great service is everything

I’m still living in the values for doing business expressed by the company 37signals.  They are just that good.  Here is value #2:

We’re famous for fast and friendly customer service. We work hard to make sure we live up to that reputation every day.

4630159950_025b358114_zNow, I have never done any business with 37signals to verify whether they are known for fast and friendly service, but let’s say they are actually fast and friendly.  The fact they they work hard every day to live up to that reputation, probably means they are nailing it.

Production in the local church, is a service of sorts.  If you talk to me long enough, or read my previous blog posts, you know that I think production can be and should be more than just that, but at its foundation, we are supporting the ideas and needs of others.

And while we are supporting the needs and ideas of others, are we fast and friendly?

I was talking to an old friend the other day about being treated rudely by someone in a customer service role.  Unfortunately, the person was responding to my friend after many other potentially frustrating challenges.  The challenge of customer services is to be able to treat each new person with respect and helpfulness; they need to be reacting as if yours is the only problem they need to solve.  Typically they respond like they have had frustration built up over a day’s worth of idiotic complaints or ridiculously simple solutions.

This reminds me of me, at an earlier age; holding onto each negative interaction, or each last minute request until I explode on some unsuspecting requestor.  Instead of reminding myself each day, that I needed to respond with fast and friendly service, I lived up to the opposite:  slow and hostile.

Unfortunately, most tech people are known for this kind of service:  never exactly what you need and with an attitude.  It’s not that we work hard at this every day, it is just what happens when we aren’t intentional about how to respond.  When we can spend all our time putting out fires, it can be easy to lose sight of how we put those fires out; or even which fires are more important than others.

Is your team known for responding positively and with action to each new request? 

How can you work hard every day to be the kind of production ministry you want to be known for and your church needs?

useful is forever

I enjoy the magazine Fast Company.  They do a great job of highlighting innovations in all different kinds of industries, and I usually find something useful to my own situation.

ad-categorylanding2Earlier this month, there was an article about the CEO of 37Signals that drew me in.  As it turned out, the interview was good, but what was even better was that it led me to 37signals website.  I didn’t know it, but I was familiar with the company, as the one who make the program “Base Camp”, among other useful collaborative online tools.

The most intriguing part of their website to me, was their list of 8 defining values.  They were all to the point, and I felt like they could apply to the things that I am a part of at my church in the technical arts.  The first value looks like this:

Useful is forever – Bells and whistles wear off, but usefulness never does.  We build useful software that does just what you need and nothing you don’t.

With technology changing so fast, and with tons of new and exciting possibilities for how to do production, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that at the baseline, the gear we buy and the support we offer to our churches has to be useful.  It must be just what our church needs and nothing it doesn’t need.

New moving lights, a switcher with more capacity, an audio console with more buttons, everything chasing timecode, using Pro Tools for live tracks, wireless everything.  None of these things are right or wrong, but they tend to pull us off of what is truly useful.

At Willow Creek, there is a high value placed on innovation and trying new things and as a result, it can be very tempting to abandon useful in the quest for being cutting edge.  Heck, not even temping, we end up letting go of useful simply because we forget about it.

Useful is boring and hopefully something that we do without thinking.  And if it can be done without thinking, it is easy to forget. 

Don’t let go of something useful for the sake of what is, at the end of the day, a bell or a whistle.

i played my best for him…

At Christmas time, more than for any other production I am a part of, I am reminded how it takes people of all types, talents and abilities to pull off what we do.

IMG_0024On one side, you have the content, without which we wouldn’t have anything to apply our technical art to.  Having a great set, amazing lighting, the perfect mix and the just right camera shot would be pointless without worthy content.  And at Christmas there is no better subject matter than God coming down to earth.

On the production side, the team I am a part of nailed it this year, all of us stretching slightly beyond what we think is possible for the sake of a larger vision.  The other part I love is that everyone worked out of their strengths and passions.  At the end of it all, combining each piece together helped to create moments for God to move in people’s lives.  Each person’s contribution is essential, but none of it works with out all of them working together.

As you finish out this year’s Christmas run, encourage those around you.  Thank them for their gifts. 

  • Make sure your fellow production people know that someone noticed.
  • Thank your pastor for the time they put in to craft the exact right message…don’t forget, they feel the pressure of this being the highest attended service of the year.
  • Tell your content creators that you appreciate all the care and rehearsal they put into each element…that stuff doesn’t just magically make itself up.

When it is all said and done, I hope that you feel like the energy you expended this Christmas was worth it.  Similar to the shepherds in Luke 2:

17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

There will be many people that really hear about Christ for the first time this year, and your contribution will be a part of their story from now on.  Way to go!


staying christ-like in christmas

Most of us are in full tilt mode about Christmas.  Either you started set construction weeks ago or you are just loading in rental lighting for your living Christmas tree program.  Regardless of the size of your Christmas service, it’s crunch time in the world of church technical arts.

318697278_045f093c4c_zLate nights, last minute changes, sleep depravation.  And all the while normal life is still happening:  my kid’s Christmas concerts, weekend services, budget planning.  Can you feel the tension building?

From a technical standpoint, it is fairly simple to start blaming the people who are coming up with the creative ideas, that they don’t understand what they are asking or that they don’t care about what you need.  It is equally simple for content creators to feel like technical artists aren’t willing to work hard enough on their ideas.

Here are a couple things to cling to as we enter into the home stretch of Christmas:

We are all focused on the same goal

We all want to create a service that draws people closer to Christ, that helps people connect with God in a new way, that creates an environment where attendees can hear and experience God’s word.  If we all didn’t want this, we’d figure out something to spend our time doing.  That said, we tend to come at this goal from very different angles.  This is good and necessary.

How can I see that new request or late change in light of this truth?  How does it change my response?

Extend grace

Because the content creators and the technical artists are focused on the same goal from very different perspectives, there is a high likelihood that we don’t really understand what the other side is dealing with.  How many late nights has the script writer put in?  How many more times will I have to re-render this clip?  Is there enough time to finish off the set before the first service?

When the heat is on, it is easy to only focus on my urgent issues and disregard what others are dealing with.  Whatever role you play, for it all to work, you have to care deeply about your own concerns.  However, this shouldn’t exclude having empathy and grace for those around you.

How can I fight for what I need and at the same time extend love and grace to the team members around me?

I was having a conversation with a fellow technical artist last night and we were wondering where the line is between fighting for what you need  and giving someone more time to work something out.  Are we making the service better or are we just being stupid?

Until an event is over, I don’t think you can know if you’ve crossed the line into stupid. 

In the meantime, I’m going to try and remember that we all focused on the same goal from different perspectives and that I need to extend grace whenever I can.


AttributionSome rights reserved by nateOne

can’t have one without the other

In the last post, I talked about the two kids who fought over an orange and eventually figured out that one wanted the peel and the other wanted the fruit inside.  In a similar way creatives and technical artists want two different parts of the same whole: a great process or an amazing end result.

104314187_c3aecdd45b_zWe both want the service to be amazing and moving, yet we both have a very different focus for how to get there.  So how do we go after this ideal from our different vantage points?  Here are some ideas:

Technical Artists:  Explain what you need

For you technical artists out there, in order for the process to get better, you need to be talking with your creative counterparts about what you need.  And not just a list of demands, but a conversation about why certain deadlines matter or helping people understand why the budget is bigger than expected.

If your process isn’t the best now, is there something you could do to help make it better?

Creatives:  Work hard at giving your team what they need.

Most technical people I know aren’t just making up deadlines and budget numbers out of thin air, they actually mean something.  If you are someone who is creating services, work hard at understanding what a process could look like for your production team, then work really hard to provide them with what they need.

If the technical artists on your team feel like you are doing your best to make the process the best it can be, this will reap huge dividends in teamwork and relational equity.  You’ll suddenly have a group of technical artists who are excited about helping your ideas become reality, which unfortunately isn’t a common experience.

Creatives:  Explain what you need

For the process to be good, the production needs to have a great understanding of what you are thinking.  More important than this, is a willingness to enter into dialogue about what’s possible and what isn’t, without feeling like your idea is being attacked.  For technical artists to help make your idea a reality, we need to hear your ideas and your passion for your ideas, in conversational form rather than just a one way flow of information.

If you can help technical artists get a vision for your heart and intent, you will open yourself up to being amazed at what an engaged production team can do to make an element or event far more than you originally imagined.

Technical Artists:  Work hard at giving your team what they need.

As more work is being done of the process side of the equation, it is important to acknowledge all that work the creative side is doing, by rolling when the changes come.  With the creative team working hard to give you what you need on the front end, now it is time to give them what they need, which is a willingness to make whatever changes are possible to make the service the best it can be.


The orange is made up of the peel and the fruit.  You can’t have one without the other.  A service is made up of creative content and the technical arts, and in most of our churches, you can’t have one without the other.

As we get closer to understanding the needs of each other, our services will only get more and more effective…and we’ll enjoy working together.


AttributionSome rights reserved by Muffet

how great services are like an orange

There are two sides to any large event.  There is the event itself and then there is how we get to the event.  For many production minded people, the process of getting to the event matters more than the event itself.  Without great process, chances are high that excellence in  production will have to be sacrificed.

76057601_e6b2c1799e_zFrom a non-production stand point, maybe we could call it the creative stand point, once we see the idea, if it isn’t good we need to change it.  At the end of the day, if something isn’t working, who cares if the process was amazing.  So what often times happens is the process is the first thing thrown out the window in the light of making something that is actually worth making.

As a leader, I am always trying to balance out the needs of production…process, with the needs of the service or event.  I tend to lean on the side of doing what is necessary in the moment to make the service happen.  However, I have noticed that when we have really tried hard to make the process work, then change plans, I am much more ready to do whatever is required.  If the process has been bad, I am usually worn out from all the changes I have already had to make and I tend to be less willing to do whatever is necessary and still have a good attitude.

Unfortunately, the natural wedge that exists between creatives and technical artists is made wider by bad process.

To a creative, process feels like shackles that hinder creativity, while process is the life blood of the technical artist.

For a creative, being able to adjust in the moment feels like a non-negotiable, while the tech artist wants to know everything that is going to happen so they can prepare.

Like the two kids who fought over an orange and eventually figured out that one wanted the peel and the other wanted the fruit inside, creatives and technical artists want two different parts of the same whole.

How can we work on giving the other what they need, so that we can have the outcome we all want, which is to partner together to help create life changing moments for people?



AttributionSome rights reserved by Muffet

excellence = the worst parking spot

Excellence is such an interesting word.  In my last post, I talked about being the best versus being your best.  I also talked about “secular” excellence being self focused, while “sacred”  is other focused.  I have been thinking about being other focused, and I think there is a few more points to be made here.

2898492137_f290d8ee41_zI was talking to Kristin Twilla, the production director at Kensington Community Church and a life long friend, about a tradition we used to have at Kensington, which was to park as far away from the building as possible, opening up parking spaces for visitors, or single mothers.  At a certain point, it even got the place where we were parking at the doctor’s office across the street, in order to free up more spaces.  In our conversation, she told me that they still do it.  I am amazed, and proud to have been a part of something filled with that much vision.

This is a different kind of excellence.  One that is fully focused on those we are doing this thing for.  Many of us look for the closest parking spot, simply because we are the first ones there and can easily justify deserving it.

Don’t get me wrong, just because you park the furthest away doesn’t make you an amazing technical artist.  It does make you a person who is exercising the fruits of the spirit, and in my opinion is  the type of thing that is fundamental to becoming a more fully formed Christ-follower.  I believe that who we are determines how we go about the task of production.  How I define excellence starts with my point of view and how I conduct myself each day.

In some ways, practicing “secular” production is easy.  Do the best, move on to the next production.  “Sacred” adds a more difficult layer to the equation.  Not only do you have to be really good at what you do, you have to be humble while you are at it.  You have to be looking out for the interests of others.  You have to put other’s needs above your own.  You have to concern yourself with the whole and not just your area.  You have to become like a servant.

As Christ followers and technical artists in the local church, let’s rise above just being the best at production and let’s do all that while we serve others.

secular v. sacred: excellence

In my last post, I started the conversation about the difference between secular and sacred production, and that in my opinion it really boils down to the intent of the person doing the production.  The WHAT of the production might have content that could potentially be defined as sacred or secular, but the HOW of production is what we are talking about.

In this post we’ll take a look at another aspect of the differences:  Excellence.

Whether it’s using excellent equipment or having a flawless production, any great technical artists cares very deeply about excellence and fights for it at every opportunity.  It is a key component to what makes each of us tick.  The motivation for why excellence matters so much is where things get differentiated.

There is no “I” in excellence.

I have worked with some people in the past that treat the work they do for a “sacred” event  no different than the work they do for a “secular” event.  On the surface, this seems like it could be a problem, but if we dig a little, I think that this is exactly the way that Christ would have us be technical artists no matter our environment.

When you are looking at being a technical artist as a job, excellence matters because it is how you are judged.  It is what determines whether you get hired again.  How well you do your job defines who you are.  With that, the type of equipment that you speck in some ways determines how excellently you can do your job.  How you go after excellence reflects on you as a person…your reputation.

If I were to be bold, I would say that this type of drive for excellence is very selfish.  It is focused the job you are doing and the equipment that you use or don’t use is then a reflection on you.  If you don’t have the equipment you need, it is then impossible to guarantee that I can’t perform my job with excellence.

On the surface, this is a great place to start:  a great work ethic.  However, I think there needs to be more to it.

Other-focused excellence

Excellence in the sacred sense, is more of a communal experience, which I know sounds a little bizarre, maybe even new age-y.  What I mean, is that our motivation for excellence is other focused.  Excellence exists to support the content that is happening on the stage.  The push for technical excellence is based on creating a potentially life changing moment for the people on the receiving end of what we are doing.  “Sacred” excellence takes into account the people around us and how we work together to create these moments.

For me, “sacred” excellence comes down to the real focus of my efforts:  Christ.  In the book of Malachi, God calls the Israelites to offer only the very best, because that is what He demands.  In the New Testament, God follows through on this idea of giving your best, by giving us His best:  His Son.  As a Christ follower, I owe it to Him to give my very best at all times.

This goes way beyond the task at hand, but how I go about living life.  How I treat people.  Why I stay late to finish off a task.  Why I go home early to be with my family.  Why I push to spend lots of money on the right equipment.  Why I let go of the perfect equipment for the sake of the rest of the program.

It has way less to do with the type of event I am working and the way that I work on any type of event.

Excellence matters.  What motivates your strive for excellence?  To be the best or to being your best?

secular v. sacred production

I have a really difficult time with the idea of something being sacred or secular.  Whether it is a painting, or a piece of music, or a story, it feels very shallow to think of something be either all sacred or all secular.  For me personally, what defines something as either sacred or secular is the intent of the person who is behind the creation of the thing.

I had a conversation with an old friend, who I also have the privilege of doing some pretty huge productions with from time to time.  He brought up an topic that we have talked about many times before, the difference between doing a big production because it is your job and doing a big production because the production itself is worth pouring yourself into it.

There are maybe two sides to what defines sacred versus secular production:  HOW you do production and WHAT you are doing production for.  The WHAT is the easy one.  Some events are for a pharmaceutical drug launch and some events are for more spiritual and eternal purposes.   To define one as divine production and one as secular tech isn’t right, especially if it has anything to do with the intent of the artist.  That leads us to the HOW of production which I believe really determines the character of production.

I’ll take the next few posts to explore various aspects of what I have been thinking about the HOW that separates a secular and a sacred view of production.  Today’s post is about the foundation, our world view.

it is all about me or it isn’t about me

This speaks to something that is true regardless of if I am a production person or not.  How do I view the world and my place in it.  Am I living in such a way that I am only looking out for my own interests, or am I living for something larger than that?  Am I serving others or am I only concerned about my own issues.

In Luke 6, Jesus lays it out for us:

30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.

This command from Jesus doesn’t specify a specific group, though if it were up to me, I want it to apply to everyone else.  “Do to others as you would have them do to you” does not sound like your typical production experience, in the church or otherwise.  Many tech people I know have been so beaten down over the years, that it seems like the only way to survive is to look out for my own interests. 

Where this comes into play as a technical artist is how I conduct myself in every situation.  How am I treating people as I go?  Am I loving only those who love me back?  Am I doing to others what I want done to me?  The WHAT of the production is secondary to this basic idea of, am I loving people? 

Whether I am working at a corporate event or a worship service, this must be the foundation of how I conduct myself as a technical artist.

Am I characterized by treating others the way I want to be treated?  Do I show love to  everyone or just the people who love me back?  If I were to ask those around you, would they describe you in terms of Luke 6:30-32?


AttributionSome rights reserved by Luiz Branco

the big mo

Charleton Heston/Moses figure at Madame Tussauds Hollywood

photo credit: Loren Javier

No, not Moses.

Momentum.  It’s that thing you can feel, and everybody wants, but is so elusive, that nobody knows for sure how to get it and keep it.  One night while watching the Chicago Bulls try really hard to close the gap with the Miami Heat is a great example.  Of coarse the Bulls want it, so just go get it.  If only.

I have always taken momentum for granted.  I have been fortunate enough to be apart of teams or organizations that have had it, usually in seemingly unlimited quantities.  We were going somewhere and that somewhere was good.

As a leader in a large environment, it is interesting to look around the organization and see ministries that are growing like crazy and amazing things are happening; while once thriving, unstoppable ministries are struggling to gain their footing.

When all I cared about was production and the work load I had to worry about, and the exact right process for what was best for me, I could care less about momentum.  To me, having to figure out where to move the high school ministry because they are too big for their current room, was more of a headache than something to celebrate.  Positive momentum usually meant more work for me.

Now that I lead something bigger, I am all too familiar with how difficult it is to gain momentum…at least the positive kind.  Negative momentum is everywhere, always pulling down. Now add onto this that Satan isn’t a huge fan of what we are doing at our churches, and no wonder positive forward movement is so difficult to obtain.

In Exodus 17, the Israelites have to fight the Amalekites, and the only way that can keep momentum in their favor for Moses to raise his arms up with the staff of God.  Pretty soon, he’s so tired, he needs a couple people to hold up his arms or else the battle is lost.

When I am reminded of how difficult it is to keep positive forward movement going, I often think of this image.

Am I supporting the leader who is trying to keep momentum going or am I just wishing they would get it moving?

Am I “holding up the arms” of the person responsible for the leadership of my church?  Or even the leader of the ministry I’m a part of?

How can I support the work of my leader to keep positive momentum going?

As someone who needs the support of others holding up my arms, please do everything you can to lift up the leaders you work for.  Once lost, momentum may never come back.

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