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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

going beyond technical support

We have been having some great conversations on our team about the role of production at our church and it has reminded me of a conversation I had over 10 years ago…probably more like 15, where we were talking about how the technical artist fits into what our church is doing.

Backstage

In a meeting all those years ago, I had been suggesting that the role of production was to support the ministry happening on the stage.  Someone else in the meeting disagreed in the extreme, saying that it wasn’t a big enough vision.  He argued that we were fellow artists with the people on stage and that we were all working together to create something that would minister to people.  After a lot of back and forth, I tend to agree with the former.

All that said, the foundation of what we do as technical artists involves technical support.  Turning mics on, lights aimed right, graphics correct.  All these things are fully supporting what is happening on stage and without good, solid technical support happening, the idea of being fellow artists, blah, blah, blah, is a joke.

However, if that is all I am called to do, that rings a little empty to me.  Is my life just about making sure a camera is color balanced correctly?  For me, I need to be a part of the creating.  I don’t need to be around for the blank page type of creating, but share your idea with me and let’s figure out how technology can help me it the best possible version.

The Willlow Production mission statement reads like this:

to create life changing moments through the fusion of the technical and performing arts.

I want my team to take what they know and what they are gifted to do and combine it with the ideas of the people designing the service to create something no one could have imagined.  There is so much potential in this idea, and unfortunately is not a common occurrence in church, yours and mine, or even outside of church.

So how do we get there?  Here are a few ideas:

Do the support thing with extreme amounts of excellence.  Be trusted to not distract from what is being done on stage.  This is a key component to moving past simply supporting a service.

Put yourself out there and make suggestions on how technology could help to enhance an element or service.  Hold your ideas loosely and be patient.

Don’t enhance something in a vacuum.  Make sure your ideas match the intent of the service.  Many times we can enhance something into unrecognizability (not a real word).  The technical arts by themselves can be distracting, unless they are fused together with the creative element.

How can you move you and your team from simply supporting an event, to making the service far better by bringing the best of your art form to the table?

 


Creative Commons License
 photo credit: okalkavan

the tragedy of the commons

Chicago bus tour traffic jam (edge)-0626.jpg

I only remember one thing from my Psych class in college.  It is this concept called the tragedy of the commons.
It basically speaks to a herd mentality that happens when I assume that my little contribution won’t matter; that I look out for my own self interests at the expense of the whole.  An example would be, I don’t take public transportation because it is kind of a hassle and the exhaust from my one car can’t really make that much difference, so I’ll keep driving myself.

I have been in a couple of all day meetings this week and it has gotten me thinking about how this concept applies in our churches, our volunteers, our staff teams, etc.  During a few lulls in these meetings, I was reflecting on what my own team would look like if we had the interests of the church above our own; if the production team’s interests where those of the church’s.

Instead, what can tend to happen is that everyone is scratching for their own ministry’s interests, looking out for what’s best for them, some times to the determent of the whole church.  Whether this is in the budget process or decisions being made about an event based on what’s best for production, the tragedy of the commons probably happens more often in our churches that I feel comfortable admitting.

I’m not saying that I have needs and concerns and that what matters to the production team isn’t important.  What I am saying is that it is easy to put my own team’s interests above the interests of my church, which in the long run will be destructive.  In the past I have seen less than ideal decisions being made for the sake of what’s easiest for production.  I hear about them happening at your church too.

I know that God will work in your church and my church when and if he wants to.  But how much more if it is full of people and ministries that are working together, towards a common cause and a common goal.  We need to stop thinking only about what matters to us as the most important thing out there and focus on what’s best for our church.

I realize that I have butchered the idea of the tragedy of the commons, but at the foundation of what we are about as production people, let’s not just be looking out for our own interests first, but our interests in light of what the whole church needs.

 

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ruth Flickr

one thing i learned from the global leadership summit

I have the privilege to work closely with some amazing speakers during the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am an introvert and a type 9 on the Enneagram scale.  These things combined, make it a challenge to work up the extrovert in me to engage with people I don’t know that well.

Usually this extroverted job involves me introducing myself, talking them through the schedule, walking them on stage, pointing out where the cameras are, what kind of podium do they want, doing  a mic check, etc.  Not only am I trying to get useful production information from them, but I tend to think of my job as being a calming influence for the people who will be on our stage.  For some of them, this will be the largest audience that they have ever spoken to, and they can tend to be a little nervous.  For others, it is just nice to have a normal conversation with someone, about nothing in particular.

It seems like after every year I do this, I receive quite a few “thank yous” from the people I have had the chance to work with.  It is always nice to be thanked, especially in as a church technical artist, since we can normally only hear about things when they go wrong.  But I also usually come away from this experience completely energized.  You would think that after a string of 15 hours days I would be wiped out, but I’m not.

So all this set up leads to the thing I learned this year:

do what I do best so that others can concentrate on what they do best.

So much of what we do as technical artists is about setting the stage for others to do something, whether it is play music, singing, acting, or delivering a message.  As my friend Marty O’Connor used to say (and maybe he still says it), we need to “set the table”.  In other words, we get everything ready so they don’t have to worry about any of it.

It is all set up, checked and working when the band walks in.  When someone talks, the mic is on, building trust that the mic will in fact be on each time.  When the pastor calls for a graphic, it is there.  These are all examples of taking care of the things we care about, so that the person using the technology can just focus on what they do best.

Think of the things you stress about for a service.  

Now imagine what your senior pastor is stressing about for a service. 

Do you think they should have any space to add your worries to their brain on game day?  

Take the things you are responsible for and kill it every week.  Set your pastor up to win by giving them a reason not to worry about what you are responsible for, allowing them to focus on what they do best.

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