Category Archives: Technology

The Importance of Technological Competency for Leaders

dj-865173_1280I’ll admit. I’m a bit biased as I have a natural bent toward technology and gadgets. For the most part, they have served me well and an overall knowledge of what is possible through the use of technology for communicating with excellence as well as culturally engaging ways, has proved to be a useful leverage for my ministry. But this post is not about me, but the benefits that this knowledge has brought me over the years. I would love to share a few thoughts with you, that whether technology is your natural bent or not, on how a better knowledge of it can serve you and your team better. The truth is, while many of us may not be “techies”, technology itself is not going away. In a very real sense (good or bad–that’s another post entirely), it has become the language in which the world speaks.

It helps you connect with your staff and volunteers

One thing a decent overall view of technology will help you do is communicate better with your tech staff and/or volunteers and help you speak their language. They live in a world that the evangelical church for the most part is still struggling to understand, and as a result, they often feel misunderstood and underappreciated. Having at least a cursory sense of what their responsibilities entail and knowing how to communicate reasonable expectations to them, can make a world of difference in your church culture and the practical outcomes that you experience each week. People who feel understood and appreciated will work exponentially more effectively than those who do not. And the truth is, it’s difficult for them to feel truly appreciated if they believe you have no idea what they actually do. By speaking their language, you open up a door to deeper relationships and increased productivity from those who are so vital to the effectiveness of your ministry.

It helps you set reasonable expectations

When a leader has very little concept of what is entailed in a creative project, it becomes very easy to set unreasonable expectations and/or get less than stellar results. Your tech and creative staff by nature are often “people pleasers” in that they truly want to please those whom they serve. Because of this, they will often not communicate how they feel about your expectations even when they know they are unreasonable. The result is often either burned out staff and volunteers (at best), loss of morale in the overall creative culture, or disastrous and less-than-desirable results, or all of the above. When you have a general understanding of what is entailed in technology and creative projects, you will set better expectations for your volunteers and staff as well as get more consistent, quality results. I believe you would agree that our people and our ministries are worth it.

It helps you save resources

In many church cultures, the attitude is often that “technology costs money, therefore we don’t value it, because we can’t afford it.” The truth is actually often quite the opposite. A well known financial radio host often says “Never spend more than $300 on something you don’t fully understand.” This is great advice. However, as with much technological advancements, when fully understood, what costs you $300 could save you thousands or more over the long run.

There are many things in life that technology, no matter how advanced can never replace–mainly meaningful human interaction. However, I’ve seen so many processes in churches that don’t increase the value of human interaction but are human resource intensive or costly that otherwise could be simplified and streamlined through the use of technology. Why would I take good people away from meaningful ministry with others to perform dull, monotonous tasks that a computer and some relatively inexpensive software could leverage at far less personnel costs or the sacrifice of meaningful ministry interaction. Yeah, I wouldn’t and you wouldn’t either. But we don’t know what we don’t know. As a leader it’s important to seek out input from our staff, volunteers and those outside our church walls to gain exposure to ways we can make our ministries more effective by helping people to do what only people can do–make more and better disciples of Jesus. Let people do what only people can do and let’s leverage other avenues for accomplishing some necessary, but less important tasks.

It helps you ask better questions

When you have an understanding of the technological options available and what is possible through those, it helps you ask better questions of your team. While creatives and technical staff seem to often want to color outside the lines, the truth is, most of the time they need (and want) boundaries. Yes, they hate to be micromanaged, but they also enjoy the freedom of working freely within well-defined expectations. When you know what is possible, you are free to ask the questions of your team that they love to hear. One of the greatest questions I’ve learned to ask in creative meetings is “How might we (fill in the blank)?”. I usually don’t ask the question without having a few ideas of my own to help prime the pump, but I also realize that rarely are my ideas the best ideas in the room. Having a general understanding of what is possible through technological means, can help your team enjoy more creativity and achieve better results.

Here are some resources that you might find helpful in gaining a greater understanding of how to better leverage technology for ministry:

I’m glad that at BBC, where I serve as faculty, we are addressing this through more focussed classes on technology in church music and ministry. If you haven’t had an opportunity, click the link above and see if www.gobbc.edu could be right for you. Several online opportunities are available as well.

What would you add to this list? What are some ways in which technology has hurt or helped your ministry?

Vision, Values and Lowell Mason

Park Street Church

Boston is a great city. Every time I have the opportunity to visit, I’m brought face to face with its blend of remarkable history and its current relevancy and influence in the current affairs of today. I’m currently sitting in the Thinking Cup Cafe (hoping this really helps me!) across from Boston Common reviewing notes on the life of Lowell Mason, a great church musician,educator,entrepreneur and Boston native. I’m presenting some of this research as part of an intensive class I’m currently teaching at Boston Baptist College. Yesterday in class we were discussing the importance of having a working philosophy of music and worship for those in worship leadership. I came across this summary of Mason’s outlook on church music which I found to be interesting. This was compiled by Carol Pemberton based on a lecture Mason gave in 1826 at the Hanover Street Church in Boston.

  • Church music must be simple, chaste, correct, and free of ostentation.
  • The text must be handled with as much care as the music; each must enhance the other.
  • Congregational singing must be promoted.
  • Capable choirs and judiciously used instruments, particularly the organ, are indispensable aids to services.
  • A solid music education for all children is the only means of genuine reform in church music.
  • Musicianship per se is subordinate to facilitating worship.

While some of the relevancy of his thoughts above may be questioned today (though much of it is quite valid), I would also suggest that his influence continues because he took the time to write it down and share it with others. I would like to share a few thoughts for worship leaders who are currently working out their own thinking regarding corporate worship and encourage those who are not currently thinking about this to begin to work it out in their own minds and begin to incorporate it into their ministries. If the majority of evangelical churches spend close to half of our corporate worship gatherings being involved in congregational music and expression, I believe it is important that we have a sound rationale for why we behave this way. I think there are some important things we can consider regarding working out our values for corporate worship and why that matters today.

A working worship philosophy will prevent you from being forcefully bound to antiquated traditions.

If you’ve seen the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, you can recall Tevye and his uncompromising love for “traditions….(insert Russian music)…traditions.” Like Tevye, often we find ourselves blindly bound to the way things have always been. Now, there’s nothing wrong with traditions, necessarily. They can provide us with structure and stability so that we can pour our energies into the most important things in life. There is no sense in reinventing the wheel. Occasionally, however, it doesn’t hurt to question these “wheels” and evaluate their effectiveness. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad the Wright brothers thought outside the “wheel” and found a better way to travel. As was the case with these revolutionaries, anytime you question established norms, you will have your critics and skeptics who wish you anything but the best. But based on principle, good information and determination, they pressed on and now most of those critics, if they were alive today, would gladly get on an airplane for a far away trip when given the option. When our traditions stand in the way of our core values, it’s time to rethink the tradition. Jesus, in Mark 7, had some things to say about this as well. The Pharisees had taken the Law and added their own interpretations and applications to it. While the creators of the traditions mentioned in Mark 7 may have had the best of intentions, by the time Jesus gets on the scene, these traditions were standing in the way of real life transformation. When our traditions do the same, it’s time for honest reevaluation.

A working corporate worship philosophy will keep you from being aimlessly swept around by passing fads and public opinion.

Most of us can probably hear our mother saying with that certain tone, “If the rest of your friends [insert rediculous metaphor here], would you do it too?”. You have to admit, “mamma” had some wisdom there, as annoying as it may have seemed at the time. Many of us should ask the same question of our leadership now as well. Often we make mistakes when we try to emulate others’ success in a different context and thoughtlessly apply it to our own. There are some exciting trends and advancements in the arena of corporate worship today. Using modern instrumentation, visual aids, creative planning and communication can all be excellent tools in sharing the timeless message of the gospel. The danger is often, that because prominent ministries are using certain tools and techniques, and have an appearance of “success”, without thinking, we assume that these same tools and techniques will work in our context as well. They may. They may not. Borrowing from the words of Stephen Covey it’s important that we “begin with the end in mind” and not get too quickly awestruck by the latest and greatest methods when they have little value to our own context or environment. At the same time, staying current with the latest trends and developments in your field can help you to be more informed and often more effective. Don’t be afraid to think outside the “wheel” on your own as well or you might might miss the next “flight”. Who knows, maybe you will be the next trend setter! Having a working worship philosophy will free you to be innovative while ensuring that you also remain effective.

A working corporate worship philosophy will provide purpose, freedom and direction for the future.

One of the questions I’m asked most often is “where are we going with the worship program at our church?”. This is a valid question and may indicate that I have not been as effective as I need to be in communicating the vision and principles that drive us. Having a working worship philosophy and set of values that you faithfully communicate to your team can go a long way in making sure that this question is answered for your people as well as creating better by-in for your ministry. It helps to ensure that your decisions are made on purpose and can help give some of us “creative types” better confidence in the decisions that we make by knowing that we have made decisions based on timeless principles, rather than letting our desire to be creative get in the way of being effective. In those times when your creativity makes you more effective, then by all means…create away! This does not mean that there is no room for creative expression for its own sake (and for God’s glory). It simply means that in the context of community, creativity should always be employed with the responsibility to edify the church as a whole.

Your vision and values will also help give you freedom to explore all of your creative options without the fear of nullifying your current progress. Once you have effectively identified your purpose, you have the creative freedom to explore every possible option that can help you and your church express a greater love and devotion to the Lord. Our nations founding fathers knew the value of marrying freedom and responsibility. For example, the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy and consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. A certain Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Much like the implication of responsibility in Franklin’s answer, our spiritual freedom in worship is best exercised in the context of serving and edifying the church.

In the same way our nation’s founding documents help to preserve certain values, they have also helped to provide direction and vision for the future. Your vision and values can work for you in much the same way. While our nation has strayed from many of the principles that were established early on, because of the effort of these men and the providence of God, we still have a constitutional republic that is free from tyranny and stands as a beacon of freedom and opportunity for many. Even though the early founders of our country probably could have never imagined airplanes, cell phones, or the internet, the principles they laid down helped to pave the way for the freedom to innovate in the future. Your vision and values can do the same for you. I may not know exactly what corporate worship will look like 5-10 years from now for the congregation I serve, but I do know that I am committed to the core principles and vision that will help us to be intentional, effective and creative for future generations.

What are you doing to develop and communicate your core values and vision with your team? Please share your thoughts and anything that is working for you. In the next post, I will lay out the process I have used to develop these resources for myself.

Quick Mix Fix

The Problem

You present the greatest message known to man, week in and week out. You’re attracting more and more talent to your church. You think you have a great band and you work tirelessly to prepare, but what happened this last Sunday–the mic squeel, feedback, bass guitar out of control, acoustic guitar distorting–is just proof that Satan does not only inhabit deacons, but sound systems as well (just kidding on the deacon part–I think).

There is no question the devil wants to battle every inch of ground that you take for the Kingdom’s sake, however, let’s not give our enemy more credit than necessary. Often, good sound can not only come from a successful exorcism, but a well-trained sound tech that knows how to use the tools he/she has.

Often, churches will usually purchase about 3 sound systems before they end up with the one that meets their needs. Sometimes this is due to poor purchasing advice (or worse, none at all), and sometimes it’s due to putting technicians in places that musicians belong. If a person cannot discern what good sound is (quality/balanced sound appropriate for the genre), then no matter how many knobs they turn, you will not get pleasing results–and after all, music is supposed to sound good.

Tools

One way to help curb this issue is to audition your sound personnel before you invest any time/money in training them. Make sure they know what good audio sounds like. One resource is the S.A.T. (The Soundman Aptitude Test). You can find this resource at www.soundmantest.com.

Once you’ve qualified your personnel effectively, another resource that can be of immediate improvement to your sound is a training website called Own the Mix. These guys have compiled a significant library of training videos in real-life situations that will help your volunteers to dial in to good sound week after week. You can find them at www.ownthemix.com. There is also a forum and other networking tools to help your team to connect with others that are on the journey to better quality sound. For a very reasonable price, you can give your team the tools to succeed week after week.

It helps to have a quality car and driver to win a race. It’s not a lot different when it comes to church sound. If you put a 6 year-old in a Formula One car and expect them to break any records, you may be a little disappointed. On the flip side, Mario Andretti in a Yugo…well, you get the point.

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