Happy share ours with you once they're done.

    1. This was me just thinking it through a year ago. But I still agree with what I said. I should work on getting into a more useful form...

      Steal away. I'd love to see your final product.