Josef, a young pastor had immigrated to the United States and founded a missionary society to help Christians back in his home country. He was now translating Christian books from English into his native Romanian, travelling to and speaking at churches and conferences regarding the persecution of the church and the revival occurring in his homeland. It was during this time that I met Josef.
Conference hosts or senior pastors would typically ask Josef, “How do you want to be introduced?” Despite earned degrees, prestigious formerly held positions and many months of enduring beatings and torture for Christ’s sake, Josef felt that too often these formal introductions proved self-serving. The last thing he wanted to do was bring glory to himself, so Josef began the practice of requesting, “please, if you must, just introduce me as ‘a slave of Christ.’” As the conference host prepared the audience for Josef’s speech the host said, “… and Josef requested that I simply introduce him as a servant of Jesus Christ.” Josef attempted not to grimace as he approached the lectern. No one realized what a difference those two terms, “slave” and “servant” meant to him.
One of the things that has always fascinated me is how techs who are often out on the road, or on a tour, or who are day-hires, adjust to being transient week to week and day to day.
One particular FOH audio guy I know travels with his own chair on tour. It’s a Herman Miller Aeron Stool model. Click on the link if you are interested in checking it out. You can buy one of these babies for just shy of $1200 bucks (plus shipping and handling). Add in the cost of a foam lined, ATA-rated, road case he had custom-made for it (so it doesn’t get banged up in the truck) and his investment in 1st-class touring “buttock-buttressing” rises to the tune of two-thousand dollars! I’ve always wondered how many local stagehands realize during the load-in that they are indeed not pushing around a rack of high-tech audio gear but rather a really expensive chair instead!
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Todd Elliott of Willow Creek Community Church speak at a local church technical-artist conference in Brooklyn, New York.
Fuggetaboutet! It was great! A big kudos to those involved in organizing it!
I’ve heard Todd speak before. In fact, I’ve heard Todd deliver the same talk. So for me, it was an opportunity to review. And although I’ve heard this talk now for the second time, this time it struck a new chord for me.
Todd ends this talk (you can watch the whole Gurus 2013 message here) by giving the audience small cards that have a Google-style Map pin printed on the front. The iconic symbol means to anyone who would look at it “You are Here,” however on the back of the card Todd printed the words, “So Be Here Now.” Todd goes on to say, “Wherever you are, wherever God has put you, be there! Just don’t be passive and watch things happen, be present, make a difference.”
One of the video series that I really appreciate are the ‘Elephant Room’ discussions hosted by pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel. In these videos a group of well known influential pastors representing differing doctrinal positions and styles of ministry are asked tough questions. Questions that Christians are often afraid to ask less the conversation turn into debate. Questions that when addressed are more often done behind the protection of a pulpit or a personal blog that has ‘reader comments’ turned off.
But what about the ‘elephant in the room’ issues church technical artists think about? My intention in this blog post is not to poke the bear, or the elephant, or even the goldfish. I honestly hope that by raising difficult questions we can become more assured in our own faith, our leadership and most importantly in the God who says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…”
What follows is an attempt to “ask correctly.” Ide like to address an issue I’ve thought about for many years going back to when I served as a Media Director at a church. Back then I would have never felt free to discuss topics like this openly. A congregant could potentially misunderstand and I feared that if I brought up such a subject with a pastor, even the question itself could be viewed as a lack of faith in them and God. I feared that leadership would have viewed the subject as proof that I was not being submissive to their authority.
Nineteen years ago America was preoccupied with the most publicized criminal trial in United States history. On trial was the former Heisman Trophy honoree and Running Back for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, #32, O.J. Simpson. “OJ” was accused of the double-murder of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
With warrant in hand the police searched for OJ and his vehicle, a white 1993 Ford Bronco. Businessmen, housewives and school-kids were on the look-out for OJ and the car. Some took-up positions on highway overpasses waiting for the Bronco to go by. News helicopters searched the streets broadcasting possible sightings live. If you happened to own a white Bronco yourself, well there was a very good chance people would give you a suspicious wary eye as you drove by. There was a good chance someone would call the police on you.
I empathize with the motorist whose white bronco is pictured above. Why? Because like the Bronco owner I too am looked at suspiciously, especially in church.
Years ago I worked for a company that provided audio, lighting, projection, set design, carpentry and video production services on all sorts of events. During this period I was mostly working as a Video Director although at times I would also go out with video packages as a systems tech (or “Engineer in Charge”).
I had been on a much needed vacation when my pager started buzzing (this was before everyone had cell phones). I called the office and was routed to our Production Manager. Without saying hello, he asked, “Is your passport current?” “Yes” I replied, “why?” “We have a job about to take place in El Salvador (which he conveniently failed to mention was on the tail end of a civil war).” “We were going to send Pedro (his named changed to protect the innocent) as EIC as he speaks Spanish but we just learned that Pedro’s wife is pregnant and may give birth before he would get back to the U.S.. So we want to know if you can go and cover Pedro in El Salvador so he can stay home?” “When would I leave?” I asked. “Tomorrow” he said.
When chatting with church Tech-Arts Directors I sometimes ask, “by what metric do you gauge success?”
Some answer, “if my boss (Senior Pastor/Worship Leader/Tech Leader) is happy then we have achieved success.” Others use the metric of team members’ involvement and spiritual growth as a result of being active in church service opportunities. Some may use the metric of adherence to a tech-arts ministry mission statement like, “we seek to lead, complement and enhance the congregations worship experience through audio, video and lighting.”
Although all those metrics are admirable, if we just stop there and go no further we are missing an important component, maybe the most important component. When I serve the Church, whether as a Tech-Arts Director or a solo-instrumentalist, a lighting person or a choir member, a video editor or lead vocalist, a visual artist or an actor, a sound engineer or a dancer; I am ultimately involved in the creation of art.
A friend of mine with thirty-three years of broadcast television experience recently lost his job. Over the past two years he has been in and out of employment. He now may lose his home. His marriage and relationship with his daughter have already suffered.
Over the last few months a number of church-tech friends lost their jobs. As priorities in churches change and consistent with a new trend to de-emphasize A/V/L ‘production values,’ I think many in the church-tech-arts community have sensed that their own church may downsize technical-arts staff, now even below the economic crash levels of 2008. I haven’t been on staff at a church in twenty-seven years, yet even I have felt some anxiety about the direction things are going. Do you feel anxious too?