how to develop a td


photo credit: photographerglen

Some days I wonder if the size and scale of Willow Creek is a good thing.  From the outside, it seems like Disneyland.  From the inside, it can be daunting.  10 venues, all with events happening at the same time, ranging in complexity from slightly complicated to ridiculously complicated.  Today I had a moment that represented the opposite.

One of the huge advantages of having 10 venues with simultaneous programs happening, is that you are forced to develop new people.  You have a huge need that needs to be filled by people that are first, willing and eager, then hopefully over time, these individuals will develop into superstars.

I was going from one meeting to another (which doesn’t necessarily differentiate it from any other day), and I saw 2 guys that represent a picture of the benefits of tons of opportunities for people to serve and then thrive while serving in production.  Chris is a guy in his twenties, who started serving in Promiseland Production in the 5th grade and has become a part time staff member on our team.  He will soon be heading off to the Austin Police Academy.  Ben is 17 and has been serving in Promiseland Production since…5th grade and is in his first week as a part time staff member serving in production.  Chris is training Ben.

Chris and Ben have been exposed to amazing production through the local church since they were little.  When I think about the first time I saw a PM1D (at Willow Creek when I was 30) and the first time Ben saw a GrandMA lighting console (at the age of 12) I am blown away.  Ben and Chris and countless other volunteers have the chance to get their hands on  equipment that I couldn’t even dream of when I was that young.

How are you leveraging the talented youth in your church?  There are kids in your church that God created to do production and we have an opportunity to harness that talent for the local church to change the world.  What can you and I do to increase the opportunity for people to learn and grow in the technical arts?

Whether it is for the local church or for taking their Christian world view into the entertainment industry, let’s take the equipment, the venues and the opportunities we have been entrusted with and leverage them for the benefit of young people gifted in production so that we can change the world one production at a time.

one thing i learned from u2, dc*b, cirque du soleil and guy fieri


photo credit: swimfinfan

Friday nights are homemade pizza night at the Elliott’s.  We make the dough in that popular kitchen appliance from the 90′s, the bread maker, and when I get home from work I begins the hours long process.  It is a great way for me to unwind.

Anyway, last night, I had the show “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” playing in the background, and some restaurant had not changed their recipe in something like 50 years.  They have been doing the same thing, the same way since the day they started.  Not because they are lazy or without vision, but because the way they have been doing things works and is amazing.

After experiencing DC*B and U2 this past week, I noticed something of the same.  From a production stand point, and for that matter the band’s, you are essentially doing the same thing at every church and stadium.  You are trying to make something that has become old and tired to you, fresh and new for the people who are coming and seeing it for the first time.

A few years ago, I had an amazing opportunity to take a backstage tour of the Cirque show “Love” by the head of audio, Jason Pritchard and he said something like:

Most people are coming to “LOVE” for the first time, so I lead my team to give everyone who walks through our doors, the best possible experience.  We execute each performance like it is our first and best.

I was inspired by his  passion for making the same thing, night after night, the same:  breathtaking.

In my world, there are plenty of things that have become mundane to me, that our congregation relies on to be the same.  There are things that are old and tired to me, that require me to figure out ways to breathe fresh life into.

So instead of wishing I had the time to craft each element to allow for maximum effectiveness like U2, DC*B, Cirque du Soleil and to some degree Guy Fieri, I am choosing to be inspired by the ability to embrace the tedious and make it fresh and new.


the opposite of synergy

individual -v- group

photo credit: Sean MacEntee

What happens when the sum of the parts is not greater than the parts added together?  What does it look like when all the parts are amazing and the collection of those parts is just OK?  What is that called?  Some say antergy, while others say obsygy.  One person suggested “synergy” in quotations along with eye rolling.  The Miami Heat?

In either of these situations, egos, personal ambition, what matters to each individual, is placed over what’s best for the team, thereby forfeiting synergy.  Sometimes I wonder about stacking the deck to achieve all the exact right pieces, only to give up everyone working together to make something better than any of us could alone.

I saw 2 amazing shows this weekend:  David Crowder Band and U2.  While on the surface, both groups seem to have everything working for them, without need for synergy.  I would argue that in both cases, a great deal of humility is involved to create such amazing experiences for the people that come to hear them.

Bono trusting Willie Williams to create amazing lighting.  Larry Mullen Jr. trusting the show’s producer that getting out from behind the drum set and playing a djembe (or whatever that was) would be good for the arc of the show.  David Crowder trusting his drummer to lay down the perfect groove.  David Crowder’s bass player trusting David that a rock opera in the middle of a worship set is the right answer.

Each one of these experiences was loaded with opportunities for people to be divas or to have things their way to the detriment of the whole.  There were also chances for people to take a back seat to someone else’s creativity; chances for individuals to give up what might be best for them, for the sake of the overall effect; for everyone to place their collective visions into the middle of the table to be used the most effectively.

All this takes gobs of trust and guts to let go of your idea, your creativity, your vision, for the sake of synergy, not “synergy”.

Is your idea the most important?  Are you waiting for someone else to let go of their creativity before you relinquish yours?  Help foster working together by letting go and embracing the collection of ideas for the sake of the whole.

the freedom of technology


photo credit: Chad Horwedel

I’m a sucker for the 4th of July.  Not necessarily the fireworks and the parades (although I can’t wait to see the guy taking a shower on the plumber’s float, or the float that makes the chicken sandwiches at the South Elgin Parade), but the part about freedom.

The United States, while not perfect, is an amazing country, that has given us tons of freedoms and opportunities because a few people decided to take a stand 225 years ago and create a place where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were self evident truths.

As a technical artist in the local church,  it is easy to get wrapped up in the things I don’t have, or the gear we can’t afford; the less than perfect mix, or a process that irritates me; the volunteer who forgot to show up or wishing for a better relationship with my worship pastor.  Throw all that on top of just trying to make each week happen and it is easy to lose sight of the great privilege it is to have these challenges.

These issues are a luxury compared to what churches around the world are faced with.  To have a sound system that functions is rare.  Even the thought of having a video projector, of any brightness is a crazy dream.  Heck, just having a constant supply of power is a rarity for the majority of the world.  Not to mention being persecuted for my beliefs.

So for those of us who call the United States home, or any place that allows for freedom of religion, let’s all be grateful for the opportunity to worship freely, to have an opportunity to use our gifts in technology for the benefit of the local church and that we have the privilege to have the struggles and challenges that we do.

Let’s stop wishing for something better and take full advantage of the opportunity.

grasping equality

View from the Endzone

photo credit: jimmywayne

I was just at an event where I observed people interacting with each other on a 50/50 basis, and it was fascinating how some people wanted to do their half, but more importantly wanting the other person to do their half first.

What I’ve noticed in my own life, is that waiting for someone to meet me halfway never really works out.  Trying to be fair, doing my half, putting in just enough effort to make a relationship work…all these things have led to me being discontent.

In the middle of all this, that verse about Christ and him not considering equality with God something to be grasped came into my head.  I looked it up (Philippians 2) and was amazed:

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Christ didn’t wait for God the Father to meet him halfway, he gave himself up fully, way past any relational requirements I have to worry about.

Whether it is with your spouse, a co-worker, a tech volunteer, a worship leader, or your senior pastor, working for halfway will never satisfy.  Waiting for someone else to do their half will leave you disappointed.

If you and I were standing in opposite endzones of a football field, the 50 yards closest to me seems way more than yours.  Knowing where halfway is, from my perspective is nearly impossible.

Go the full distance.  Be the one who meets people where they are.  Serve the other person without wanting there to be a halfway mark or someone keeping score.

don’t freak out…yet

I had a moment last night with my 9 year old son that reminded me of one of my life mantras:

“Before freaking out, wait 5 minutes.”

He had been saving his money over the course of several months for an iTouch and it finally arrived.  At a certain point during the evening, he told me some of his friends had jailbroken their ipods and he was thinking about it also.  I didn’t really pay any attention to this idea until he had tried to jailbreak it himself and was now freaking out that his iPod wasn’t responding at all.

After fighting back the urge to ask him what he was thinking, I immediately went into troubleshooting mode.  Since problem solving with an unglued 9 year old isn’t really very effective, I started working on trying to determine if the thing was bricked or nothing was wrong with it.  Inside of a minute, I had it up and running without a problem.  I handed it back to my son and gave him the above advice.  Wait 5 minutes, then panic.

I have learned this lesson so many times over the years, it has become the normal first reaction for me.  I remember the exact situation when I thought to myself “I want to freak out like everyone else, but it won’t help anything.  So, I’ll wait 5 minutes and panic then.”

Most things can be worked out in 5 minutes.  I can’t think of one scenario that didn’t resolve itself or an alternative wasn’t devised within a few minutes, thereby making panic obsolete.  Either I am very forgetful, have amnesia, or this advice has been super helpful to me and the teams I lead.  The solution is less than 5 minutes away.

As a leader, people are looking to me on how they should respond.  If you want everyone to panic, then don’t wait, panic now.  In a large event setting, panic is contagious and is a very natural reaction to things not going exactly according plan.  I once worked with someone that ran everywhere.  They looked harried and flustered all the time, running from thing to thing.  I told them:  ”Walk with purpose by all means, but don’t run.  Your volunteers can smell fear.”

In a high pressure environment, panic only leads to more potentially going wrong.  During a large event when most people are already on edge, panic or an over-reaction from the leader can just send people into a tail spin.  People need to stay focused on doing good work and if the leader is freaking out, they are going to be focused on reacting to you.

How do you respond in pressure situations?

How do you lead your teams to respond?

steve jobs understands!


photo credit: mallox

In an article about Apple’s iCloud (here), CNN Tech talked about what Steve Jobs learned from his experiences starting Pixar Studios.   When Apple launched the iTunes store in 2003, Steve Jobs was interviewed at the All Things Digital Conference in 2003:

In that interview eight years ago, Jobs described the vast divide between technology and entertainment executives, and he talked about how he bridged it.

“One of the things I learned at Pixar is the technology industries and the content industries do not understand each other,” he said. “In Silicon Valley and at most technology companies, I swear that most people still think the creative process is a bunch of guys in their early 30s, sitting on a couch, drinking beer and thinking of jokes. No, they really do. That’s how television is made, they think; that’s how movies are made.”

Likewise, record executives can’t relate to technical people, Jobs said.

“People in Hollywood and in the content industries, they think technology is something you just write a check for and buy,” Jobs said. “They don’t understand the creative element of technology.

These are like ships passing in the night,” the Apple co-founder added.

The technology-content tension doesn’t only exist at your church, on your team, it is a universal tension.  God created each group vastly different for great reasons.

I think many of us would agree, that Apple has figured out ways to seamlessly combine content and technology, making it appear effortless.  And the impact of getting that right has changed the way the world functions.

We are just talking about computers, here.

How much more could the world be changed, if we could harness the technology-content tension for the benefit of telling the most life-changing message there is?


what the bible says about being a td

Die Heilige Schrift

photo credit: Danndalf

I am reading in 1 John 2 this morning and these verses jumped off the virtual page at me:

3 We know that we have come to know him [Christ] if we keep his commands. 4Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him:6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

I talk  quite a bit about being misunderstood in our environments and how nobody really knows what makes us tick.  As a result, it is an easy leap to the idea that it is OK for us to act the way we do or to treat people how we treat them.  I’m frustrated with not being treated the way I think I should or getting exactly what I need, and that makes it OK for me to act the way I do.

The reality is that everyone, tech people included, are called to live the way Jesus did, in spite of the whatever our present reality is.  If you consider yourself a Christ Follower, it kind of means you need to follow Christ.

Does your life look like Christ’s? If someone were to follow you around today, and hear your conversations, or better yet, your thoughts and feelings about those you work with, would it be obvious that Christ is the model for the choices you make?  Frankly, this makes me a little nervous.

Regardless of what is happening around me today, I can make the choice to live as Christ would.  If things were always to my own liking, or always went the way I felt like they should, what does that require from me?  Nothing, and I am pretty sure we can all see how stupid that idea even is. Life has a way of being imperfect, and how we respond to it is what defines us.

Being a TD or any other role in local church production isn’t easy, but the Bible says for us to the best TD possible, we need to live as Christ lived.

As a Christ follower today, how can you follow Christ?

As a TD, how would Christ do your job today?

Regardless of your current situation, how can you live as Christ lived?



nobody understands me


photo credit: whlteXbread

I talk a lot about bridging the divide that can sometimes exist between tech people and the people on stage.  Not only is there a large physical distance that separates us from each other (the distance between the booth and the stage), but there is also a world view that can be very different.

So, what do you do in a situation where you are working 50 hours/week, training volunteers as fast as you can, and still aren’t understood or appreciated for the work you are doing?  What do you do when only the shortcomings of your ministry are noticed and the gains are overlooked?

You are not alone – there are many tech people all over the world that struggle with situations like this every day.  The evil one wants to thwart us every chance he gets, and the relationship between you and your worship leader or senior pastor is a prime target for him to mess with.  What can you do?  How about finding another TD at a church in your area and reach out to him/her.  Pray for each other, encourage each other.  Join and connect with other TDs.  We all struggle to one degree or another.  Know you aren’t alone, and reach out to those around you.

God created you uniquely – even though you may not be understood or getting along with your counterparts in ministry, God created you specifically for a purpose and it is important to push through difficult situations and taste a more beautiful version of the way God created the Body of Christ.

Perseverance Builds Character – Blah, blah, blah.  That sounds like something my parents would say to me.  But in James 1 it says:

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Stick with it.  God is using your current situation to form you into the person you were meant to be.   It certainly isn’t easy, but it is necessary to not only form you, but to fulfill the purposes of the body of Christ where you are.

What is your unique contribution to the church that you have been called to?

In what ways is God calling you to push through in order to get to the other side?

How can I reach out to another church production person and encourage them to continue on?

get a life!

twilight on the deck

I am sitting on the back deck, enjoying some nice weather in Chicago (finally!), with my youngest son bouncing on the trampoline (check out this short video:  Trampoline!) and realizing that I have a pretty great life.  I am also remembering a time when I would be holed up in an editing studio making just one more tweak to make a video perfect and missing out on a beautiful night with my family.  While I love creating the perfect video, I have to say, I love this version of my life far better.

As detail oriented people, most tech people I know have a difficult time letting go and heading home.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in the things we love to do, that we forget that we desperately need to have a life outside of our jobs.  It is also easy to forget about the families we leave at home during all those long hours.

In his book “Winning”, Jack Welch talks about the work-life balance and how important it is for each of us to know what that looks like.  In my younger days, I wanted my boss to tell me when to go home or when something was good enough.  I also wanted to blame my workaholic tendencies on someone else.  My first boss and Jack Welch agree:  be an adult and figure it out for yourself.

Chances are your boss has no idea what needs to get done in your world and no idea what is required of you at home.  It is important for each of us to figure out what it means to give all that is truly being asked of us at work and, what our families need from us.

As long as I can remember, my wife has been joking with me to “Come home early”.  I usually give a nervous laugh anytime she says it, because the reality is pretty unrealistic.  Even my kids say it now!  However, this little joke has helped me think about whether I need to stay an extra hour or if I can actually come home at a reasonable time.  How to come home early is always on my mind, whether it is possible or not, which helps my family know that they are important to me.

Having a life outside of work makes me a complete person.  Giving my entire self to my place of work with nothing left over is not being a good steward of the life I have been entrusted with.

Have you taken responsibility for your work/life balance?  Does your family feel as important as your work?  When was the last time you “came home early”?

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