rest or just something completely different

I love what I do.  I could be at it 24/7.  As a result, I probably spend more time at it than I should.  If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that my wife is always saying “come home early”, which helps quite a bit in the pursuit of avoiding continual work.


Talking to many technical artists in the local church, I notice that I am not alone in my love for what I do.  Most of us love a challenge.  Many of us will not stop until something is complete.  We are passionate about using the technical arts to advance the Kingdom of God through the local church.  However, many times this is to the detriment of our health and our non-work life.

After a few days of not thinking about work, I have realized how refreshed I feel and how I am starting to come back to life.  My last blog entry was about being empty.  I have noticed my tank refilling.

This idea of loving what I do so much that I don’t take very good breaks, reminded me of a couple Winston Churchill quotes (shocking!) from a small book he wrote in 1922 called “Painting as a Pastime”.

“It may well be that those whose work is their pleasure are those who most need the means of banishing it at intervals from their mind.”


“A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using and tiring it, just in the same way he can wear out the elbows of his coat.”

This break from work, for whatever reason, has been good for me to remember the importance of these two quotes in my own life.  Here are a couple things that I have done over the past couple of weeks to combat the weariness that comes from going full steam ahead at a job I love:

Develop other interests.  This has been key for me.  Running.  Watercolor painting.  Cemetery photography (weird, I know).  My 5th grade son’s basketball games.  Trips into the city.  When I am at home, these have all helped get my mind off of work.  And when I am at work, they give me reason to leave work behind and engage my brain in new ways.  They also have nothing to do with what I do every day, so I am not wearing myself down even further by having interests that are just like my work.  Instead, they renew me, and as a result, I am ready for another day of the things I love to do.

Create space.  This requires discipline, which I am pretty bad at.  There is always something pressing that requires immediate attention and seems more important than space.  Plan that vacation, otherwise it won’t happen.  Create a routine to get you out running on a regular basis.  Look for cemeteries you haven’t been to and figure out ways to get there with your camera (yes, I know… weird.  Check out the new photo blog I created).  Discipline yourself to make space.

This past week, I was given time off.  Our whole staff takes the week between Christmas and New Years off, so it was space created for me.  I have really enjoyed it, and wonder why I don’t use all my vacation days and do this more often.

These are 2 things I am committed to this next year.  I have other interests already, but I am going to create the space for them to happen.

What are some interests that you could develop this coming year that would rejuvenate you?

Take advantage of the impulse to create New Years resolutions.  Look at your weeks, months and the year ahead and create some space for you to recover from the work you love.



Creative Commons License photo credit: Art Inspector


I have been thinking about the need to post something new.  It turns out, thinking and doing are two different things.  While I have been starring at the blank page in front of me,it occurred to me, why I haven’t been able to come up with any new thoughts…I’m empty.  I have nothing to say.  I just want to star at the ceiling.  I am almost completely useless.

42/365 - feeling low

My initial reaction to this obvious realization is to wonder why December has to be such a blitz, and is there a better way to make it to the finish line next year?  I go through the process in my mind and wonder what could have been different so that I would feel less empty.  If I had made certain decisions differently, would I feel more full right now?

These are all great questions, and there are some probably really good answers, and I’m sure that we will spend some time talking about it in January.  However, in this moment, none of this really matters to me.  It struck me that Christ came to this earth, with the intent to empty himself for my behalf.  When he was born in that manger, the moment we are all working our butts off to celebrate, he knew that the ultimate goals was to leave this world emptied.

Our first Christmas Eve Service was this past Sunday night and it was packed.  The people in our church with the gift of evangelism got together and invited thousands of their friends to our service, many of whom had never been to church before.  At our 2nd service, that same night, the High Road Riders, Willow’s biker gang :), invited their friends and then invited veterans to be honored with a dinner and brought to our service, again, many of them not have attended church regularly.

When I think about all those people, whom God wants to reach out to, who are hearing the gospel message clearly, maybe for the first time, I realize that the emptiness I feel is a good one.  For many of us technical artists, serving in the local church at this time of year, we have emptied ourselves out for something worthwhile; creating opportunities for God to use our services to proclaim his redemptive plan, for untold numbers of lives to be changed for eternity.

On December 26th, as you stare glassy eyed at your Christmas tree, hear the Creator’s words to you:

“Well done, empty person.  Come share your master’s happiness!”



Creative Commons License photo credit: jypsygen

christmas time is here

Each year at the Elliott house, the Christmas season doesn’t officially start until we blast the Bing Crosby Classic “Mele Kalikimaka” through the house.  My kids get completely embarrassed by this, but I have to believe that they will carry on the tradition nonetheless.

For whatever reason, this year, I have been putting off kicking off the Christmas season.  Maybe once it starts, it means that my life is full tilt until the end of the year.  If I don’t listen to Bing, then the crazy won’t start.

All of us involved in church production are bracing ourselves for the busiest time of our year.  At Willow we throw around the idea of this is our Super Bowl.  This is the event that has the greatest outreach potential and we want to help create a memorable experience for first time visitors and long time members.

I am guessing that at most of our churches, people will come and have a warm and fuzzy Christmas experience, remembering God coming down to dwell among us in the form of a baby.  I would also guess that if people came to talk to the average technical artist at the average church, they would receive more of a cold and prickly, fried and crispy experience.  Many of us push ourselves past our limits and become numb to what Christmas is all about.  How could this year be different?

Put events in your calendar that say things like “STAY HOME” and “TAKE KIDS TO SCHOOL” or “HAVE A BREAKFAST DATE WITH MY WIFE”.  Do it now while you are still thinking clearly.  I tend to be really bad about thinking ahead on things like this and then when I am in the middle of the mess, I completely miss these opportunities.  I have noticed that when I am super intentional about the times I am home, we tend to have some of our best times together.  I know you are tired, but if you can be strategic with the time you are home, you will be glad you made the effort.

Make time to read through the Christmas story, or read through the prophesies about the Messiah in Isaiah.  Put yourself in the frame of mind for the Christmas season.  Remember why you are even doing production in the local church.  This is why.  For me, I love classical music and therefore I put Handel’s Messiah on repeat on my iPod and listen to all the amazing scripture concerning Christ and his coming.

I don’t know how many of you are having a service on Christmas morning, but this year, my wife had this great idea that our whole family should serve together.  I haven’t told my kids yet, but they are going to be running camera, helping with the stage team, I might even have someone help me with the FOH mix..I’m going to need all the help I can get, it’s been a while :)  The end result will be a family memory that involves everyone, instead of the family memory that involves Dad missing Christmas because he had to go to work.

What can you do this year to fight against burning yourself out this Christmas?  Yes we have a huge task ahead of us.  What do you have control over to make this a Christmas season to remember, for good reasons instead of the normal ones?

christmas tired

I can definitely tell that I am starting to wear down.  I am a big time morning person, not only because I do my best work in the morning, but the life of a dad with 3 kids who need to get to school, requires that I wake up early.  I told someone the other night that we should move all our rehearsal to 5 am, because then you’d see me at my best.  These late nights are starting to catch up to me.

Once we are all in neck deep in Christmas prep, our families can start to get the short end of the stick.  Not only am I not around in the evening, but it is really easy to spend most of the  time I am at home just trying to recover from working such long days.  I was talking to a co-worker about how we each handle time at home during this season, and I was reminded of a couple things I have learned over the years that help make the Christmas run more doable.

Make the most of every moment.  Many times my family is already in bed when I get home from a late night rehearsal, so the reality is that if I want to see them, I need to get up when they start getting ready for school.  As a result, no matter how late I get home, I make myself get out of bed so that I can interact with my kids.  It may not seem like much, all I’m doing is making breakfast and helping them get out the door, but every chance I have to interact with them helps us make it through Christmas.  My wife and I have had some of our best conversations during Christmas, because we know that even though we are both tired, sitting on the kitchen floor for 20 minutes and looking at each other will help carry us to the finish line.  For me, when everyone goes off to school/work, that’s when I crawl back into bed.

Don’t use Christmas as an excuse.  Your family is not having the easiest time with you gone all the time, so when you are there, pick up the slack, push through your tiredness.  Do the dishes.  Take apart the trampoline.  Help decorate the house for Christmas.   Your family is working harder than normal to function without you being around as much, so you need to step in when you don’t feel like it to make things happen.

I have an amazing wife.  I don’t know how I was lucky enough to marry such an amazing person, but my wife has made me being a technical artist in the local church possible.  She does a great job of calling the best out of me and reminding me that our family needs a vision for Christmas as much as my production team needs vision.  I’d be lying if I didn’t give a huge amount of credit to our family’s survival at Christmas time to her.

I can sometimes make Christmas my excuse for being lame, but his is a perfect opportunity for you and me to build our character and be better people.  You have every right to complain about how much you are working.  You’d be amazed how your Christmas experience can change if you rise above how you feel and choose to make the most of this season.


photo credit by fmgbain

christmas production fever

I love Christmas time.  You know, when you are working crazy hours and your body starts shouting back at you to slow down, but because the show must go on, you push through until you collapse at the finish line, with nothing but a heap underneath the Christmas tree for your family to work around?  (I really don’t feel this way anymore, but it is fun to reminisce about days gone by.)

Swaffham Christmas Tree Festival

For us church technical artists, another thing that happens at Christmas time, or during any other large production, is that all the great things we do all year long are magnified.  Unfortunately, all our bad habits and not so great process issues are also magnified.  The things we put up with on a weekly basis but should probably change, are blown up to ugly proportions for us that we have to deal with.  All year long we live with a low grade fever, not quite bad enough to go to the doctor over, but when the pressure builds to Christmas proportions, it can send us to the emergency room…so to speak.

I am pretty good at saying:  “we’ll wait and figure that out when we are in rehearsal”.  Many times this is fine, but when we hit the big services this tend to bite us. We have too many details floating around to leave any for the last minute.  There will be enough details that pop up at the last minute that we should be planning everything else we possibly can so that we are ready for the unexpected.  A loose process week in and week out can wreak havoc when the big event rolls around.

In what ways could your process improve each week to make next Christmas be the best experience?  During our rehearsals and services, let’s be observant of the things that we can improve  for next year by doing small fixes throughout the year.


Creative Commons License photo credit: nickpix2011

com chatter

I have a friend who was a TD of a local church and when he started, he noticed that the volunteer team would talk over the intercom negatively about the people on stage and the content coming from said stage.  As a result the whole production team had a negative view of the creative arts team, and the wall that naturally exists between the booth and the stage was built taller and more robust each week.  When he realized this, my friend went to the worship leader and told him that from that day forward, the production team would not say one negative thing over the intercom or in conversation.  Instead of the standard operating procedure being criticizing someone’s performance or content, the MO would be to speak with positive words, or not say anything.


I was telling this story in a small group setting and there were a few people from the same church that looked at each other and groaned.  They all knew that the first part of the story described their team’s experience and that it was time to stop.  While they were having this revelation, I was having thoughts like “It is OK for my team to talk negatively, because my situation is unique.”  and “My friend’s church has a totally different set of issues that don’t apply to my environment.”  or “I am tired of staying on top of my team to stop the negative comments.” and on and on.  Right about then, I was convicted myself.

Letting our conversation slip into destructive negative comments is no better than letting technical excellence slip.  Would you let a camera operator continually give you bad headroom?  I hope not.  Would you let a FOH engineer keep forgetting to turn people’s mics on at the right time?  No way.  What may seem like harmless fun, slowly erodes respect and trust.

For me, the biggest challenge I have faced as a technical artist in the local church is breaking down the wall that can so easily be built between the technical and creative arts teams.  We talk a lot about wanting to feel like one team, but that can’t happen if we let negative chatter happen on our intercom, or in the back hallway or anywhere.

I’m not saying that you have to love everything happening on your stage, or that you have to be best buds with the worship leader.  I am saying that speaking in a destructive way, about the people whose art we are facilitating, is destroying any chance we have of creating something amazing together.  There should be room for constructive criticism, with emphasis on constructive.  There should be room to speak the truth, but in love.  We shouldn’t live with blinders on, but we shouldn’t live with n0-holds-barred either.

If you are a leader, please hold your tongue.  Your people are watching and listening to how you speak about the people on your stage.  If you are leader, hold your people to the highest standard.  Push your team to the high road.  Breaking down the wall between the creative arts and the technical arts requires constant attention.  Without diligence, it will naturally get built slowly, brick upon brick, which is the exact opposite of what we need and what we really want.



Creative Commons License photo credit: Pikesville