One article that caught my attention was about Elton John’s Diving Board Tour, especially since it was one of the last projects that Mark Fisher worked on. I’m a huge fan of Mr. Fisher’s work, more specifically the process of how he worked.
In the article, LD Patrick Woodroffe talked about how the show came together. It started with Sir Elton wanting to take his show on the road, and basically saying, whatever Mark and his team came up with for the production design would be fine. Talk about a blank check!
For many tech people I know, this would be the chance to try all the most cutting edge things I’ve been dreaming about. To pull out all the stops. Yet, here’s what Patrick said:
“The last thing you’d want to do in creating a rock show is to come up with a big concept that has nothing to do with the person sitting on the stage. It’s always been our view that you start with what’s on the stage and work from there.”
This is some wisdom.
No wonder Elton John trusts the people at Stufish so blindly; they have proven that they only want to create something that fits what he is trying to do. They don’t just want to take his money and do whatever they feel like with it. Their goal is to steward his trust and create something that will enhance the person and the music of Elton John.
For those of us doing production in the local church, it is so easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest. Or doing cool production-y things, for their own sake. What our churches need, is for us to have a similar attitude as the crew working with Mr. John.
What’s happening on our platform? How can we help enhance it? How can we make it the best version of itself?
Is your idea to fill your room with haze going to help make your services better?
Will a louder mix satisfy your own desires to feell the bass, but distract people from why they are in church in the first place?
Does all your crazy dutch angle camera shots help people engage with what’s happening on stage or is it just making them sick?
Taking Patrick’s advice will do at least two things for us, make our services better, and build loads of trust with whoever your version of Elton John may be.
I like lots of top light on the band.
I like san serif fonts.
I like to feel the kick drum in my chest.
These are my preferences and are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m only one person on a team of people with preferences of their own. So…who’s preferences matter? Who’s don’t?
If our services were put together based on everyone’s preferences, we probably wouldn’t even have a service. Or at least we would have a service that nobody really liked.
So what do we do? Who decides?
In our world today, there is such a high premium placed on the idea that everyone’s opinion matters, so this might feel pretty counter cultural, but unless the leader decides, we won’t really get anywhere important.
From the very top of your organization, for many of us that’s our church, there needs to be very clear idea of what we are trying to do. Not that the senior pastor needs to decide band arrangements or anything that detailed, but at the least they need to have empowered someone to make those decisions.
Then that person needs to empower her/his team to make the decisions necessary to pull a service together. But at the end of the day, someone needs to say what’s most important. When values clash, and they will, who decides the best way to go?
All of our situations are different, but regardless there should be someone we can look to for direction in those moments. When the audio engineer has a preference that clashes with the preference of the band leader, or the lighting designer as an idea of how dark it should be on stage that doesn’t line up with what the video director needs, who decides? I can tell you that it shouldn’t be those individuals, because we would never come to a decision.
If it is your job to decide, don’t make every decision, but help your team by arbitrating on values. You need to be the one to pick which value matters most in a given moment. It is up to you to develop a point of view and share it with the team often. As it turns out, your preferences matter the most. It might feel odd, but it is true.
Now, if it isn’t your job to decide, then get out of the way. Serve up your preference, but let your leader make the final decision.
My impression is that many of us tech people like to make decisions about audio or lighting or video that really aren’t ours to make. Work with your leader to figure out what you can decide and what you should defer to them on.
Who decides? The leader. Is that you or someone else? If it is you, do your team a favor and decide. If it isn’t you, do your leader a favor and let them decide.
I am currently listening to a recorded book called Neptune’s Inferno, which is about the US Navy’s battle with the Japanese over the island of Guadalcanal. As I have been going through the book, the author, James Hornfischer has done a master job of writing the narrative of all the different ships and the people who worked on them.
Part of the story of World War Two in the pacific is about the many technological advances the Navy had put into all their ships and how in many ways, they were on the cutting edge of technology. Sonar and radar just being a couple of examples. But just because they had the latest and greatest in technology, didn’t mean everyone was using it effectively.
Here is one quote from the book that seemed to apply beyond naval warfare, to where most of us live:
“Tools do not make the craftsman.”
In the area of production in the local church, having the most advanced technology isn’t necessarily the answer, especially if you don’t have the people who understand how to use it.
For many of us, making the most out of the tools that are right in front us is the first step to great production. If you aren’t a “craftsman” when it comes to audio or video or lighting, having the newest LED fixture, or the latest plug in, or a 4K camera, isn’t going to turn you into a craftsman.
Working diligently to master your craft is going to turn you into a craftsman.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the “10,000-hour rule”, which basically says that it takes about 10,000 hours to master a specific task.
Are you putting in the time to develop your craft? Or are you blaming your lousy tools on why things aren’t better?
From another perspective, are you putting your time in on the wrong craft? Maybe no amount of hours will make you a craftsman at a particular task. I’m sure I could spend 10,000 hours trying to become a competitive short distance runner…and I’m fairly confident that I wouldn’t win any races. Getting the latest plug in for your console isn’t necessarily going to make you a great audio engineer.
At most of our churches, we don’t have the resources to be on the cutting edge of technology, but when we are entrusted with the churches funds to purchase the next new thing, are we confident that we have mastered what we already have?
I love connecting with other technical artists. I love the chance to be around people that think like me and that struggle with similar issues; to be around people that view the world from a similar vantage point and who help build the kingdom in similar ways.
In my earlier years as a technical artist, I spent a good deal of time looking for community, for people who understood my point of view and wrestled with production type issues in the local church. Cold calling large churches that might have a TD, just so I could commiserate with someone. Reaching out to other churches in the Detroit area, just so we could get together and build each other up.
Fast forward though something called the Tech Forum, held for a few years when I was at Kensington; then onto the Willow Creek Arts Conference and finally Gurus of Tech first in Louisville, then to Willow Creek for the last few years. This list not only points to how passionate I am about bringing technical artists together, but it really points to the need that exists among local church technical artists to be in community together.
At least for this year, Gurus of Tech will not be at Willow Creek, and there isn’t much to it. Just like your church, everything our church does requires production’s involvement. In our case, God has been moving and working in the life of our church and things are growing and changing and requiring us to think differently about how our production team does ministry. Basically, just like many of you, we have a lot going on.
This doesn’t change the fact that there is a need for us technical artists to gather and it doesn’t mean that we don’t believe in what Gurus of Tech stands for. What it does mean, is that our team’s number one priority is to facilitate ministry at our church. Maybe even more than that, it means that we need to devote our best to what God wants to do here in our local community.
We have some really exciting things happening at our church, that we are privileged to work on and put our best energy toward.
The team at Mankin Media is developing plans to carry Gurus of Tech to other places, not just geographically, but in concept. The production team at Willow Creek is excited for the opportunity we’ve had to participate in the very cool idea of Gurus, as participants and as organizers, and we look forward to being involved as much as we can in the future.
Based on my last 2 posts about what we do and how we do it, let’s say you and your team and doing amazing work, and you are treating each other the way Christ commands us. Is that all there is? If I do those two things, God will bless everything we do? Not necessarily. I would say there is one more component to what it means to do production in the local church.
After we’ve done our very best, and we’ve exhibited the fruit of the spirit to each other, we need to let God do his work.
For whatever reason, God has chosen for us to be a part of his plan to redeem the world; that people would encounter Christ through our involvement in the world. By using our gifts and talents for his purposes, we are bringing heaven to earth.
If I were God and I was infinite, I don’t think I would save the world using finite people. We are all flawed and imperfect, so why would God want to introduce risk into the equation?
5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
2 Cor 4:5-7
OK, so God wants to use us, but he also wants to make it very clear that he deserves the credit for what happens. All our work and all our love for each other isn’t what brings people to Christ, but it is the Holy Spirit. At the end of the day, God doesn’t need us to accomplish his purposes. Yet he wants to involve us, and then he wants there to be no question that He is the one who is moving.
After we nail every transition, and love each other to death, it is still God who is working in the lives of people.
The beautiful part is that even when we don’t nail every transition, and when our love for each other is less than it could be, it is still God who is working in the lives of people.
Following Christ as a technical artist can be challenging.
Care deeply about technical excellence, but don’t worry about it.
Live out the fruit of the spirit, but if you don’t, God is still working.
If God can work when things aren’t working, imagine how much more effective we could be for His purposes when things are working well?
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Cor 15:58
In my last post, I talked about how we being excellent in each tiny detail adds up to overall excellence. You can’t have a great event without taking care of all the small things. If you look around at many live events or events on TV, you’ll notice that these things happen all the time. There are tons of amazing technical artists taking care of the smallest details so that the event happens without us even noticing how production is playing its part. At the least, we should be striving for this kind of excellence in production.
But I don’t think that’s enough. For those of us doing production work in the local church, or even in my recent case, being a part of a German/American production crew to pull off the Germany Leadership Conference, there has to be more to it than just nailing all the production details. So what separates our production from any other?
For those of us doing production in the local church, we have the opportunity to use our art to advance a pretty amazing purpose: spreading the gospel message of Christ. However, this is only an external difference between doing production in church or being a part of a production at the auto show. But this still doesn’t begin to define what it means to practice the technical arts as a Christ follower.
Excellence in production is pursued everywhere, so that can’t be the answer. Whether you are turning a mic on for a pastor or a spokesperson for the car company, that doesn’t define the difference either.
Jesus summed it up pretty well in John 13:34-35:
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
While we are taking care of every little detail, while we are striving for excellence, how are we treating each other? While we are striving for excellence, how are we interacting with each other?
Jesus said we wouldn’t be different because we just happened to be doing production in a church. He said we’d be different because people would see how we love each other as we are doing production.
When things get intense during rehearsal, how are you responding to those around you? When mistakes happen, how do you handle yourself with volunteers? When someone asks for something last minute, what is your knee-jerk reaction?
While the task of production is important, if we aren’t nailing the details, loving each other isn’t going to be the answer for doing great production in your church. But if you are killing the production parts, but steam rolling over people, you’re totally missing what it means to follow Christ as a technical artist. You must be doing both.
[I’ve included some more pictures of the Germany Leadership Conference from the perspective of the people involved.]
There are some days that I really love my job. I am currently in a run of days that are generally some of my best experiences in production, the Germany Leadership Summit. It happens every other year, and I have had the pleasure of leading these trips since 2005. I can’t even believe it.
I am usually more tired during these trips than for any other production that I get to be a part of, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. To build something from nothing and then watch thousands of German speaking people singing familiar songs in a language I don’t understand will never get old to me.
In the first few days of our experience, we are pretty much just getting stuff done: banging truss together, running hundreds of meters (yes, meters) of cable, hanging projectors and line arrays…pretty much building the environment.
Taken as a whole, it is a TON of work. It is so much, that it can almost seem insurmountable. However, in reality, the whole thing is made up of small, doable parts. Unwinding a cable, rigging a motor, aiming a projector. With the team I get to work with, these tasks are pretty straight forward, if not beneath their abilities. Yet here we find ourselves spending the majority of our time doing these things.
What I love so much about this team, is that while their talents are amazing, they are not too good to dive in and do whatever needs to get done. The other day, a team mate reminded me of a phrase that we used to say a lot: “Here to serve!” This phrase exemplifies the attitude of this production team.
We have a ton of little things to do, and we are going to kill it on each one of these. No detail is too small to not do our very best with. Especially on an event of this scale, the details all add up to something huge. Each tiny thing adds up to the whole. So if we are only doing an OK job along the way, that could potentially add up to disaster. Why take a chance that one small shortcut will come back to bite us later. Let’s do it right the first time.
My pastor, Bill Hybels, often says that God deserves our best, since God has only ever given us his best in the person of his son, Jesus. Excellence matters, but not just to be the best. Striving for excellence is a reflection on how we serve Christ. Are we giving our best, even in the small things, or are we looking for easy ways out as we go?
As we step into this event, we are striving to do our very best, even in (especially in) the smallest detail.
Lately, I have a noticed a difference in thinking between senior leaders and tech people. Senior leaders don’t really notice technology issues until they are issues, and they want them fixed immediately. Tech people on the other hand are always trying to plan for the issues, but really can’t do all the work of figuring things out until they have the green light.
Sooner or later this issue can set the two groups onto a collision course. Once we have the go ahead, we want to start teasing out every detail to make the very best choices for budget and capacity, all of which takes time. From leadership’s standpoint, once they say “go”, they are ready for it to happen.
So how do we handle this potential conflict? What is the balance between right now and the time required to plan every little detail?
A good starting point is to talk about what the goal is for the particular project. Is time of the essence? Is money tight? These two questions will help define which end of the spectrum your brain needs to think about this project.
If speed is the most important factor, money will probably not be spent in the most frugal fashion. When you are running fast, you end up making choices that are more expensive than if you had time to do the research necessary to figure out the best solution. If time matters the most, be ready to feel like you are throwing money around.
If your budget is tight and therefore by default the most important value, you will most likely spend more time trying to figure out how to accomplish the goals and spend the least amount as possible.
At both extremes, there comes a time when you need to just get the work done. At a certain point, you just have to dive in and get it done. Otherwise we could research something to death looking for the cheapest or most precise answer. Or with speed being the highest value, get all caught up making sure we are doing the exact right thing and then not making any decisions.
Working in production as long as I have, I probably fall on the side of wanting to research as long as possible, to save the most amount of money as possible and come up with the perfect solution. As a result, it can sometimes feel to my leaders like I’m not getting anything done.
I love how Seth Godin talks about “shipping”. The idea that nothing will ever be fully done, and so you need to become disciplined to just get things out the door. Especially in the world of technology, the minute we decide to head in a certain direction, the technology will be obsolete. This can make the speed part of the equation so difficult to handle, because we want to get the most technology for the money.
So what is the right balance of speed and cost? Somewhere in between. When I think about it, it might have more to do with what will help our church the most right now? Where is the momentum? Will we lose it if we take too long to figure out the perfect solution? Maybe we’ll lose it if we hurry up and make the wrong decisions.
Wherever it is, make sure that you are on the same page with your senior leaders in each given situation.
Today’s post is by an old friend of mine. Steve Norman is currently the Lead Pastor at Kensington Community Church’s Troy Campus and we both started working at Kensington in the same era. The era when your office was in the copy room, or the warehouse area. Our paths have crossed and recrossed over the years, and I thought it would be great for the predominantly technical audience of this blog to hear about technology from the viewpoint of a pastor. Enjoy.
I can tell you exactly where I was sitting in the church auditorium when it happened. I was a high school student trying to follow along with the pastor’s Sunday morning message and there was an audio glitch of some kind. And then my pastor did it. He called out the audio engineer from the stage. Not as a colleague and fellow team member, not as a gifted hardworking artist, but the “sound guy” who feel asleep at the wheel. I cringed. And every time I’ve heard it done since, I still do.
I’ve been doing ministry in some kind of formal capacity for close to 20 years, but I’ve never had a class or workshop on how teaching pastors/communicators can better serve and coordinate with their production teams.
The truth is: most pastors don’t really know what you do, how you do it or how well you do it. They believe it matters, but as my story indicates, many speakers/teacher don’t publicly acknowledge their production teams until something goes wrong.
If you, however, want to take your working relationship with your pastor to the next level, allow me to offer a few simple suggestions:
1. Communicate. Then communicate some more.
Do you know what your pastor needs and expects from you? Does he or she know what you expect from them? Do you have a call time? Does the speaker honor it? Are you ready for the him or her if she does?
If the speaker is bringing CG or video, do you have a deadline you expect it by?
My team has made it crystal clear that if I don’t submit my CG by 12p on Friday, they may not be able to have it ready to run for our Saturday 5:30p service. It’s taken us some wrangling to get to a system that works for both of us, but when I respect their boundaries our dynamic is healthier.
Our stage manager, lets me know what shirts I shouldn’t wear because I’m on IMAG. It drives my crazy really, but I have to remember she’s working in my best interest. If the image on the screen is too busy, people can’t focus on what I want to say. Because of communication and over communication, I know our team is as committed to the message as I am, just from a different, yet necessary perspective.
Ask your speaker, what their objectives are: for the day, for the series, for the ministry season. If your speaker is anything like me, they have a horrible habit of waiting til the last minute to pull a talk together. When you can, sit down with them and explain the kinds of ways that set design, lighting, audio, etc. can enhance where they want to go if they give you enough lead time to help them. This is the “help me, help you” conversation.
When your speaker honors a deadline; thanks one of your volunteers; or gets you their scriptures on time, celebrate them publicly with your team. A little affirmation goes a long way in creating a culture where your teachers learn to value and elevate your teams.
As your begin to communicate, collaborate and celebrate together, then maybe, when they call your name from stage, it will simply be to remind the congregation how incredible your really are.