I recently attended a Christmas celebration that my local city governance throws every year, the sort where they barricade a block of downtown, inflate massive rainbow slides, and line artists and vendors down the sidewalks who sell over priced food and unique texan art. While I was there this last week, I had the benefit of hearing our city’s junior high school string orchestra, their tiny violins and grand cellos quietly pumping an array of Christmas music down the streets and throughout the block as they began to set up and practice pieces of music independently from one another. During this time of practice training, I noticed how horrible their collective sound was as some violinists were playing “Joy to the World” while a few of the cello players worked on “O’ Holy Night” and others still practiced classical music that I recognized, but I could not name.

Tomball Junior High Orchestra

Tomball Junior High Orchestra

As I watched these groups practice autonomously from one another, I realized that church starting looks more like junior high than I ever considered. Each team was working in earnest at perfecting their gift in order to later collaborate with the whole and serve the people in our city, and when they were practicing without any sort of leadership guiding their work and connecting it to the larger ensemble, it sounded rough. Once the orchestra started though, it was one of the most pleasant experiences that I have had in awhile.

Leading a team, whether they be a junior high school orchestra or a church start out of a restaurant, has its difficulties. Our goals as ministers of the gospel is to train and equip our ensemble. We have to hand over creative space for our people to train and work so that they can hone their gifts and play the part that only they can perform. All the while, stepping in for teachable moments of training and guidance so that they know their part well.

During my observations of the orchestra, I noticed too that the conductor kept placing the tips of her index fingers near the corner of her eyes as she would mouth, “Look at me” during the breaks between music. Her presence as the conductor and overall leader of the group ministered to me in a meaningful way. The conductor’s careful planning and mastery of the music would ultimately be the force that led the junior high orchestra to create a masterful work of art that was impossible for any individual musician to achieve on their own, and though the conductor herself played no instrument, she played the largest part of the orchestra by leading these hyper-active teenagers to recreate music that was several hundred times older than anyone in the entire ensemble.

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As leaders, I find that we too are often telling our people “Look at me” as we lead in following Christ, and while I don’t suppose that a conductor knows how to play every instrument, she sure should know how every part should sound, the highs and the lows, the violins and the cellos. That’s the thing about leadership. It’s not that your job is to play every part. Rather, a leader is tasked with bringing a team together to accomplish a larger work. Something that not one individual could do alone.