stop doing the impossible

I don’t know about you, but the closer rehearsal gets, I tend to get busier. Cleaning up messes, correcting typos, doing that thing I forgot to do on Thursday.

Typically these are things on my list, things that I want to get done. I’m generally not doing things that are on other people’s lists, because I don’t know what is on their list. So when the band leader shows up with an extra guitar, and an extra vocalist and a song change, it can be easy to blow a gasket.

How am I going to be ready for rehearsal if I don’t get my stuff done? “Don’t you know that I have enough to do without you adding crap to my already big list?” Because I find myself in this place, it is really easy to freak out and just say “No! I can’t do these things.”

The funny thing is that I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said no immediately, then after thinking about things for a while, finding a way to make it happen. I would then do it, even after I said it couldn’t be done. I can remember one such time when I said we couldn’t add an extra tin whistle or something and then I ended up providing a mic for it. My boss called me on the carpet for it. You can’t say its impossible, then turn around and make it happen.

Trust – Down and to the Left

TrustIf you say one thing and then do another often enough, no one is going to believe you. What will result is that they will stop believing you, which means you won’t be believed, which leads to no one believing what you say.

Nothing drives trust out the door faster than saying something can’t be done, then proving the exact opposite. Trust is the key commodity for true collaboration to happen, and if you are doing things begrudgingly that you’ve already said no to, you will lose trust. Once it is lost, it is almost impossible to get back.

I’ve seen this happen so many times. Not just with me, but with many tech people I’ve worked with. As tech people, I’m pretty sure that we aren’t even aware of what’s going on.

From my perspective, I’m usually pretty proud of myself for figuring out how to do the impossible, and I usually want others to be amazed by what I’ve pulled off. Instead, the exact opposite is happening. Slowly over time, your ability to do the impossible after you’ve already said it can’t be done is eroding trust little by little.

Give yourself time to think

Instead of responding immediately with the negative, ask for some time to think about it. In the pressure of the live event, this can be pretty difficult, but by not answering right away and asking for a minute, you’ve communicated what you are really wanting, time to come up with options.

Sometimes there isn’t time, but don’t let that stop you from asking. Once you’ve gotten these words out, the person asking knows that you don’t know right this second but that you might be able to come up with a solution if you’re given some space.

So let’s say there isn’t time to wait and you’ve said you don’t know. Then the answer needs to be no; and it isn’t something you’ve said, but the situation is to blame not you, the negative tech person. This doesn’t erode trust at all, but instead builds trust.

In this example, what if you then came up with a solution after some time has passed? Do you think the other person will be angry that you came up with a solution after the fact? No way! They are amazed by your brilliance! How did you come up with a solution to the impossible?

By asking for time, you are communicating. Communication is key to trust. Trust is the fuel that drives collaboration.

photo by: purplejavatroll

a new chapter

I love to read. When I was a kid, I would devour books. I can remember getting to the end of just about every chapter and not being able to stop. Now that I’ve been reading my whole life, I know that not all books are written in such a way that the chapters end with a cliff hanger, but I would have to say that the best books I’ve read have a way of pulling me into the next chapter.

IMG_9104If I were to carry this analogy into real life, when you are living in the moment, it can feel like a cliffhanger is happening to you. Maybe it is because of your circumstances or maybe it is because you sense God is moving in your life. Whatever the reason, it can be difficult to let the cliffhangers pull you into the next chapter of your life. Many times, I can find myself getting stuck in the old chapter…in a perpetual cliffhanger. At a certain point, it doesn’t become a cliffhanger any more but a really bad storyline that involves me having tired arms.

As a Christian, I believe that God is always calling us to something. I’ve lived in many moments of God calling me to step out, or to stick with something; to love someone unconditionally or to experience more joy in a particular situation. Over time, I’ve noticed that I am not always listening to God’s callings. There is so much fighting for my attention that I’m unable to hear him.

On the other hand, I admit that I believe I’ve heard God calling,  but I’ve been unwilling to follow his voice. What God calls us to is not always the most comfortable. So what if you feel like God is prompting you to do something? Are you willing to follow the call?

If I were honest, I believe that God has been trying to get my attention for years. On one hand, I’ve been trying to push through, to not quit, to look for solutions, to be a team player and not let the team down. On the other hand, I have been unwilling to believe that God could have a new chapter that is better than the current one.

As a result, I’ve been dangling from a cliff for some time. The big question for me, is am I willing to let go and trust God to continue the story?

Well, I have finally gotten to the point of letting go. I am leaving my position as Technical Arts Director at Willow Creek Church. I will be working through the Global Leadership Summit in August, then I’ll be done. (For those of you who are a site TD, I’ve got one more cowbell performance in me!)

I have watched God do some pretty amazing things through me and through my team. Whether it was the way we worked together, or the way we were able to touch the lives of thousands of people each weekend, or watching my team inspire technical artists through the Arts Conference then through Gurus of Tech; God has used us in ways that none of us could have done ourselves.

For those of you who know my story, my journey to Willow Creek was more about God asking me to leave everything and follow him. While my current situation is completely different than 10 years ago, God is still asking me to let go and trust him…to leave everything and follow his call.

Where is he calling? I don’t know yet. The only thing I know for sure is that he has asked me to let go and trust him, so that is what I am doing. My family and I are terrified and super excited for what is next.

If the best stories are made up of chapters that end in cliffhangers, I want my story to be great. Not great for the sake of great, but for the sake of being used by God to the fullest. I want to look back and see how letting go of the cliff led to the next amazing chapter, and that the author of the story could only be God.

In what ways are you hanging on? What do you need to let go of so that the next chapter can start?


[As a side note, I plan to continue to write this blog. I anticipate there will be many stories of God working through the next chapter of my life. And since I’ll still need to process these things by writing, there will be more then enough content for this space.]

photo by: quinn.anya

if it can’t be done, say no.

I like to be a team player. I don’t like to let people down. Many times, something can’t be done simply because you or your team don’t have any more time…at least not a normal amount of time.

First T-Ball Practice - April 2011

I’ve noticed that it is easy for me to sacrifice my time for an idea, that I don’t consider my time to be a resource. But because I don’t want to let my teammates down, I say yes to something instead of having dinner with my family or going to my son’s t-ball game or finishing another project that isn’t as urgent but is more important in the long term.

Don’t be afraid to say no for reasons that seem squishy and selfish. Your time is valuable and it matters. Your team needs you to speak up. If you don’t, pretty soon you are going to be bitter for all the ideas that “force” you to miss family time.

I think many of us know the grumpy tech person. It might even be you. Don’t let this happen in the name of being a team player. You are not helping your team any by not speaking up for the things that you don’t have capacity for.

photo by: brendan-c

circle of trust

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most of us don’t make the final decision. As a technical artist in the local church, much of the time we’re facilitating someone else’s idea. Whether it is the worship leader or the youth director or the senior pastor, we all have people that are making bigger decisions than the ones I’m making.

Circle of trustWhat mic to use, how many lights to turn on, what kind of font to use for graphics. Not that these decisions are always the easiest, but production decisions follow other, larger decisions that effect the whole church. Sometimes these decisions aren’t in the best interest of the production side. It could be something that compromises the mix, or the process, or is more risky because we haven’t rehearsed it yet.

These examples are all things that matter, but when it comes down to what is best for the service or the church, what matters to you isn’t always the most important. So how do you care deeply about something; so deeply that you go after it with tenacity, and then let it go?

A big part of it is to be comfortable with what might happen next. If you know that all the information is on the table, and that the leader has everything she needs to make a decision, you need to then go with her decision. And not with your normal passive aggressive self, but with the same tenacity you would go after your own ideas. If your concerns are realized, it isn’t your fault, (since you did such a masterful job of informing your leader of what could happen) and you still did your very best, even though it wasn’t your recommendation.

To be a real team player, it is important for your leaders to know that you will give them your best, whether you get your way or not. They also need to know that you will take care of your stuff fully, so that they never have to worry about it.

Trust is built by the accumulation of encounters like this every day. Your leaders trusting that you are taking care of production and you trusting your leaders that the best overall decisions are being made. And trust is the foundation of the body of Christ functioning at its fullest.

When your leader does the opposite of your recommendation, what is your first thought?

Does the phrase “I told you this would happen” come out of your mouth?

How could you develop your level of trust in and from your leaders?

photo by: drew_anywhere

good sound is subjective

[This is guest post from my friend Jonathan Malm. While we have only met once in person for about 30 seconds, we have done a lot of work together in the cause of making the process of doing church better. He is the curator at,, a blog about the creative process and, a photo resource for bloggers.]

“Good sound is subjective.” Have you ever heard that line? I used it often as a worship leader. The staff member responsible for the sound engineers used to pull that out all the time when I asked for specific mix requests.

What did you say?That infuriated me—and not just because I was a bit of a diva. Good sound isn’t subjective. Not when it means you can’t hear the lead vocalist or percussion clearly.

So one day I put aside my guitar and closed my singsong mouth. We liberated that staff member of their technical responsibilities and I took over. (No, we didn’t fire them. We literally just took something off their plate.)

For the first few weeks, I simply sat back in the booth and listened. I didn’t want to rock the volunteers’ world with sweeping changes.

I’d hear the sound engineers explain that so-and-so didn’t have the best voice, so they pulled them out of the mix. The bass player sometimes hit bad notes, so they kept him low in the mix. They preferred more traditional music, not rock music, so they kept the electric guitar very subdued.

You see, these sound engineers had been told that good sound is subjective. It’s not. They were confusing excellence for personal preference.

I made some pretty big changes. I wrote out a manual explaining rock music and its mix. I destroyed the myth that good sound is subjective. And my sound engineers excelled. They got really good.

So did the band. Once the bass player realized people could hear him, he started tightening up his quality. Once the vocalist realized she could be heard, she sang better and with more enthusiasm. As we began to trust the band, they began to trust us.

Good sound isn’t subjective. Good sound is when you make the musicians sound like they intend to sound. When you appropriately mirror—through the sound system—what’s happening on stage, you’ve achieved good sound.

Sure, there will be slight differences between each sound engineer. Some of that is preference. Some of it is technique. There will be differences. But it shouldn’t modulate between smooth jazz and rock and roll each week. That’s a matter of personal taste, not a matter of excellence.

This is true for all production techs. Yes, we are artists. We’re the last line of defense between the message, music, and visuals getting to the audience. We craft and tweak and sweeten each bit so it’s delivered with excellence. It’s truly an art. But we’re also co-laborers and servants. We aren’t the originators of the art. We’re the deliverers. We don’t get to change it to match our tastes.

We get to make it excellent.

If you aren’t willing to lay aside your preferences, the tech department isn’t for you. But if you want to work with a team of amazing artists and help them make something magic, tech can be an amazing calling.

I loved jumping into the tech department. I realized how much we could cripple the worship service if we wanted to. I also realized how much we could enhance the service when we did things with excellence.

I encourage you. Be excellent.

photo by: kc7fys

strategic stretching

By pushing ourselves from time to time, we increase our capacity. Looking at a running analogy, if I increase my pace a little at certain intervals, pretty soon my whole pace has increased.

StretchIn the world of production, once you try something for the first time, it now has the potential to be a part of my normal bag of tricks. The thing that almost killed you two Christmases ago, is now something you don’t hesitate to do on a normal weekend. Pushing yourself to try something new at the right intervals means that you are increasing your endurance, your capacity, your normal.

Pushing yourself too much or too often, will wear you down. However, without pushing yourself from time to time, you will stagnate.

Figure out the right pace for yourself. Then figure out how often you should push yourself.

photo by: emilio labrador

paper jam

Keeping things simple eliminates the possibility of failure. When something has tons a moving parts, we are opening ourselves up to those moving parts ceasing to move.

the Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley memorial copy machineI’ve lost track of how many times I’ve gone to the copy machine and something is jammed or broken. Considering how sophisticated they are, it isn’t a huge surprise that is seems like it’s broken more than it’s working.

In live production, we don’t have the luxury to wait for a copy machine repairman to show up. We need to get it working now!

Are you creating a collating, stapling, whole punching, folding copy machine type of plan or are your plans simple, eliminating the potential for failure?

photo by: ** RCB **

realms of practicability

I’ve been doing some writing on the idea of backup plans, and along the way, I’ve also been reading a book about the admirals who led the Navy during WWII, oddly enough called The Admirals by Walter R. Borneman. For the most part, the names Leahy, King, Nimitz and Halsey are not well known to the history of WWII, yet they were instrumental in helping bring an end to hostilities in the Pacific from December 1941 through August 1945.

Navy_binoculars.jpgI can’t even imagine the kind of leadership that was required to make the right decision, knowing that people’s lives were at stake. It makes the decisions I need to make each day seem pretty insignificant.

Anyway, Chester W Nimitz was the commander in chief of all air, sea and ground forces in the Pacific area starting immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and he had quite a few leadership qualities that I really admire. One of them involved figuring out if a plan was worth executing. Check this out:

“Is the proposed operation likely to succeed? What might the consequences of failure be? Is it in the realm of practicability in terms of material and supplies?”

I love these questions. How sure are we that our plan will work? If it doesn’t work, what’s the worst that could happen? How many resources can I devote to minimizing the risk of failure?

Asking these questions really helps tweak out whether the original idea is any good in the first place. It also helps bring a backup plan into view, then asking if its going to be worth it.

Live production involves the risks of human error and/or equipment failure. We can’t eliminate every risk. It is not possible to avoid every possible failure. There isn’t enough money or people to solve every problem.

So how can we use these questions to make the best decisions for our services and our church, given the resources at our disposal?


photo by: wave-rider

discovering creative intent

To be a technical artist in the local church, you need to become really good at asking questions.

Not only are there details we need, so that the right gear is set up, but a key reason for asking questions is to get a better understanding of what we are actually trying to do.

3294014627_d34779dc88_bI have been a part of so many misunderstandings derived from assuming you know, or they know, or that everyone is thinking the same thing. As it turns out, nobody is thinking the same way about any one idea. We are all coming at it from very different angles.

At the baseline, production exists to support an idea, someone’s creativity. In our case, we are trying to create an environment where people can meet with God. Without fully understanding the intent of an idea, and how production can support this idea; things can get pretty out of hand quickly.

There was an era of my production life, where I wasn’t asking enough questions about intent. As a result, our production team just did what we thought was best, which turned out more often than not, to be 180 degrees from the intent of the idea. Production can get pretty distracting when there is a misunderstanding about creative intent.

If creating a distraction free environment is a key value (and it should be), without understanding the point of an idea, we will more often than not distract from what the idea is trying to achieve.

This kind of question asking is less about going after the answers you need and more about making sure the answers in your head are correct. The kind of answers you are looking for are less black and white: “How many snare drums will the drummer bring this week?” and more gray: “Are you wanting us to blast the audience with light, or do we want them in the dark at that moment in the song?”

Getting answers to how production can support an idea can’t happen without you asking the right questions.

learning from Disney housekeeping

disney housekeeping

Easter is coming, and for some crazy reason, you and your spouse decided it would be a good idea to host the family Easter dinner. Don’t you know you have some huge Easter production going on?

One of the things I love about having people over, is that it causes a flurry of activity to clean up, pick up and organize your house. For many of us, the mess in our homes becomes invisible to us and we let things pile up. Having people over means that they are going to see the mess that we’ve been living with for who knows how long.

On the other hand, one thing I don’t love about having people over is that it takes so much work to get the house ready and presentable. But it must be done. And it must be done before anyone arrives. I don’t want people walking in while I’m still cleaning up. I want to be relaxed so that I can enjoy the people I’ve invited over.

For the guests, there is a certain expectation that they will be taken care of and that any needs they have during their visit to our house will be taken care of and met. They are anticipating an enjoyable, relaxing time.

setting the stage
My friend Marty O’Connor taught me years ago that this principle applies to what we do as technical artists. One of the key factors in being prepared is that we have the table set, so to speak. When our counterparts on the stage arrive, everything should be ready for them to dig into the task at hand.

For the musicians, vocalists and speakers who have a task to perform on our stage, they have many things going on in their heads and hearts as they prepare to lead our congregation. Our job as technical artists is to have everything set for them, so that they can concentrate on the part they need to play.

This means that line check has already happened, that the lights are aimed before they walk in, that the graphics are correct and ready. The goal should be to have everything prepared before they walk in the door, much like the dinner party. If a guitar player has to go digging around looking for a music stand, she isn’t able to focus what she does best, play guitar.

I’m not suggesting that musicians should be above helping out and getting a music stand from time to time, but when you boil it all down, making sure the stage is ready to go when people walk in is my job. It’s the production team’s job to have everything prepared and waiting for people to walk up and do their thing.

As technical artists, our thing is to take care of the technical details of our services. Our pastors and worship leaders should be able to walk in and only worry about what they have prepared, not their stuff plus whether or not the graphics will be ready.

taking it up a notch
What if you spent some time to figure out how people like things to be ready for them? To learn what each person’s preferences are? The drummer only like to use one tom, not three, so our team takes the time to make it so. The senior pastor always likes a small table for water to the right of the podium, it’s there.

For those people who have ever stayed at a Disney resort, you know that the service is amazing. A friend was telling me that after housekeeping cleaned their room, his son’s stuff animal was moved around and posed in some fun way: brushing it’s teeth, looking out the window, watching TV. Was the room clean? Sure. But the experience was taken to another level by spending a few extra minutes to show some thoughtfulness.

Are you and your team ready to go when people arrive on stage?

What do you need to change to make sure the table is set and ready to go?

How can you go out of your way to create an unforgettable experience for your worship team?