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.


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.

last minute additions

When I younger (which is longer ago than I care to admit), I used to feel like the victim in the following scenario:  work out the details in the production meeting; work the plan like crazy; show up on Sunday morning with someone changing the plan; starting rehearsal late; getting slammed in debrief later in the week because rehearsal started late…again.

There was a season where it seemed like the music guy were adding additional instruments on Sunday morning without warning.  As I talked about in my previous post, when you only have 1 hour to do set up, then when you only have 24 channels to work with, there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room to just start adding things at the last minute.

I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t handle this season of life very well.  I felt misunderstood, undervalued and walked all over and played the part of passive aggressive TD very well.  Now that I am old(er), I have learned a few things about handling the extra thing added at the last minute.

In my mind there are three possible scenarios when something gets added at the last minue:

Not enough inputs – With only 24 channels to work with, it was often full.  When the extra vocalist was added, I would generally freak out about what to do.  Now, I have learned to put the responsibility back on the person who hasn’t planned well.  Something like:  “I can’t wait to add this vocalist!  I’m going to need your help deciding what to take away from the mix.”  As an audio engineer, it isn’t easy to give up those drum channels, but we need to include the music director in the conversation, so that hopefully she will start knowing these things sooner.  This kind of inclusion helps to build trust, which we all know is key to the whole thing working in the first place.

Not enough time – Having a plan altered by a last minute addition can start the dominoes falling:  sound check starting late, rehearsal getting behind, doors open late, service doesn’t start on time.  In this situation, I learned to let the person know that we can add the congas to the band, but it is going to take about 10 extra minutes.  This puts the decision of starting late on the person who has changed the plan.  This was huge for me, because now we could point to a conversation where we decided to start sound check late instead of me just trying to make it happen then being blamed for the late start.

No problem – This was my favorite option.  We have channels available and we have time to spare, let’s do it!  Unfortunately, I used to be so beaten down by the other two situations, that I would withhold this option on principle.  They should have known before now that they were going to add something, and we are past the deadline I gave them.  This is one of those reasons why tech people get a bad name for being difficult to work with.  Please, don’t do this.  There are plenty of reasons to say no to a last minute add, and this is not one of them.

Last minute stuff happens all the time and it won’t stop.  

How do you handle these situations?  

How could you handle them more truthfully and responsibly?  

Help lead through each situation instead of being victimized by them.


photo credit:  by Great Beyond

defining normal

load out stage left

After the previous post about my identity being defined by what I do, I have been thinking about how to practically define what it means to be overworked.  One of the keys to me is to know what a normal amount of work should look like.  Without a good idea of what I can realistically accomplish, it is difficult to nail down what overworked really looks like.

When I was just starting out being a  full time TD, we met in a high school auditorium and had to load in all the gear to make church happen.  Starting with an empty stage, we had 1 hour to unload our 48′ trailer and set up the band and any other staging elements before sound check and rehearsal needed to start.  In those early days, starting sound check on time was a rare occurrence.  Much of this came down to me saying yes to more set up than was possible, simply because I didn’t exactly know how much I could get done in 1 hour.  Don’ t get me wrong, the music director would often add instruments at the last minute, but that’s a different blog post.

What I decided to do was start measuring how long it took to do certain tasks and to figure out what could actually be accomplished in 1 hour with my normal volunteer crew size.  Defining normal became a huge win for me, when I could talk in practical terms about what could be done and what couldn’t in the hour we had.  It was also a huge win for my boss, who was already slightly in the dark about what it took to do production, but now had tangible, measurable examples of how his ideas translated into reality.

Once we got into the rhythm of what normal looked like, we were able to start sighting the abnormal, which became a trigger for either finding ways to get more time at the school for set up, bulk up the volunteer crew for that week, or shrink the idea to fit into a 1 hour set up.

This idea of “normal” also helps with figuring out what you can accomplish in a normal work week, so that you can have a life outside of work.  If a normal week is 45-50 hours, what can be accomplished in that amount of time and what falls outside of that?  A co-worker of mine has done a great job of saying, “We are going to start at 2:30, and whatever we can get done in the afternoon, is what we can accomplish.”  If he didn’t do this, he would start pushing his normal week into 60+ hours.

For many of us, a good idea is difficult to put boundaries on, especially if it will feed our sense of identity.

Is your current “normal” too much?  What can you do today to help define what “normal” is or should be?


Creative Commons License photo credit: bijoubaby

why am i overworked?

I have had a few conversations lately about the propensity of tech people to overwork themselves.  Many times our bosses are non-technical people and don’t really understand what we do.  As a result, when they tell us to go home and leave it until tomorrow, our first thought is that they doesn’t really get it.  I can’t go home, because if I do, something won’t get done and then church can’t happen.

There was definitely a season in my life when this was true for me.  I would be working 50 hours a week, then some new thing would get added to my plate, and I would just pile it on top of the full schedule I already had.  As I look back, much of this was motivated by a need to be accepted, to be the get it done person.  I’m here to serve and I am going make this happen.  I can be counted on.

I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, some practical and some theoretical, but this morning I was reading Gary Molander’s book entitled “Pursuing Christ, Creating Art” and there was section about where my identity comes from.  As a technical artist in the church, much of my identity comes from being able to do whatever is asked of me, or pulling off the impossible, or the best mix, or amazing lighting or the perfect edit.

Gary talks about the day he stopped being a full-time pastor; the day he realized that his identity had been wrapped up in his job function and not his true identity:  a child of God.  I can completely see myself and some of the people around me, getting to this place.  I put so much weight on my job performance and my ability to get it done that I overlook the fact that I am more than a task.

Do I have the courage to define myself another way?  Is who I am enough without any of the things I do?  God would say yes, but I am willing to let go of how I have been defining myself?

What about you?

 I would recommend Gary’s book to every tech person I know.  You can download a free chapter to check it out for yourself.

the power of a positive word

Meaty Congrats

I was in a staff meeting today that got me thinking about the power of words.  We have  been taking a staff engagement survey the last few years as a way to measure the development of our culture.  In our meeting today we went over some of the results and our senior pastor got up and said some pretty amazing things about our HR director and his efforts to create an amazing work environment.  After his glowing words, he went on to say how proud he was of the staff for our individual commitment to being led and each of us trying to making it the kind of place we want to work.

While he was talking, I kept thinking how great it was for the staff to hear him say these things, and how potentially uncomfortable it made him feel.  It seems way easier to be flippant or make a joke than to say something heartfelt and positive.  For me, it feels weird to say “I’m proud of you.”, but I never grow tired of hearing it for myself.

When was the last time you told a volunteer that you were proud of them?  That you were amazed at the job they had done?  When did you last tell someone that they were an essential part of the team?

For me, I assume that people know this stuff, which is stupid.  If I need to hear it, why wouldn’t everyone else, including the people I work with?

After our staff meeting and realizing that I need to be better about saying positive words to people, I had a meeting with someone (you know who you are!) and I told them “I will keep repeating myself, and saying these true statements about you, so that over time you believe them and that you will know that I believe them too.”

In the moment it feels weird to say positive things.  “I am proud of you.” and “Way to go!” need to be said and they need to be heard.  So say them, so they are heard.



Creative Commons License photo credit: Anemone Letterpress

flexible or rigid

Caution - See-Saws Ahead!

photo credit: navonod

There seems to be a teeter totter in the world of production that tips between being flexible and being rigid.  Most shows and concerts that I go and see fall into more of a scripted version of production.  Weeks or months of planning, multiple rehearsals, a few concerts in front of a test audience, until finally, one day, the show actually happens; then it happens the same way over and over again.  What you get is a predictable, reproducible experience for people in city after city.  I go to one of these shows and drool over the precision achieved to create moment after moment.

Why do I drool?  Most of us working in the world of church production know why.  We very rarely have the luxury of tweaking something to that level of detail, to get the chance to live with something long enough to figure out what is working and what isn’t.  Usually by the time we’ve learned that information, it is time to move on to the next event.

In our own services, we can also be dealing with this idea of the “Spirit moving”; trying to be open to what God might want to do in our services and following it.  This is great, except we need to have some level of planning in order for the production not to be totally distracting to what is trying to happen in the service.

Because of this, we do sound checks, mark locations on the stage for lighting to focus on, and have accurate scripts for the video team to follow.  The question for me at any given moment is where do we strike the balance between being flexible and being pre-planned?

The answer is obvious…it all depends.  Each element we do, each moment in the service requires us to look at the teeter totter and decide what matters the most.  If it were all up to most production people, the rigid side would sit way back and force the teeter totter down.

For our services to be successful, we need to learn the art of shifting our weight forward and back; sometimes leaning into something, sometimes sitting back.  Give and take; pushing for a plan one moment, flying by the seat of our pants the next.


driving with the top up

Thankfully, Dave drives with the top down!

On a rare beautiful day in Chicagoland, I noticed a person driving a sweet convertible with the top up.  I was offended.  Seriously.  You have the audacity to own a convertible and when the weather actually permits, you choose to leave the top up?  Too much work?  Didn’t feel like it?  Please.

If you have a car with the ability to have the top down, put it down.  Let me see you enjoying your investment.  Let me long for your life.  Help me live vicariously through you.

Since then, I have been keeping track of the top up/top down ratio.  How many people have a convertible, but drive with the top up verses down?  It also woke me up at 3am.  While I was staring at the ceiling wondering if I would be able to get back to sleep, I had a thought:

When people look at my life, what is the “convertible with the top up” equivalent?

How am I squandering whatever I have been blessed with?  I think about my family and my job and wonder if I make choices based on “too much work” or “I might mess up my hair”, that I am missing out on the experience that is right in front of me.

When I think about my life and the choices I make, I often am reminded of the parable of the talents, and I am not interested in being the one dude that buries my talent in the ground because I am afraid of losing what I do have.  I want to make the most of what I have.

I want to live life to the fullest, with the convertible top down.  When people look at my life, I want to be living a life worth emulating.  I want the wind whipping through my hair.

In what ways are you living a stingy life?  How can you take advantage of all that you have for something larger than your own comfort?

handling mistakes


photo credit: TehLonz

A little over a year ago, right before the start of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, we had what’s called a “brown out”; basically a dip in the electrical supply.  It wasn’t enough to kick us to UPS power, but enough to crash some of our lighting equipment.  That’s when every production person’s favorite moment happened, people turned to glare at the booth, wondering when things would be fixed.  Meanwhile, I am in the front row wondering when is a good time to panic.

For those of you who know me, panic isn’t really my thing, so instead, I realized that we had the smartest people in the building working on the problem, so we’d be up in running as soon as possible.  In the time it takes Windows to reboot, we were off and running again.

I am continually reminded each weekend that mistakes happen.  The reality is that stuff happens; stuff that we can’t plan for.  In my opinion, there are 2 different kinds of mistakes:  ones that happen because I wasn’t prepared, and those that just happen.  I have a lot to say about being prepared (I am a former Boy Scout after all), but this post is mostly about the mistakes that just happen, that are outside of our control.

There is no way to stop these kinds of mistakes from happening, but there are ways for us to manage them and ourselves when they do.

How you respond matters.   When things go wrong, what do you do?  Do you panic?  Do you get angry?  Do you solve the problem?  Do you shut down?  Do you blame someone else?  In the heat of the moment, people are looking to you as the expert to see if you are panicking.  They will take their cues from you, the person who can hopefully fix the problem.  Definitely go after the solution with intensity, but there is a difference between intensity and terror.

Learn from the mistake.  After the fact, when things have settled down, ask yourself a few questions:  Did I miss something in the planning process?  What could I have done better to avoid this from happening?  Is there a way to change a process to prevent the same thing happening again?  Whatever it is you learn, take that information and inform your boss immediately.  If your boss is anything like mine, production is a bit of a mystery, so when something doesn’t go well, all they know is that something went wrong and that you need to do something about it.  Help them understand (in non-tech speak, please), what happened and what you are going to do about it.

How you handle yourself when mistake happens is a chance to build or destroy trust with your leadership and your team.  Whether it is what you do in the moment or how you adjust afterwards, you have an opportunity to become a better leader and a better team player as a result.

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