This week we’re joined by one of my heroes of the church tech world. We talk about what it means to be have a heart for ministry in the technical arts, how to manage your time and how churches should lead their technical artists.
Introverted leaders. Does that sound like an oxymoron? One of the biggest challenges technical leaders face is that most of us are introverts in culture that favors extroverts. As more churches call on their technicians move from being doers to leaders and developers of teams, we have a big, steep hill to climb. But there is good news; we are in good company. In fact, I would suggest (and I’m not the only one to do so) that Moses himself was an introvert.
Consider this; he spent most of his adult life wandering around the desert. By himself. He seemed perfectly content to not interact with anyone but his flocks. Of animals. Who didn’t talk back or ask him questions. Sounds like a dream come true, right? OK, maybe not, but my guess is many of you (and I) would much rather spend our days in a quiet, empty tech booth wiring, programming, mixing or editing than surrounded by a large group of people.
When God called Moses out to lead His people, Moses’ first response was, “I am slow of speech…” (Exodus 4:10). Moses wasn’t stupid; he was introverted. He didn’t think out loud; he processed his thoughts internally then spoke purposefully. Again, sound familiar? Extroverts tend to think introverts are either slow or aloof because we’re spending more time thinking than talking, but I know so many of you, and it’s not true. You’re smart and caring; you just display it differently.
So how do we, fellow introverts, survive and perhaps even thrive as leaders in an extroverted church culture? Well, I have a few ideas. Much of this comes from a book I read last year, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh. I highly recommend it. There is treasure trove of content in that book, but I’ll pull out a few principles that have already helped reshape my thinking.
Know Who You Are in Christ
McHugh writes, “We cannot find freedom in our introversion until we embrace our primary identities as sons and daughters of God.” Regardless of our introversion or extroversion, our Myer’s-Briggs profile, our SHAPE or our strengths, we are children of God and therefore significant, important and most importantly, called. We are called to do what we’re doing, and when God calls someone into a task, He equips them. Therefore, you have everything you need to lead your team successfully; you simply need to lean on Christ as the source of your strength. Trust Him to lead your leadership.
Many tend to picture leaders as the loud, outspoken, charismatic ones that people naturally follow. And sometimes that’s true. But perhaps that’s just the loudest voice getting all the attention at the moment. McHugh says this about leadership: “Leaders give people a lens and a language for understanding their work and experiences in light of larger purposes.” You don’t have to be a charismatic public speaker to lead people if that is your definition. Giving people a lens is something that you can do every weekend when the volunteers show up to do their jobs. You don’t have to do it in big groups, nor do you have to lead a thousand people to make a difference.
Re-Imagine Your Impact
At times, we introverts can feel inferior to the extroverts around us because our circles of influence are smaller. But instead of feeling like our introversion is a liability to leading others, perhaps we should consider it an asset. Again, to quote McHugh: “At times I have compared myself negatively with my extroverted counterparts who have more widespread influence. But I have come to see this ‘limitation’ as an opportunity to have a deeper impact on the people I do influence.”
Generally speaking, technical teams tend to be smaller, which favors our strength. While we may not influence hundreds or thousands, those we do influence will get much more from us. We have an amazing opportunity to make a lasting impact on those on our teams. Our natural ability to listen, get to know people and speak wisely will have a radical effect on our volunteers.
As introverts, we have a great opportunity in front of us. What some perceive as a weakness is actually a significant strength that has potential to be a transformative force in people’s lives. But we can’t allow our natural tendency to prefer alone times to isolate us from community. While we may not count dozens of “close” friends, we should have a few, and we should be intentional about investing in a small group of people. Pray about who those people should be, then begin pouring into their lives. Your impact will be profound!
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I have had the privilege of getting to know hundreds of technical leaders from all over the country the past few years. While everyone is different, there are a number of common characteristics we share as technical artists, not the least of which is that we like to plan. We want to know what is coming up not only this weekend, but the next two or three. I know a guy who was getting anxious toward the end of October last year because his input list for Christmas wasn’t done yet! Ok, that was me. I may be a fringe case…
Still, we love to plan. And most of us work really hard. We work hard not simply because the work is hard, though it is sometimes; we work hard mostly because we care so deeply about the results. We work like we have the opportunity to see lives changed—and we do! But what’s tricky about the work we do is that while we do indeed have an important role to play, the final results are up to God.
A few weeks ago, I was reading through Proverbs 21 in the Message. I love how practical Eugene Peterson made the entire book of Proverbs. The last verse in the chapter stood out to me, and as I read it, I thought, “This should be on a plaque in every tech booth.” It reads:
“Do your best, prepare for the worst—then trust God to bring the victory.”
If that doesn’t encapsulate what we do, I don’t know what does! Our entire role as a technical artist can be summarized in that verse.
Do your best. This is not about excellence, perfection or punching a perfect show. It’s about doing your level best, giving it all you have and going all in. What that looks like will be different for all of us. But we can all do our best.
Prepare for the worst. Stuff happens. Mic’s will fail, lights will burn out, equipment will break at the most inopportune time. Have a plan for when it does. This is not an “if” scenario, it’s a “when.” Bad things will happen. If you have a plan, you can recover more quickly and do so more gracefully.
Trust God to bring the victory. So often we feel like the results are up to us. If 10 people don’t get saved in a service, we beat ourselves up over the mix or the lighting or the visuals. But that part is not up to us. Our job is to present the Gospel in as clear and compelling a manner as possible, then trust God to use it as He sees fit. He is the one who changes hearts. He is the one who draws those who are far near. He will bring the victory.
A friend of mine said it this way recently: “Pray like it’s all up to God; work like it’s all up to you.”
We live in this tension every day. It’s as challenging as it exciting. Which is probably why we love it so much.
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The other day, I was reading through some blogs and came across a post on Phil Cooke’s blog that I thought was interesting. The post itself wasn’t what inspired this post, however, it was one of the comments. Here is what one commenter wrote:
I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t have to use special lighting or a tech manager when he delivered the Sermon on the Mount. And he got the message across just fine.
Before I develop my critique of this comment, I want to start by saying I’m not opposed to simpler, more traditional services. If you want to attend a church or service that doesn’t use special lighting, a loud PA or any other production technology, that’s totally cool. I think there is even a need for those services. So don’t take this as a blanket condemnation of traditional services because it’s not.
Jesus Didn’t Have a Lot of Things
It should be obvious, but Jesus didn’t have a lot of the things we take for granted today. In fact, Jesus didn’t have a big pipe organ, choir or piano to lead the 5000 in worship. He didn’t have a car to get him from place to place. He didn’t have coffee makers to provide a morning wake up for the crowds. He didn’t have those things because they weren’t invented yet. Now, we can debate all day long whether he would have used those things (I suspect He would have), but I don’t hear people like the commenter above calling for a ban on pipe organs because Jesus didn’t have one.
I generally find those making the “Jesus didn’t have one” argument only when it conveniently supports whatever they don’t like in the contemporary church. And that is amusing to me. Much like quoting Scripture out of context to support our own agenda, it’s really a poor way to construct an argument.
Can We Just Admit it’s a Preference?
You see, what we’re really talking about here is preference. Again, I have no problem if your preference is a more traditional style of service (which, lest we forget only really developed over the last couple of hundred years—it’s not “biblical”). But to broadly state that Jesus wouldn’t “put on a concert” is missing the point. Jesus spoke to the crowds using the idiom of the day. He was as contemporary as any mega church service is today. He communicated to the people in the language they understood. The modern church seeks to do the same through the use of lighting, visuals and audio, because that is the language of this generation.
Now, we can argue whether some of that goes too far and creates a consumeristic, non-engaged, concert-like experience instead of a worship service. But that’s another argument. To be sure, some services really are much more like a concert and less like a worship service, and that can be a problem. However, I’ve been a part of some really loud services that had plenty of lighting, haze and moving backgrounds that were amazing experiences of worship. I’ve also experienced a spontaneous service that had no technology at all, just voices, and it was amazing.
It’s a Matter of the Heart
We are commanded to worship God in spirit and truth. If you can’t worship at our current church, perhaps we need to find one where you can. If you can’t find one, perhaps you have an issue of the heart. If you are older and are attending a church that is changing to meet the needs of a younger generation and you’re bitter about that, you have an issue of the heart, not volume. You can either choose to support the efforts to reach the next generation for Christ or get pissed off that your personal needs aren’t being met.
As I get older, I already know there will come a day when I don’t really care for the style of music of 20-somethings. But boy do I ever want to be part of a church that is doing a great job reaching that group of people. And who knows, maybe I’ll split my time between an 80’s style service with 4 second reverbs and a “modern” service with whatever music it popular at the time.
But the point is, don’t confuse your preference with what Jesus would or would not have done. Because I’m pretty sure He wouldn’t do that…
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It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I’m no longer working at Coast Hills, or any other church for that matter, as a TD any longer. I wrapped up in May and have begun a whole new adventure as system designer/project manager for Flexstage, which is part of the architecture firm, Visioneering. Several people have asked me recently, “So, what does your Sunday morning look like now?” When a question comes up more than a few times, it usually becomes a blog post. So here you go.
I’m on Sabbatical
Usually it’s the pastoral staff that gets to take sabbatical. Every few years, pastors often take a month, two or several off to refresh, pray and study. It’s a good concept, and one that I fully support. We all need time to recharge. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. For the last few months, my Sundays have been sleeping in, writing, going for walks and sometimes watching a NASCAR race in my PJs.
I had originally planned on taking a month off, but it’s turned into more than that. Now, I feel compelled to give some disclaimers at this point. I am not mad at the Church. I don’t feel burned by the Church. I don’t hate the Church. I’m not quitting Church to focus on my business. I just need a break. I will be back.
It’s Been a Long Time
I didn’t grow up going to church. My family and I went once in a while, but in the absence of any meaningful experience, I didn’t stick around. When I met the Lord in 1988 (almost 26 years ago to the week…), I immediately started attending church weekly. Except for a 4-month period in 2002 when I had to work weekends, I’ve attended church pretty much every weekend since 1988. I calculated that by my last weekend at Coast, I had worked approximately 380 of the previous 400 weekends. In that time, I mixed, lit, ran slides for or TD’d well over 1,000 services.
Along the way, I started equating, at least at a subconscious level, going to church with working. I didn’t even know I was doing it until I stopped. It really wasn’t until a few months ago that I figured it out. So right now, I need to re-program my mind.
Building New Models
As I write this, I keep thinking back to January when I took Jamie Anderson’s Smaart class. He kept saying, “This is hard because we’re building new models of how sound works in our heads. Building new models is hard. Don’t worry, it gets easier.” That’s what I feel like I’m doing. I have to build a new model in my head of what going to church is.
Of course, I know what going to church is. But in my mind, I need to get to a place where I’m not critiquing the mix or lighting while I’m there. I need to be able to not feel like I should be working while I’m there. And quite frankly, I need time to rest. My new job has been great, but because I’m learning and refining a whole new skill set, it’s mentally exhausting. Working on staff at a church takes it’s toll even under the best of circumstances. I’m realizing now, three months out, how taxing my time at Coast really was.
Descriptive, Not Prescriptive
I say this a lot, but I’m telling you what is going on with me, not what you should be doing. I know guys who have been doing the TD thing for many more years than I have and they’re well-adjusted and happy. That is wonderful. This is just what I’m doing right now, nothing more. Like I said, I’m not mad and I will be back. I just don’t know when.
I remember my first pastor, Ron Boehm, going on vacation one time and saying that he didn’t go to church that weekend just to prove to himself that he could do it. I think it’s important that we know why we’re going to church. Do we do it because we work there? Do we go because we need to get our card punched for the week? Is it to see our friends or social circle? Is it just our habit? Or do we go because we can’t be anywhere else? Because we are compelled to go. Those are important questions.
Right now, I’m experiencing my time with the Lord in a new way. It’s a lot less programmed and more organic. And it’s very refreshing. I look forward to going back when I’m ready. Until then, I will continue to serve the church through this blog, the podcast and my work with Visioneering. It’s what I feel called to right now. And it’s good.
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.
By now, most of you know that I’ve recently left my position at Coast Hills. That transition was something that God had in the works for some time, and it was very clear this is the path He’s called me to. However, while it was clearly God’s call, there was still the opportunity for me to mess it up. I could have ignored it, or potentially worse, left poorly.
Why You Leave
There are plenty of reasons to leave a job. Some are good reasons; you received another, amazing offer; you outgrew this position; you won the lottery. Other times, the circumstances are less than optimal. Perhaps the job is just not a good fit; or you really don’t get along with your boss or other superiors; or maybe there is something really wrong in the organization. Perhaps you were fired or “released to a new ministry…”
In today’s post, I’m going to focus on the good side of leaving—those times when it’s just time to move on to a new adventure. Looking back, this is not the first time I’ve left a job. I’ve actually left eight over the course of my career (not counting the three business I started and eventually shut down). So I do have a little experience here. Here are some suggestions on how to leave well under good circumstances, though I’ll give you the caveat up front that I have not always followed this advice.
Set Your Successor Up for Success
Chances are, after you leave, you will be replaced. When I left Coast, I tried to document as much as possible, to complete as many tasks as I could and leave a healthy team in place. Heck, I even designed and installed a completely new AVL system. You probably won’t always be able to do that, but make sure whoever comes after you doesn’t have to clean up your mess.
It’s easy to spend the last few weeks coasting toward the finish line. Hey, you’re leaving anyway, what are they going to do, fire you? Don’t do it. I worked a 10 hour day on my last day because I wanted to make sure I finished what I said I would. My last weeks there were some of the busiest in the previous six months. I was cranking out documentation as fast as I could, training others to do my tasks and finishing up a few last minute projects. Some of that was noticed, most of it was not. But it doesn’t matter. I know I left as well as I could, and God sees what we do in secret. It doesn’t matter as much what humans see.
Stay In Touch
It’s easy to move on to your new adventure and forget all about the people you left behind. You get busy making new friends, working on new projects and maybe enjoying the new location you’re in. But don’t forget those you left. I have not always been good at this, and it’s to my own detriment. I have left a few jobs better than others, and the ones I feel the best about are the ones where I’ve kept in touch with my former co-workers.
This is a pretty small industry, and I can tell you if people have good memories of you and will say good things about you, it will benefit you for a long time. But if you blow them off, leave them hanging or otherwise ignore them, it will come back to haunt you. The last impression is the one people tend to remember. Keep that in mind.
When it Goes Badly
Like I said, leaving is not always a great new adventure. Sometimes it’s a desperate leap from a moving train headed toward a cliff. I’ve been there, too, and how we leave will either set us up for success for failure in our next position. More on that next time.