When you think of mission trips, do you think of playing soccer with the kids in the village? Or perhaps flannel graphs? Well how about a mission trip that involves hanging a new PA, video and lighting system? Sound interesting? One church did just that.
One of the projects I undertook during our renovation was the building of the tech booth desks. I’ve spent the last three years cribbing design ideas from various tech booths around the country. I integrated those ideas in with the needs I saw regularly as a TD. Last time, I talked about the design specifics and construction details. This time, I want to look at it from a different perspective.
One of the things I hear often around the Visioneering offices is how we can tell a story through architecture. As I spent close to 100 hours building these desks, I had plenty of time to think about the story they tell. If you know me at all, you know I don’t do much of anything without intention. Building these desks, I made some very intentional decisions that not only led to a solid desk, but also tell a story.
Be Where You Are
Sometimes, we think that in order to do ministry, we have to go to some exotic, far away place. But most times, we’re called to serve right where we are. While I could have used oak, maple, teak or my personal favorite, cherry for these desks, I chose Douglas Fir and Redwood. Both these trees are native to California and remind us we don’t have to go far to make an impact.
We Are All Flawed
One thing we regularly hear from those outside the faith is that they don’t like church because it’s too fake. As Christians, we’re really good at putting on our happy face and hiding our problems when we go to church because we’re told that once we get saved, our lives should be happy and blessed. Except sometimes they aren’t.
The world still beats us up. We lose jobs. We lose marriages. Our kids screw up. Our parents screw up. We screw up. We can be abused. Life isn’t always easy.
I’ve built a lot of furniture in my life, and normally, I try to make it perfect. But on this project, I intentionally left some flaws in place. While the half-lap joints are incredibly strong, they are not perfect. There are some gaps. I didn’t try to fill them in because I wanted them to be a reminder that we’re not perfect. And it’s OK. It’s OK to let people know things are hard right now. Of all places, the church should be a place where we can be broken, and be OK. I suspect tech guys know more about this than most, and I wanted this reminder present.
Jesus is a Strong Bond
For those half-lap joints, I used Gorilla glue. It’s billed as the world’s strongest glue and having used it for 20 years, I would agree. It’s an expanding, gap-filling polyurethane glue. When you spread it on the joint, it expands to fill the gaps. As I watched the glue expand during set up, I thought about how Jesus fills in some of the cracks and gaps in our lives. He creates an incredibly strong bond between us, the Father and other members of His body.
I left the glue exposed in those joints to remind us about this. Again, it’s not perfect, as Jesus doesn’t make our life perfect. He does however, anchor us. Just as no one will ever be able to separate these two pieces of lumber, no one can snatch us out of His hands.
God Doesn’t Only Use the Beautiful People
When you look at those on stage in many modern churches, you would be tempted to think that only the beautiful people can make a difference for Him. When we build furniture, we typically choose the best pieces for the front and the beat up ones for the back. While I did some sorting on this project, I decided to put a few pieces that were a little more rough out front. These pieces are still incredibly strong and will do their job faithfully despite not being as pretty as the other ones. I did this to remind us that we shouldn’t look only at outside appearances when choosing someone for a task.
I chose a clear polyurethane finish for these desks. Again, it would have been logical to paint them and use laminate for the tops. Had I painted them, I could have filled all the gaps, plugged all the knots and filled all the holes. But, I believe church is a place where we can all go, flaws and all, without having to cover it all up. At the same time, I did spend considerable time sanding off the rough edges and smoothing things out. I know God has smoothed off many of my rough edges over the years, and He continues to do so. I’m not yet perfect, but hopefully I’m a little less rough then I was.
When we’re serving together, we shouldn’t have to hide our struggles. Often, God uses other people around us to smooth our edges, but that can’t happen if we show up looking perfect.
I could go on about all the ways I see God’s story of redemption in these simple tables. Some may say I’m reading too much into this, or that I’m just lazy for not finishing them further. But I really do believe that everything speaks, and it’s really a question of what it’s saying. My hope is that these tables will keep speaking long after I’m gone.
It’s been a little while since I updated you on the renovation at Coast Hills. As I write this, I’m one day away from the final week of install. As we work through this week, I’ll update you on some of the technical things we did, but in this post, I wanted to offer some advice on something I almost never hear anyone talking about; how to work with the architect and builder during your renovation.
They Don’t Really Know What We Do
I had a revelation a few weeks back. Now that I work as an AVL integrator in an architecture firm, I realized that my aggravation with the architects who designed the buildings I worked in was misplaced. After having many discussions with the guys in our firm, I’ve come to realize that they are not tech guys. This may have been obvious, but it really hit me one day. The reason they don’t know how to design with the needs of production in mind is that they’ve never done production.
This is not their fault, but it does put the onus on us as production guys and gals to clearly define our needs and make sure that those needs are incorporated into the plan. To be sure, some architects are more knowledgable than others, but it’s a mistake to assume they will know how to design a stage, tech booth or video control room that will meet your every need without any of your input.
Communicate Clearly, Follow Up and Follow Up Again
I sent many, many emails to the architect on our project. I followed up with most of them. But the ones that I didn’t follow up on ended up being things that were missed. Even after I received confirmation that my curtain batten plan was to be included in the plans, I never actually checked the plans to be sure they made it. It wasn’t until I asked about it that everyone said, “Curtain battens? What curtain battens?” What followed was a tragically comedic email discussion about what materials should be used for the battens.
Again, we can’t assume the architect or builder know what we need from a production standpoint. Chances are, they’ve never actually built a production stage. We all have heard the stories about trying to explain to the electrician that yes, we actually do really need all that conduit. And yes, dedicated power really is important. It is up to us as the experts in production to communicate, communicate and communicate again. And don’t assume that because you specify Schedule 40 black steel pipe for battens that someone won’t think Schedule 40 PVC is acceptable. Trust me on this.
I’ve had conversations in the past with church leaders about choosing a builder. Many years ago, I was on the building committee at my church, and they wanted to hire an architect who had never designed a church before, and a builder who had only built one very traditional church building. Both were bad ideas.
Make sure the architect and builder have actually built similar buildings to what you want. If they haven’t, they must express an extreme desire to learn about the needs of modern church production. If they think a church AVL system is a gooseneck mic on the chancel and a few speakers in the nave, and you’re looking to create a Hillsong-like experience every weekend, run away. Not that there is anything wrong with a chancel and a nave, but that is a whole different ballgame.
This is a Big Deal
When we start talking about renovations or new buildings, we’re talking about dollar amounts in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. This is money given sacrificially by the members of your congregation with the idea that it would go to advance the ministry. When bad decisions are made and money is wasted, it’s bad stewardship, plain and simple. It is up to us as experts in production to stay on top of this stuff. Never assume, over communicate, follow up and follow up again. If you have a good building team, the end result will be a good one.
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Last time, we talked about how to leave well when things are good. You landed a great new job, or just felt God calling you to a new adventure. Those are good reasons to leave. But sometimes, you have to get out of an organization that is unhealthy, is not good for you, or perhaps you were let go. In those cases, it’s really easy to toss your keys across the table, slam the door on the way out and flip the bird in the rearview mirror.
Don’t do it!
Remember, this is a small industry, and word gets around. While it’s important to leave well under good circumstances, it’s even more important to leave well under bad ones.
Do Good When You Can
Again, I haven’t always followed this advice, but when I have, it’s always been better. When I was downsized a few years back, I could have shifted into neutral and coasted all the way to my last day while watching the thing crash and burn around me. But I didn’t, thankfully. And I’m pretty sure I could get a great recommendation from anyone who I worked with back then.
I built a 3-ring binder of all the processes, procedures, passwords and accounts that they would need when I was gone. They weren’t going to re-hire, so that all had to be documented carefully. It was my choice to leave them in a good situation, and I’m glad I did.
Yes, I got the short straw; I had only been there 18 months and had moved my family away from our friends, family and a pretty good environment to work there. I could have been pissed and made life miserable for them. Instead, I tried to bless them as much as I could. I believe God honored that attitude and He blessed me in return.
Avoid the Temptation to Sew Discord
If you’re leaving under bad circumstances, it’s easy to stir up trouble with co-workers or others. Again, don’t do it. And again, I’ve not always been good at this. But nothing good comes out of tearing others down, so there’s just no point. Sure it feels good to let everyone know what an idiot that person is for letting you go, but ultimately, it makes you look petty. Take the high road and leave well. I promise you will not regret it.
This is especially important with your team. Whether you are leaving because you can’t take it any more or because you are being kicked out, don’t turn the team against the leadership. I know it feels good to do it, but it’s not right. And it does you no favors in the long run.
If you can leave a bad situation with integrity, not only can you feel good about how you left, but it sets an example for others to follow. You will have more respect from your team, future employers and maybe even the leadership when you leave well.
Leaving a church can be hard under good circumstances. Leaving under bad ones can be really hard. The temptation is to go nuclear—I get that. But trust me, when you bless those who curse you and leave them in a better situation than they deserve, you are acting more like Christ than almost any other time. This is a great opportunity to show the world what we are really made of.
Don’t miss it because you’re hurt.