If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.

If you’ve ever worked in a fast-food joint, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” (Even if it wasn’t McDonald’s!)

It means “don’t just stand around, get something done.” Everyone has to learn to have a work ethic, and not everyone has been taught that growing up. Many of the teenagers employed by the fast-food industry lack motivation and have that (likely) first job to teach them a solid work ethic.

You might be thinking that I’m about to apply that to the worship team, saying that folks need to learn to show up prepared, work hard, and take it seriously.

As a worship leader (and father of six), I can certainly see how that’d be true. But that’s not where I’m going.

It reminds me of when one of the singers on the worship team was asked to only sing on certain parts of the song. Her response was something like, “I’m going to sing all the notes that are written.”


While this is also a pastoral issue, I’m going to focus on the musical one.

When I first thought of the phrase “if you have time to lean, you have time to clean,” I thought of the blue-collar work ethic I see so often on worship teams.

It translates to “well, I’m standing up here, so I’d better be playing something.” And while we all want to contribute, we often OVERPLAY. We feel such pressure to be playing or singing all the time that the overall sound we create lacks musicality.

Good music is a conversation. It breathes. There is ebb and flow. There is tension and release. There are big and small dynamics. ppp and fff. All in and keys only. Call and response.

It might be that playing the part just like what’s on the recording could sound akin to “wiping the counter with a dirty rag just because the rules say you need to do so every 15 minutes” in your context. Or it may be that ignoring the recording and just playing whatever you feel like playing might be like that co-worker who shows up out of uniform because “he’s just trying to express himself. Context matters!

Admittedly, I’m having fun with this fast-food analogy, but here’s what I’m hoping you do the next time you’re at a rehearsal or service (or in your preparation for one).

Question Ray Kroc’s phrase.

Maybe re-purpose it with “if you have time to lean, you have time to listen.”

Ok, that’s totally lame, but listening to what else is happening in the music is one crucial way to make great music. When I’m playing or singing, I must listen to what’s already happening to make sure that what I’m adding actually fits. I must modify what I’m doing based on what everyone else is doing. We make it a conversation, not a monologue.

How could you use this phrase as a conversation starter with your team at this week’s rehearsal?