Rehearsing Too Much?

I’ve been kicking this post around in my head for about three years now. That’s a long time to stew on a topic, but it’s one that I couldn’t come to a definitive conclusion on, mainly because I think it’s so multifaceted. The origins of this topic go back several years to Christmas rehearsal week. I got talking with someone in leadership about why we rehearsed so much. That person, as I recall, thought we really didn’t need all that time, and by rehearsing too much, we turned the Christmas Eve service into a show. 

Later, I got talking with some of the musicians about the idea. Interestingly, they were divided. Some felt the best services we had done were ones where the band—and thus, the tech team—basically winged it. Others felt when we really spent the time to get it very dialed in, where the music was completely internalized, everyone was free to have fun and do a great service.  I think there is validity to both concepts, but I have so opinions (shocking, I know). 

Wing It!

I agree we did some great services that were much less prepared than normal. Usually it was due to some outside circumstance; last minute changes, cancellations or a world event that led to the scrapping of the original plan and a short run up to a service. 

However, correlation often doesn’t equal causation. Those free-flowing services were typically staffed by our A-team of musicians. Theses were professionals who had played together for years, both inside and outside the church. We were doing songs and arrangements that were familiar. The tech team knew the songs, and the overall service structure was similar. 

And, often there was a point of inflection that caused everyone to be a little more sensitive to the Spirit that weekend. Add all those elements together and you get a “great service.” However, I’ve also been part of services where everyone winged it because no one bothered to plan and those were a train wreck. Sadly, for some churches, that’s the norm. 

Nail It!

The other option is to rehearse to the point where everyone is waking up dreaming of the songs. Each musician knows not only their own part inside and out, but everyone else’s as well. The tech team knows every chord change, every solo, every nuance and crescendo. 

I’ve done services that way, too—mostly big weekends like Christmas or Easter—and I can say that personally, I prefer this. Once I know exactly what is supposed to happen, I’m freed up to really enjoy the experience. I can be fully present in the moment, without worrying about what comes next. 

Watching musicians in this mode is great fun. They too are freed up to just play. No one is stressed anymore, it’s just a great opportunity to minister to the congregation through music. No one is thinking of it as a show, it’s a chance to be free musically. 

What’s Better? 

As is often the case, it depends. I think for most churches, a normal weekend service doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) require 8-10 hours of rehearsal timeUnless you’re doing a new song, running each one once or twice to make sure everyone has it is typically sufficient. 

But for big weekends, I can see putting in some extra time. In fact, I think we should. I’m totally willing to spend an entire day in virtual soundcheck for a Christmas Eve service because it will make the entire day better. I’m willing to deal with multiple rehearsals for the band and for a tech rehearsal because I know it’s going to make the experience better for everyone. 

Big weekends typically have a lot more going on, and much of it is outside the norm, which means more preparation. How much outside the norm is a whole different discussion, and one I may take up after New Years. But I think if we’re going to do a big production for Christmas, we owe it to ourselves and our congregation and visitors to know it inside and out so we can make it great. 

Can we rehearse too much? Maybe. But I doubt many every truly do.

A Healthy Pace

Image courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker

Image courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker

A week from today is Christmas. For the average church tech—volunteer or paid—that means a lot of long days ahead—and probably quite a few in the books already. Whether you’re doing a major production or a lot of services, there is no shortage of work to do. 

I did church Christmas services for over 20 years, and to be honest, I like I was just getting the hang of it by the last one I did two years ago.

For most of those years, I worked way too hard and way too long. I didn’t take the time to actually enjoy the season, or spend enough time with my family and friends. 

A few years ago, I decided I was going to change that. Sure there was still a lot of work to do; but I’m learning that God is far more concerned about the condition of my heart on Christmas Eve than He is about how much I accomplished. 

I wrote an email to myself in 2011 after the Christmas season using FutureMe.org. I scheduled it to be delivered the day after Thanksgiving 2012, and it was a good reminder of why I was not going to kill myself that year. In 2011, I was exhausted and spent the first four days after Christmas on the couch. I was also pretty close to being ready to quit apparently (according to the email…); and I never wanted to feel that way again. 

From then on, I started on Christmas production a lot earlier than usual. By late November, I had my show file done for the audio console. And by the first week in December, I had ProPresenter basically done. 

My hope was that by spreading the work out a little more, I would be able to work a little less and enjoy the season a little more. It worked! I actually had fun that year, and after following that pattern the next few years, enjoyed another few Christmases before taking a break. 

My advice to you is to slow down, enjoy the season and let a few things go undone. The reality is that you and I obsess over details that almost no one notices, and leaving them alone won’t impact the service noticeably. If we want to be doing this for the long term, we have to pace ourselves. This is difficult for us hard-working technical types, but we have to try. 

Simplify what you can, pre-build as much as possible and maybe even say, “No” once or twice. Don’t allow business to obscure the significance of the Son of God coming to earth. Join me in enjoying Christmas this year.

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God With You

Image courtesy of Kevin Dooley

Image courtesy of Kevin Dooley

Well, here we are, just a little over a week from Christmas. Most of you are already in the heat of the battle known as December. Now that I’m not in production mode all month, I’ve become a little more contemplative during this time of year. While reading over some of my old posts around this time, and mulling over the sermon from this past weekend, I got to thinking about the concept of Emanuel, God With Us. 

One of the thoughts that has really challenged me in the last few years is this: What if God doesn’t want me to do anything for Him? What if He doesn’t need me to serve Him or others? What if He doesn’t need me spend 80 hours a week working on the Christmas production for a month?

 

What if He just wants to be with me? With you?

 

Pause a moment and let that sink in. What if God really, down deep in the core of His being, just wants to be with you? 

 

Now, I can already hear the clamor. But we have to build sets! We have to rehearse! We have to hang lights! We have to… Those are all fine things, and they can even be fun. But what if we don’t have to do that? What if we simply need to enjoy His presence this season? What does that change?

 

Of course, many of you have earthly bosses who are telling you that there is much work to be done and you’re just the guy to do it. Perhaps. And perhaps they are the ones who should be pointing this concept out instead of me. Perhaps. 

 

You see, God doesn’t need anything from us to love us. It’s just like with our kids. I don’t need my girls to get me a present for me to love them this Christmas. I just want to be with them. Now that we live 2,000 miles from our kids, and we’ll only get to be with one of them for Christmas, this concept is really starting to sink in. 

 

For my daughter who can’t be with us, I don’t want her to do anything, I just want her to be here, to sit on the couch and talk. To hang out, To just be. Here. 

 

I think that’s how God feels about us sometimes. Maybe a lot of times. We can get so busy doing stuff ostensibly for Him, that we forget he just wants us to be with Him

 

Just a thought as you gear up for the last 10 days of Christmas…

Roland

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The Collision of Technology and Creativity Pt. 2

Image courtesy of Ged Carroll

Image courtesy of Ged Carroll

Last time we started unpacking the conflict that can bubble up when someone on your staff, usually in leadership, has a really cool idea that might be hard to pull off. You know, because the technology to do it doesn’t actually exist. I pointed out that most people really have no idea how we do what we do, nor do they know how movies are made (like we do). Thus, they simply have ideas. And as the technical genius in the room, we need to come up with a way to make it, or something like it, happen. Here’s what I’ve learned about that process.

Find Out What the Real Goal Is

If we accept the premise that simply saying, “No,” or, “Yes, but…” every time is not the best response, what then shall we do? I’ve found the best way to respond to a request like that is to hear them out. I learned to love to start thinking about the possibilities. Usually, they are very excited when telling us about it, so I try to respond with, “Yeah, that would be cool!” After hearing them out—and it’s important to hear them out…all the way—then we can start asking questions. 

Our tendency is to begin telling them all the reasons why that can’t happen. We don’t have enough time/people/budget/talent. The technology doesn’t actually exist. But remember, most people aren’t like us. They don’t want to know why something can’t be done. They want to see their dream realized. 

So try to figure out what they actually want to accomplish. In the aforementioned example, the pastor who wanted Iron Man-style air graphics, really just wanted to be able to put some words up in front of people then add to them. Rather than just saying, “No, that was a movie, it doesn’t actually exist…” my friend added, “…but I can come up with something that will get the point across.”

Find a Solution That Accomplishes the Goal

Again, we have to keep in mind that your pastor doesn’t want to know why something can’t be done. They simply want to get across their idea. If we can help them unpack what it is they are trying to communicate, we can figure out a way to accomplish it without killing ourselves. 

Before telling them all the reasons why we can’t mic a 50-piece orchestra that won’t even fit in our room that only seats 350, and besides it’s only three weeks before Easter and we don’t possibly have enough time to pull this off (deep breath…), find out why they want a 50-piece orchestra in the first place. Maybe they just want a more full, classic sound for Easter. There are ways to make that happen that are possible. 

If your pastor wants an Andy Samberg-style video every weekend, you need to have a conversation about the process that it takes to produce it. Invite them along on a shoot and edit so they can learn how time-intensive it is. Find out what they want to communicate and find a way to accomplish it without killing yourself.

All this advice is based on the idea that we don’t start with, “No,” but that we’re finding a way to have a constructive conversation that ends with everyone feeling like they win, including you. Remember, this is the fun stuff. This is why we do what we do—to pull off the impossible; to make things happen that most only dream about; to create something from nothing. Give the ideas a chance, and work together toward a solution.

Roland

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