A few months ago, a good friend of mine was the Tech Director in a local church. But one day he walked into his boss’s office and simply quit his job. My friend is a husband and father of one boy and had recently purchased his first house. On the professional side, he always displayed incredible work ethics and commitment to the ministry. But he walked away from a job he’d held for years serving in a local church and decided to pursue a job outside the ministry with a technology company.
A few days later, we had the chance to meet and talk. I was curious to learn from him what had led him to make such a change that would not only affect his job but also his calling. He is a very energetic and creative person, always developing new ideas, and I was certain that when he left the ministry, the church would greatly miss him.
When we met, I asked him a simple question. “Why did you decide to leave the ministry?”
At first, he looked surprised. But he quickly corrected me and said, “I’m not leaving the ministry.”
With relief, I thought for a brief moment that he was not walking away from his calling. But I waited for a more comprehensive answer. Honestly, I was expecting some common answers like needed more money, was in search of new challenges, or even it was time to move on to something new.
Instead, he gave me a different answer. “I lost my passion for THIS ministry.” That response took us into a 2-hour conversation that opened my mind and heart to things I should consider as a pastor and ministry leader.
He explained that the environment he was in led him to lose his passion for the ministry where he served. This came to be as a warning sign. Was it possible that my leadership style could create an environment in a way that volunteers may also lose their passion for the ministry?
In the church tech world, it is easy for us, as ministry leaders and volunteers, to lose sight of WHY we do WHAT we do and instead, focus on things like perfection, excellence and performance ONLY. After all, we are mostly judged by those things. And they are, and should be, part of what we do. But perfection, excellence and performance ONLY should NEVER represent WHY and WHAT we do.
As ministries grow, churches also face an increased risk of replacing the passion volunteers and staff have for the ministry with complex, bureaucratic ways to achieve things like efficiency and excellence. Please, don’t get me wrong. I am all about efficiency and excellence. But I am also convinced that we must make every effort to lead people by our deep passion for God’s purpose in our own lives.
So, what can we, as ministry leaders, do to keep reaching for excellence without driving out the passion our volunteers should have for the ministry where they serve? Here are few things I think may help us to achieve these goals.
- The WHY comes before the WHAT
Many times we ask our volunteers to know the job and do it well, because excellence pleases God. True, God deserves our best. But remember, first, to serve Him. In any capacity, it is an act of worship.
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ ” Luke 4:5-8
Serving in church should not be associated with a job you do. It requires commitment, energy and sacrifice, so you must find your passion first (this rule can also apply to your job, but I am only referring to volunteer work at church). That is what will allow you to fully experience WHY you do WHAT you do. During my last few years of leading volunteers, I intentionally devoted time to have front and center a clear understanding that WHAT they did every weekend had an eternal value. Even if what they did was done from behind the scenes, the reality of its value never changed. In church, real excellence is driven by a true passion for what you do for God and others.
- Passion is contagious
People most likely will follow ministry leaders who display real and genuine passion for the ministry they serve. Many times, people will come to you first because there is something attractive about your ministry to them. For example, if they like kids, their initial feeling may be to serve in a children’s ministry. If they have some interest in technology, they may feel like serving with the tech team. The problem is that these initial feelings do not usually translate into long-term commitment. Anything driven by passion will generate commitment, because now the person doesn’t just do something they like, now they serve with PURPOSE. Ministry leaders must display they passion for the ministry they serve so other can see and follow.\
- Make it relational
Sometimes ministry leaders feel that for some unknown reason, volunteers are less interested in serving, or maybe less committed to the schedule. Maybe it is because more and more they feel like they are part of a transactional environment instead of relational ministry. God designed us to have a relationship with Him (1 Corinthians 1:9 – God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.) and each other (Romans 12:9-10 – Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.) When serving in ministry, relationship should be the driving force behind how people serve with you in the first place.
If you were watching the ABC network after 11 pm on December 31, 2016, you saw what has been called one of the most disastrous New Year’s Eve performances in recent live broadcast history. Soon after Mariah Carey started her vocals, she stopped singing. Mariah remained onstage throughout the entire song, and it became clear that the vocals coming through the sound system were from a recording. Overall, this was a very bad moment for a live show. Now blaming and finger pointing are going around, in an attempt to explain and/or place blame for what happened.
As I thought about what happened, I asked myself, Is there anything I can learn from what I saw on TV that night? Could it affect how I do my job and how our tech team enhances our weekend service experience?
DISCLAIMER: I know it may be odd to use this experience to make a comparison to a worship experience. The environments and goals are complete opposites. So let me make very clear, this blog discusses the technical side of what we do in churches every week, and it is nothing beyond that.
Leading people into a time of worship does not happen only from the stage. What we do behind the scenes is a big part of the worship service, and it is not always noticed. But you and I know the value of what we do every weekend.
With that said, many of us need to consider our weekend services as LIVE events. In fact, that’s what they are. These LIVE events rely heavily on technology, including high-end projection systems, IMAG, HD camera operators, online broadcasting, multi-campus viewing, live broadcasting, etc. Looking at our weekend services as LIVE events does not take away the value of the worship experience in our lives every weekend. But we are the production teams for LIVE events. This means we need to understand our jobs as programming and production teams with checks and balances to prevent technical failure from taking away the full experience worship service can be.
- Sound check should include more than sound operators, singers or musicians. A sound check should include members of the tech crew as well. As an example, if a singer does not show up for a full sound check, the live presentation may hit some bumps. If the directors and camera operators are at a sound check, they can preview and plan stage shots. If the graphics or lyrics operator is at the sound check, they can preview the graphics, fix inaccurate lyrics, and test sound levels for videos. A technician can test the sound, cameras, and graphics for online broadcast. Depending on the level of your church production, other tech crew members may need to participate in sound checks.
- Keep communication channels open and create ways for communication to flow between stage participants and tech crew. Most of us who work in church production know that miscommunication can happen. Open communication channels help to resolve issues when they arise faster and more precisely. When things go wrong, you can only rely on each other to resolve them, and having a way to communicate, is the best way to do it. During Mariah’s live broadcast, the communication that came from stage was mainly to the audience, and it was full of frustration and disappointment. When taking this same scenario to a worship service, communication that is not handled properly can cause a chain reaction much worse than what we saw on TV. A church service is not about the ratings, but it’s all about the worship experience.
- Develop a Plan B forevery major risk you predict could go wrong. When dealing with electronics and technology, anything and everything can go wrong. And it will happen at the worst time possible. On Christmas Eve 2016, my church offered four services. After about an hour of a trouble-free rehearsal, the main graphics/lyrics computer stopped responding. The operational system would not restart, and the first Christmas Eve service would begin in about an hour. Luckily, I had decided about a year ago to have a backup computer available for graphics/lyrics and lights. Our weekly routine included uploading the graphics/lyrics computers with all the content needed for the weekend and to program the lighting board before the first service. Then we’d upload the backup computer with content for both areas. That way, if the lighting board failed, we could plug in another computer and run lights from the backup. We used this same backup for graphics/lyrics. After one year of following this procedure without experiencing any problems, we used the backup computer for a critical event, Christmas Eve services. In less than one hour, we swapped computers, updated content, and projected the graphics/lyrics for the first Christmas Eve service of what was a very long day. Only one thing is 100% certain with technology, including computers and electronic devices. At some point, they will fail. And it usually happens at the worst possible moment. So as much as your infrastructure allows you to do this, have a backup system for microphones, projection systems, sound systems, projection lamps, lighting, etc. You won’t be able to create a backup for everything you have, but it is a good practice to identify what you can do, and have a plan for it.
What we saw on live TV on New Year’s Eve is a great reminder that the audience members are the ones who really suffer themost when things go wrong. I don’t think those of use watching on TV and those in New York right in front of the stage hoped for something to go badly wrong. On the contrary, we all hoped for a great show, something that would blow our minds technically and vocally.
We don’t expect a worship service that blows our minds technically and vocally when we go to church every week. Instead, we come together with the expectation of meeting God through a meaningful time of worship. Sometimes this includes watching a powerful video testimony, hearing His word through a spoken message, and more. We want to have all this with NO DISTRACTIONS, and that pretty much sums up our job. It happens from both sides, on stage and off stage. When your tech crew understands the importance of meaningful rehearsals, good communication, and backup plans, you won’t be able to always prevent things from going wrong. But when things happen, you will be able to resolve the problem faster and more precisely.
These are my thoughts for today. Feel free to comment, share and connect.
Have a blessed day.
Check out my video chat with Shaun Miller about church technology and infrastructure.
About Shaun: I am a tech nerd with a passion for ministry. I started in ministry at the age of 10, when I could hardly see over the Mackie SR32•4 VLZ Pro mixing console my church had. I quickly fell in love with all things production related. Lights, sound: I even miss the dual slide projectors with the remotes taped together so you could advance them simultaneously. I am now the Project Manager for CTS Audio in Brentwood, TN. Here I have the opportunity to spend more time with my family and have a broad reach in helping churches succeed.