My plan for Christmas this year was to spend a good amount of time and investment making this year’s program special for folks who have really missed being part of regular worship services. The idea was to have multiple virtual choir pieces, a modified opening where we followed a vocalist as she entered the sanctuary and joined the worship team, scripture readings shot on more dramatic backgrounds that matched the lighting in the room, and additional camera ops to capture the entire thing. Unfortunately, almost none of this went according to plan.
When we first started making a plan for this service, we were just pre-recording our regular Sunday services and had a really good rhythm each week.
So, putting all our eggs in the “make Christmas awesome” basket made a lot of sense at the time. We had no idea we’d need to shift to indoor worship and we would be moving our entire production setup to the opposite end of the building.
What ultimately wound up happening was we had to scale things back so much we basically created one of our regular services just with a ton of extra editing on the back end. One of the hardest things I wrestled with was the vision I had in my head, vs what we were actually able to pull off. I felt a real loss every time an idea didn’t work out due to finances, timing or capacity.
However, in the midst of this journey and now looking back on it, I learned a few valuable lessons I want to share with you.
LESSON 1: Leadership is about knowing what to do when things go wrong
As production leaders, it’s our job to ask all the right questions, get all the right gear, and hire all the right people to make sure everything goes according to plan. But what happens when things get off script? This is the mark of true production leadership.
Through the process of prepping for our Christmas service, my team and I experienced multiple failures: having a rear-projection backdrop idea fail and switching to green screen in a few minutes, having multiple camera operators unavailable due to COVID and other unforeseen circumstances, and even running out of time during the actual shoot.
So many things went wrong, but we worked as a team to make tough calls to determine what to cut, what to modify, and how to best salvage what we have to pull off a service with excellence. It was hard work and at times quite disappointing, but we have a service we can be proud of and for better or worse, people watching at home won’t know the difference.
LESSON 2: Ask for help
It’s not up to you to have all the answers or do every task. Production leadership means leading the work, not doing the work. Here are 2 small stories where I learned this lesson firsthand.
The day of the big shoot, I was struggling to get the drum camera setup and framed the way I wanted. I felt a ton of pressure because we were getting started soon and I was running out of time. Knowing this, I asked one of my audio leads to help me aim the camera. Turns out his first attempt to set up the camera was better than the 3-4 attempts I made and the shot we kept for the entire evening! Instead of being stubborn and waiting to ask for help, I probably would’ve saved myself a few hours of work and stress if I had just asked for help earlier.
A second example was the day after the shoot. Everything had wrapped but I had a few rental items to return
and this was the week of the big move from one room to another. So I did what I thought I couldn’t: I asked our worship director if she could take the rental back so I could stay and work. She did and it worked perfectly. I gained multiple hours back in my week and felt great getting the rental back on time.
LESSON 3: Don’t be afraid to ask people to serve – ask boldly
I often find myself wondering if I’m burdening someone by asking them to serve. I’ve experienced this multiple times in the past few months. When I’ve asked people to serve, not only did they serve, but they enjoyed the work and even thanked me for the opportunity to learn and try something new.
As production leaders we have to remember when we ask people to serve, we’re not asking for them to do us a personal favor, we’re asking them to serve in the Body of Christ; enabling others to worship and experience life with Jesus and His people.
I hope each of these short lessons challenges you to approach your work differently. Sometimes even changing how we think about something can dramatically change the way we relate to and experience it. As production leaders, we still have a ton of work ahead of us, but may we never lose sight of the bigger picture of what we’re truly called to do: using our gifts in technology to help make Disciples of Jesus.
Alex Sawyer is the Production Director at Third Church in Richmond, CA. On the side, he runs The Production Pastor, a site designed to help you and your team grow as technical artists and disciples of Jesus.