Lessons From A “Seasoned” Church Production Tech

by | Audio, Case Studies

For some time now, I’ve been getting letters from younger techs. The exact topics vary, but the general theme seems to be looking for advice as they join this wonderful, wacky world of church tech.

God has also brought a bunch of younger folks into my direct sphere of influence, so there seems to be a common theme here. Between that and the revelation that I’ve now spent more years doing live production professionally than most of them have been alive, it seemed good to share a few things that I’ve learned in that time.

Banish Pride

When you’re young you think you know everything. How many teenagers have you heard say, “My parents just don’t get this!”

Perhaps you’ve said it yourself. For reasons unknown, with a little bit of knowledge comes a lot of pride. I know a lot of folks in their mid to late 20s who, having worked in live production for a few years, think they have it really dialed in. Typically, they’re good at what they do, but they ofter have a huge blind spot; they don’t yet know what they don’t know.

I know about this attitude because I was one of “those people.” I was really arrogant and cocky when I was in my 20s. I was actually pretty good at what I did, and I let everyone know it.

Thankfully I had a few folks in my life who were willing to call me out when I was being a jerk and God put a lot of opportunities to fail in my path. Nothing roots out pride like catastrophic failure. Or you could just start working at being more humble.

Now, it’s true there are a lot of older folks in this business who are arrogant as well. The only thing I can say about them is that after 20 to 30 years of doing this, they may have earned the right to be arrogant. But they’re still no fun to work with.

Takeaway: Strive to be humble and easy to work with. You’ll go a lot farther, a lot faster.

Stay Open Minded

This is almost a corollary to the first point. Never be afraid to learn something from someone who knows less than you do. I work with people who weren’t even born when I graduated high school and I’ve learned a ton from them.

Having a fresh perspective on an issue is one of the fastest ways to come up with a solution. As a church tech director or production professional, you’re not being paid to know all the answers (though that’s a common misconception). In fact, you’re being paid to come up with the best solutions. The best solutions come from teamwork, collaboration and not being afraid to try something new.

I’m fascinated with the story of the development of the personal computer. In the movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” the Apple team visits the Xerox research center in Palo Alto (PARC). After the Apple engineers got the full tour of the graphic user interface (GUI) the PARC team had developed, the Xerox engineers went to the head of PARC and asked why he was giving away all the secrets they’d developed.

He told them that the GUI was essentially a novelty and that no one would ever want a computer in their home. However, Steve Jobs and the team at Apple saw the future and made history while the PARC chief missed it completely because it didn’t fit his current paradigm.

Much of what we do every weekend in church was once considered heresy, from having guitars (or any instruments for that matter) on stage to hanging long arrays of loudspeakers up in the air. Everything we do was at one time, believed to be a crazy (or even wrong) idea. It’s important to maintain an open mind.

Takeaway: Don’t get caught in the trap of, “We’ve never done it that way before; it can’t possibly work.” Keep an open mind and give it a try.

Never Stop Learning

You’re starting to see a pattern here, aren’t you? If you’re planning on being involved with technology, you had best be committed to a lifetime of learning. Technology changes pretty fast, and if you don’t keep up with it, you will be left behind.

I remember being out of work years ago, and doing a lot of networking to find my next position (which should be another post in itself now that I think about it…). I ended up talking with a number of people who were AS400 programmers in an age when companies had already retired (or were retiring) most of their AS400s.

They wanted .NET programmers (of course, no one wants .NET programmers anymore; see how fast this changes!). I had coffee after coffee with these folks who lamented the fact that no one wanted their mad AS400 skills. I said, “Why not just learn .NET?” They all shook their heads and said they were too old. Some of them are still out of work…

When I started doing live sound 25 years ago, I didn’t need to know anything about the RF spectrum, networking, digital signal processing, digital mixers, line arrays, or cardioid subs. Those are just a few things off the top of my head in audio. I’ve learned a lot about all of those things, and I have a lot more to learn. For me, that’s what makes this fun.

I have a few friends from high school who are still doing essentially the same thing now as when we graduated college. When I ask them what’s new at work, they shrug and say, “Ah, not much.” When they ask me, I excitedly go on for 30 minutes before I realize I’ve monopolized the conversation. Would you rather be the one who’s bored or the one who can’t stop talking about all the fun he’s having at work?

Takeaway: As a young person in this field, make a commitment now to never stop learning.

Develop A Sense Of Humor

This one breaks the mold a little, but it’s nonetheless important. Folks, we work in what can be a highly charged and intense field. It’s important to be able to relax and lighten up a little bit.

Several times, I’ve tweeted something that I thought was pretty obviously funny — tongue in cheek and/or ironic — only to have people immediately reply shouting “No way! You’re wrong! That’s not right!” And every time I’ve had to say, “Folks, relax; it’s a joke…” Don’t ever take yourself too seriously; life is way too short for that.

I try to make it my mission to lighten the mood whenever things get intense in our meetings at church. Apparently it’s working because our executive pastor stopped me in the hall the one day to tell me he thought something I said in a meeting was the funniest thing he’d heard in a while.

I think it was a comment about how hard it was to build community in tech teams because by and large, techs don’t even like people that much.

See that? Right there? It’s a joke. Lighten up… If you got defensive for a second, you need to get a sense of humor. Seriously.

What we do is a lot of fun, but if you can’t laugh at yourself, your craft and the funny quirks that we all have, then you’re not going enjoy this work. Make it fun. Sure, what we do is important, and yes we have a high calling. But don’t ever forget that it’s God who is in control and He lets us play around down here for a while. I sometimes imagine God in heaven saying, “Hey, come on, that was funny!”

And if you see something on Twitter that seems off at first, before you hit “Reply” to sound the alarm, consider the source (does this person have a long history of spouting heresy), consider the context (or at least imagine it) then think, “Could this be a joke? Is it actually funny?” Then laugh. It’s OK.

Takeaway: Don’t ever take yourself too seriously, and don’t be afraid to laugh once in a while. It’s good for you.

A Matter Of Perspective

These are a few of the things I’ve learned over the years. It’s important to note that most of then were learned the hard way as I had no one in my life teaching me. I’ve since learned there are two ways to learn life lessons; make a lot of mistakes and eventually figure it out or learn from someone else. You can take a guess at which is easier.

Finally, I encourage everyone, young, old and anywhere in between, to find someone a mentor. We all need someone to speak into our lives, to help us see blind spots, and to provide encouragement when we think we’re not getting very far.

Finding a good mentor can be tough, but it’s worth the effort. You will find you can be far more effective in life and ministry when you’re meeting regularly with someone who has permission to speak into your life.

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