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Leadership Skills for Leading Tech Arts People

Leadership Skills for Leading Tech Arts People

It doesn't matter if your church seats 150 or 10,000, if you're a Tech Leader, you live in a world of deadlines and technology, but your role has a bigger impact.

You can learn more from Kirk Denson, who will teach on this topic at WFX REACH 2015 Chicago, May 28-29th. For information or to register for the WFX Reach Conference click here
It doesn't matter if your church seats 150 or 10,000, if you're a Tech Leader, you live in a world of deadlines and technology, but your role has a bigger impact than a well-executed service. Corporate worship, like a secular event, requires excellent technical execution, but is unique in that it can be life changing.
As a Tech Leader you have the potential to impact those attending, as well as those with whom you serve

If you are a Tech Team of two or more, there are tech leadership best practices that can go a long way towards empowering tech team members, developing excellence, and communicating effectively. All of these best practices lead to the ultimate goal of your ministry: assisting in leading the lost to Christ, and (to use a phrase coined by two of my favorite pastors) helping people find their way back to God.  Let's talk about some of those best practices.

Effective Communication
Does your Tech Team know that you appreciate them? Particularly for your volunteers, often the simplest gestures will go a long way towards revealing your appreciation. It's not a bad idea to record their birthday in your address book under their name and make it a point to honor their service on that day. Or pick a day to honor all your volunteers, as well as paid staff, in a way they will appreciate. A simple thank you card regarding their contribution will do. Considering the magnitude of service they render throughout the year, you might consider them worth the effort.

Another good way to communicate appreciation is how you qualify them in teachable or correctable moments. Challenge yourself, before chastising or criticizing a missed cue, to mention a positive attribute first. You know, your creativity really shined today, great color selection! I also need you to focus on.  As a Tech Leader, everyone who follows you wants to know there's something you appreciate about what they do. While it's easy to point out a shortcoming or mistake, complimenting while correcting is the hard thing to do. Furthermore, it's good to show appreciation in every effort when everything in the worship service goes right.

Another tenet of effective communication is conflict resolution. Conflict is going to happen from time to time and conflict resolution should not be avoided when it happens. There should be ground rules to dealing with conflict. But one of the most important points to agree upon among tech team members is an agreement to defer and discuss during the week - never on a Sunday or any other worship day. If your Tech Team has a production meeting during the week(and you should) this would be a time to discuss any conflict occurring during worship services.

The last point I want to make about effective communication is also about resolving conflict. Stop to ask yourself is it possible that I could be wrong?' That perspective takes a bit of humility. Search your heart and be sure that you haven't fallen into the I'm more important than you are' trap.  I challenge you, as a Tech Leader, to keep yourself grounded and realize Who it is that empowers you to serve and perform for ministry. Romans 12:3b, Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

What's it all about? (Focus on positive outcomes when everything goes wrong)
In the spirit of not being too hard on yourself, your hired help, or your volunteers, comes the wisdom of learning from those mistakes. On a practical level, ask yourselves who else was affected by "what went wrong." Did the congregation or audience notice—or was it something that only the team noticed? Looking at "the big picture," how were the worshipers affected by the worship service? If the final outcome was a success, perhaps it's best to keep that success in perspective. Believe it or not, I actually overheard a Tech Leader say, "We didn't hire you to be human, we hired you to be professional." I would say that was a bit harsh, and it doesn't leave room for mistakes, even for the Tech Leader who spoke it.

The truth is that most visual mistakes aren't recognized by the worshipers, and if they are, they are not remembered, or are of little consequence when looking at the big picture. Missed audio cues or obtrusive sounds that interrupt a worship service are more noticeable and should be approached differently. All miscues and missed cues should be handled with the same wisdom of learning from mistakes, and repeated mistakes should be kept to a minimum. Hold your Tech Team accountable to excellence in their craft, and make a commitment to train and retrain as necessary. On the positive side, great results at the end of the worship service should be spread throughout the team.



Knowledge is Key
There's an old adage that says, Every man (or woman) should know something about everything, and everything about something.
The bulk of my experience is audio. As the Technical Director at my church, I don't mind that I only know enough about lighting and video, to get myself into trouble. What's more important to me is that I have a Lighting Director, Media Director, and EIC more knowledgeable than I am about each respective discipline. These are the individuals I trust in the trenches, as I have learned to trust them over the course of several years.
This brings us to a very important point, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to hire the right person for the task, whether we're talking about volunteers or paid staff. The 10,000 seat House of Hope Worship Center also doubles as a community center and a performance venue. As a performance venue we have had several national acts on our 100' x 50' stage. Our largest annual show, the Allstate Gospel Superfest, comes in with an elaborate set, and about 40 national touring artists. We have a motorized drum and cable truss system that consists of 16 truss with copious amounts of lighting fixtures on each truss. We have a Front of House Audio position with 96 channels of audio and 128 tracks of Pro Tools, a Monitor Audio position with 80 channels and 24 mixes, and a Broadcast Audio mix position that accompanies a Video Master Control room that oversees a 5 camera video shoot twice a week. We have stagehands, loaders, pushers, and general laborers who assist in every area of installing a show from load-in through strike. There is no way I could oversee the successful operation of all the systems described above, without team leaders I can trust to get the job done.
So how does this translate to a medium sized, or small church? If you are at least a team of two, and you're the Tech Leader, it's about empowering who you have and instituting principles that are conducive to healthy growth potential. You may need to start by training yourself, to some degree, in the tech discipline your ministry needs most, and assuring that your team members, volunteers, and paid staff, are also trained to operate the equipment you're working with.
Most manufacturers have uploaded Spec Sheets and User Manuals for their product online, and they can be easily downloaded so that your tech team members can familiarize themselves with the equipment. There should be a manual on hand for everyone to use as needed, at every workstation. If you have one team member who is more knowledgeable than others, that team member should be training others. Develop a systematic method of training every team member equally to give your team "depth."

Giving Your Best When Your Best Isn't Good Enough
Knowing you're not may not be equal to the task of resolving every technical challenge you face, helps you approach it with humility and clarity of mind when that clarity is needed most. Remember John 15:5, I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing. 
We all like to think that we can handle any technical task that's given to us. For some of us, and maybe even most of us, that may be true. Yet, I can't imagine that everyone in a worship tech leadership position has been equally afforded the same background, training, and history that a professional may have been blessed with. In a smaller, or mid-sized church, it's more than likely that the Tech Leader is a volunteer with a day job that is unrelated to what they've volunteered for. To be equal to the task of running technical systems in a worship environment means to be prepared to serve. That preparation requires training and experience. With the absence of experience that only years working in production arts can afford, training becomes key, as we mentioned above. For tech team leaders, the responsibility of training volunteers is equal to the responsibility of hiring professionals to operate tech systems in a worship environment. The equipment is only as good as the people running it. Dealing with volunteers, a good Tech Leader must also balance an interest and zeal to serve, against the aptitude to learn the craft of the discipline (sound, lighting, video/media), and those dynamics would exist in the secular realm, as well. When prescreening volunteers the Tech Leader must determine if the candidate is a good fit for the team. Once all these values are in place, and you have your dream team' in place, continue to develop basic principles for recruiting, training and maintaining volunteers. Keep the cycle of those principles flowing.
Now, at the risk of sounding too preachy, I can't tell you how many times I've realized that the only way I've gotten through a particular circumstance in the "heat of the moment" had everything to do with my walk of faith.  If we're doing everything we do according to 1 Corinthians 10:31b whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God, we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves, or our team members, when things don't go as well as planned due to human failure. Allow yourself, as well as your team, to make mistakes and give grace when it's needed. All that can be expected of any tech team member is that they give 100%.
Having said that, grace can be a dual edged sword. If we find ourselves repeatedly giving grace to the same team member for the same mistake or offense, perhaps that team member would better serve the ministry elsewhere. We like to say team members have the "DNA" to work on our team. We can recognize it right away when a new member has the "right stuff," and it's only a matter of time before the "wrong stuff" is equally revealed. Sometimes that's realized sooner than later, and that's okay too, as long as it's recognized and the appropriate steps are taken to remove the individual before the rest of the team is affected.

Do we worship while we're working?
I've heard many a seasoned Tech Leader, at the top of their craft, talk about the amount of focus needed to do their best during worship. For the sake of balance, I'd submit that not only is it possible to worship while we work it's necessary. Why? What does it require of us to do so? What is worship that we can't do it while we work?
Worship is defined as, the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity: the worship of God. And moreover, the acts of rites that make up a formal expression of reverence for a deity; a religious ceremony or ceremonies While that's a great definition for the corporate worship experience, for Tech Teams the definition of worship is twofold. I like to think of everything that happens inside the tech booth as worship, but it occurs inside a bubble, and it's based on Colossians 2:23, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people. We're talking about a mindset that recognizes everything we do; every button we touch, fader we push, must be done as defined in Colossians 2:23. Corporate worship is taking place outside our bubble, and I understand where tech team members are coming from when they talk about focus. In the moments of prayer, praise, singing, etc., the sound engineer (for example) can't afford to get caught up in the song, or necessarily bow his/her head and close his eyes, and possibly miss a cue - in corporate worship - that's totally understood. It is about tuning in to what's being said in such a way as to follow along with his mind and heart.

The story of David: I want to share with you an opportunity I recently had to worship while I was working. Unfortunately, I avoided doing so because I felt it was better to remain focused and I later regretted that decision.

Back in March we had a huge event at our facility. I typically hire a labor crew to come in and work the event that takes 3 days to load in and set up (scenic/lighting, recording truck, etc.). One of the members of the labor crew, David, has experience in audio as a studio engineer, but wanted to learn more about live sound. David asked if he could come "hang out" with me at Front of House on any given Sunday. Of course I welcomed him to do so. David arrived at our call time, as if he needed to be there at 7:00 am, because he wanted an idea of what I encounter being "first in/last out" and everything in between. Salem Baptist Church, being a traditional Baptist Church, holds an "altar call" at the end of the sermon. I know that's not something every church does these days, so I'll explain.
An altar call gives the worshipper an opportunity, after having heard the message preached, to accept Christ (and the work of the cross) as his Lord and Savior, and with God's help, commit to living a Christ-like life. If you're paying attention, the altar call can be a moment of introspection, and for some, it can be an emotional moment. At the end of the invitation, the worshipper has an opportunity to walk to the altar and elect to be baptized and/or "join the Church." During the altar call I felt a prompting to ask David where he stood with respect to his spiritual walk, and invite him to "join the Church" if he felt so inclined. I should also mention that I noticed some tears during the sermon, but sadly, I chose to ignore it all at the end. As God would have it however, I wasn't the only one who noticed David's tears.
The husband of our lighting volunteer, who was worshipping in the booth alongside his wife, also noticed what I had noticed, and approached David to invite him to join the church. After several minutes, David agreed. As David walked the aisle to give his life to God, I said to myself "this is what it's all about." Then came the conviction and I was reminded that I had the same opportunity to talk to David, but chose not to in deference to my duties as FOH engineer. Not wanting to "miss a cue" while being distracted - that was my excuse. I can tell you now, that if I were given the same chance to talk to David while working, I would do so. Let me ask you a question: what would you have done?
Another point to mention before I close is that there will be times when the Pastor is going to go left when the Tech Team is going right. He or she has the right to change the script at any given moment. When that happens, it can drive the Tech Team crazy, but look at it this way, the Pastor is who he is based on the premise of being led by God. We are there to support the ministry. In that supportive role, where should our minds, hearts, and spirits be? In tune to the same Spirit the Pastor is being led by, or our own agenda? Which is more important?
Some of us work so many hours for our church that we don't have time to join in corporate worship. I submit that, to be a balanced Tech Leader, we don't have time not to - worship is necessary. We get the technical side of things, it comes easy to most of us. It's our DNA; we eat, breathe, and sleep it. It is how we serve. But I think that's true to the extent that we can miss the importance of worship. Our contribution to the body of Christ is dependent on where we are spiritually, and our growth. While God is speaking to the rest of the congregation, we're in the same room, and we need to find the balance of "tuning in," while efficiently working. We must be obedient to our calling, while worshipping the very One who has placed those desires in our heart. The attributes of a well-balanced Tech Leader should permeate throughout the Tech Team through effective communication and a spiritually fed team.

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