The various roles of lighting directors in churches are as varied and diverse as the churches themselves. Some are lucky to have a volunteer by the time service starts on Sunday, and others have paid full-time staff members dedicated to creating and maintaining functioning lighting systems at various venues.
No matter the role of the person - volunteer or staff, brand new or seasoned - each person has the unique opportunity to craft and shape an environment using light.
A good lighting director treats his light like art, constantly trying new things…
For some churches, it may be a simple light switch, and for others, and full-size lighting desk. No matter the medium, the lighting director exists to come alongside others to create an environment that is conducive to a worship gathering.
Focus On the Basics
For many churches just starting out or working to update their lighting looks or processes, it's often the simple things that will make the biggest difference.
A new lamp for your front wash will get that vocalist out of the dark. New, rich gels will make your color wash on your back wall pop like it hasn't in years. Turning off the baptistry and choir lights when it's not in use will bring the focus back to your pastor while preaching. Matching your LEDs to your video background will create a seamless look across the stage.
A good lighting director knows what the basics of light are, and he does them well. All of these fixes are either free to incredibly cheap. They simply require a little bit of time and effort, but they go a long way in building a solid foundation for our lighting to be built upon.
Adapt To Contexts
Perhaps more than any other technical area in the church, lighting tends to be the most divisive in terms of worship styles. This is where a good lighting designer will recognize the context they are in, and will adapt accordingly.
When we contextualize the Gospel, we don't change the message, but we do change how it is delivered. The same goes for our lighting. The principles are still the same, but oftentimes, our methods are quite different. For one church, it may be haze and moving lights that fits well with their worship style. For another, simple LED PAR cans may be enough.
Depending on the leadership of your church, your pastor may or may not have much say in this. If he does have say in it, then your decisions about how to adapt to your context have pretty much been made for you. If he takes a more hands-off approach, that's where it's important to be open and honest about intentions and goals in how lighting is programmed and operated on a Sunday morning.
Be Technical and Artistic
In my experience, production tends to attract people who consider themselves good at thinking in technical terms - be it engineering, logistics, or problem-solving. The artistic types typically aren't the first to sign up to volunteer. For the lighting director especially, it's important to think both technically and artistically.
Obviously, there is a very technical component to what we do as lighting directors. There is DMX to patch, cables to solder, motors to fix, and consoles to program. All of these things are often technical in nature, and necessary to have a functioning lighting system.
Perhaps I'm biased, but there is an artistic element to lighting that I believe is more immediately apparent than in audio and video. This isn't to say that those areas are void of artistic talent, but I do think that the visual aspect of lighting puts it on a slightly higher artistic pedestal.
For this reason, it's important for lighting directors to think of their craft as much as an art form as a bunch of wires, motors, and bulbs strung together. It's the combination of all those pieces together that shape our environments and our worship.
This takes practice to comprehend and understand. I guarantee that your 1st grade self-portrait wasn't as good as your 12th grade one (even then, it may not have been great, but it was probably better). Art is never perfect the first time we try. It takes time and energy, as well as being open to feedback and other ideas. When you go to an art museum, you talk about things like mood, color, texture, shape, and movement.
The same principles apply to our lighting design. A good lighting director treats his light like art, constantly trying new things, being creative and not sticking with "well, it's always been this way." When this happens, our art has the potential to create awe and wonder, not because of us, but because of the God we are worshipping.
Empower Others to Succeed
Those of us in production often find ourselves to be more introverted than extroverted, and so we're OK with late nights behind the consoles by ourselves. Often, that's appropriate. Too many cooks in the kitchen can hurt more than it can help. But don't forget to get off the island every now and then as well.
Lighting directors, like artists, should surround themselves with others who can continue to push them to be better and to try new ideas. At my last church, we had a high schooler who was incredibly interested in lighting. Given a year or so of regular training, help, and encouragement, she was far beyond where I was at her age, and was helping me see our church's lighting designs in a way I previously had not. She brought new ideas and ways of doing things to the table. Plus, she was now using her gifts and talents in a way that she wouldn't have been able to, had I stayed on the island.
Lighting design is never about us, and those of us who sit behind the console regularly realize that.