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Details That Matter

I have a confession: I am a complex individual.

I love, some would say I obsess over, the details of a weekend service, from creative elements, to cues, down to how the cables on the stage are running to the stage patch. Yes, nothing perks me up in a programming meeting like hearing some crazy element that will require planning, coordination, and exemplary timing to execute. Yes, I am a control freak.

The other side of me despises details. I like to call myself a creative visionary. That would be someone who likes to live in the idea world and not be bogged down with the logistics and details. It’s the guy who dreams it up and hands it off to others to see it come to life. I like to live in this world, because, well, who really likes details anyway? I told you I was a complex individual.

Those two worlds collide in my line of work on a weekly basis. As I struggle to balance the creative with the control, I am constantly reminded that only a few details are non-negotiable for both of my personalities.

As artists, technical or creative, we want to present our work in the best light possible. We want those who will experience our art to have the best chance to engage with it. We desire to remove all distractions and possible wrong interpretations. I know there are many times I become so consumed with perfecting the final product that I forget what God has really called me to. This was a realization that a number of us on staff where I serve made during a Christmas service a few years back. The weekend worship experience at The Crossing is a big deal to us, but Christmas at The Crossing ramps up a bit more. I’m sure you understand. For the technical team, that means triple the hours, quadruple the lighting cues, and double the input channels. Our creative elements are a bit more creative. Stage design is scaled up a bit. With 19 Christmas Eve services in four venues across three campuses, we get to serve a lot of people coming to celebrate Christmas.

Many hours of planning and rehearsals happened and a lot of details were being juggled and refined. Our programming culture allows for tweaking after each service and so our lighting team jumped into it. They were cleaning up cues and transitions when we started hearing calls from our Guest Relations team wanting to open the room. It was twenty minutes before service. Our tech team felt we had plenty of time to perfect this lighting cue for that one moment in the service. And so we took it.

What I found out later was the lobbies were packed. People came early to get their seat in the main auditorium. It was filled to the point that waiting people were leaking into the kids ministry areas, which was blocking the ability of folks to sign in their kids. There was a growing frustration throughout the lobby, not just our guests who were waiting, but with our Guest Relation and Kids Ministry volunteers. As hard as my team was working to remove distractions from within the service, we were creating one big one before our guests had even entered the room. We were setting the tone as we focused on one small detail without considering the detail that really mattered: the people coming to worship.

We now, for any service, ask a few questions when we are at a point of tweaking tech details between services. If we bump up against the time doors need to open and we are still working on stage or fixing a light cue, we will ask, “Does the room need to go dark?” If the answer is no, then the teams continue to work. We are fine if ‘the curtain’ is pulled back and our folks see behind the scenes. And we have found that they really don’t even pay attention to most of that as they come in and find their seat.

When you become more concerned with your final product being perfect than about the people who are about to engage with it, we do a disservice to God. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I want nothing more than to offer my best to God. He has called me into His story. I want to help provide an engaging, distraction-free environment where others can encounter the Gospel. When those technical glitches happen, the distraction occurs, or I just totally drop a detail, I wear that heavy. So, my team and I do our best to carry those details.

It is our job to carry those details. So, how do we balance those details that are non-negotiable with those details that you could or should let slide when needed? Preparation is nine-tenths of the Production Law. You will find sitting together with your leadership planning the worship experience and processing the negotiable and non-negotiable are important to you as a church tech leader.

Understanding what the expectations and vision of the service elements is vital. Depending on your ministry environment, it may require some effort to implement meetings or conversations with your programming director or worship pastor. It may be a total shift in the way your team operates. To be totally effective in carrying those details you have to know what you are required to carry.

As we serve the best we can and attend to the details that make church go, don’t miss the small details that are most important to our job. The conversation that needs to happen with a volunteer, that nudge from the Holy Spirit to do something, helping remove distractions before people even walk into your auditorium. Because, after all, God has called us to attend to the details that truly matter.

Bio Paragraph: Bill Swaringim serves as president of the Church Technical Leaders organization as well as serves on staff at The Crossing in St. Louis, MO as the TechArts Director. You can reach Bill via email at bill@churchtechleaders.org or find him on twitter.com/billswaringim

Budget, What is it good for?

When I thought of the title of this article for the first time I immediately thought of Edwin Starr’s version of the song “War”. “War, good God, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Thinking, budget… huh… What is it good for? Absolutely nothing? The word budget itself can sometimes have a negative connotation just like the word war. To some church technical leaders a budget can feel controlling, limiting, and tedious. In my experience, however, a budget can be one of the most freeing elements of anyone’s professional life.
Budgets increase communication with leadership, highlight priorities, and provide accountability for use of funds.

Each year I am faced with managing my own ministry budget, as well as a much larger production technology improvement budget. I will admit in the beginning I didn’t like the idea of being tied to a budget. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to get the equipment or achieve the level of quality I desired. It was a challenge for me to balance requests from leadership, wanting the best for our facilities, and learning to be patient and wait for the right timing then budget accordingly.

One of the most important parts of setting up a budget is to communicate with leadership. Talk with leadership fairly regularly about their dreams and goals. It helps exponentially to know where your leadership desires your production environments to go. This helps you know what equipment to look into, put down numbers on paper, and communicate to them what it’s going to take to get there. Talking with leadership not only benefits budget conversations but will also increase communication in other areas as well.

Another challenge I faced in managing my budget was the “gotta have the biggest, best, newest technology” mentality. Coming from a concert touring background where I was always surrounded by amazing new gear, I had to learn that in the church world of production purpose and requirements outweigh wanting the newest piece of gear. We must understand what our needs are and research the best possible solution. Your budgets must have priorities. Learning which areas and equipment are more important will help you be able to prioritize and set goals accordingly. This creates vision for the future and a path to get there.

Managing a budget effectively also provides accountability. As leaders we must be good stewards of the funds, equipment, and production resources the church invests in. We are responsible for and accountable to where and why these funds are spent. We must do everything we can to research and investigate how to spend those funds wisely and efficiently. We should always have materials to back up our decisions. Materials like, product information, alternative options, quotes or bids from several resources and of course our budget outlines. I cannot express enough how freeing it is knowing that my budget is approved and accounted for by leadership and the congregation. All because I took the time to research, explain, and back up my decisions for how money is going to be spent.

Budgets, what are they good for? A lot more than one would initially suspect. When used properly they can increase communication with leadership, give clear priorities, and provide accountability for funds. Take the time to have some conversations, do a little research, prioritize, and stay accountable.
Embracing these practices will make your budgeting a much easier and enjoyable experience.

What’s your Plan B?

If something goes wrong in your services, are you prepared? Is there a plan and a process for keeping things running smoothly in your technical areas? As a church technical leader, have you developed your backup plan?

When I first started running audio in the 80’s, I was a clueless kid, and my church at the time had regular technical problems. I spent a lot of time practicing, and failing at, Sound Man Sign Language.

Back then, I would respond to problems when they happened. It was after years, and many awkward moments in services, that I learned about the value of being prepared with a backup plan.

Recently I read an article about U2’s last world tour. The sound engineers had five identical wireless mics for Bono’s vocal. Five.

For one of the recent presidential debates, the candidates were wearing two wireless lapel mics. Each podium had two mounted mics and a wireless handheld mic inside in case the previous four mics failed. To top it off, the audio engineers also placed a wired mic just off stage in the event of a complete wireless catastrophe.

It seems like overkill, but the technicians know that a failure is a lot more expensive than a backup. They back up their backups because they feel what they do is important.

What we do, at any size church, is infinitely more important than Bono singing to thousands of fans, or two politicians reciting their talking points.

How are you doing in this area? Are you treating it with the importance it deserves?

A great example is your pastor’s mic. It’s the most important mic in use in your services. While you may not need to go to presidential lengths, you really need a good backup plan.

We use a headset on our pastor, so I have a spare headset ready to go, and another beltpack tuned to a different frequency in case his primary beltpack fails. I have a third headset ready in the control room, just in case.

We also have a wireless handheld on a stand next to his pulpit, so he can grab it if necessary. And there are other wireless mics on the platform if all else fails.

People laugh at me, but I keep a bullhorn in a cabinet in the control room. If the power ever goes out, we can run it out to the pastor, and he can continue with his message!

It’s not just about microphones – do you have a backup audio and/or video recording?

What happens if a power supply for your FOH console dies in the middle of service? (It happened to me…)

Do you have more than one way to play video or project lyrics?

Have you spent time working your way out of a job? Can your volunteer team members fill in for you if you get hit by a bus?

It may sound like it costs a lot of money to be prepared, but it doesn’t have to.
Like a spare tire, a backup doesn’t have to be the highest quality – it just has to work!

What backup tips do you have? What do you do when everything goes wrong?

Should I even be here? Part 3 of three parts

Who Are You?

Marcus Buckingham, in his book The One Thing You Need to Know, states that there are three types of people, The Leader, The Manager, and the Individual Performer (or as I like to call it, the Button Pusher).

The Leader

We all have read books and been to conferences or seminars and have been challenged to be leaders. We’ve seen the lists of what qualities a leader should have, like: good work ethic, motivated, flexible, decisive, experienced, strive for excellence, punctual, and even humble to name a few. These are all great qualities, but I expect these things out of my staff, my volunteers and even my kids. Having these qualities doesn’t automatically make you a leader. I have a ton of guys and gals on my team that exude all of these qualities, but I would never make them leaders. So what makes someone a leader? Well first the obvious, a leader needs to have followers, otherwise they aren’t leading. But what makes a great leader? I believe that great leaders know where they are going (vision/mission) and clearly paint that picture for their followers. It’s the clarity and the confidence of their vision that will inspire others to tag along for the long haul. Your people need to see that there is a future out there of something bigger and better than where they are currently at. That is the only reason for people to move. They are unsatisfied with where they are at and someone comes along and shows them something better and they follow. There is a certain confidence that leaders must have. This next point is where Marcus and I disagree. He would say that confidence/ego comes from within and I would say that the confidence a leader who is a follower of Christ must come from above. The leader knows that they have been given by God the ability, understanding, and the drive to overcome any challenge or obstacle in their way to achieve their vision through the power of the Holy Spirit. But of course, the leader must be in tuned with the Holy Spirit’s leading for this to work. Where are you at with your personal walk? Is your leadership Christ centered? Do you know where you are going?

The Manager

You always hear it said that “Our greatest asset is our people.” Then why do we spend so much of our time with our gear? Because it’s easier! Our gear doesn’t talk back, have emotional needs that need to be met, or need to be taught how to do its job. And yes, part of our job is to manage our technical systems so that things keep working and things don’t get lost. I get it, but the true manager sees past that and focuses on the people. You can have the nicest gear in the world and if you have no one to run it, it is worthless. The goal of the manager is to “discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it.” I know this may seem callus and cold, but if the motivation is right then it’s the exact opposite. It’s not about using people. It’s truly caring enough about them that you want them to succeed and be fulfilled by using their strengths, gifts and talents. In return they will perform better and you will have better results. The only way you can do this is to get to know your people. Find out what makes them tick. Figure out how they feel loved and encouraged. Pray for them. Visit them in the hospital. Ask how they are doing. Buy them a Starbucks on their birthday. Be their Pastor. Most of all truly care for them. You will be found out real quickly if you try to manipulate people into performing so that you look good or that your church gets what it needs. Don’t just fill positions, invest in your people.

The Individual Performer (The Button Pusher)

This is pretty self-explanatory. These are the doers, the engineers, the operators, and the experts. These are the jobs that originally got us excited about doing tech, right? But at some point, someone asked you or you felt the need to become a tech director. What were you thinking?! Maybe it was the opportunity to move up in the ranks, get more money (or at least steady money), get out of the rat race of production life, or whatever. Even as you are reading this, you might be wishing you were back to just being the sound guy or the cameraman or the electronics technician. That’s OK. But if that is the case, maybe you shouldn’t be the guy in charge.

So who are you?

Start by asking those around you, your pastors, your volunteers, your spouse, your friends. Take some kind of strengths assessment from a book like Standout by Marcus Buckingham or StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. I challenge you to do it. It may surprise you.

Can you be all three?

Well your pastors or elders think you can. That’s why they hired you. I think Tech Directors are the only people in the world that are expected to be an upfront leader of staff and volunteers, a manager of schedules, people and equipment, and an expert in every aspect of Audio, Video, and Lighting. Some people have said that you just need to wear different hats at different times. The problem with that type of thinking is that those people assume that you have all the hats to begin with. The reality is that you cannot be good at everything. You can certainly try to do it all yourself, but you will fail and at the end of the day you will be depleted of all your strength and burned out. “Well maybe I can just get better at what I am bad at?” You are right; you may go from being horrible at something to being really bad at it. But you will never be great at it. And the time and energy it took would be exhausting. Wouldn’t it be better to find something that you already have some natural ability and pour into that same amount of time and energy? Does that mean you can ignore the things you are bad at? No. But manage around them, and focus on your strengths.

Here is the key for the Leader, Manager, and Individual Performer:

First, identify which one you are the most and focus on that. It’s important to know that not one of these is more important than the other. Just different. We need all of these types of people to be a successful Production Team.

Second, surround yourself with others that are different than you. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, describes this process as getting the right people on the bus. Whether it’s recruiting some key volunteers or being fortunate to hire people, you must choose wisely. And when you choose poorly, (it will happen) fix the problem. Make the tough decisions.

Third, don’t be intimidated by the fact that your people might be better at some things than you. Get over yourself. You will be amazed by how many compliments you get because of what your team accomplishes when you have all the right people in the right places.

Do you have all of these on your team or are you trying to do all three?

If you are a true leader, but things just don’t seem to get done. You see a clear future that is bright, but just can’t seem to make it happen, inspire people around you to step up and join your cause. Partner with someone who is about getting things done and can come up with systems to help your team.

If you are the manager and you just naturally are good at putting people and systems in the right place, but your team just seems to be in a rut. Find someone who can inspire and bring clarity to your team. Maybe that can be your worship leader or a pastor. Or maybe even once a quarter bring in some outside help like a consultant. Or find a mentor, a fellow tech director that seems to have it together.

If you are a button pusher, maybe it’s time to step down. Maybe it’s time to let someone else lead and manage and you do what you do best. You are banging your head up against the wall every day and you are tired. You cannot do this on your own.

To Finish

So what now? Should I even be here? If yes, then keep going. Find other Tech Directors who might be struggling. Share the wealth. But if the answer is no, then where are you at in the process. What questions are you wrestling with? Maybe all of them? Well, pick one and tackle it head on. By the way, this is an extremely slow process. You will not find the right people, discover you strengths, learn how to use them, and change your view of your job overnight. You will go into work tomorrow and still have the same boss, the same responsibilities, the same pile of work, and the same to do list, but don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. Take the next step. Start today!

Should I even be here? Part 2 of three parts

Should I just give up being a Technical/Production Director all together?

By now, you are either excited about the place you are at or maybe just confused by it all or maybe you are completely defeated. For those of you who are discouraged and are saying to yourself, “What do I do now?” Don’t give up! For those who just know that they have been called by God and excited for what your church is about, you may be still asking, “So why am I still so burned out?” For both groups I want to encourage you with a few lessons that I have learned from asking all these questions of myself and seeking those answers out not only from wise people in my life, but also from my favorite author. Marcus Buckingham is one of the leading experts in the area of personal strengths and how to identify your strengths and use them in the work place. He has written a number of books on the subject. (Now, Discover Your Strengths, Go, Put Your Strengths to Work, and Standout) I’m not going to try to explain it as well as he can. Go out and read the books for yourself or YouTube Trombone Player Wanted (a short video series on strengths.) But here are a few highlights that have helped me.

Strengths

A study was done on American workers and was found out that only 2 out of every 10 people said that they have a job that plays to their strengths every day. Two out of Ten! What that tells me is that 80% of people said that they go to work every day and are exhausted, unfulfilled, and depleted by their job. Now tell me, is that how you feel after you get home from your church? Exhausted, unfulfilled, and depleted! Now I get there may be moments of pure exhaustion, where you leave nothing behind. You’ve given it your all, and you are tired. I’ve been there. Coming off of a Christmas week where we had 14 services over 3 campuses in 4 days. Over 12,000 people heard about Jesus. Did I mention, I was tired? But in those moments I’m pumped, I’m excited and I come home ready to do it again. I can’t even fall asleep at night, because at the end of the day, I know that I had a hand in what God just did, and I was able to use my God-given strengths, gifts, and talents to further His kingdom. “We get to do this!”

So, what is a ‘strength’? Is it simply something you are good at? Maybe, but there is more to it. Marcus would say “it is something that makes you feel strong.” You may be great at something, but at the end of the day it makes you feel weak and depleted. Your strengths are something that you are naturally good at AND when you are done you are invigorated, strong, and excited. That AND is very important because you need both sides of that statement to be true. We all have things that we love to do and get excited about but we aren’t very good at them. What do we call those things? Yep, hobbies. I love playing golf, but I suck. No one will ever pay me to play golf. In fact, they may pay me to just stop and get off their course. Strengths require ability plus excitement. In these areas of strength, you become more productive, you seem to be more focused, you’re in the zone, and time seems to just pass you by. Can you think back a week or so and pick out these moments? Try it! Maybe these things are your strengths.

And right now comes the question, “Are you telling me that every part of your job is filled with strengths? Aren’t there parts of your job that just drain you?” In a word, yes. “There’s a reason they call it work.” But what I’ve tried to do over the years is to replace the parts of my job that I am weak with the parts that I am strong. For example, I stopped training new volunteers. In fact, I rarely even interface with them at all. I have found that I am no good at taking someone who knows nothing and teaching them. What I am good at is once they have learned the basics and are showing some potential I am great at taking them to the next level. So a few years ago I started hiring some of my highest potential young volunteers and have poured huge amounts of time into them. Most of them now know way more than I do. Some have moved on to bigger and better things and others I have promoted to be some of my key staff members. One of the other things I am weak at is scheduling volunteers. That drains me more than most things, so I found a few people who love doing that. They love, not only scheduling people, but tracking their days to make sure they are not working too much. I also do not have a huge nurturing or mercy gift. I do these things when I have to, but once again, it depletes and exhausts me. So I have found people that just want to love on others and I have put them in charge of volunteer appreciation. On weekends, I don’t operate one piece of gear, unless 2 or 3 people don’t show up. I love it!

So what do I do all day? I am a Connector/Pioneer (results from The Standout). I love putting the right pieces together without looking at the instructions. Whether it’s putting the right people in the right places or figuring out how to solve a problem, that’s where I’m at my best, and that is when I feel strong. I love empowering people to take their ideas and run with them without knowing the outcome. “Let’s try it, and see if it works” is my motto.

Start doing more of what you are strong at and less of what you are weak at. “Yeah right”, you say. “I can’t just stop doing things that my church needs from me.” I need to take one for the team and do my job. That is what my church needs from me.” What if I told you, that is the last thing your church needs from you. What your church needs from you is to use your gifts, strengths, and talents and for someone else to step up and use theirs where you are lacking. You see, if everyone in your church (staff and volunteers) would start thinking this way, you will finally be acting as one body. Stop trying to be a hand, when God designed you to be a foot. Sound familiar? (1 Corinthians 12)

Should I even be here? (Part 1 of 3)

I think all of us have asked the question at one point in our ministry, “Should I even be here?”. Some of us have asked that more than once in our careers and some of you are asking that very question right now. The hours are getting longer, the frustrations are building, and your family is suffering because of your ministry. You see guys on Twitter posting comments like “We get to do this!” and you wonder “Why don’t I feel that way?” So what is the answer? Well to answer that question, I think we need to dive into what that question is really asking. Is it, Should I be in full time ministry? Or maybe, Should I be at this church? Or even, Should I just give up being a Technical/Production Director all together? These are all tough and maybe scary things to ask and will only be answered truly by seeking God and Godly counsel with all your heart.

The Back Story - You see, when I was first asked to do an article, I was told to write about something I was passionate about, something that would be helpful, and something that was hopefully unique. Oh yeah, and make it 500-700 words (Oops!). So I started typing. Little did I know… God was going to rattle my cage and challenge me to really ask these questions of myself and to ultimately lean on Him and trust Him to do whatever He wants with my life. I’ve been the Technical Director at High Desert Church in Victorville, CA since February of 2002. My official title is now Production Manager, but you can still find me on Twitter as @hdctechdirect . I grew up at this church. My dad was a pastor here for 18 years until he passed away suddenly in the balcony of the auditorium on his way to morning prayer in May of 2005. My brother and mother also now work here. I met my wife here, I was married here, and I had a job as a custodian here while I was in high school. You could say my family and I have given our lives to this church and its ministry. I truly love working here and would love to retire here.

So what’s the problem? Well, one of my best friends, who happens to be the worship pastor here at HDC, told me right before I was going to post this article that he was taking a position at another church in Pennsylvania. He was going to pack up his family and move 2540 miles away right after Christmas. Now this was not just another guy you go to lunch with at work. We worked many long hours together, our families did life together, we were in a small group together, our kids did birthday parties together, and we even lived on the same block. My 4 year old daughter knew that someday she would marry one of their boys. That is the type of friend I’m talking about. From the day he first came to HDC, we clicked. Professionally, we made each other better and we accomplished some pretty cool stuff. And now I’m left with not only a hole in my family’s heart, but a big hole in our church that needs to get filled.

So now it begins the long process of finding a new worship leader. I’ve been through it before and I’m asking God to make it as quick and painless as possible. I am nervous about the future. I know God knows what is best for our church and for me, but I also recognize that the worship leader God brings in may have different ideals than I do. He may want to change everything we do, and my role, I believe, is to either change or get out of the way. And so, I am in the same boat as many of you. I have to seriously ask myself, “Do you believe what you are preaching?” “Should you even be here?”

Should I be in full time ministry?

God has called and ordained few to this position. If you got into this gig because you felt roped into it by your pastor or you felt that “well if I don’t do it, who will?” then you probably are feeling greatly burdened by this question. You see, being in full-time ministry is a calling that God has given to some (not most) and you will only be frustrated, burned, and jaded if you are trying to fulfill a calling that you were never meant for. This has increased more and more over the last ten years with what I call the professionalization of the church. The fact that you can go to college and major in not only Theology to become a pastor, but in church music, church organization, church leadership, and even church production helps substantiate my theory. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not! It’s about time our people running our churches are trained. But what it does create is the naive individual that sees the church as a glamorous world that “You can get paid to be a professional church goer.” I’ve talked to many people over my lifetime and I’ve heard people say: “Well what do you do the other six days a week? You get paid that much for working on only Sundays? Man, I wish I could work at a church where everybody is always nice and there is no politics. I would love to work here, because it seems so much less stress than my secular job.” Let me tell you a little secret that is obvious to most of you reading this. Working at a church will never make you rich and it will never make you famous, and there are just as many imperfect people at churches than there are at any other job! The ratio is 1:1. Church production is not glamorous. It is a thankless job that requires long hours and hard work! And oh yeah, it’s stressful too!

Here’s the flip-side. When you are fulfilling the call God has placed on your life, it is the most rewarding place you will ever be, and not always on this side of heaven. I remember being called to full-time ministry. As a senior in high school, shortly after giving my life to Jesus, waking up in the middle of the night and having God speak to me, not in an audible voice, but it was clear to me that I was meant for something. I didn’t know what that meant at first and it took a lot of trial and error to figure it out. (I thought I should be a youth pastor at first. What an epic fail that was.) At times I didn’t even want it, but I knew without a doubt that I was called. You might be saying, “Um, I’ve never had that experience before.” That’s Ok. Not everyone is called that way. Maybe God spoke to you through a pastor or a Godly friend. I know that God speaks to me through my wife and kids all the time. Usually, He is telling me what a selfish moron I am. Others are just left to ask themselves, “Would I be happy and content doing anything else?” If the answer is yes, then you may not be called to full-time ministry. Well, have you made it through the first question? Yes? Well then let’s move on.

Should I be at this church?

I believe, without any hesitation, that you need to have the same fundamental theology, mission, and goals of your church. Otherwise, it’s just a job for you and you are not fulfilling that call God has placed on your life. As production staff, you are not only to be servants among the servants of God, but also partners with them. Now does this mean, you need to agree with every decision, statement, and doctrine that your leaders make or have? Of course not! No one agrees with everything. But in the words of my pastor, Tom Mercer, “The main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Read that again. “The main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing.” There are only a few things in life that are worth standing your ground over. Make sure they are about the main thing. And make sure your main thing aligns with the main thing of your church. Do not hinder what God wants for your local church. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” - Romans 12:18 If you can’t handle that then move on.