Perception v. Reality

Todd is the Technical Arts Director at Willow Creek Community Church, leading teams of staff and volunteers to create life changing moments through the fusion of the technical and the creative arts. Todd enjoys photographing cemeteries and wearing fake mustaches. He lives on the edge of cornfields with his wife Bissy and their three kids. Follow him on Twitter @_ToddElliott and check out his blog: www.toddelliott.net

My wife says many wise things. Here are a few samples:

“All kidding is half-truth.”

“80% of communication is non-verbal.”

“Come home early!”

and

“Perception is reality.”

These have all been key phrases for me. Not just in my relationship with her, but in my life in general. Ask the people I work with, I repeat these all the time.

Lately, as I have been living my everyday life, I’ve wondered if this last one is exactly true. “Perception is reality.” On one hand, based on how I perceive a certain situation, I respond according to that perception, therefore, my perception is my reality. On the other hand, just because I perceive something, doesn’t actually make it true.

Perception: I’m working harder than anyone else

To put it into terms that the technical artists deals with every day, just because a certain person doesn’t help with tear down, doesn’t mean they aren’t doing valuable work that needs to be done. Or, just because a musician walks in right before the service starts doesn’t mean they aren’t busting it some other time. Or just because the senior pastor leaves 2 hours before me, doesn’t mean he/she isn’t working as hard as or harder than the rest of us.

So often as a tech person, it can be easy to turn my perception into a reality that doesn’t actually exist.

Being a technical artist in the local church can be lonely. We are often the first ones in and that last ones out. We are sweating like crazy setting up the outdoor stage for a special event, while someone else is laughing and having a good time “schmoozing” with the people.

Reality: everybody is working harder than anyone else

At a certain point along the way, I realized that while I was sitting at home watching “Northern Exposure”, the music director was working late into the night, rehearsing the band and vocalists like crazy. While I was playing with my kids at park, my senior pastor was refining his message so that God’s word would be communicated effectively.

There were plenty of times when I perceived to be the only person working. There were late night video editing sessions that could turn me into a bitter person, since I was the only one pulling my weight. My perception had become a reality which didn’t necessarily exist.

I’m not saying that there weren’t times when maybe I was pulling more than my share of the load. Or, that there weren’t some imbalances in the distribution of work. But in any healthy work environment, where exciting things are happening, everyone tends to need to pull on an oar harder from time to time. Everyone needs to put it a late night every now and then.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about all the parts of the body that are necessary for the church to function properly.

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Since we all aren’t filling the same functions, that means that we will all work at different times and in different ways. If we all were tearing the stage down, important ministry that needs to happen wouldn’t. If everyone pulled the all night editing session, the video probably wouldn’t be any good (too many opinions), but then other key functions wouldn’t happen because everyone was up all night.

The next time you are feeling like nobody works harder than you, or that you are the only one who cares enough to pull an all-nighter, imagine how others might be pulling on an oar while you are resting.

Or better yet, make an effort to learn what others do, so that you can change your perception into reality.

The Big Dance

After joining the staff at North Coast Church in 1995, Dennis created and developed the church’s Technical Production Ministry to over 85 Staff and Volunteers today. North Coast Church, located in Vista, California, currently offers 23 worship services with over 9000 attendees every weekend across three campuses. North Coast has expanded Dennis’s Leadership role to also oversee the Graphics Team, Web Team, Print Media Team, Staging and IT Department. Dennis has a passion for helping churches develop a successful Production ministry and he specializes in addressing training and development issues with a real life perspective of ‘how things really work” in the church world. He has taught training classes at NAB, WFX, TFWM, NAMM and other conferences around the country and currently serves on the Advisory Board for the WFX conference and the Church Technical Leaders Network. He resides in Oceanside California with his wife Michelle and their three children.

So I’ve watched a few episodes of “Dancing with the Stars” (definitely NOT my favorite show) with my wife and, like most of us tech types, I usually get caught up in the lighting and the hazers and all the other toys used instead of the actual show itself.

What I did notice was for the couples that are really good at it – it looks so effortless as they glide and flow across the dance floor together. But then you watch the behind the scenes of the hours of practice together, sometimes arguing, sometimes wanting to give up week after week it’s a lot of work and coordination. What I also picked up in watching was the chemistry that the good couples had in dancing – sort of knowing and anticipating what the other was going to do and be there at the same time. And during practice how much they talk about what they are going to do and rehearse it over and over again so it looks so smooth when they actually perform.

There is this dance that we have to do each weekend which includes a Worship Leader, Tech Leader and often the Teaching Pastor. If we take just the relationship between the Worship and Tech person there is a sense of knowing what the other needs to make the service seamless and not distracting to the attender. Then throw in a Senior Pastor (or Teaching Pastor) and things get more complicated. It’s a relationship of communication, trust and knowing a little about each other to make it happen.

I don’t think I’m talking to the majority of churches but the one thing I do know is that if you wait till the weekend to try to coordinate the flow of how the weekend is going to run – you’re going to run into problems, miscommunication and train wrecks in the flow and production of the weekend. It’s also much more difficult to talk through changes and direction because all the key people are running around getting ready for services.

It surprises me when I work with churches that don’t talk about the flow of service and how the elements are going to transition until the weekend is here. I hear things like “Well, I can’t seem to get a time during the week when the Worship Leader, Senior pastor and I can get together to talk about it.” It’s funny – if your bread and butter is the weekend services (obviously debatable as some churches see small groups or maybe community service as the most important thing) then shouldn’t you devote at least 30mins during the week with all the right people in the room to talk about the coming weekend, review the last weekend, and talk about future weekends. I’m not talking about just brainstorming – I’m talking about minute-by-minute flow and transition – and maybe some contingence plans if something doesn’t go right.

And it’s vitally important that it’s ALL the key people in the room (this includes teaching pastor) unless the people that choose not to be there are relinquishing their opinion of how it should be done. I’ve heard church leaders tell me “Well I wouldn’t have done it that way” or ‘they should have done this” and I ask them – Didn’t you guys talk about this during the week? And they say – “oh I don’t go to those meetings, I’m too busy” I’ve had to explain to them that if there too busy to talk about the most important thing the church does each week then they can’t complain if it’s not done the way they want.

On the other side of the coin is that we (Tech Leaders) need to lead from the middle and constantly be pushing and not just reacting to what’s in front of us. We need to say – “I think it would be a good idea to meet together so we are all on the same page for the weekend.” But truly be open to the ideas and directions and not just shoot everything down with – “it’s not possible” and “we can’t do that”

Just like a dance between partners - communicating BEFORE the Big Dance is just as important as communicating DURING the Big Dance.

What Else Matters?

Wes Wakefield is the Technical Director for Christian Fellowship Church in Ashburn, Virginia. With a background in electrical engineering and music, he is passionate about bridging the gap between technology and creativity, using the two to build local community and connect people to God.

Imagine a place where a normally difficult musician or worship leader is your biggest advocate, where a creative director consults you on their next big idea before pitching it to the leadership team, where the elder or senior leader that manages the budget approves your purchase requests without asking a plethora of questions and seeking multiple outside “expert” opinions (provided funding is available, of course.)
Sound too good to be true? Unfortunately, for many technical leaders, it does.

But it doesn’t have to.

Although a significant percentage of technical leaders are marginalized, misunderstood, and mistreated, there is a way to restore trust and confidence within a dysfunctional work environment. The solution is simple, yet complex; easy in concept, yet difficult in practice. The answer involves a variable that the stereotypical technical person struggles with, and is even sometimes afraid of: relationship.

The desire for relationship should be the driving force behind what we do. It should come before any thought of technical systems or selection of equipment. It should be the foundation behind the creation of our processes, our workflows, and our expressions of art through media, visuals, or music.

Without relationship, nothing else matters.

As Jesus-followers, the narratives of the Bible serve as our foundational revelation of who God is and the incredible life of a man named Jesus. At a macro level, the Bible is the story of a God who desires to be in ferocious, passionate, intimate relationship with humanity. The stories of Jesus reveal his deep love and compassion for everyone he encountered, especially the outcasts, sinners, and the “least of these.” He invested in 12 young boys, then charged them to change the world through “making disciples.” No matter how you define “disciple,” I think it’s safe to agree that you can’t be one without having a relationship with the person who made you one.
As technical leaders, we cannot afford to lose sight of this. It doesn’t matter how good our music is or how flashy and impressive our lighting or environmental projection is. If what we do doesn’t somehow foster a lasting encounter with our God and the greater community of believers, we will fail.

Relationships are hard.

To apply a blanket stereotype, technical people are generally not very good at fostering relationships. We may have an intimate relationship with the new digital audio console or camera rig, and can ferret out a 60 cycle hum with incredible speed and accuracy, but have difficulty holding meaningful conversation with the very volunteers that operate that camera or console. Many times it’s easier to hide behind the console and mutter under our breath about the stubborn out-of-tune musician instead of walking over and humbly starting a conversation. The first time may be a bit awkward, but as the relationship develops, there is a good chance you’ll find that the “issues” you once had with that individual disappear.

A job/ministry built around healthy relationships has the power to throw out the ugly baggage that tends to collect in the corners. People in healthy relationships have the solidarity to overcome awkward conversations and misunderstood criticisms uttered in the frustration of the moment. Healthy relationships abound with grace and forgiveness, respect and laughter, joy and tears. Healthy relationships recognize the importance of people over perfection, patience through catastrophe, suppression of self-serving ego, and most importantly, love.

Relationships take time and effort

Regardless of the reasons behind an unhealthy relationship, here are a few practical steps to help unravel the dysfunction and develop the trust and respect that so many techs crave. This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start…

1. Set aside your own ego and pride.
2. Pray; Invite God to be a part of a difficult relationship.
3. Consider apologizing for any cynical statement or idiotic stunt you may be responsible for.
4. Always assume the best, never the worst; acknowledge that you don’t know the whole story.
5. Phone a friend. Allow them to be honest in pointing out your own flaws.
6. Eat. Invite the difficult individual to lunch.
7. Be honest and direct without wrapping your honesty around a brick and throwing it.
8. Repeat as necessary…

Relationships can be will be messy, stressful, frustrating, and incredibly difficult at times. If you allow fear of awkwardness or hard conversations to scare you off the diving board, you’ll never learn how to swim in the deep end of the relational pool. The good news is healthy relationships are the key to unlocking true joy, respect, and trust, as well as personal fulfillment within your job and/or ministry. It’s never too late to start digging your way out of an unhealthy situation. What are you waiting for?

Volunteers – the Ministry Facilitators

Jason Castellente currently serves as the technical director of National Community Church in Washington, DC.  His experience includes a bachelors of music in performance, a short stint on the road as an audio engineer and is passionate about the multisite church and marketplace ministry.  Check out his blog at: http://jasoncastellente.com or continue the conversation on twitter: @jdcastellente or facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jdcastellente

As a technical director of a church, we’re responsible for systematizing and technically executing the vision of our leadership. The technical logistics and planning fall squarely on us. But, we all know that system require resources in order to function.

For us in the church world, our volunteers enable our ministry. They’re the ones that make it happen and hold it all together. Without them, we’re in trouble! As a result, keeping that pool of volunteers full is a critical part of what we do but it’s a huge challenge as well. If you are a part of a multisite church, the number of locations you are responsible for multiplies that challenge. What can we do better in order to make sure those cracks are filled?

The most common way seems to be a church wide volunteer push and recruitment. I’m sure you’ve all seen it: “sign up and serve”! We put it in the bulletin or throw up the nifty graphic on the screen during the pre-service announcements. One issue with this is the fact that we live in a culture where we compete for people’s attention and time already. That graphic on the screen or the quick announcement on a speaker’s bulleted list is pretty meaningless unless it’s backed up with a personal touch. That means, as ministry leaders we need to be out there cultivating relationships and recruiting on an individualized basis. This can be difficult because we tend to be busy on Sunday mornings and stuffed away behind the walls of a tech booth or removed from everyone else so we can focus in a production suite. Also, we need to be recruiting with the intention of discipleship rather then out of obligation because our staffing is low. Otherwise, the emphasis is on the machine rather then the individual.

Sometimes, when volunteer recruitment is tough, as tech directors, we feel like a hamster on a wheel; we’re running like crazy but not making up any ground. This is where our current volunteer team comes in. We can bridge that divide and strengthen our chances by making it a team effort involving everyone who is currently part of our team. My suggestion is to first care about and love on your current volunteers on an individualized basis. Create an atmosphere of ownership within your current team members and make sure they understand what a valued member of the team they are. If that’s the case, then it will make your team naturally inclined to talk about how much they enjoy serving. Encourage them to find people for them to disciple as you did when they began serving.

Still sometimes, you have season where it feels like there is simply a mass exodus of tech volunteers. You feel frustrated because your job just got that much harder. At my church, it tends to be people moving away. Washington DC is a very transient place where people come for a short time to do an internship, to network and to get ahead in their career. They get involved and learn but they’re not typically here to stay. I’d certainly love to keep them, but that’s not typically the case. I want to encourage everyone with this perspective. Be excited for your volunteers as they move into another chapter of life or into another area of ministry. Your investment and faithfulness to them won’t be in vain if they move on to another church and ministry. We’re one family and one church. How cool is that? It’s even more amazing when you happen to hear a story about one of those volunteers enabling another church with the skills they learned as part of one our production teams!

Unfortunately, not everyone leaves because of favorable reasons. Any tech leader knows that it is easy to burn out volunteers and that we need to be sensitive to that. We don’t want it to escalate into resentment or someone feeling like they need to leave the church to get away. Remember, you must separate the technical gear, blinking lights, and control surfaces from the people who are running them. Tools are great, but tools are nothing without someone to use them. Simply being sensitive to the needs of our people is the best way to curb this. Sure, they’ve got a responsibility and purpose, but don’t let it be the only aspect of what they do. That individualized approach is key in this type of situation. Foster an environment of care and respect for them as individual people.

Lets all consider our goals and perspective on how we do things now and be sensitive moving forward.

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