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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.

carry one another’s burdens

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Honestly, I want to apply this to other people.  “Hey you!  Carry my burdens!”  I want the benefits of other people fulfilling the law of Christ, without having to stretch myself.

6801058060_2609eb388a_zMany times, other people’s burdens have the potential to be heavy.  And many times my burdens are heavy enough without adding someone else’s problems to the pile I’m carrying.

After reading this verse a few times, I have realized that it doesn’t say, “Let others carry your burdens.”  The way it is worded suggests that someone has to start the carrying of other’s burdens.  If we all naturally jumped in to help each other, Paul wouldn’t have offered up this command.

So if everyone is feeling like me, that I want someone to carry my burdens, there is potential that nobody will lift a finger to help each other.  Unless…Unless I do something about it…Unless you do something about it.

How about we stop waiting for someone else to make the first move to lift a heavy load, and go after it ourselves?

Instead of waiting to be understood, what if you went after understanding?

Instead of wishing that someone would help with a big project, what if you jumped in to help with someone else’s project?

In the world of the  local church, there are some unfortunate, but very real barriers between the technical and creative arts that need to be broken down.  That won’t just happen magically.  Someone needs to make the first move to carry one another’s burdens.

Let it be you.

 

 

AttributionSome rights reserved by Kal111

wishing things were different

I run into fellow TDs who wish things were different.  That they had different people on their teams, or a different sound board, or a different drummer on the 3rd rotation of bands.  If I only had “____”, then things would be great.

Church Saint Eugénie in BiarritzI recently wrote an article about this idea for Sundaymag.tv, a free online resource for people pulling off services every weekend to encourage and to help raise the level of creativity at your church.  Check it out here: Waking up to Opportunities.

One of the cool parts about this blog is that is isn’t just about tech stuff, but it covers leadership, creativity, worship…basically every area involved with making weekend services happen.  It has the potential to be a common resource that you and your creative arts counterpart to both access and help foster discussions for working better together.

Check it out.

 

Attribution Some rights reserved by Eusebius@Commons

respect for the small venue

I go to events at my kids school quite often, and quite often (always) there are problems with the production.  Mics not working, lights turning on and off randomly, switching between the desktop and PowerPoint while it is live to the screen.

2903176259_994d946617_zFor a long time I have been able to sit idly by and take it.  I didn’t offer to help, because I figured if I started to volunteer, I would just get sucked into helping all the time.

Finally, we were at some sports night or something and it was so bad, I wanted to crawl under my chair.  My daughter kept patting me on the shoulder “It’s alright daddy.  Everything will be alright.”  This experience tipped me over into offering to help.  The first opportunity was yesterday.

I was in the booth, alone, running audio, video and lighting.  Our school is a ministry of a church, and so we were using the sanctuary built in the late 80’s with the production “room” in the back corner.  Switching projector inputs with the remote, 24 randomly ordered light switches on the wall, and more A/B audio switches than I could keep track of.  And the fan noise!  I could barely hear myself think, let alone hear what was going on in the room where the people were.

In the process of this event, I learned a couple of things about production.

The first one, is that those of you who work the smaller venue with less than ideal equipment, are amazing!  What you do week in and week out is nothing short of incredible.  Being the only person in the booth doing all the production is not simple.  Usually in smaller venues, the conditions aren’t the best, and regardless you deal out the technical arts every week at your church.  In many ways, it makes what I do every week seem easy and simple.  Way to go, and keep it up.  You should be proud of what you do.

The second is, there is a ton that you can do with very little.  Here were a few ideas:

Know what you equipment can and can’t do, and invest your time and energy making it work properly.  Many of my issues came from not working in the venue all the time.  After a while I think I would figure out how stuff is supposed to work.  I also know that the pile of to-be-fixed items was pretty big.  It doesn’t help to invest in equipment, if it will eventually just sit idle because it has stopped working.  Find volunteers who can solder, or hire a company that you trust to fix your equipment.  Help your leadership understand the need to spend resources to keep equipment functioning.  The church has already invested in the equipment and then having it sit unused is a waste of that investment.

Develop procedures to work with your venue’s limitations.  In my instance, there was really no way around all the random lighting switches, so one of the students had taken pictures of how the switches should look for each type of element:  video roll, piano solo, etc.  The switches were awful, but the picture made it possible to have a successful event.

Keep things as simple as possible.  I know that when you are working with limited resources it can be easy to start jerry-rigging stuff to make it do what you want.  If the one of the goals of production is to create a distraction free environment, making things so complicated does not help the operator succeed.  If volunteers are expected to come in every 3rd week and succeed, making things complicated is setting them up to fail.  (Check out this great post by @KalebWilcoxKeep it Simple)

Again, for those of you in this type of situation each week, I applaud you!  Way to go.  I’m looking forward to my next school event…now that I know which A/B switch gets audio from DVD player #1 to the console.

 

 

Attribution Some rights reserved by Accretion Disc

what my kids homework taught me about the technical arts

One of the joys of being the parent of teenagers, is homework.  Nothing could have prepared me for the joys associated with getting my kids to care, and the thrills of helping them figure out how to even do the stuff.

4560939751_f62dd2845d_zI consider myself a patient man, but homework can send me spinning out of control.  And one of the most patient sucking activities is when my kids are frustrated and they ask for help.  As I start sharing my ideas on how to tackle the work, they proceed to tell me how my ideas won’t work or that they’ve tried that or that I’m a stupid person for even suggesting such ridiculous things.  Usually at this point, I say something like “I’m trying to help you, but if you don’t want my help, good luck.”, and I walk away.

After I’ve had a chance to cool down, and they realize that I might not be as stupid as it seems, we buckle down and start working through solutions.

My kids want homework to be a different experience, and even ask for help at a certain point, but they short circuit possible solutions by criticizing, complaining about and then rejecting help making things better.

This got me thinking about how I can sometimes respond when someone presents an idea that needs a solution.  Instead of engaging together with how to solve the dilemma, I can tend to just focus on why something won’t work, or that we’ve tried that once before and it didn’t work or to make someone feel stupid for suggesting such a ridiculous thing.  This is starting to feel like homework time.

Engage with solutions

Most technical people I know are designed to troubleshoot, to figure out how to make stuff work.  Often times our first reaction is to start figuring out what is wrong with an idea, or why it can’t be done.  This might eventually lead to workable solution, but by first poking holes in someone’s ideas, you are putting the burden of solution on the other person’s shoulders.

I have been in more meetings than I can remember where an idea comes up and people just focus on what’s wrong with the idea and not dig into coming up with solutions.  In reality, not every idea is good or even possible.  I’m not suggesting that we just say yes to everything, but that instead of just saying “your idea won’t work”, that we engage with “what about this?” or “if we did it this way, we could…”.

Being solution oriented is key to not only being seen as a team player, but actually being one.

As the technical artist, you are there to figure out how to implement ideas.  Use your technical creativity to shape ideas into things that can be done and will actually work, not just shoot them down.

 

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“movie elrond” is a downer. are you?

I was watching “The Two Towers” with my kids the other day, when I realized that they will always think of The Lord of the Rings as a movie and not a book.  As someone who saw the movies as a culmination of my love of the books, this seems very wrong.

5883443210_f67f7027bb_zOne of the other things that felt wrong while watching it this time, was what a downer Elrond was.  I started making fun of him to my kids, because he was so negative, nothing like he was in the original story.  Just when things were darkest and it seemed like all hope was lost, Elrond would show up and say “Yep.  We’re all going to die.  Let’s jump ship while we still can.”

While it might be easy to give up hope on Middle Earth, with a giant flaming eye trying to take over and all; this got me thinking about how easy it is to abandon hope here on normal earth.

Really, life is full of less than pleasant things.  In the book of Job, it says:

Yet man is born to trouble
as surely as sparks fly upward.

When things are not looking good, am I going to be like “Movie Elrond” or someone else?  When bad things happen, do I assume the worst or do I look for the positive in each situation?  Do I drag everyone down or do I lift them up?

In some ways, this makes me think back to Colin Powell’s brilliant first rule:

It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.

When the British people were faced with an invasion by Hitler in 1940, I imagine that most people wanted to just give in to despair.  Instead, Winston Churchill said:

If we can stand up…the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”

These are the exact opposite of “Movie Elrond”.

As leaders, your followers are looking to you and how you respond.  Will you abandon hope run for the Undying Lands with the elves, or will you point them toward the broad sunlit uplands?

 

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production as a low priority

 

Based on my last post, let’s say you’ve done your darnedest to communicate the value of production and it still falls at the bottom of the list of things that matter at your church.  The easy thing to do is to wish it were different and hunker down and complain about how bad it is.  The more difficult thing to do is to realize that this might not be the place for you and to move on.

127384774_94e6749332In reality, production may never be an important component to the vision of your church.  It is necessary to realize this and do something about it before you become the crusty old tech guy that is never satisfied.

God created the body of Christ to function in a particular way.  You complaining about how your church doesn’t care about what you care about, was never a part of His idea for the church.  You really have three choices here:

  • Accept that production might never be high on the list of priorities and joyfully use your genius to serve in your current capacity.
  • Figure out how to joyfully use your gifts to enhance the vision and mission of your church, whatever that might look like. In other words, if your church is all about providing shelter for the homeless, how can you use your production knowledge to help create a wonderful environment at the shelter?
  • You can joyfully begin looking for a new church to serve in.  If you are in fact a genius, it feels like a waste to use your production ability at a church that will not fully utilize them.  The kingdom needs your genius!

Joyfully being the key word in all three options.  It’s a fruit of the spirit, people.

A church can’t have great production without the leaders of your church first buying into how production can support the mission of the church.  Either you can joyfully be a part of the solution, or joyfully figure something else out.

 

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