Advice to Would-Be TDs

Sound technicianphoto © 2010 mikael altemark | more info(via: Wylio)

A few weeks ago, my friend Duke Dejong wrote a great post giving advice to young TDs. It’s a great read and I concur with everything he says. In this post, I’m going to back up a step and offer some advice to those folks who are thinking of a career as a TD. There’s an oft-repeated story in the TD world here in SoCal. Someone was considering taking a TD job at a church in the area so he went with another TD friend to a well-respected TD of a large church for advice. When his friend introduced him as someone considering becoming a TD, the veteran TD immediately asked, “Why?” And so goes my first point.

Don’t Do It

If you’re considering a career as a TD my first piece of advice is don’t do it. Not because it’s not a great way to make a living, but it is one of the hardest. In fact, I would go so far as to say unless you’re called, and very clearly called, to this ministry, you won’t last. One of my early pastors and mentors once told me that no one should ever go into ministry unless they can’t do anything else. And by “can’t do anything else” I don’t mean “not qualified” or “incapable” but rather, you simply can’t be obedient to God and not go into ministry.

A lot of people think working in a church is super-easy as we all sit around praying for each other and singing songs, hymns and spiritual songs all day long. While it’s true we do pray for each other, and occasionally sing, the truth is, it’s a lot of work. The hours are long, the work challenging and even though almost no one else in the church has any idea what we do, how we do it or how hard it is, they all feel complete freedom to critique any and everything we do.

And now that every ministry in the church is using technology, we have far more demands on our time, even our our “days off.” Also, every time some piece of technology doesn’t work, it’s a crisis that we’re required to solve, preferably without spending any money.

I’ve worked in quite a number of companies in my career and I can tell you I’ve made a lot more money, worked a lot less and had a lot more time off in every other job. So if you’re coming into this thinking it’s going to be a great time sitting behind the board every weekend and playing in virtual soundcheck all week, may I suggest going to work for a sound company instead?

OK, now that I’ve scared the “not called” off, let’s get on to some useful advice.

Do Your Homework

A lot of TDs grow up in the church they start working in. They may have wandered into the tech booth one weekend as a teenager, figured out how to make sound and become reasonably proficient at it. A few years later, the church figures out they need a TD and offer the unsuspecting young sound guy the job. Too often, they leave, badly, a year or two later...

When getting started with your first church job, do a lot of due diligence. Make sure you spend plenty of time getting to know the staff dynamics and confirming that you can in fact work with them. A lot of churches are great places to attend, but not so great places to work. Sometimes the church is a fine place to work, but you may not fit in with the staff.

There is a temptation to think that because you’ve gotten along fine as a volunteer, you’ll fit right in with the staff. Sometimes this is the case and sometimes it’s not. Check it out. The truth is, most churches don’t really know how to hire a tech guy (as evidenced by the short average tenure of most TDs). Don’t assume that because they think you can do the job that you want to work there.

Make Sure You Get a Clear Job Description

A lot of churches skip this part. You need to know going in if they expect you to manage tech for the weekend services or deal with every single thing in the building with a power cord. Either can be OK, but you need to define that up front. Don’t assume that just because you’re working for a church that your bosses will have realistic expectations.

And I should point out that it’s not typically malicious that they don’t have realistic expectations; as I said earlier, they honestly don’t understand what we do and how much time “simple” things take. I once had a job where it wasn’t uncommon to get a request for a video for the weekend services 6 hours before the services started. As much as I tried to explain the immense stress this placed on the tech team, it continued. Go in with eyes wide open.

If the church doesn’t have a job description for the TD position (or it’s way too vague), find someone in the CTDRT who can get you an example.

Ask for Three Weeks of Vacation

And make sure all three weeks are available from day one and that they roll over. The truth is, you probably won’t take all three weeks (in my first 12 months here, I took 7 vacation days). But you have to have them available. We TDs work really hard, and while the rest of the church has seasons of business, our "seasons" never really end. If we’re not prepping for or running Christmas, Easter, VBS, Winter Camp, Summer Camp, Fall Launch, or the weekend, we’re re-building systems, training volunteers and filling out paperwork.

You will often find yourself working on your days off (even if from home, answering phone calls and texts) and you need the ability to take a week off and disappear. And you might need that week after two months, depending on what you walk into. Hat tip to my great friend Van Metschke for this one.

Ask for More Money

This sounds incredibly crass, but the reality is most TDs are the most over-worked and under-paid people on staff. Churches typically under-pay tech people because they don’t really value the position. I promise you, if you are really called to this life, you will earn every penny you’re paid (and then some). You may not get any more, but you should always ask.

It’s a Wonderful Life

This post sounds like I’m an old, bitter TD. It’s not true. I love what I do. I am excited to get up every day and come to work with a fantastic group of people who I love and respect doing work I’m really good at. At this stage in my life I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. At the same time, I’m completely confident that God has called me to this life, and to this church. If that weren’t the case, I would be the tired, bitter TD that people become when they’re not called.

And should you join this ragtag group who gets to be called a TD, make sure you follow the advice in Duke’s post. And get yourself a group of other like-minded TDs that you can hang out with and learn from. The longer I do this gig, the more I’m convinced that the key to longevity is to have a few key relationships with other TDs.

One more thing; if you’re thinking about jumping into the TD swimming pool, give me a call. I will try to talk you out of it. If I cannot, then you are most likely called into one of the greatest adventures of all.