Why we walked out on band practice

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When we launched the offsite service at our church over four years ago, we put together a group of musicians to be a band for the service. The band used the entire two hours of our rehearsal time to practice, and faced those first Sundays with a repertoire of five or six songs we tried to perfect. Our goal was hitting the right notes, making it through the songs, and not wrecking out in the middle of the set list. (It happened anyway.) We tried to remember to start every practice with prayer. We prayed a lofty prayer, about leading people in worship and remembering why we were going to be onstage. But, sometimes, I really wanted to pray: “Please God, let our songs be good enough that people don’t cover their ears.”

I’ve been leading our worship planning team and singing with our band since those first days. I’m glad to say that we’ve made great strides not only in our musical abilities, but also in the way we steward our time during rehearsals. I’ve had a realization about what our rehearsals are really about, and we’ve taken up intentional practices to help with the spiritual formation of our musicians. Maybe you’ll find them helpful for rehearsals in your context.

I realized for our musicians, band rehearsals could and often were functioning as a community group. In our context, community groups are the programming our church has in place to get people together in small settings, meeting in homes and sharing meals. The hope is that people will get to know and trust each other. The goal is discipleship and doing life together. While our band wasn’t sharing a meal together, we were sharing our lives. Some of our musicians come to rehearsal straight from work, with fast food dinners in hand. Others are leaving kids and spouses at home and missing family time together on a school night. All of our musicians are volunteers. Some of are at high spots in life. Others are at places where it feels like everything’s unraveling. We needed to acknowledge the community aspect of our band and create two spaces within our rehearsals – a space for sharing life and a space for playing instruments. So we walked out on band practice.

Our band shares a rehearsal space with the youth group at our church’s home campus and the meeting times overlap. In case you’ve never tried, it is actually difficult to have a prayer time on one side of a room when middle school students are eating pizza on the other. So, we intentionally created space for community by putting our instruments down. We walked out on practice and upstairs to a classroom. In that space, we share a devotion and prayer requests without instruments in hand. This has eliminated accidental guitar strums and taps on the drums while someone else is speaking. We take turns leading. Some people share a favorite song and why it’s important to them. Some people read books on worship and share from scripture to get us thinking.

The first time we went upstairs for a devotion, I was caught off guard when other people chimed in and wanted to respond to what I said. That never happened before. I shouldn’t have been surprised. When we create space for community, we create space for inspiring, supporting, and caring. That enables people to lower the gates to their souls and let their neighbors come inside. It also makes room for the Holy Spirit to reside in us as individuals and as a group.

You know how many of our musicians have complained about walking upstairs for this devotion time? Zero. You know how many of them have pointed out that we spend 30 minutes of rehearsal time not rehearsing? Zero. For our group, this time is becoming more valuable than the time we pound out notes. Because by taking the time to center our souls on Jesus, by sharing the hurts, fears, worries, joys, and gladness that we carry into rehearsal, by praying together, we remember that God loves us. It’s in those moments we remind each other God loves us, not because we can sing, but because we’re his children.

It sounds simple, maybe even obvious that we should set aside time in band rehearsals to share our lives and pray for each other. But, my guess is that there are other bands like us, who’ve prioritized practicing music over practicing community. It’s not too late to change! Start with praying together. Let your pianist tell you which song connects with her heart. Your drummer might need to vent about his day at work before he picks up his sticks. You might be surprised at the work God does in your band.

At rehearsals, we practice community when we don’t practice music. Creating space for community inside our rehearsal time hasn’t made us perfect musicians. We still hit wrong notes. But it is helping us build relationships with each other. It’s helping us see where God is at work in us, forming us into more mature disciples. It’s engaging our hearts with the songs we play and sing. And hearts deeply in love with Jesus will better lead people in worship than right notes ever will.

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Emily lives in Long Beach, Mississippi with her husband, Ben, and their three kids, Sadie, Joe, and Lizzie. Together they serve at The Well, an offsite service of First United Methodist Church in Long Beach. Ben is the pastor for The Well. Emily volunteers as the leader for the Worship Planning Team and helps with the spiritual formation of The Well's band. Emily graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2006. She loves learning more about planning and leading people in worship. When she's not working on something for The Well, Emily's probably telling her kids stories about growing up in Kentucky. You can find her on Twitter (@emilyhbarlow) but she mostly live tweets University of Kentucky basketball games.

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