When I first started out as a technical director, I was young, had big dreams, and worked with a great church that was doing some amazing things in our community. But it wasn’t all roses. I inherited dimmers that were dying, a failing sound board, a PA showing its age, and don’t even get me started on our video system. But you know what? We did a decent job for what we had. Still, I believed it could be better. I knew it could be better.
If we could only get our soundboard replaced with a new digital console, our mixes would improve and be much more consistent because we could save settings from week to week. If we could replace our speaker system, our band and pastor could be heard more clearly, and we could produce a warmer, more even sound to the house. If our lighting system included LEDs and moving lights along with a new lighting console, we could create dramatic lighting that drew people in. And with a proper video system, everyone in our 1300-seat auditorium would have a great seat and connect with what was happening on the stage.
If you’ve been serving in a church for any length of time, you already know the odds are slim that you’ll ever have enough people, time, or gear to do everything you want to do. The tragedy comes when we use that lack of resource as an excuse for not improving despite the challenges. It’s a trend I’m seeing with many production folks today, especially those just starting out; and it’s a trap I fell into often as a young TD. With the challenges I mentioned above, it would’ve been easy to settle for less and put an asterisk on our work, “helping people understand” why we came up short. And frankly, there were times I did. There were times when I’d grab these excuses and walk them around like crutches, using them to hold up my lack of fight. I’m thankful that I’m a fast learner though, as hanging onto these crutches would’ve meant never running ahead and learning what I know today.
Here’s the thing great artists know: The quality of your art is determined more dramatically by your skill and talent than by your tools. Great artists can take mediocre resources and still make something great out of them. Do you really think Peter Frampton or Phil Keaggy couldn’t take my cheap, beginner, acoustic guitar and play something amazing with it? Of course they can! They could do so much more with my $100 guitar than I could ever do with any of their much more expensive ones. Having good resources can help you make the leap from good to great or even great to legendary, but they are not what determines your ability to begin with.
If you can’t create a good mix on a Behringer X32, you’ll never create a great one on the SSL Live. If you can’t shoot good video with a $300 GoPro, what makes you think you’ll be able to shoot great video with a $30,000 Hitachi Z-HD5000? If you can’t create an engaging worship space with a dozen LED fixtures, you won’t be able to do so with 2 dozen LEDs and some moving lights either. Your resources don’t determine your level of ability; your ability determines how well you’ll use your resources.
My best learning experiences came when I’ve had to work extra hard to produce great results because my resources were less than awesome. When you strip away all the bells and whistles, it’s easy to find out what you can do vs. what your tools can do for you. That’s when you really learn how to EQ a vocal. That’s when you figure out how to create a great worship environment. And that’s when you find out what you still need to learn.
The church needs artists who are great at their craft. We need you to struggle and fight your way through at times, because that is how you learn and grow in your skill. We need you to persevere when resources are less than awesome, because that’s how you learn to persevere when the challenges are bigger and the stakes are higher. But in order to get to that place, we have to be people who fight through adversity to do big things for God. We have to be willing to take the harder road and ignore the excuses, even when they’re legitimate. Let’s decide today, and every day, to be people who will ignore the crutches we could use and try to do great things, despite the limitations we see. We all might be surprised at what God does through us if we do.