flying under the radar

After being at WFX last week, I talked with many technical artists about the concept of leading up.  How do you help your leadership understand what production in the local church is all about?  For my ministry and your ministry to survive, it rises and falls on how well you and I educate the decision makers at your church about what you and your team do.  Without this information, production is way too mysterious for senior church leaders to advocate on your behalf.  As important as it is for your leadership to get you and what you do, that is only part of it.


I have noticed that many tech people are introverts.  They also enjoy flying under the radar.  I’ll do my job, keep my head down and hopefully I won’t draw attention to myself.  I don’t like to be on stage and I would rather do my job by myself.  I would tend to put myself in this category.  Unfortunately for all of us who find ourselves in this place, more is required from us.  I am the leader of my team.  As a leader, my team looks to me to advocate for them; to stick up for their needs and to fight for what they need to do their jobs.  It is my job to clear the way for them so that they can be freed up to do what they are being asked to do and what they were created to do.

Even though my knee jerk reaction to life is to fly under the radar, my staff and the volunteers that serve with them are desperate for me to fly above the radar and be their advocate.  For me, I can tend to put my advocate hopes onto my boss and want him to do all the heavy lifting to the leaders above him.  In reality, I need to push the needs of my team up the food chain.  I need to be the one who shamelessly plugs the hopes and dreams of our production team.

I was in a meeting the other day where I realized that my desire to go unnoticed and put the advocacy hat on someone else had hurt my team.  In your situation and mine, no one understands the world of production like we do, no matter how much time you spend educating your boss.  No one cares as deeply as you do for the volunteers in your ministry, in spite of the fact your boss may come to your team Christmas party.  No one gets what makes the heart of a technical artist tick like you do.

Push.  Kick.  Praise.  Prod.  Insist.  Lift up.  Educate.  Recommend.

Do all these things in an effort to make your case known to the people in leadership above you, but don’t give up the responsibility of advocacy to someone else.  As a leader in production, you are, can I say, required to be your team’s champion.  No one else can do it as well as you can, no matter how inadequate you might feel.


Creative Commons License photo credit: jjlapierre

photo by: g7ahn

what did you expect?

I spent an entire day with technical artists from around the world yesterday during the Technical Director’s Retreat Day hosted by the WFX conference in Dallas.  It was inspiring and reassuring; sobering and sad, all at the same time.  It is great to see so many churches working hard to make a difference in the world through the use of production technology.  It was amazing to be surrounded by fellow technical artists trying to get better at their craft, while trying to help each other through issues we all face.  On the sobering and sad side were the people who are at the end of their rope, who feel misunderstood by their leadership and who are ready to throw in the towel.


There was one universal theme that stuck out to me that all of us, as technical artists can work on:  Defining Expectations.

At one table I sat with, pretty much everyone had issues with expectations.  Whether it was what a senior pastor really wanted, or if it was being realistic about how long something would take to accomplish or how much something would cost; expectations were lacking at many churches.  The thing about expectations and the technical arts, is that for most non-technical people, things just magically happen, and there is no understanding of what it actually takes.  If we need someone to define expectations for us, we have to push them, we have to help them define them, we need to have data that supports our perspective.  

Leaders need information and to say you don’t have enough time or money is an answer that doesn’t work for most senior leaders I know.  They need to understand what you need to do the job, not just that you need more than you have now.  The next time you work on a video project, document how much time each phase of production took.  Now you have defined, with this much time and this much money, that this is the product you can expect.  Documenting how you spend your time is an amazing tool to communicate reality so that expectations can be set.

There is a apt quote in Charles Dickens’ book “Great Expectations”:

“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”

Work with your leaders now to define what can be expected and change the outcome of your next project.



Creative Commons License photo credit: Andy Martini

if i only had ______, then everything would be perfect

In my last post, I mentioned that we are getting ready to replace the sound system in one of our venues at Willow.  We have been looking forward to this for so long and we have been placing so many of our hopes and dreams on getting something new and shining that will solve all our problems.  It is time, and the old one is horrible, but I predict that the new system will lose its luster, it won’t be perfect and we’ll move onto the next thing that is wrong, and put our expectations on the next thing that is just around the corner.


As technical artists, our forward looking selves are generally wanting our equipment and personnel issues to be solved or to pull off the next amazing production. We look forward to the day “if I only had HD cameras”, or “once the newest version of ProPresenter comes out” or “this Christmas is going to be amazing”.   Not that any of these things are bad, it is just that they don’t really solve all the problems, they don’t make life perfect, they will let us down.

Waiting for everything to be perfect is a fantasy.  Putting our hope in “things” cannot fully satisfy, and it is at odds with the very message of the gospel.  The new equipment that you are longing for will let you down.  Solving one problem will inevitably raise other, newer problems to the surface.  The next big idea will provide you with a great adrenaline rush, but then comes the crash.

In Psalm 42, the writer talks about how our souls long for God, yet he asks the question: “Why, my soul, are you so downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?”  The only solution to this feeling of being let down is to “Put your hope in God.”

Our jobs as technical artists in the local church is to push and strive for technical excellence; to look for new equipment, to recommend new ways of doing things, to push our current normal onto something special and extraordinary.  It is how we fulfill our role in the body of Christ.  We must also not put our hope in any of this.  Reach.  Strive.  Work your butt off.  But don’t place your identity in something new and shiny or flashing and amazing.  Put your hope in God.  Allow him to be your motivation.  Let him fill you up because the adrenaline will wear off.



Creative Commons License photo credit: marc falardeau

life change, in spite of bad audio

I am working in Willow Creek’s Lakeside Auditorium.  It used to be the main space where crazy productions have happened over the years.  Christmas programs.  Outreach events.  Conferences.  All these are great, but the most important thing that has happened over the years is that people’s lives have been changed for eternity.  God has met people here for close to 30 years.

I remember my first experience in this room back in 1989.  I remember most every detail.  Where I was sitting.  A rock band.  Concert lighting.  There was no hymnal, just lyrics projected from a slide projector.  It blew my mind for what church could look like.  Every now and then I am still amazed that I work at this place.   Tonight, I am sitting in the TD chair, having a difficult time keeping my headset on.  I am caught up in the worship, the mix, the lighting, the video, God moving…you name it.

Even with all this happening, we have been in need of a production upgrade in this room for quite some time.  Much of the gear we have in here is closing in on 20 years.  Especially the audio.  In 1992, this system was the state of the art, the cutting edge of technology.  It has been a work horse for our church, pushing air for countless amazing events where people met Christ.  However, it is now time to look for something new, to help make people’s experience as transparent as possible; to translate all that is happening on the stage out into the seats.

Our audio team is, needless to say, overjoyed at the prospect of replacing this dinosaur of a system.  To be able to experience clarity; to have low end; to not be sitting inside a giant comb filter.  Even with all these strikes against the current system, I have been in wonder at what God can do regardless of the PA hanging in the room.  There is an environment where 1000+ people are experiencing God.  Hands raised.  Voices lifted up.  The PA is transparent tonight.

I would be lying if I said I am not excited about a new sound system in this room.  It has been on the replacement list for years.  It sounds bad.  I feel responsible to offer up the best sound possible and this is not it.  But it is good for me to remember that God can work and move, regardless of the PA, regardless of graphics being on time or not, regardless of whether the color scrollers match.

Whatever the weak link in your production system is, it is not so bad that God can’t work.

As a technical artist in the local church, the Body of Christ needs me to care deeply about creating the best environment through the use of production and production equipment.  My church also needs me to grasp the fact that God can work and move without the latest and greatest piece of gear.  

As Andy Stanley would say, it is a tension to be managed.  How are you managing this tension?