A Seat at the Table

Today I was talking with Bob Nahrstadt of Next Creative Media as we made some plans for next week's CTDRT SoCal Meeting. Something he said brought to mind a comment he made on our webinar a while back. He was talking about managing our technical ministry in such a way that we get a seat at the big table in our churches. Once at the big table, we are no longer relegated to being that guy who understands what all the knobs do, but doesn't really get the mission.

When the TD is Balkanized into a purely technical role, the church misses out on being truly effective in the use of technology to advance it's mission. When the TD remains Balkanized, it's only a matter of time before he or she leaves, hoping to find greener pastures where they'll actually have a voice.

Rarely does that work, however, so here are some thoughts on how to gain a seat at the big table wherever you are.

Ask the Why Questions First

We all love to go to trade shows, other churches or conferences and see the latest gear and production techniques. And it's easy to get gear envy, come home and start asking for money to buy the super-cool whiz-bang latest toy you saw at the show. Hear me now and believe me next week; the fastest way to the Balkans is to constantly ask for money for new toys. When you become "that guy who just likes to spend money on gear," it's hard for leadership to take you seriously.

Instead, come back from a show (or just look around now) and say, "Why are we doing (fill in the blank)." And this is not a sarcastic "Why?" but a genuine, "Let's really take a tough look at the reasons behind why we do what we do." Instead of bugging your pastor or board about getting new moving lights, ask if you can spend some time with them to talk through the rationale behind stage lighting and what role it plays in the weekend experience. Chances are, they've never thought about it before and you'll look like a genius.

Get Clear on the Mission

Not every church is the same. That should be obvious, but given how many people come back from a conference and try to imitate the host church, it apparently is not.  You as a TD need to be clear as to what the mission of your church is and how you can best support and advance it. There are a ton of iterations on this, but here's one example.

My good friend Dave is Audio Director at North Point. That church has a very clearly defined mission and every equipment decision he makes supports that. My church, Coast Hills, is not North Point. We're not better or worse, we're different. I don't make the same decisions he does because our mission is different. If I try to start buying all the same stuff Dave does, I'm going very quickly run into trouble because there will be a disconnect.

If you can't (or don't want to) support the mission and vision of your church, please, leave and find a new one. You and the church will be better off.

Build Trust Over the Long Haul

Getting invited to the table takes time. When I started at Coast, I went to lunch with our Sr. Pastor. After I gave him a quick outline of the issues I saw thus far, he said, "Every previous tech guy in your position here, and every one I know for that matter, has said the previous guy's work is wrong and it all needs to be changed. Why do I believe you?" It was a fair question. I proceeded to lay out the process by which I approach every single piece of technology to make sure it fits in with the overall mission and vision of the church.

Then I didn't buy anything. In fact, plans were already in place to replace our lighting system, add Avioms, replace the wireless mics and several other things. I put them all on hold. Why? So I could spend time making sure we were headed in the right direction. That simple move, in just six months has led to some solid credibility in the bank. We're now moving forward on a few projects, some of which changed pretty significantly since my arrival. We'll save a ton of money and get products that are better suited to what we do. A few years of that and I'll be able to accomplish just about anything I want to (mainly because it will always support the mission and vision). 

This takes time; sometimes lots of it. Don't rush or short-circuit the process. If you approach what you do with these principles in mind, your status will grow significantly. And your church will be better off for your increased contribution.