is perfection the goal?

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One of the values we have on the Willow Production team is to create a distraction free environment. We are trying to be transparent, so that people in the congregation doesn’t notice the production, and can therefore focus on God.

Does this mean that perfection is the goal? Maybe it is splitting hairs, but I’m a huge opponent to the idea of perfection, but I have no problem with the idea of striving for transparency.

Perfection as goal is like saying mistakes are not tolerated. For me, this removes the option healthy risk-taking, which is critical to stretching ourselves and trying new things. If we aren’t taking risks, we aren’t figuring out more efficient ways of doing things. If we aren’t taking risks, we are potentially making choices based on old information from years ago.

If there is no room for making mistakes, eventually things will die. In his book “Leading Change”, John Kotter says that in order to keep a white fence white, it needs to be painted continually. If we are just leaving it alone, it will eventually deteriorate.  Perfection as the goal cannot be sustained. Change has to happen, which opens things up to potential mistakes.

If striving for perfection is the highest goal, your team will be set up to fail. As time goes on with mistakes not happening, the pressure mounts for when the next mistake might happen. This leads people to performing their task out of fear of failure. I don’t know many people (none) who do their best work when they are afraid to mess up.

As a technical artist, I work really hard to clear the way for people to experience our church services without distraction. For me, this drive is based in wanting to do my very best. From the outside, my best might seem like I am striving for perfection. To me, I am doing everything in my power to make sure that I’ve checked everything, and that I have systems in place to cover known potential issues. I am not interested in making stupid mistakes over and over again.

I also know, that doing the best with what I have only goes so far. It can’t cover ever potential thing that might happen. Even with an unlimited budget or the best experts in the field, I can’t account for every eventuality.

I was at a church service recently where all the front light stopped working. In spite of this obvious distraction, the church service was amazing, and I believe that God moved. There was lots of tension in the front row about what was going to be done about it, but after things were fixed before the next service, there was tons of grace for the team…then a conversation about how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again.

How you respond to mistakes says a lot about your perspective on perfection. It is difficult to hold tightly to things being perfect and also realizing that mistakes happen and having grace in those moments.

The goal shouldn’t be perfect for the sake of perfection. The goal should be doing our very best to create an environment where people can experience God.

And sometimes our very best falls short, and God can still work.

 

 

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the defining characteristic of church production

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At many churches today, the level of production value rivals many other live shows. The bar has been raised over the years to the point where the types of equipment and the people operating them can play in just about any arena.

If our gear is the same, and the quality of people’s ability is the same, is there really a difference between doing production outside the church and doing it for the church? Are we just facilitating a “show” at church or is there something deeper?

For the sake of this particular post, I’d like to quote Jesus from the book of John to explain the difference people should notice between a production team with a Christ-centered approach and one that isn’t:

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

I don’t know about you, but this verse doesn’t jump out as the first verse I think of to describe any production ministry at a church. Production as a people group, are not well known for this idea of love. We are however known for cynicism, passive-aggresive behavior, and the infamous one syllable answer “no”.

What would our teams look like if this verse were more the norm? What if the production team at your church set the pace for loving one another?

How do we get from where we are to this lofty idea of loving each other?

It can be as “simple” as treating each other with respect. To go out of your way to serve the needs of the people on stage. To respond in every situation with grace. To assume the best of others first.

Loving one another is not easy. It is much easier to just tolerate people. This can lead to bitterness and can breakdown relationships. Technical artists and creative artists working together can be challenging enough without the added layer of barely tolerating each other.

We both need each other. We have a chance to change the world through using our gifts in combination…together. Our impact can be exponential if we can figure out how to love one another.

What would your church look like if the production team were known for the love they showed to each other and to the people they came into contact with?

 

 

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don’t say someone’s “no” for them, part 3

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Given the title, it shouldn’t be a shock that there is a part 1 and a part 2 to this. In part 3, we’ll look at a more subtle way that I can say someone’s “no” for them.

When a pastor asks me for something that seems undoable, my knee jerk reaction is to NOT tell them how difficult something might be, I just do it. And as a result, I’m saying “no” for them.

For me, I feel responsible to make stuff happen, so I don’t say no.

When someone had a crazy idea that I wouldn’t know how to do with our current resources, I would spend the only capital I had: my time. I would kill myself make an idea happen, without ever talking to the idea person about the costs involved. I used to make an assumption that the person asking knew what it would take and they were asking for it anyway.

By not having a conversation about the cost of an idea, I was wasn’t giving them an opportunity to say “no”. I generally assumed the answer would be “yes”, so I didn’t bother asking.

Then one day, I had an idea of my own.

When my boss would have some crazy idea, I would try to imagine how I could get him to say “no” to his own idea. At first look, this might seem like I was pulling one over on him. In reality what happened, is that I learned how to present several options and let him choose.

Instead of being deceitful, I ended up learning the valuable lesson of providing solutions to the challenges instead of just killing myself to pull of the idea and then becoming resentful and bitter.

Sometimes my boss would say “Yes. We are going to do it.”, but more often he would pick one of the more doable options.  Over time, I noticed that he would choose doable over “no” pretty much every time.  I also noticed that when he said we needed to move ahead with something that seemed undoable, I knew he wasn’t taking it lightly.

This pattern helped us develop trust over time. We started to see each other’s point of view as essential to make things happen. Instead of feeling like we were always on the opposite side of a problem, we acknowledged that we were coming at from different vantage points, and we celebrated it. We needed each other.

When we say someone’s “no” for them, we short circuit the opportunity to get to true collaboration.

don’t say someone’s “no” for them, part 2

It's a No!

Yet another post about saying “no” for other people. (check out part 1 here)

This one is one is based on a stereotype of tech people everywhere: We always say “no”.

Usually we say it with attitude. Many times we don’t even hesitate; it just comes right out of us.

“Hey I have this idea to..” “NO!”

We don’t even wait for the punch line.

I think this comes from being overwhelmed by the task we already have in front of us, and from a general misunderstanding of what we actually do by the people with the ideas.

I think the reasons that we jump to “no” so quickly only perpetuate being overwhelmed and misunderstood.

With our production team that works the weekend service, we have been doing a lot of work on becoming one team with our creative team counterparts.

When we say “no” so fast, it doesn’t allow the creative team into our world. They will never understand what is going on under the surface if we never open up the conversation about why we are overwhelmed.

Contrary to what I used to think, people with awesome creative ideas tend to not to fully understand what it will take to pull it off…that’s what we are there for. I think this is the way God designed us to work together. But it only functions properly if we open the door to what is really involved.

Opening yourself up requires, well, opening yourself up. To either acceptance or rejection. Either becoming more like one team or becoming more separated.

Working production in the local church requires some relational risk taking. Without opening yourself up to the possibility, you are shutting down the very thing that will help your creative and technical arts work the way God designed it.

Take a chance. Don’t say “no” immediately. Talk about what is really going on. You might be surprised by the response.

 

 

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photo by: smlp.co.uk

don’t say someone’s “no” for them, part 1

Bill Hybels wrote a book called Axiom. It is a collection of leadership values that he uses to help make decisions. From a leadership standpoint, I have found it to be invaluable. I say it is a must read. He does a great job of distilling leadership principles into easy to remember phrases.

Say No to Yes

Don’t say someone’s “no” for them, is one that I need to remind myself of often.

There are a few different ways that I say people’s “no” for them and I’ll reflect on some of them over the next few posts.

the big ask

When I am looking for volunteers to help with an event, I tend to not ask, assuming they will say “no”. I’m saying “no” for them.

Whether it is because I don’t think an event is worth someone’s time or it’s too much work or it is something I personally wouldn’t volunteer for, I make choices for other people all the time.

We are getting ready for an event in a couple weeks that I assume nobody would be interested in volunteering for…so I didn’t ask. After getting to a point of desperately needing people, I realized what I was doing.

On one hand, I was saying “no” for everyone by not asking. On the other hand, I was depriving them of an opportunity to use their gifts. Gifts that God has given them to serve the local church.

By not asking, I’m making assumptions about people and I’m not giving people to choose.

Is it because I don’t have a vision for how God wants to use people for His purposes in the local church?

Maybe it’s because I don’t like rejection. If I never ask, then nobody can say “no” to me.

The Body of Christ was designed for us all to play a part; to participate. By not asking, and saying “no” for someone else, I am stopping God’s plan for His church from happening.

I need to ask, and let people decide for themselves.

I need to ask, to give people a chance to participate in what God is doing at our church.

I need to ask.

 

 

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photo by: teresatrimm

make the right behavior easier

I really enjoyed the book “Influencers” by Joseph Grenny, who was a speaker at this past year’s Leadership Summit at Willow Creek.  Here’s another great quote from the book:

Make the right behavior easier and the wrong behavior more difficult

When I think about what separates great production from bad, much of it can be solved by following this great advice.

When I was doing set up in a rented high school theater we had a difficult time getting rehearsal started on time. After years of frustration, I started keeping track of how much we could actually accomplish in the time we had available. Not surprisingly, we were trying to cram too much stuff into the short amount of time we had, with the people at our disposal.

What we ended up doing was figuring out what a “normal” set up looked like, so that we would know if we needed more people or more time to get it done for rehearsal to start on time.  We made starting rehearsal easier by figuring out how to get there.

For years, when we would play a video in our services, the background music would overpower the people speaking.  So now we split the talking from all the other audio, so that in the moment we can adjust in the moment.  We also check the videos on Friday to make sure they look and sound good, so that we aren’t scrambling around on Saturday afternoon to fix a problem.

I recently helped at a fundraising event. There were lots of wireless mics involved, which are typically unreliable at this venue. While I suggested we shouldn’t use them, the organizers of the event overruled me. Guess what, 3 out of 4 mics failed during the event. With every speaker standing behind a podium, we could have eliminated 95% of the risk by using a wired mic.

Now that I’m reading back through this post, it is less about right and wrong behavior and more about reducing error by eliminating points of failure; building systems to minimize “wrong behavior”.

In your world of production, how can you develop ways for your team to have good outcomes and avoid bad outcomes?

 

 

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Isaiah’s words to technical artists

“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
    Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” – Isaiah 57:14
I love this verse.
Even though it was written thousands of years ago, it feels like a rallying cry for technical artists in the local church.
It is why we are the first ones in the building each weekend, and the last to leave.
This past saturday, I bumped into one of the founders of our church. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He asked me why the production team was there so early. I told him that’s what it takes to make our services distraction free.
He thanked me and the team, and went on his way.
We were practicing Isaiah’s words.
Being in a dark auditorium before anybody else is there can be lonely. But it is what it means to live out “removing the obstacles.”  Staying long after everyone has gone home is another version of this.  We are just setting ourselves up for the next opportunity to “Prepare the road.”
What you do matters, and it is way bigger than you being the one dumb enough take the crap job.
Building up the stage; building up the graphics; building the lighting plot; is all apart of creating an environment for people to have an encounter with God.
When you are wondering why you are the only person left after a rehearsal, remember Isaiah’s words:

 

“Build up.  Remove the obstacles.”

 

photo by: Moyan_Brenn

your identity

I had the privilege to help lead the Technical Director’s Retreat at the WFX conference in Dallas this year.  If you have never heard of this or have never been, this part of the conference is worth checking out.  It is a chance to hang with other TDs, staff and volunteers, from churches big and small from all over the place.  I love it because it is a place that I can be reminded that what I do matters, and that I’m not the only crazy one.

Anyway, at this past year’s event, I talked about the story of the sisters, Mary and Martha, and their encounter, or lack thereof, with Jesus.  Here’s a refresher from Luke 10:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I don’t know about you, but this story baffles me…at first.  Then it starts hitting a little too close to home.

While Martha was doing what she was made to do (I’m sure she had a hospitality gift), somewhere along the way, she had turned the party into the most important thing, instead of Jesus.

And since the party wasn’t going super great, she was losing it on her sister and on Jesus.  My guess is that her identity was wrapped up too much in what she did and not in Jesus.

I love that I have had the privilege over the years to work at a job that I love and feels like what I was made to do.  Unfortunately at times, this becomes more than what I do but I derive my worth from how well I’m doing at my job.

I do need to do a good job.  I want to do a great job.  How God sees me has nothing to do with this.  Whether I succeed or fail.  Whether there is feedback or a missed graphic, God still feels the same about me.

Am I so wrapped up in my role as a technical artist in the local church, that I lose sight of my true identity?

 

 

 

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is Jesus just a job to you?

I have been working in production and serving in the local church for most of my life…like 3/4 of it.  Whether it has been as a volunteer or a staff member, I have spent quite a bit of time in church.
Last week, pastor Eugene Cho came to speak to the Willow Creek staff.  He talked about a few things, like the fact that his youngest son’s name is Jedi!  As a Star Wars fan, you have my attention!
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One thing he said in particular hit me pretty hard.  He read from Luke 7 where Jesus is having dinner at a Pharisee’s house.  While he is there, a sinful woman comes in an anoints Jesus’ feet.
It is a story that we have all heard before, but Eugene pointed out that this house is full of a bunch of religious leaders, who are watching and listening to Jesus from a clinical, almost academic perspective.  Here’s a group of people who’s full-time job is God.  Understanding the law, following the law, making sure other people are obeying the law.
They aren’t engaging with what Jesus is trying to teach them, they are just pulling apart the details.
As technical artists in the local church, I think it is really easy to fall into this way of encountering Jesus.  We are in the room, but we are only aware of the things that we care about.  Are the graphics working?  What is the mic placement like?  Do we have the CCLI number for the song at the end of the service?  I’ve talked about this before, but the gifts that we have been entrusted with, helping create environments for people to experience God, can put us in a place where we only experience Jesus through the lens of production and not as simply a Christ follower.
If I were honest, sometimes I check the box of “going to church and getting fed” just because I am at work.
If I were still honest, I am not really going to church and I’m not getting fed while I am at work.
If I were honest one more time, I would admit that I can go for long periods of time not developing spiritually.
As a group of people who spend a lot of time in church but aren’t really “at” church, we need to be more intentional to be around Jesus in other ways.  We need to look for opportunities to experience God in less clinical, less academic, less work related ways.
What is one thing you could do to make Jesus more than just a job to you?

silence to violence

I have been a tech person in the local church for the majority of my life.  Can I really be that old?  Yes, is the answer.

When I look back into the dim early years of existence, I remember a time when I used to get pretty frustrated with people.  I mean really frustrated.  Having the music director add an instrument at the last minute would send me over the edge.  Getting a call late on Saturday night to bring some large thing the next morning would usually send me into a fit.  People repurposing equipment without telling me would also get me all riled up.

If I think about it, much of the things that drove me crazy were people ignoring my boundaries.  I felt like no one had any respect for my life or what I needed to do my job well.

From the outside looking in, what most people saw was me going from “silence to violence”, a phrase I read in Joseph Grenny’s book Influencers.  To the people I was working with, they knew me as a pretty quiet person, until I would suddenly explode.

From my perspective, it seemed like I had communicated my needs to people, and that they should have known that they were violating our agreements.  I need all the band information on Friday, so that we can come up with a plan for how we are going to make it all fit on Sunday morning.  Or because we are portable, I need to know what you need thrown on the trailer by Saturday morning so that the volunteer driver can make sure it makes it to church.

In reality, I wasn’t communicating.  At least, not on a regular basis.  I made assumptions that other, non-technical people understood my world as much as I did.  It turned out that they just didn’t care.  And not in a bad way.  The reality is that they have a ton of other things to worry about just making their own thing happen.

How can I communicate on a regular basis what I need to get the job done well without seeming like a nag?

The creative people we work with will always have ideas that outpace the realities of the equipment we have and the time available.  And they should have these ideas.  It is our job as technical artists to foster these ideas and help shape them into what can be accomplished.

Instead of hearing an idea and getting silently angry because there is no way to do that with the resources we have (and you should know this), we need to communicate often about what is possible.

The idea generating people aren’t out to get you, they are just trying to generate ideas.  Have you ever tried to come up with idea out of thin air?  It is not easy.  Let’s not make it more difficult by passive aggressively wishing people would consider the technical feasibility of their ideas.  That’s your job.

For the partnership of the creative and technical arts to work, we need lots of communication.  Don’t hold it all in and then explode.  Work things out along the way, with grace for each other.

photo by: gnuckx
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