When I was a younger version of my tech self, I spent a lot of time serving the needs of those around me. I felt like my role was to facilitate the ministry of other people. And from a production stand point, the majority of my energy was used up trying to get out of the way so that what was happening on the platform would come through without a single distraction from the technology or the technicians.
For many of you reading this, this seems right and good. I would tend to agree that the paragraph above is a good reflection of what the production team at your church should be about. But I also feel like it isn’t enough. If the highest goal is to just become invisible so that what others are doing comes through, I think we’ve missed a great deal of what God desires for us and desires for his church.
As the years have gone by, I have tweaked and altered my perspective on what it means to do production in the local church and much of that new perspective revolves around this idea of leading worship from the booth.
As I see it, there are two parts to what it means to lead worship from the booth. The first part is the idea of creating a distraction-free environment.
There are many aspects to production that no one but you understands or cares about. Yet when we don’t do these well, most everyone in the room can tell when something isn’t working. Working hard to be as prepared as you can be is the first critical step to leading your congregation into worship from the booth.
Line checking before the band arrives; proofreading all the graphics for typos; walking through lighting cues for clunky transitions…these are just a few examples of the beginnings of leading worship for your congregation.
At Willow Creek, we have made it a habit to check any videos we are playing in a service on Friday—not just in the edit suite, but actually in our auditorium, on our screens, through our PA. It is important for us to see and hear how it will sound to the thousands of people that will experience it, so that we make sure it moves them the way we intended. What it looks and sounds like to an editor is much different than what it will actually look and sound like in our room. The discipline of checking videos is an integral part of leading worship from the booth.
Just like a worship leader practices alone in their office, what are the things that us production people need to do when no one is around that will help lead our congregation in worship?
So far, you might be wondering how this is any different from how I used to think about production in the local church. In many ways, it isn’t different. Working hard to eliminate distractions is important. It just isn’t everything.
For most of us, we are buried in the cue sheet, or the cue stack, or the cue monitor. We are still stuck in the first part of this conversation…trying to avoid mistakes and distractions. We haven’t even begun to look up from whatever we are buried in to become aware of what is really happening in the room. Fortunately for many of us, we have multiple services, which gives us the chance to learn our service enough by the last service to really enter into worship leading.
Similar to any touring production that spends a month in rehearsal before they take it on the road, most technical artists I know would love as much rehearsal time as possible. One giant difference between the touring world and church is that we are doing something totally different every 7 days. At Willow Creek, we’ve spent lots of time trying to figure out just how prepared we need to be by the time the first service hits. Without understanding the service, it is difficult to become a worship leader from the booth. But how much time can we really expect to spend working through every detail?
For those of you who know me, it won’t come as a surprise that I don’t like the idea of just being a button pusher. (Again, if I can’t push the buttons right, then maybe I shouldn’t even be doing that.) I consider myself an artist, whose “paint brush” is technology. I want to create. I want to create with others in community. I want to use technology to help move people closer to Christ.
This can only happen when I am tying my art form to what everyone else is doing, so that what is happening on stage is not only being represented by audio, video and lighting, but that it is being made better. Maybe better is the wrong word…Through the use of the technical arts, what is happening on stage is elevated to a new level. More transparent, more seamless, more of how it was meant to be experienced by the congregation…it is becoming the best version of itself.
This type of worship leading from the booth is elusive and extremely difficult to achieve. It requires loads of trust between the stage and the booth. It requires production people who are willing to give up what they want to create the moment that is required. It requires technical artists who are dialed into each moment, adjusting with what is happening in the room. Now we’re talking…this is what I want to be about!
I know most of us tech people love to be in the background and hide in the booth. But God has called us to use our gifts for the benefit of our congregations, which means learning the skill of leading worship from the booth—either by taking care of the details to create an environment without mistakes, or by collaborating and creating with the other artists leading worship.
What will it take to move beyond just “doing production”, and using your skills to help lead your congregation in worship?