Coming Into a New Church, Pt. 1

I’ve been thinking about this topic for quite some time now. There is a phenomenon happening in the Church right now that is probably not new, but it’s the first time I’m seeing it as widespread as it is. Larger churches are hiring young guys for key positions and getting rid of the old guys. Often, the only qualification the young guy has is that he or she happened to be part of another church that was going through a huge growth spurt. 

What tends to happen next is quite heartbreaking. The young guy comes in, starts throwing their newly acquired weight around and either fires or causes all the older, experienced guys to leave. In the  process, volunteers become disillusioned and leave as well. What was once a thriving ministry is left in tatters. 

Now, one could make the case that it is necessary to cut off the old, dead branches every so often so that new growth can occur. And I agree with that. There are times when people need to be moved on to new areas of ministry. There are times for change. Heck, I’m a change agent. I love change. But the way this happens is often quite harmful. 

Then the other day, lo and behold, as I was driving home, I happened to be listening to Leo Laporte’s Triangulation podcast. It’s one of my favorites because he always interviews such interesting people. On this show, he had the chief engineer for the Mars Rover Curiosity program. This is a pretty smart guy, as you might expect. He’s been a part of NASA for over 40 years and has an incredible resume. He said something near the beginning of the show that perfectly summarized what I’ve been thinking about. 

“Success is a terrible way to learn something because you get arrogant. Just because it worked, doesn’t mean you’re always right. Being good means being humble and willing to accept new ideas.” —Rob Manning, Chief Engineer for Mars Rover Curiosity. 

Go back and read that again because it’s really quite profound. So often, we find ourselves in a situation where everything just worked. And it’s easy to get the idea that it is our brilliant ideas that are making things click so well. When a new church starts growing like crazy, it’s leaders start getting invited to speak at all the conferences, as if they suddenly discovered previously unknown truths in church growth. The reality is, at least part of their success was due to being at the right place at the right time. 

The even greater danger is when younger members of the staff of those churches—kids and student ministry guys, tech directors, worship leaders—decide that they must be a rock star because their ministry grew so much under their leadership. I resisted the urge to put quotes around a bunch of words in that sentence. Those rock stars then get the idea that they can duplicate that performance anywhere. And when they’re hired on to a new staff, they immediately set about trying to turn the new church into the old church. It seldom goes well. Within a few years, they move onto another church, frustrated that no one at church #2 saw the brilliance of their leadership, and mad because their track record is damaged.

I’ve seen this happen at dozens of churches all over the country; and it’s probably happening more. So here’s my advice to you if you’re coming into a new church—don’t be that guy. 

Now that I’ve set up the scenario, next time, I’ll lay out some specific pieces of advice that might just save you and your new ministry.


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Is Christmas an Inconvenience?

Photo courtesy of Peachhead (2,000,000 views!)

Photo courtesy of Peachhead (2,000,000 views!)

As I sit here on Nov. 30, I’m realizing this will be the first December in about 10 years that I haven’t been going crazy gearing up for Christmas. It’s a good feeling, to be honest, though part of me is a little unsure of what to do, what without a Christmas production or series of service to produce. But I remember it well. And I remember being frustrated at the time commitments Christmas puts on a TD. So I’m dusting off a post I wrote a few years ago that I hope will encourage you as you go through a very busy season. 

If I’m honest, I often feel quite inconvenienced at Christmastime, especially when Christmas falls on the weekend. While most get to spend the day with family and friends, we church techs will spend it in the tech booth, or preparing for the next service. While our church body enjoys a morning with their family at home, opening presents and having breakfast, I’ll be at work rehearsing for the service. And after everyone else is home, I’ll be tearing out rental gear. My family will not not see me as much as they should. 

And if I’m really honest, I get a little tweaked that most of the church staff will be off over Christmas weekend, while I’ll be there from early in the morning until late at night. The week leading up to Christmas, rather than being filled with last-minute shopping and getting all the final details set for my family’s Christmas, will be filled with hundreds of last minute details as I prepare for the services of the weekend.

As I was praying—well, if I’m still being honest, I was complaining—to the Lord about this the other day he reminded me of something. And while it was a gentle, heartfelt reminder, it hit me more like a splash of ice cold water on a hot day. The reminder was this: It wasn’t really terribly convenient for Jesus to come here, being born as a baby, growing up in our sin-infested world and ultimately dying on the cross for my sin. 

Oh, right…

That’s one of those perspective changers that I really need during Christmas. You see, while I am at heart a servant, I very much prefer to serve others on my own terms. When I have to serve people on their terms, I tend to get annoyed. But it’s the words of the Apostle Paul that snap me back to a better reality. 

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! 

Philippians 2:5-8

After that little attitude re-adjustment, the Lord reminded me of a truth that I often forget: It is not what you get from life that brings joy, but what you give. 

Now, I’m still a work-in-progress on this front. But I’m trying to remind myself of those truths this week as the days get long, the work is hard and I sometimes feel like I’m at this all alone. In just a few days, literally thousands of people will stream through our doors and hear the story of the birth of Jesus—perhaps the most amazing story ever told. And I get to be a big part of telling that story. 

Yes, it’s a lot of work, yes my hand still hurts from that cut, and yes I go to bed sore every night. But I go to sleep in a warm, soft bed, not in a feeding trough. And I cut my hand because I wasn’t paying attention, not because someone whipped me with a cat-of-nine-tails. 

So rather than focus on what a huge inconvenience Christmas is for me, I’m trying to focus on the reason we’re going through all this work in the first place. May Jesus be ever more clear, present and real in your celebration of Christmas this year. It is His name on the day, after all!


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Leadership Lessons From My Mentor

Last time, I told you the story of how I ended up in technical ministry. It's really all due to my first Pastor, Ron Bohem. He recently suffered a medical emergency that nearly cost him his life. And it cost a lot to keep him here. I asked you to consider donating to his medical expense fund, and if you haven't, go back and read that post, then help out. This blog exists in large part due to his influence in my life, so if you've ever learned anything from me, you can pay it forward by helping my friend Ron

And, after reading this post, you can't say you never learned anything because I'm going to share with you some things I learned about leadership from him.

Serve Alongside

When I began attending Western Reserve Grace Brethren Church—which we all called WRGBC or Grace for obvious reasons—they met in a middle school. Everything had to be brought in and out every week. Guess who was leading the charge? Pastor Ron and his family. I started attending in the summer, and I will never forget the first big snowstorm of the winter. I had a long drive, so I left plenty of time and got there early. It was blowing and snowing and freezing outside, and there was Ron, bundled up in a parka with his snowblower clearing the sidewalks so we could get into the building without tracking through snowdrifts. 

A few years later, when we built our first building, the congregation was a bit larger, but the budget was still tight. He negotiated with the builder that we could do some of the labor. Again, Ron was right in the middle of it. He spent many days alongside other men in the church pulling cable through conduit, framing, painting and whatever else needed to be done. He didn't just walk in, tell everyone they were doing a great job then leave, he worked with—and in many cases harder and longer—than the rest of us. 

I've never forgotten that lesson. In my years as a TD, I always strived to be the fisrt one there and the last one out. I'm pretty sure no one on my team would tell you I worked less than they did. Whether it was a weekend service or a big event, I was there with them, getting dirty and sweaty, making sure we were getting things done. 

This kind of leadership creates a team that will do almost anything. I know my guys and gals would have done anything for me, because they did. And I'm pretty sure it was because they knew from experience that I would do anything for them. 

Empower High Capacity People

When I offered to start the student ministry, Ron said, "Go for it!" And while he gave me plenty of support, he largely stayed out of it. If he saw there was a better way I could be doing something, or someone I should meet, he told me about it. But he never micromanaged.

I led my tech teams the same way. When I came across someone who I knew had mad skills and a heart to do the right thing, I stayed out of their way. I resourced them as much as possible, and always stayed close in case they needed something. But when you find someone, paid or unpaid, who is good at their job, let them go! Chances are they will accomplish much more than you could.

Invest in People

While doing student ministry, Ron helped me get connected with other staff youth leaders in our district. He took me to conferences. The church paid to send my wife and I to the SonLife course one year, even though I know it was a huge stretch financially. He saw the value in helping people get better at what they do.

As much as I could, I tried to do the same for my staff. Through regular training, we raised everyone's skill levels. I've paid to take my staff and volunteers to conferences when the church wouldn't  because I think it's that important. Everybody wins when we all get better at what we do.

Love People

Ron is a lover of people. Which is good because I was likely pretty hard to love back then. I was a cocky 22-year old who thought he knew a lot more than he actually did. But he loved me through that, and gently shaped my thinking so I would be much more effective. 

We often find people who are hard to love in our tech ministries. The type of people who gravitate toward tech are not usually the super outgoing, happy-go-lucky types. Instead, we tend to be introverted, quiet, smart (and sometimes pretty proud of that), and maybe even moody and dark. 

In spite of all that, as technical leaders, we need to love people. This can be a challenge, because often we fit those descriptors pretty well ourselves. But never lose sight that it's about people.

And sometimes it's just about treating people well. I remember how Ron treated the crusty old electrician who wired our building. This guy didn't like working for churches because he felt they were full of hypocrites. But Ron brought regular coffee and donuts, listened to him complain, and just genuinely cared for him. To this day, the way I treat outside contractors is influenced by what I saw there. 

There are many more things I learned in the nearly 10 years we served together. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't take any credit for what is happening here at CTA or in the technical arts community in general. But his influence was great in my life, and as I said, it's unlikely I would be doing what I am today were it not for the investment he made in my 20+ years ago. 

And that's why I'm not going to be shy in using my influence to again ask you to donate to his medical expense fund. Think of it as a small price to pay for what you learn here. Thanks in advance for helping out!


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Pay It Forward

My friend, Pastor Ron Boehm and his wonderful wife, Chery. Read on for the story of the eye...

My friend, Pastor Ron Boehm and his wonderful wife, Chery. Read on for the story of the eye...

ChurchTechArts readers, I need your help. It's not very often I come to you with a request; for the most part, I simply share my thoughts with you. But today, I need you to pitch in and help a dear friend. 

But before I get to the details of the request, I want to give you a little background on me. This is some of the "never before seen, behind the scenes footage" of the journey that brought me here. 

I had an encounter with Jesus in the summer of 1988 and it changed my life. Not long after that, I got connected with a small church plant on the southeast side of the greater Cleveland, OH area. 

This church met in a middle school cafeteria, and when I walked in the first time, there were about 70 adults there. I soon got to know all of them and still count many as friends to this day. Little did I know that my encounter with this church, and particularly the pastor and his family, would change the course of my life. 

Pastor Ron Boehm had planted the church a few years earlier. We quikly became friends and about a year later when God called me to start a student ministry in the church (there were about 8 middle and high school students at the time), he encouraged and trusted me with pretty much the whole thing--despite the fact that I had virtually no experience. 

As I lived 45 minutes from the city where the church met, and we had youth group on Sunday evenings, I began spending Sunday afternoons with the Boehm family. They truly welcomed me into their home and family and I learned a ton from all of them. Ron and I would often sit on the back porch after lunch and discuss ministry, theology, technology and occasionally Greek. I truly received my theological training from him. 

After I moved closer, we began meeting every Wednesday for breakfast. We studied books, read the Bible and talked about life, ministry, theology and more. We met almost every week for 5 years. It was a blessed time for me. While I've learned a lot about ministry in the past 10 years of being on staff, the foundation was all laid by Pastor Ron. 

In fact, the reason you are reading this website right now is in large part due to the fact that he was honest with me in the spring of 1993. We just had our first daughter, and I was feeling anxious to get off the road (I was doing corporate production at the time). Our little student ministry had grown to about 30 students, and I had about 4 other people working with me on the ministry. I felt a clear call to ministry and figured that the standard career path was to become a youth pastor.

But I also began to realize that I was really good at this tech thing. I noticed that I could build systems in my head, connect the dots and visualize how things would work almost effortlessly. I also realized not everyone could do that. I felt I was at a crossroads. So, at one of our Wednesday meetings, I laid it out for him. I asked him straight up, should I quit my job, go to seminary and become a youth pastor or find a way to serve God somehow using my technology skills. 

I'll never forget his answer. First he asked, "Do you want the truth?" I said, "Of course, that's why I asked." He responded with, "I think you're really good at the tech thing, and you should continue doing that." The die was cast.

Now, I didn't know it at the time, but I'm now pretty sure he knew that his answer was going to cost him his youth guy. But he loved me enough to be honest with me. 

About nine months later, I found myself starting the in-house video production group of our denomination's Christian Ed department. And pretty much from that time forward, I've been somehow involved with a career that serves the Kingdom using my technology skills. 

I was going to try to share with you some of the key things Ron taught me about leadership in this post, but this is going long, so I'll save that for next time. 

But here's where you come in. Ron has been busy helping churches get planted all over Ohio for the last few years. He raises his own support and does an amazing job serving young church planters. He recently had a pretty scary medical emergency. 

He suffered an abdominal aneurysm, which apparently, is a big deal. A very small percentage of people who have something like that even make it through surgery. He made it through two, and after 10 days in ICU, is home recovering. It's truly a miracle, especially when you consider as the situation was developing, he passed out and hit his head on a sink also fracturing his skull (hence the nice shiner in the picture above). 

As you can imagine, the LifeFlight, surgeries and 10 days in ICU did not come cheap. His kids have started a fund to help offset some of the medical expenses. I've made a sizeable donation as he had such a significant impact in my life. But there is a long way to goal to reach the goal. 

So here's the deal: About 14,000 people read this website monthly. If everyone gave a dollar, it would meet their goal; exceed it actually. If everyone gave up a Starbucks or a Caribou this week, we could really bless them.

Now, he doesn't know I'm asking you guys to pitch in. And as I said, I almost never come to you for anything. But I'm not exaggerating when I say you would not be reading ChurchTechArts if it were not for the influence of Ron in my life. So if you've ever learned anything, been encouraged or found a better way to do something by reading this blog, it's time to pay it forward. 

Here's the link to the GiveForward page they've set up. It takes under 3 minutes to donate, and I think this would be a great way for the Church to be the Church. I really want him to be able to focus on his recovery and not how they're going to pay for it. What do you say, can you spare a fiver or a ten-spot? Go do it now so you don't forget. And next time, I'll share with you some of the leadership wisdom that shaped the last 10 years of my ministry. Thanks for reading this far, and thanks for helping my friend and Pastor, Ron Boehm. Give now


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