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!
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

we all want the same thing

I’m a technical artist.  I want the execution of the service to be flawless.  You see me as a  uptight, perfectionistic, idea crusher.

You are a creative artist.  You want to keep things loose and organic.  I see you as lazy with a lack of regard of what it really takes.

These are pretty severe extremes.  I’m not sure that we ever talk in these terms, but they do tend to exist on some levels, on many teams.

I would argue that in reality, we are closer than we appear.

I believe that in most of our churches, the technical artists (the people in the booth) and the creative artists (the people on stage) essentially want the same thing.  We want to create an environment where God moves in our services.  We want to see our gifts and talents used in ways greater than ourselves.  We don’t want to fail…we want to succeed.

The challenge is our perspectives.  I have a list of things that really matter to me that you don’t seem to care about at all.  And you have your own list of things that I frankly don’t care about either.  From these perspectives, when we start talking about how to make our services amazing, it is no wonder that we experience some tension.

So what do we do about this tension?  I don’t think we can wish it would go away, because as Andy Stanley says, it is a tension to manage.  I would maybe go one step further and say that it is a tension to celebrate.

When we look at our services, it takes the full range of talents and expertise to make it all work.  Musicians, lighting designers, worship leaders, CG operators, pastors, audio engineers…the list could go on.  Without each of these people contributing their part, the whole thing wouldn’t work.

God made each one of these people a certain way.  He wired each one to care about certain things and not about others.  He created the camera operator to see interesting compositions and the vocalist to interpret music with their voice.  With each skill and each type of person, there are corresponding development tracks and preparation techniques and execution requirements to achieve the desired outcome for each discipline.

With this diverse group of people comes…wait for it…a diverse group of people.

To isolate ourselves and only care about our own process is not how God designed the body of Christ to function.  Yes, we all need to care deeply about our talent, but we also have to be willing to let go of our grip for the benefit of the whole.

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

When you boil it all down, we all want the same thing:  God to move in our services through my individual contribution.  

We all have different contributions with different needs.  

How can I fight for what I need, while at the same time celebrate you fighting for what you need?

We all want the service to be great, we just have different ways to get to great.

does God speak…to me?

When was the last time you heard from God?  When was the last time you were listening for God’s voice?  As a tech person, I tend to find myself back in the booth just trying to facilitate what other people have heard from God.  Hearing from God is something that happens to other people.

I have been reading my way through the gospels and right now, John the Baptist has just seen Jesus for the first time and says “This is the Son of God.”  Throughout this encounter with Jesus, John is saying things that we would consider not normal:  doves descending, voices telling someone what to do, God’s son showing up.  Again, these are all things that happen to other people, whether that’s in biblical times or just other people I hear about.

I got to thinking, that I don’t expect anything remotely like this to ever happen to me.  I live my life, I make choices, I pray, I journal, I go to church…but I don’t typically expect to have God speak directly to me.

The sad part, is that I would say that I have had at least 5 encounters with God that I can’t explain, and yet I still assume that God speaks to other people and I just facilitate that.  My life would be very different if I hadn’t responded to those promptings.

What would my life look like if I really expected God to speak?  Or what if I slowed my life down enough to actually have space to listen for His voice?

Now I’m thinking, it is one thing to hear God’s voice, but John the Baptist actually did something about it.  He got down to business baptizing people, wearing burlap and eating locust.

Taking this a step further, what about the promptings I get that I don’t act on?  What would happen if I followed these promptings and trusted God for the outcome?

I feel like this applies beyond big life decisions to every day life.  I had a season in my life a few years ago where I felt very unsettled and wanted God to give me the answer to what to do with my life.  Instead, every time I asked the question:  ”God, what do you want me to do with my life?”, I would put my pen down and wait for an answer, and it was always something like, apologize to this person for what you said yesterday.  I would get so frustrated.  I’m not doing that!  Where’s the big answer?

Eventually I realized that if I am unwilling to follow a prompting to apologize to someone or to give a gift anonymously to a person or write a blog post about hearing from God; why would I think that God would entrust me with some bigger life altering word.



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over communicate and don’t undersell

I am continually amazed at how expensive production equipment can be…I can only imagine what non-technical people think of the prices!


We have been in the process of upgrading a space here, and we are choosing to not go for the best long term solution, but rather a really solid intermediate step.  In other words, we aren’t even talking about wireless mics or changing out the 4:3 screens for 16:9 or doing any sort of lighting upgrade; and it is still a ton of money.  Just for the basics of audio.

I have learned (or relearned) a few things in this process.

If I think it is expensive and I understand what needs to happen technically, imagine what it is like for a non-technical church leader who only understands that it is going to cost a lot.  I probably still haven’t done a great job of this, but I have been trying to over communicate what can and can’t be done, and why things cost what they do.

The leaders at my church, and yours, need to know that we are being responsible with the money that has been donated by the congregation, and that what we are purchasing will advance the ministries of the church and not just be a bunch of cool new toys for the tech team.

The other big thing I have gotten a new perspective on, is that it doesn’t help anyone if I undersell the idea.  If after working through what is needed, I shouldn’t back down from the realities of what needs to be done.

As a type 9 on the enneagram scale, it turns out that I don’t love conflict.  When I get into situations where people are pushing on why things need to cost so much, I find myself trying to figure out how we could do it for less.  While working hard to make things the least expensive they can be is a necessary exercise and a responsible way to spend the church’s money.  However, if it needs to cost a certain amount in order to achieve the desired results, there is no reason to try to hide or down play that.

So maybe to summarize what I’m learning, over communicate and acknowledge that equipment is expensive.  But also, don’t back down from what is needed to achieve the desired results.  If the needs of the ministry cost “x”, don’t undersell to “y” and then not really help the ministry.

nostalgia is a dangerous form of comparison

I just read an article in the Chicago Tribune about a guy who took a trip through Europe using the EuroRail pass.  It turns out he was reliving a trip he took 30 years ago, just to see if he could do it now that he was 20 pounds heavier and had gotten used to staying in nice hotels and eating great food.

As he was living through the challenges of traveling for 15 days through Europe as a middle aged guy, he realized that all his memories of his previous trip were perfect.  He had fabricated a trip where nothing bad happened, and the experience was once in a life time.

This reminded me of a quote from Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly:

Nostalgia is a dangerous form of comparison.

For Alan Soloman, the traveler in this case, trying to compare his most recent trip to his first one might have ruined the entire experience for him.  Realizing that his brain had fabricated a fairy tale of the earlier trip, helped him to enjoy the ups and the downs of his train trip through Europe.

In my context, I often think back onto my days at Kensington Church as without flaw.  Even here at Willow Creek, we can sometimes get caught up in reliving the glory days.  This makes me think of a couple things.  One is that, like Alan, most of what we remember is made up, and never quite happened.  The second is that while we can learn from the past, only talking about the past doesn’t help move things forward.

As a technical artist, much of my existence involves working with other people’s ideas.  Not that I don’t have my own ideas, I just don’t exercise that muscle very often.  Because of that, it is easy to reach back in time and just compare what isn’t working today with what worked in the past.

How can I stop using the past as a solution for the future?  

Understanding the past is essential for not repeating the same mistakes over and over again, but the future needs new ideas and new thoughts.

perfectionism is a perception

I’m coming down off the Summit experience, and have a brain full of stuff to process.  For those of you who were a part of pulling off the experience at sites all over North America, thanks for your partnership and your commitment to excellence.  I always love the way we can come together to technically support such a far reaching event.

wpid-2497690512_04ae6f093b_o.jpgOne of the things I like to do in preparing for the Summit each year, is to read as many of the books written by the speakers as possible.  This helps me get my mind wrapped around the content of each session, and since I interact with all the speakers, it helps me get to know them in some way before I meet them.  It also makes it easy to make small talk about the topic they are passionate about while we are getting them mic’ed up.

This year, Brene Brown spoke about the science of shame and vulnerability.  I have been listening to her book “Daring Greatly” which I would highly recommend to every technical artist I know.

Here’s a quote that I love:

Perfectionism is more about perception than internal motivation. Perception is impossible to control.

As tech people, we tend to get accused quite often of driving for perfectionism.  That our attention to detail or our need to know exactly what is going to happen are because we want things to be perfect.  That a flawless execution is the highest value.

For me and for the team I have the privilege to lead, we do care about flawless execution, but it isn’t because that’s what matters most or because my self worth is wrapped up in a service with no mistakes in it.  The internal motivation is to remove potential distractions from people’s experience.  The goal is to make production as transparent (sounds better than invisible) as possible…that people are focused on worshiping or hearing the message with nothing getting in the way.

I am pretty comfortable with the fact that I am not a perfectionist.  I like to do my very best, which is all I can expect from myself.  With that, I am uncomfortable with being labeled a perfectionist, which is a perception.

While it might be impossible to control people’s perceptions, as Brene states, I need to do my very best to try to change that perception.  I can’t expect people to understand my motivation or my team’s motivation if I am not continually casting vision for why we do what we do.  I’m not so worried about the random people that come up to the booth and complain about the volume.  I’m mostly interested in helping the people I work closely with understand why I am after so much information, or why rehearsing things matters so much to my team.

What is your internal motivation for a flawless service?

What are some ways that you could help change the perception people might have of perfectionism?



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a physicist’s guide to leading up

Clarity and accuracy of statement are mutually exclusive. – Niels Bohr

Niels Bohr won the noble prize in 1922 for his work in atomic structure and quantum mechanics.  To simplify:  he was a rocket scientist before their were rockets.

Here’s a guy that understands the mysteries and complexities that most normal humans can’t even begin to fathom.  It doesn’t seem like a shock that he would struggle to communicate what is going on at the atomic level to normal everyday people.  He could either be clear and simple, or accurate.

As a technical artist in the local church, I am always trying to figure out better ways to communicate to those above me, so they can understand.  When something goes wrong, how do I reduce the complexity into an understandable statement?  When it is time to replace a piece of equipment, how do I communicate the reasons that make sense for the organization?

Before reading this quote, I would say I had been shooting for both clarity and accuracy at the same time.  Now the challenge seems like figuring out the balance between the two…or is it one or the other, which is what mutually exclusive means.

It is important for our churches, that we figure out how to lead up.  That we are able to fulfill the role we have in the body of Christ and provide our leaders with the information they need to help make great decisions.  Communicating with accuracy of statement usually gets non-technical people lost.  Sometimes communicating with clarity feels like not I’m not offering enough information.

One of the things I have learned over the years, is the importance of leading up; the necessity of speaking in a way that leadership can understand what I am saying.  As a technical person, it can be easy to speaking in dBs and foot-candles, which don’t mean anything to anyone not involved in production.  I have spent a lot of time trying to craft statements and ideas into ways that are understandable to the people leading me.

This idea that clarity and accuracy of statement can’t exist in the same space, is freeing to me.  It isn’t about trying to cram all the everything into a statement that is clear, but it is about trying to be as clear as possible.  It is important to understand the topic enough to speak with accuracy, but it is only necessary when asked to be more specific.

As you try to lead up to those above you, are you trying to be as accurate as possible, and probably losing people’s understanding of the words you are saying?  

Or are you able to communicate with clarity, and not worry about the intimate details that just bog down the big idea?

Most of us technical people don’t need help with the “accuracy of statement” side of things.  We understand the situation in minute detail.  But, if we are going to be effective at our roles as technical artists in the local church, we need to become masters of restraint, so that we communicate with clarity.


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