a privilege

pineapple mayhem

I had an opportunity to work on a Friday night.  Most of us in the world of production, both in the church and out, don’t think this is a big shock.  Many events happen on a Friday night, and this is something that just comes with the territory.  Leave your family.  Watch your friends go do something fun.  Miss out on family movie night or in my case, the famous Elliott family homemade pizza night.

However, this particular Friday night a few weeks ago, I was so proud to be at work.  Our church held an event for our middle school ministry.  At Willow Creek, nothing is small.  No event is uneventful.  We had almost 3000 12-14 year olds in our main auditorium.  Now, my first reaction to the idea of this happening in our main auditorium was “Those kids are going to trash this place.”

How many tech people get a chance to do production for an event that has potentially eternal impact on the lives of middle school students?  How many churches are willing to open their nicest space to the destructive force of 8th grade boys?  How many places have so many kids inviting 2 or 3 friends, that we only have one room big enough to fit them all?

I love production.  I love my church.  I love doing production at my church.  I love doing production at my church to help spread the gospel to 2500+ tweeners, regardless of the obvious reasons not to.

So many people who work production do it to help sell more cars, or sell more pharmaceuticals, or for inebriated people to enjoy a wedding reception.

I count it a privilege to be a production person for a greater purpose, even when it means I miss homemade pizza night.

not like every sunday


photo credit: jramspott

I was struck this Easter by the feeling of being connected to what everyone else was doing.  The feeling that I am a part of something bigger.  Working from week to week, pulling off services once every 7 days, then throwing in a few extra events during the week and a big event from time to time, it is easy to get super focused on what I am doing.  It is so easy to have tunnel vision for what is happening right in front of me.

It isn’t wrong to be focused on what is at hand, but working in church production, there is something bigger going on than the production of the moment.

This past weekend, a couple things hit me.  One I shared in my post holy production week about all that Christ did for me.  The other was the sense that I was a part of something much larger than just the Easter service at Willow Creek.  Seeing so many pictures on twitter and facebook, from places like Seattle, Germany, Detroit, Atlanta and South Africa, made me realize that God is doing something all over the world.  As a technical artist in the local church, I am a part of thousands of other technical artists helping to support the service that celebrates the hinge point of history:  Christ’s resurrection.

I am so proud to be a part of such an amazing group of paid staff and more importantly volunteer staff that pulled off staggering productions for the sake of spreading the more staggering message of what Jesus did for all of us.

Thank you to those of you who posted pictures and comments of what was happening where you were this weekend.  Not only was I inspired by your creativity, I was reminded that I am a part of something much bigger than what is right in front of me.

holy production week

We are the reason that HE gave HIS life

photo credit: upto6only.com

I have been reading through Hebrews lately, and wondering what it all really means.  There is so much Old Testament stuff going on, I have been confused, but I just keep pressing on, because once I start reading something, I have to finish.  With it being Holy Week, I felt like maybe I should abandon Hebrews in favor of reading the Easter account, to help my frame of mind going into a very busy week.

Then I came across Hebrew 12:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I was completely floored by these verses.  Of all the things to read this week, considering how tired I am, how many things aren’t going exactly according to plan, how big the hill in front of me is to climb; this is exactly what I needed to read.

Whatever I am feeling pales in comparison to what Jesus endured for me.  Jesus joyfully ran his race and has finished the work set before him, for me.  How much more can I push through and persevere to the end of this weekend?

Over all the world, untold thousands will be hearing the message of Christ this weekend, and much of it will be made possible through the efforts of church technical artists.  Fix your eyes on Jesus and what he has done for these people, including you, “so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

seeing into the future

Looking Good. . .

photo credit: MrsMinifig

This week, my team was on the opposite side of the process vs. product discussion.  This time, ignoring the process would make the service better, but the price to be paid ended up being too high to make the end result worth it.

It is impossible to know without a doubt what matters more in the moment.  Walking the tightrope between process and product is an attempt at seeing the future.  As a leader, making decisions requires you and I to look ahead at the potential outcomes and make the right choice.

As I said, there was a request recently that would make the service better but jack with the process.  The request was fulfilled, but every spare moment was crammed with trying to make it happen.  As a result, we lost focus on other things that then became distractions during the service, actually making the product worse.  For us, being distraction free is a base-line, non-negotiable value for production, so this seems pretty unacceptable.

The thing about walking the tightrope all the time, is that it is  difficult to know before hand when the process is the most important or the product matters more.

Someone asked me how I make the choice.  In order for each side, product and process, to believe that both matter, decisions need to be made in either’s favor in somewhat equal amounts.  As a leader, the production team needs to know that the process matters to me a lot, and the programming team needs to know that the outcome of the service or event matters to me a lot.

Trust is key.  Do the people you work with trust that you are making the right decision?  Are you giving equal time to both sides of the tightrope?  Hopefully, all signs point to yes.

the tightrope

Playing violin while tightrope walking, impressive!

photo credit: simononly

During this Easter season, I have been wrestling long and hard about what matters more: process or product…again. This time, from a different angle.

Do I push the process and as a result making it less ideal, so that the product can be better?

To me, the process is something we set up as the ideal situation, something to shoot for.  We should then be flexible based on the needs of the moment. If I know that something could be better, but we would have to tweak the process, why wouldn’t we do it, regardless of the process we have set up? On the other hand, the stress and extra work that comes from throwing the process to the side, might not be worth the benefits of the final product.

So do I stick with a product that is potentially less than ideal so that the process can be ideal? Or do I push on the process to make the product better? I don’t know.

I was talking to a group of leaders at Willow Creek the other day and I posed the question of which is more important, process or product. Their response was classic. The answer was there is no right answer (thanks for nothing). They are both important, and it is the job of a leader to make decisions based on the unique circumstance of each case.  The balancing act between process and product will never go away. It is my job to walk the tightrope all the time, to determine when the process is the most important or when product wins out.

When I signed up for being a production leader at a church, I had no idea that it would involve walking a tightrope every day, but that is what I am called to do. I have been learning it is key for both process and product people to know that I value both and am committed to the tightrope walk.

If you are walking the tightrope everyday, and wondering if one thing matters more than another, take heart; you are not the only one.  It is the role of a technical arts leader to keep up the balancing act.

Process vs. Product

As a technical person, the process matters to me a lot. How we go about achieving a desired outcome is just as important as the outcome. So much of our jobs as technical artists involves planning and executing someone’s creative idea. However, I can be so focused on the process that I can shoot down most of the ideas that people have. Because I am the person responsible for pulling off some crazy idea, how it gets done matters a bunch to me.

I have been kicked out of so many creative brainstorming meetings that I have lost count.

Over time I had become known as that person who cared less about having a great service and more about having the perfect process. Every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed mattered more to me than whatever the final outcome was. Eventually, I learned two things: most brainstormed ideas never happen; and most people in the brainstorming weren’t designed to think about the process required to pull off their idea, that’s me.

So my job is to care deeply about the process because that’s the way God designed me and the way He needs me fulfill my role in the body of Christ. I also need to be good with people who care deeply about the product, because that’s the way God designed them and the way He needs them to fulfill their role in the body of Christ. God needs us to work together to do both: a great product and a great process.

Be a champion for the part that matters to you. Let others champion the part that matters to them. We must have both.

What is technical excellence anyway? part 2

Here’s another thought about defining technical excellence:  excellence is being better today than yesterday.  I love this idea because there is an element of striving, of trying new things, and possibly making mistakes along the way.  Being better today than yesterday puts excellence into which ever context we find ourselves in.   What is excellent for me, isn’t necessarily excellence for you and vice versa.

You could argue that there is a baseline for excellence, a level of acceptability.  I probably wouldn’t argue with you too much on that point.  But I would argue that there needs to be some flexibility on where this line is, based on each of our abilities and our experiences.  I would also say that if my ability and my experience create feedback at every event I am apart of, there is a problem.

Being better today than yesterday requires mistakes to be made and risks to be taken.  However, if we make the same mistakes over and over again, how can we say that we are achieving excellence?  But if we make mistakes and make adjustments for them not to happen again, now we are moving the line of excellence.

I was once training someone in the role of technical director, and he kept making the same mistake several times in a row, and each time, in the moment, I’d step in to talk about how to improve.  Then, during a break, he asked me how he was doing and I said “I’m ready for us to make a new mistake.”

In order to achieve excellence, we need to be ready to make mistakes.  When mistakes happen, we need to let the mistakes make us better today than we were yesterday.

Are you open to mistakes happening?  Are you getting better as a result of them?

Be excellent.

What is technical excellence anyway? (probably part 1)

When it comes to doing production in our churches, what is technical excellence really?  Is it the best gear?  The best volunteers?  As close to perfection as possible?

After thinking about my post, “A Clean Stage is a Happy Stage“, I came across another Marty O’Connor classic: Excellence is doing the best with what you have.  This doesn’t say anything about perfection, but simply using what you have currently, and doing your best with it.  This is something we can all do, regardless of what church we are a part of, regardless of the conditions we work under, or the kind of equipment we have.

When I was at Kensington (groan from Willow people, cheer from Kensington people, indifference from everyone else),  I used to look at Willow Creek and think “Sure they can do excellent production.  Look at all the gear they have!”  After coming away from a Willow conference depressed, I started to realize that I could take the equipment I did have and do the best possible job with it.  I could get the most out of it every Sunday.  I could wrap it in duct tape one more week to keep it going until we could afford to replace it.  As a result of this change in perspective, I was able to appreciate that things weren’t perfect, but that we were, in fact, achieving technical excellence on a weekly basis.

Some of us need to release the idea of perfection.  Having a flawless service or event is a honorable goal, but very rarely achievable.  Always trying to be better.  Always learning from mistakes.  Always stretching ourselves to try new ways.  Using what I already have to its fullest potential.  This is the kind of technical excellence I want to shoot for.

Rain Down

I was reading in the book of Hebrews today and wanted to tweet the verse I was reading, but it was too many characters…so here’s Hebrews 6:7:

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.

The thing that struck me the most about this verse is that the crops that are produced are for “those for whom it is farmed”.  The rain doesn’t fall to grow crops for the benefit of the land, but for the benefit of the people for whom the crops are grown.  Thinking about receiving from God and drinking in all that He has for me, I assumed that it was all for my own benefit.

The idea here is that I can drink in God’s goodness all day long, but the growth, the result of all that drinking in, is for the benefit someone besides me.  This is my family, my co-workers, the people in my sphere of influence.  Ultimately, the blessing of God comes, but it isn’t the goal.  I drink in the rain so that God can use me to change the world.

How am I going to live differently today because I have soaked in God’s rain this morning?  What will you do with God’s generous rain today?

A little longer than a tweet :)