you are not alone

I’m leaving for Sweden this week. I’ve never been to Sweden before. Other than the $1 vanilla cone at IKEA, I don’t have any experience with things Swedish. (I never leave IKEA without one of those cones! It’s only $1!)

I’m super excited, because I get to be a part of a gathering of Swedish technical artists. As I’ve been preparing for what to share with them, I’ve realized that there is something I know about Sweden. Anytime you gather technical artists into a room, we are all connected by technology and the fact that we use our gifts for the benefit of the local church. We might be from different countries, but as technical artists, we have a ton in common.

Guangzhou: Soft ice-cream

Now that I think about it, there is a team of tech artists from Willow Creek down in the Dominican Republic right now, and I guarantee that they are experiencing a similar thing.

Whether your church is huge or normal sized; whether you are part of the old world or the new; whether you have every new tech gadget or you are gaff-taping something together to get one more use out of it; we are all in this thing together. We are all experiencing the joys and frustrations of being a technical artist in the local church.

So often we are physically alone. We are the first ones in the door and the last to leave an event. The “every day” of our lives as technical artists tends to feel lonely. In reality, there are individuals all over the world that are doing similar things at similar times. Making copies of the input list for the volunteers early on Sunday morning; driving a trailer full of gear to the local middle school so the gear can be unloaded at 5:30am; wishing the worship leader had remembered to tell you about that song change before now. The list could go on.

When we are in the middle of feeling alone, it is hard to think past your immediate circumstance. What I am most excited about my trip to Sweden is a chance for all of us technical artists to be in one room together and remember that we aren’t alone, that we are a part of a larger group leveraging technology for the message of the gospel.

I think it is important to remember that we are a part of this larger community. Who else really understands all the work it takes to do our job? Who else can recognize us for the good job we’ve done (instead of just when something goes wrong)?

I would like to challenge every technical artist reading this to find a way to encourage a fellow artist today. If we don’t go out of our way to lift each other up, who will? I would also suggest that each of you find a way to get connected into a community of technical artists in your area or through the great resource of the Church Technical Leaders online community.

Whether you are running on empty or you have full and have something to give, plug into the community of church technical artists to help us remember that we aren’t alone.

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stop taking yourself so seriously

Recently, I was leading a team to handle the production needs for a concert tour and for those of you who have worked something like this know that it is a ton of work. There was someone on the team who isn’t really a production person and that doesn’t normally serve with us. He kept saying how much work it was, and that normal people didn’t have a clue what it took to pull off what we even do on a normal basis.

Long neck ostrichI agree with him. Production is tough stuff. There is a ton of work that needs to get done. Lots of physical labor. Lots of details to manage. A crew of staff and/or volunteers to keep track of and keep moving forward.

I’ve been doing production work for a long time, and it never seems to get easier. When we build in new systems or buy new gear to make things more streamlined, we usually increase our capacity and then push ourselves to that new standard. It’s almost like the idea of computers and the internet will give us more free time…or just help us do more work.

I tell myself often that what I am privileged to do is not easy. But if I’m going to spend my life doing it, I want to enjoy it along the way.

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

When you are talking about doing production in the local church, there is a lot at stake. We are trying to make production be as transparent as possible so that the gospel message is clear and unhindered. We also generally only get feedback when things don’t go according to plan, so it is really easy to be super intense to get everything exactly right all the time.

In reality, there is no way to keep up this intensity. It is so easy to get wrapped up in not making a mistake that you end up creating more pressure on yourself and your team than actually exists.

This somewhat artificial pressure can steal the joy of serving from you and your volunteers. I don’t know about you, but joyless serving doesn’t sound like God’s plan.

I love that God has chosen to use us and our gifts to help accomplish his purposes on this planet. I don’t understand it, but I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. However, if I am so worked up about not making a mistake, am I really contributing to bringing heaven to earth? And isn’t it true that God is infinite and is able to do things that are beyond my comprehension? And couldn’t he work in people’s lives whether there was feedback or not?

This is a giant mystery to me. God has chosen to use us, but doesn’t need us. We have to do everything we can to create an environment where people can meet with God in our services, but at the end of the day, God doesn’t need us to meet with his people.

With this as the backdrop, let’s stop taking ourselves too seriously. Yes we have lots of work to do. Yes it is important. Relax. Enjoy yourself.

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production foundation

To build a solid foundation for production at your church, requires gobs of tenacity. If you think about the foundation of a building, most of it is underground and will never be seen. But without it, the building couldn’t stand. Even though nobody sees what goes on down there, if corners are cut, the building will eventually come down.

Braced FoundationHow you handle the unseen parts of production will determine what your ministry will become. What kind of building can you construct on a shoddy foundation? Not a very good one. And not one that will last. Yet, by building a solid foundation, there is no telling what can be built upon it.

In the world of production, most of what we do goes unseen. You are the first in the venue getting things ready and you are the last to leave. There are countless hours in the editing suite getting things just right. Sitting behind the lighting console checking and rechecking the sequence of lighting cues doesn’t just happen by itself. Testing each mic line and instrument cable has to be done so that we know everything is working before we start rehearsal.

Most of us can relate to how tired you can get at the end of a long run of rehearsals. Do you stay and clean up now, or leave it for later? Do you watch the video one more time to make sure the edits line up with the audio? Do you troubleshoot a problem until you understand what happened and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

When I started shooting and editing videos, I learned this lesson the hard way. After I had finished the project, I would start transferring it to tape while I got up and stretched my legs. Then, I wouldn’t watch the tape until we were in the service. Inevitably there was a glitch or a piece of bad audio, or whatever. What I soon realized was that I needed to watch the transfer to tape…all the way through. In one instance, it was 1 1/2 hour final edit and it was 3am. Do I watch the whole thing, or do I take a nap? If I want to make sure it is done right, I need to watch the whole thing.

These are all examples of tenacity in the basics. Since there is nobody around to see that yours is the last car in the parking lot, what you are doing is definitely unseen. What is your commitment to the foundation of production done well?

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preparing to fail

A few months ago, I volunteered to provide production support for an event at one of my kid’s school. For me, it doesn’t matter where I’m doing production or for whom, I want to do great work. I don’t want people thinking about production, but about the content of the program. I want to be as transparent as possible.

Comikaze 2013 - Bane shrugsThere were a couple problems right off the bat. The gear at this school is suspect at best. I never know which mics will work or which lights turn on with which switches. Going in, I knew I was in for a challenge. The second issue was that the people presenting at the event wanted to use wireless headsets, even though they were just standing at a podium the whole time. Knowing what I do about the system that exists, I spent quite a bit of time trying to talk people into using a wired handheld mic, since it would give us the highest chance of success. No luck.

You can probably imagine where this is going. Mic after mic failed. Either because of RF interference, a bad connector or the flimsy headset mic falling off someone’s head. Fortunately, I had set up a wired mic by the podium just in case.

This example speaks to a few things.

We talked about it before the event

I knew that the gear was questionable at best, so I spoke up. Not to complain, but just to explain what could happen. After the decision maker decided to respectfully not take my advice, we used the wireless mics.

Prepare for failure

When they failed, I didn’t make a big deal out of it and I definitely didn’t say “I told you this would happen!”. I prepared for the chance that they might not work, and then I didn’t carry the weight of responsibility whether it worked or not. I’d spoken up and someone else made the decision. I’m going to still do my absolute best to make it work, but if it doesn’t, someone else made the decision and carries some of the responsibility for the distraction that was caused.

Because production is a mystery to most non-tech people, to some degree, only you know if you are doing everything you can to make sure things go well. Are you planning properly?

Do you have a “Plan B” in case “Plan A” doesn’t work?

Are you bringing up potential issues before they happen or only after they fail?

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bridge the distance

If you haven’t picked it up by now, creative artists and technical artists are very different. We think differently. We are interested in different things. We come at the same problem from two totally different vantage points. The nice part is that both groups want to solve the same problem; we’re at least on the same page there.

IMG_1618There is much misunderstanding that originates from this one fact. Usually we are running so fast, that we only have time to deal with our own point of view. Unfortunately, when we are fully immersed in our own perspective, we can misread someone else’s perspective as opposition.

I’m an introvert. I like being in the booth. I’m happy to let the people on stage do their thing…while I stay in the booth. Plus, I’m pretty busy running around trying to make their ideas happen.

Because of this perspective I had as a younger version of myself, I spent a lot of time waiting for people to come to me and to get to know me; to understand the challenges I was facing. I figured the music director would ask me out to coffee any minute.

History has shown me over the years that I will wait a long time. It has nothing to do with the music director not caring, and it has everything to do with the reality that we are all really busy and we are all feeling alone and misunderstood.

One day the light bulb went on for me. If I wanted to be understood and if I wanted to feel like somebody gave a rip about my world, maybe I should do something about it. Maybe I should make the first move.

While there is a physical distance that separates the booth from the stage, there is a chasm of another kind that separates the stage and the booth. It is a gap that exists because of our differences, perceived and real. It is distance that exists because Satan wants to use our differences and the physical distance that separates us to drive us further apart.

Thanks for the pep talk, Elliott!

What are some practical ways you can shrink the spiritual, emotional and personality distance between the booth and the stage?

learn a new art form

I’m a huge proponent of becoming more acquainted with the creative process. As someone who is usually executing other people’s ideas, I don’t fully understand what is involved in coming up with those ideas. I just need to make them happen. From my limited perspective, the creative process can seem very black and white. The reality is very different.

Art roomFor many of us, there is something that we are really good at. Whether you are an audio mixer or a systems engineer or a lighting designer, you are an artist of something. You are exercising your creativity in some way. Because we tend to be most comfortable staying in the realm where we know we can succeed in, we tend to get locked in this perspective of the world.

Breaking out of the rut you might be in, can be very useful to helping understand other people’s perspectives. Learning a new craft can also help you get in touch with what is really involved in the creative process. How many of us wished that our senior pastor would sit down with us while we edited so they could understand what their changes meant? What I’m suggesting is the same thing, only we’re the ones learning something new.

I have a fairly short attention span, which means I’m trying new things all the time. Photography. Watercolor painting. Piano. Guitar. Sculpture. What usually happens is that I don’t get really good at anything, but I develop a better appreciation for those who are really good in those areas.

It also has helped to understand that just because I can think of an idea, it doesn’t usually turn out that way in real life. If I’m trying to paint something with watercolors, the water does what it wants and I just need to go with it. If I have an idea for a sculpture, it might take me 10 tries before it even resembles a fraction of my idea.

The exercise of learning something new helps to expand my perspective from just my own limited one, to one that includes a few other data points. Not that I can fully know all that my creative arts counterparts are dealing with, but having a mercy for anyone in a creative process can help us work together better.

Learn something new. Widen your perspective.

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wait 5 minutes, then freak out

In my early days of work at a church full time, I was the technical director of a church that met in a high school theater. It was a brand new facility and the theater was state-of-the-art, so it was a pretty sweet set up. On the downside, we had 3 semi-trailers full of gear to set up and tear down each week. Fortunately, there was a great team of volunteers who knocked it out every week. Freak Out signFor the most part, we had a pretty robust system for getting all this stuff set up and working on time. However, there were several times that there was a glitch in the system. That one time I overslept. Those times when the custodian opening the building overslept. And the countless times that rooms in the building were double booked. I can remember one such time where the cafeteria, which was our video overflow room, was also rented out to some kind of yoga group. When we realized there was an issue, most of my team started to freak out. Not just mild freak out, but full on “how can church possibly still happen” and “this is a major disaster” types of panic. In that moment, I wanted to join in with the whole team freak out. I figured it would be a great bonding moment for us. But although I  wanted to panic, I was pretty sure that wouldn’t help any of us. Not only would it just be one more person losing it, but as the leader, I was certain my team needed to see me stay calm. In the split second it took my brain to go through this exercise, I decided to stay calm for 5 minutes while I tried to solve the problem. After 5 minutes, if we hadn’t come up with a solution, I would join my team in freaking out. But for at least 5 minutes I would hold it together for the sake of my team. After 5 minutes, I would stop worrying about my team and give in to my panic. In this example, and in pretty much every example since I started living with this mantra running through my head, a solution was uncovered within the 5 minute window. If you are a leader in production, how do you handle a crisis situation? Does your team know that you can be trusted to hold it together long enough to come up with a solution? Do they look to you for everything to be all right or do they know that you will join them in panic mode?

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