God Is In The Details

11 04 2007

It has been said that the devil is in the details. I would beg to differ. I argue that God is in the details. Consider the incredible intricacy of creation for example. If all the details weren’t right, life as we know it wouldn’t exist. Before I go any further, let me issue the following disclaimer: I am guilty of everything I am about to talk about. So there.

In the training I do with our sound engineers, I maintain that we have three main charges as sound techs: 1) Accurately reproduce what happens on stage, 2) Remove barriers to worship and hearing the Word of God and 3) Enhance the worship and preaching experience. Making all this happen is harder than it looks, and it takes an incredible amount of planning, proper design and setup and good training. Once those things are in place, it comes down to details.

For example, the worship set is just wrapping up, people are in an attitude of worship and the pastor steps up to the platform to pray. Except the mic is still muted. Suddenly it’s unmuted, and he’s way too loud. What happens to that worshipful mood? Doh! Or this, after a stirring message, the worship band takes to the stage to lead a closing song. The congregation is ready to worship and praise God for what they’ve heard. Except the battery in the worship leader’s wireless is dead. Now what? Doh! At the end of a powerful service, the youth pastor invites the students in attendance to consider their relationship to Christ. In a very powerful moment students begin to come forward to pray. Suddenly all the lights in the room go full bright then dim. Oops.

Oh, and we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure this has never happened to you, but if it does, I suggest that really blows the mood. I view my quest to make technology seamless, not obvious. When we miss a detail like the above (and the hundreds of others I’m omitted), we can really distract from the message. Some might argue that we are all human and mistakes are to be expected. True. However, if the Bible is true (and I believe it is), we should be striving to be more perfect (more like Christ, who was perfect). So how do we get there?

I always begin with as thorough a plan as I can develop. The more I have the service planned out in advance, the more I can adapt when things don’t go according to plan. This means figuring out in advance how things will be hooked up (I do a full stage plot and patch chart every week), and testing it in advance. It means paying attention. I am convinced that 80% of technical errors come from loosing focus during the service. It’s easy to do, for sure. We see people we want to talk to, or we get caught up in the worship or message and forget we’re techs that day. Problem is, when it happens, we hurt the experience for hundreds of others.

It also means thinking ahead about what is supposed to happen and about what could happen. Take a look at the order of service in the middle of the last song to see what’s coming next, and you won’t be caught with a muted mic on stage while you are trying to figure out what’s going on. Develop standardized practices and procedures that everyone can follow. Do things the same. We set our board up the same way each week. The kick drum is always ch. 17. Worship leader ch. 12. Pastor ch. 10. Acoustic guitar? Ch. 24. I’m doing this from memory in my kitchen. If I stand up and put my hands on the table, I can mix a service without having the board in front of me. Why? Because it’s always the same and my hands know where to go.

I have recently developed a “pre-flight checklist” that details everything that the sound techs should do before and during the service. When we follow it, fewer errors result. Learn your equipment. The worst time to figure out how the on-board EQ responds is when the pastor steps up to the pulpit and begins feeding back. Once you get settings that work, write them down. Pay attention when things go right. Look back and see what you did. Then repeat it. Most of all, be willing to change the way you do things.

I recently read an interesting article about Toyota. They don’t have a “quality improvement program.” Quality improvement is integrated into their DNA. So much so that a line worker can stop the entire line if he sees something that’s not right. If you see something in a run through or rehearsal that will likely cause a problem, stop it and fix it. If you’re winging it every week and the pastor’s mic feeds back every week, do something different. If the sound techs don’t know the equipment well enough to stop problems before they happen, train them, or find someone who can.

This is getting to be a long post, which I suppose reflects on how strongly I feel about it. It’s important we get it right for a number of reasons. First, for the benefit of those who attend our churches. We need to serve them to absolute best level we can. Second, we need to do it for team and for ourselves, so the entire tech & worship team can feel good about what they do. Finally, we need to do it for God. He didn’t skimp on the details of our redemption. How can we offer Him any less?

Peace.

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2 responses

1 05 2007
Wayne

Hearty agreement with what you say here. It’s very important for tech to be seamless, transparent, well prepared, giving our best. Two points: first, we need to remind ourselves that it’s not all up to us. God is capable of doing his work without us, or in spite of our shortcomings. We should always give our best, but let’s not beat ourselves up too bad when we make mistakes and feel like the service was blown because of an inopportune moment of feedback, or a muted mic, or an awkward video shot, or …

Second, how do we reconcile this attitude with dealing in a volunteer-based ministry? Theoretically, it would be nice to pay one sound guy who is there every stinkin week and gives consistent, predicatable results. In reality, we have 3 volunteers in rotation at FOH (myself included). This can stretch us thin, when you consider Easter, Christmas, funerals, weddings, etc. It would be nice to add a 4th (or 5th) guy to the list. How do you do this without sacrificing quality? Regardless of how much training/coaching we do, when it comes time for the new guy to solo, it’s not going to be the same as when one of our experienced guys is back there. How do we deal with this?

Kind of a long comment, but, like you, I feel strongly about this also. I do my best to be prepared every week and focus 100% to what’s going on up front during the service. I love hearing stories from people who first stepped in our sanctuary 3 years ago and felt God’s presence in our worship, even though they weren’t a believer at the time. I believe I had a part to play in that (not the whole thing, but a part), and that’s why I serve.

Thanks for your blog, I’ve just recently discovered it. Good stuff here. Keep it up.

Wayne
Sunset Presbyterian Church
Portland, OR
http://www.sunsetpres.org

1 05 2007
Mike Sessler

Wayne, thanks for the kind words. You make some excellent points. There is a fine line between excellence and perfectionism. I’m a perfectionist, if I make a mistake I dwell on it for a long time. Most forget about it in a few minutes. And you’re so right, God is able to take our service, mistakes and all, and use it for His Glory. Even when we’re “perfect,” we’re not perfect; yet He uses us anyway. So beat ourselves up for a mistake? Nah, life is too short for that. However, if we learn from it so it doesn’t happen again we’re making progress.

As for volunteers, you’re right, it can be tough to get consistently good results from people who have lives outside the technical arts. On some level it would be nice to have paid people to do the work so it was all good (though, honestly, I’ve worked with some paid sound techs who don’t hold a candle to a couple of my volunteers…). However, I’m not sure it would be the church. It would be a performance that people come to see. When volunteers are involved, mistakes and all, it’s genuine, real and how we’re called to live. I receive more from giving my talents to the body than I do when I sit in the pew. I know the same is true for many of the people I work alongside.

And just because we have volunteers doesn’t mean we can’t be excellent. The right people can be trained to do a great job. Finding them is the tough part.

Ok, this has turned into another post. Sorry. Thanks for reading!

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