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flying under the radar

After being at WFX last week, I talked with many technical artists about the concept of leading up.  How do you help your leadership understand what production in the local church is all about?  For my ministry and your ministry to survive, it rises and falls on how well you and I educate the decision makers at your church about what you and your team do.  Without this information, production is way too mysterious for senior church leaders to advocate on your behalf.  As important as it is for your leadership to get you and what you do, that is only part of it.

 

I have noticed that many tech people are introverts.  They also enjoy flying under the radar.  I’ll do my job, keep my head down and hopefully I won’t draw attention to myself.  I don’t like to be on stage and I would rather do my job by myself.  I would tend to put myself in this category.  Unfortunately for all of us who find ourselves in this place, more is required from us.  I am the leader of my team.  As a leader, my team looks to me to advocate for them; to stick up for their needs and to fight for what they need to do their jobs.  It is my job to clear the way for them so that they can be freed up to do what they are being asked to do and what they were created to do.

Even though my knee jerk reaction to life is to fly under the radar, my staff and the volunteers that serve with them are desperate for me to fly above the radar and be their advocate.  For me, I can tend to put my advocate hopes onto my boss and want him to do all the heavy lifting to the leaders above him.  In reality, I need to push the needs of my team up the food chain.  I need to be the one who shamelessly plugs the hopes and dreams of our production team.

I was in a meeting the other day where I realized that my desire to go unnoticed and put the advocacy hat on someone else had hurt my team.  In your situation and mine, no one understands the world of production like we do, no matter how much time you spend educating your boss.  No one cares as deeply as you do for the volunteers in your ministry, in spite of the fact your boss may come to your team Christmas party.  No one gets what makes the heart of a technical artist tick like you do.

Push.  Kick.  Praise.  Prod.  Insist.  Lift up.  Educate.  Recommend.

Do all these things in an effort to make your case known to the people in leadership above you, but don’t give up the responsibility of advocacy to someone else.  As a leader in production, you are, can I say, required to be your team’s champion.  No one else can do it as well as you can, no matter how inadequate you might feel.

 

Creative Commons License photo credit: jjlapierre

photo by: g7ahn

what did you expect?

I spent an entire day with technical artists from around the world yesterday during the Technical Director’s Retreat Day hosted by the WFX conference in Dallas.  It was inspiring and reassuring; sobering and sad, all at the same time.  It is great to see so many churches working hard to make a difference in the world through the use of production technology.  It was amazing to be surrounded by fellow technical artists trying to get better at their craft, while trying to help each other through issues we all face.  On the sobering and sad side were the people who are at the end of their rope, who feel misunderstood by their leadership and who are ready to throw in the towel.

Dickens

There was one universal theme that stuck out to me that all of us, as technical artists can work on:  Defining Expectations.

At one table I sat with, pretty much everyone had issues with expectations.  Whether it was what a senior pastor really wanted, or if it was being realistic about how long something would take to accomplish or how much something would cost; expectations were lacking at many churches.  The thing about expectations and the technical arts, is that for most non-technical people, things just magically happen, and there is no understanding of what it actually takes.  If we need someone to define expectations for us, we have to push them, we have to help them define them, we need to have data that supports our perspective.  

Leaders need information and to say you don’t have enough time or money is an answer that doesn’t work for most senior leaders I know.  They need to understand what you need to do the job, not just that you need more than you have now.  The next time you work on a video project, document how much time each phase of production took.  Now you have defined, with this much time and this much money, that this is the product you can expect.  Documenting how you spend your time is an amazing tool to communicate reality so that expectations can be set.

There is a apt quote in Charles Dickens’ book “Great Expectations”:

“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”

Work with your leaders now to define what can be expected and change the outcome of your next project.

 

 

Creative Commons License photo credit: Andy Martini

if i only had ______, then everything would be perfect

In my last post, I mentioned that we are getting ready to replace the sound system in one of our venues at Willow.  We have been looking forward to this for so long and we have been placing so many of our hopes and dreams on getting something new and shining that will solve all our problems.  It is time, and the old one is horrible, but I predict that the new system will lose its luster, it won’t be perfect and we’ll move onto the next thing that is wrong, and put our expectations on the next thing that is just around the corner.

THE NEXT BIG THING

As technical artists, our forward looking selves are generally wanting our equipment and personnel issues to be solved or to pull off the next amazing production. We look forward to the day “if I only had HD cameras”, or “once the newest version of ProPresenter comes out” or “this Christmas is going to be amazing”.   Not that any of these things are bad, it is just that they don’t really solve all the problems, they don’t make life perfect, they will let us down.

Waiting for everything to be perfect is a fantasy.  Putting our hope in “things” cannot fully satisfy, and it is at odds with the very message of the gospel.  The new equipment that you are longing for will let you down.  Solving one problem will inevitably raise other, newer problems to the surface.  The next big idea will provide you with a great adrenaline rush, but then comes the crash.

In Psalm 42, the writer talks about how our souls long for God, yet he asks the question: “Why, my soul, are you so downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?”  The only solution to this feeling of being let down is to “Put your hope in God.”

Our jobs as technical artists in the local church is to push and strive for technical excellence; to look for new equipment, to recommend new ways of doing things, to push our current normal onto something special and extraordinary.  It is how we fulfill our role in the body of Christ.  We must also not put our hope in any of this.  Reach.  Strive.  Work your butt off.  But don’t place your identity in something new and shiny or flashing and amazing.  Put your hope in God.  Allow him to be your motivation.  Let him fill you up because the adrenaline will wear off.

 

 

Creative Commons License photo credit: marc falardeau

life change, in spite of bad audio

I am working in Willow Creek’s Lakeside Auditorium.  It used to be the main space where crazy productions have happened over the years.  Christmas programs.  Outreach events.  Conferences.  All these are great, but the most important thing that has happened over the years is that people’s lives have been changed for eternity.  God has met people here for close to 30 years.

I remember my first experience in this room back in 1989.  I remember most every detail.  Where I was sitting.  A rock band.  Concert lighting.  There was no hymnal, just lyrics projected from a slide projector.  It blew my mind for what church could look like.  Every now and then I am still amazed that I work at this place.   Tonight, I am sitting in the TD chair, having a difficult time keeping my headset on.  I am caught up in the worship, the mix, the lighting, the video, God moving…you name it.

Even with all this happening, we have been in need of a production upgrade in this room for quite some time.  Much of the gear we have in here is closing in on 20 years.  Especially the audio.  In 1992, this system was the state of the art, the cutting edge of technology.  It has been a work horse for our church, pushing air for countless amazing events where people met Christ.  However, it is now time to look for something new, to help make people’s experience as transparent as possible; to translate all that is happening on the stage out into the seats.

Our audio team is, needless to say, overjoyed at the prospect of replacing this dinosaur of a system.  To be able to experience clarity; to have low end; to not be sitting inside a giant comb filter.  Even with all these strikes against the current system, I have been in wonder at what God can do regardless of the PA hanging in the room.  There is an environment where 1000+ people are experiencing God.  Hands raised.  Voices lifted up.  The PA is transparent tonight.

I would be lying if I said I am not excited about a new sound system in this room.  It has been on the replacement list for years.  It sounds bad.  I feel responsible to offer up the best sound possible and this is not it.  But it is good for me to remember that God can work and move, regardless of the PA, regardless of graphics being on time or not, regardless of whether the color scrollers match.

Whatever the weak link in your production system is, it is not so bad that God can’t work.

As a technical artist in the local church, the Body of Christ needs me to care deeply about creating the best environment through the use of production and production equipment.  My church also needs me to grasp the fact that God can work and move without the latest and greatest piece of gear.  

As Andy Stanley would say, it is a tension to be managed.  How are you managing this tension?

pace yourself

As a tech person, I love to go to concerts and shows to see how people are using technology.  A couple things usually happen.  I’m inspired, then depressed.  They have way more money than me, they have tons of great content to make better through technology and they have months of time to rehearse and nail the timing and precision of each cue.

With the weekend rolling around with predictable regularity, it seems impossible to pull of what I see on TV or at the latest touring show, yet that is what we have many times been asked to do, with less time and less money.  For many years, my tendency was to go for it, every week; to push the envelope and do something new and hopefully amazing.  I was trying to chase after what I saw out in the “real world” and to accomplish what I thought people we asking me to do.

As time passed, I began to realize that I couldn’t keep up the pace.  Doing something incredible each week started to take it’s toll.  And for those of you who know me, you know that my wife started saying “come home early” because of this crazy treadmill I had jumped on.

Here are a couple things I learned:

Don’t make everything new and cool.  Doing something new always takes way more time than you planned, simply because you have never done it before and have no real idea how to plan.  Along with that, it is generally more expensive than you planned.

All that said, some of my most memorable times in ministry involved me trying something new and cool.  Sure I was at work until 2 am.  Sure my budget was depleted.  Sure my kids didn’t recognize me any more.  But I had been a part of doing something that helped move people closer to Christ, and potentially changed their eternity.  As an added bonus, it was also pretty cool.

I think we all need to go for it every now and then.  If my whole life was just maintaining the status quo, I would go crazy.  I don’t know about you, but I was created to dream and to think outside the box from time to time, and always coloring inside the lines doesn’t sound like the way I want to spend my life.  So what can we do?

Pace yourself.  In exercise, it is important to stretch yourself beyond what you normally do in order for muscles to grow.  Learning and growing as a human being requires you to push past normal to do something out of the ordinary.  I run on occasion.  When I just imagine pushing myself to the limit every time I exercise, my hips and knees start to hurt.  Our bodies need time to recover and adjust to the new, just like our lives need time to recover from pushing ourselves, after Christmas, after Easter, after that crazy.

I know that I have written a few times about figuring out what normal is and maybe this seems like a contradiction.  If you haven’t figured out normal, your normal will become like mine was, crazy, every moment.  It isn’t possible.

As you push your technical self from time to time, what was a stretch yesterday is normal today.  What you wouldn’t even think of doing a year ago now seems pretty ordinary.  Doing something incredible every week can’t be sustained, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go after the dream every now and then.

 

 

revisiting normal

I am on a flight back from an event where I facilitated a table of TDs from local churches.  It was amazing time to connect with people who are in similar situations and have similar challenges.  We spent a lot of time talking about what is working well, what isn’t, and there was a particular subject that kept coming up.  Either these TDs were at a church where you were required to work at least 6 days a week, or a TD was at a church where they had 2 days off, but they rarely took them because there was too much work to get done.

Changed Priorities Ahead

This seems pretty normal in church production and it is one of the contributing factors to such widespread burnout and bitterness among TDs.  What can we do to change this trend.

Be realistic about what can be accomplished in week.

Someone at my table said that his senior pastor jokes with him that what he does is so mysterious that the TD doesn’t even really know what he does.  The role of TD is like being an auto mechanic.  We all need one, we don’t understand what they need to do to fix our car, but we just write the check.  We need to be ruthless to quantify what we do for our bosses, so that we aren’t just complaining that we work too much.  Take a month and keep track of every hour that you spend editing videos, updating Planning Center, cleaning your storage closet, whatever.  This exercise will help you get a handle on where all your time goes, as well as providing documentation for the people who lead you, to help them understand what is involved.

What can only you do?

Once you have all this data, sit down and figure out what you uniquely contribute and should be doing, and what things could you delegate to someone else.  This is a good place to start trying to figure out what needs to be done and what you should stop doing.

What is mission critical?

If you schedule is overfull, you will need to eliminate some things.  Sit down with your boss and go through the list of things that you spend your time on.  Get help to determine what you can stop doing and what is critical for church to continue to happen.  This can be a difficult exercise since everything seems mission critical or else you wouldn’t be killing yourself to get it all done.  The other challenge will be that your boss might have a different set of priorities on what is critical and what isn’t.

It is important to come to an agreement on what will and what won’t get done.  Mike Sessler, from Coast Hills Church was at my table and he recommended Andy Stanley’s book “Choosing to Cheat“, as a great resource for figuring out how to step back from working too many hours.

Letting go

For each of us to be in this for the long haul, we have to be ruthless with our time.  The list will never go away.  there will always be more to do than time to do it.  The abundant life that Christ offers us requires us to let go of control of certain things.  Are you willing to let go of some good things and hang onto only the most critical for you and your church?

There are times when long hours are necessary, but living with no margin to refresh, recharge and recenter yourself will ultimately only hurt you, your ministry and your church.

 

Creative Commons License photo credit: add1sun

the golden age

I was on a flight recently where I watched the movie “Midnight in Paris”.  The basic idea is that the main character is unhappy with his current sitution and dreams about a time in the past that seems more like a golden age.  People were more interesting, amazing things were happening, it was basically more perfect.  Through some mysterious method, he ends up in the 1930’s, in the very magical time he had been wishing for, and he is hanging out with all the amazing people he was only dreaming about earlier that day.

When he gets to this better time, he meets someone who is dissatisfied with her current situation, and dreams of a different golden age, of an earlier time.  Spoiler alert:  the main character realizes that he needs to start looking at the present as a golden age and live a different way.

As the people on my team are all too familiar with, I can tend to look back to my years at Kensington Community Church as my own Golden Years.  Even on our team at Willow, it is really easy to look back to the past and think about all the amazing productions we have been a part of and think back to a more magical time.

Looking back is interesting to me, because I am pretty sure things are never as amazing as I remember.  And if I fast forward into the future I would guess that people will talk about the era that I live as the best and most perfect time to be involved in production in the local church.

Seeing this movie and thinking about how much golden era thinking I do, and those around me do, amazingly, just like the main character in the movie, I started to realize that now is the Golden Era.  Now is the chance to create something that will effect people now and in the future.  Now is the opportunity to stop wishing for something from another era, and to create a whole new era, now.

Regardless of what era you are living in, it never seems quite like we are living in amazing times.  But what if we started to act like our era was the most incredible time?  What if we lived life, right now, like we believed the current era was special?  Golden years are great to look back on, but looking back doesn’t do any good unless we let them inform what our present can look like and what the possibilities of the future could be.

 

 

Creative Commons License photo credit: moleitau

a sleepless night

The other night, I woke up at 1:30 and couldn’t sleep, which is not normal for me.  When this happens, the thing that usually puts me back to sleep is reading.  It doesn’t matter what the book is.  It could be amazing or boring.  Both kinds will put me to sleep.  So I picked up my e-reading device and started reading.

Now,  no offense to Gary Molander, but I figured his book “Pursuing Christ, Creating Art” would do the trick.  Instead of falling back to sleep in 5 minutes, against all my expectations, I couldn’t put the book down.  One of the many sections I read was called “Missing the Mark”, where Gary talks about how easy it is for artists to be critical of the people in leadership over us, and it hit a little too close to home.

 

I was most awake during the section called “I Can Struggle to See the Big Picture”.  Gary says:

“I think my stories are the biggest, and the most important stories being told.  The lead visionary of the organization sees the clearest portrait of the organization’s story.  I do not.  The key leader gets ticked when the organization isn’t reaching its full potential.  I get ticked when my software takes too long to render.”

I am one of the first people to admit that production isn’t the most important thing all the time, but these words put this into an even brighter light.  When I think of the reason my pastor gets me graphics late, or that he wears a shirt that a mic has a difficult time clipping to; knowing that he is worrying about a mountain load of things that never even enter my mind, puts all the “short comings” into perspective.

We all have a lot to think about and plan for.  Our job as technical artists in the church is to care deeply for the things we were created for and then to execute to our best ability.  Our pastors need us to do that each week, otherwise the church wouldn’t function properly.

We must also cut our pastors some slack.  They have more going on than you or I could imagine.  I want him to care as much about my area as I do, and so does everyone else that works for my pastor.  Our pastors are carrying a mammoth load that I cannot comprehend.

Next time you wish your pastor cared more about your stuff, pray for them.  Pray that God would help them shoulder the burden of leadership to lead your church where God wants it to go.

 

photo credit:  Some rights reserved by igb

rising above passive aggressive

My last post talked about applying the rules of improv to how we  behave as technical artists in the church.  Since then, I have thought more about the idea of cynicism and negative responses.

Purgatorio

It is so easy to get cynical and negative, as the things that I care about are undermined or disregarded or misunderstood.  As an unusual bunch, it can be easy for us technical artists to feel these things; to become disillusioned with where we are and what is happening.  It can really easy to let the cynicism get the better of us and drive us to become bitter people.  Here are a couple of my own observations as it pertains to doing production in the local church.

God doesn’t call us to be negative and cynical.  I believe it is OK for us to be disappointed in how things go, or wish that the process were better, but to live in a passive aggressive state because you are misunderstood or that nobody cares doesn’t help anyone, especially you.  If you are frustrated with the process, channel that frustration into positive action:  what am I doing that is making the process difficult?  What is something I have control over that we can change to make the process more smooth?  How can I communicate differently so that the production perspective is better understood?

Being passive aggressive is not the abundant life.  In John 10:10, Jesus says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Satan has a field day with church tech people when we give into our cynicism.  Christ didn’t come so that we could wallow in that type of living.  He came so that we could have an abundant life that is way better than whatever version of “tech person cynic” you are living.

You are not a part of the body of Christ so you can complain all the time.  As tech people, we look at the world from a different perspective, which is necessary for the church to function properly.  However, always complaining about how leadership doesn’t understand, or how undervalued production is, or complaining to your volunteer teams that the pastor’s last minute graphics are stupid and evil, isn’t what God designed our role to look like.  If things aren’t right, do something about them, don’t just sit in the back of the room and throw stones.  If you have given it some effort and things haven’t changed, perhaps you should move on.

How are you letting cynicism get the better of you?  How can you channel your frustration into positive momentum instead of letting it drive you to being passive and aggressive?

 

Creative Commons License photo credit: Wetsun

what we can learn from tina fey

I was talking with a co-worker  yesterday, and I was reflecting on how easy it is to be negative about what’s going on in my church.  Negative about leadership decisions.  Negative about direction.  Negative about people.  As a tech person, I think it is easy to be less than positive because things are always changing, or things are last minute, or I’m reacting  in fire drill fashion quite a bit.  It is easy to get cynical.

Tina Fey

Many tech people I talk to call it being a realist.  That may be true, since we tend to look at things from a “how can this be accomplished” perspective.  However, in my earlier years, and sometimes even now, I would lead with “this can’t be done”, or “this is stupid” or “I don’t have time for your creative ideas”.

A different co-worker, later on the same day was talking about Tina Fey’s book “Bossy Pants” and her rules of improv and how they apply to everyday life.  I like them because they speak toward a more positive way handle situations that could really help us tech people, not just in how we approach life, but how we are then perceived by others.

 Start with Yes. –  So often the answer to someone’s idea can be no, simply because there aren’t enough resources of money or time to pull it off.  This shuts things down pretty quick and then forces the person with the idea to come up with something else.

Say yes, and… – If we are able to say yes, then offer a few solutions to pulling off the idea, often times a new, creative and more importantly, a doable idea comes to the surface.

Make statements, don’t ask questions all the time – If we are good tech people, our job is to ask questions to get to the root of what needs to happen.  However, working with non-tech people means that we need help them understand what can and can’t be done, not just assume they know that an idea is crazy difficult.

 There are no mistakes, only opportunities – This sounds pretty cliche, but I really believe that for us to improve and get better as tech people, we need to push ourselves.  This means mistakes will happen.  What we do with the mistakes is what matters.  Will you repeat the same mistakes over and over or will you make adjustments to make sure you learn from mistakes.

How can you apply them to situations you face every day?  How could the rules of improv help how you work with others?  

 

Creative Commons License photo credit: Gage Skidmore

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