By Jeff Borris – Arts Director, Community Christian Church.
One of the most contentious relationships in any church context can be between the Executive Pastor and the Arts/Technical Arts Director. Most of the time, it’s a mismatch of learning styles, values, gifting, outlook, priorities, and personalities. (Even more so if you’re also working across generational lines) Let me tell you a secret…seriously, lean in. It doesn’t have to be that way. For the past 4 years, I’ve had an awesome relationship with our Executive Pastor, and I’ve helped other arts teams develop one too. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the stuff I’ve learned about how to forge great relationships between working professionals.
I want to start with perspective because it’s something I had to learn, and it’s something I’ve found doesn’t exist with too many arts teams I come in contact with. Your Senior Pastor or Executive Pastor absolutely cares about the arts and tech; BUT they also care about the kids ministry, the student ministry, small groups, men’s and women’s groups, the parking lot, first impressions, the electric bill, the family who just moved in, the family that’s getting a divorce, community engagement, coaching the staff, getting the staff to coach their leaders, discerning the will of God for the direction of the church and in some cases also writing a term paper every weekend with an oral presentation at the end. You’re area of ministry is not the only thing going on in the church, and it’s not necessarily the thing that will make or break a new person’s experience. Your Senior Pastor or XP has to think about all of those things every week. Every ministry wants to grow and expand and needs access to a limited pot of resources. If we, as creative people, realize that and support our bosses, we’ll begin to develop some of the “big picture” ideas.
Let’s be vulnerable for a moment together. There is a perception about creatives: disorganized, lazy, moody, irrational, dark and brooding (like Batman from the Lego Movie), fickle, fun-loving, etc, etc, etc. Some of them can be true, and some can easily be turned around. For example, disorganization isn’t a personality trait. It’s a work ethic, and work ethics can be improved upon. It stands to reason then, that if we exhibit a lot of those stereotypes about creatives, why would we be entrusted with finite resources from people’s tithe money in light of so many other needs the church might have at any given moment? I’ve been in vocational ministry now for about 15 years as a creative artist. I’m an introverted extrovert, an otter, a high “I” on the D.I.S.C profile, an ENFJ and a “Spontaneous Idealist” according to science. I can’t think sitting up. I hate meetings before 10 AM, but I’ll be working until 2 AM. Sometimes, I’m in a funk I can’t shake and other times I’m on top of the world. I can be anal retentive about the details and at other time think they don’t matter at all. The point is none of that has to necessarily affect my job performance. Deadlines are deadlines regardless of how I feel that day. It’s my job to ensure the church has an effective and artistic experience that draws people closer to the heart of God. It’s also my job that my teams are healthy and cared for, that my budget is taken care of, that I follow through and that I’m a team player. If you are a creative artist in the church, I think we are some of the most blessed people on the planet. We get the opportunity to use our talents, gifts, passions, and time to further the Jesus Mission in a very tangible and visible way all the while getting paid for it! That’s crazy land! The Bible makes it perfectly clear that “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48) I think we’ve been given much, and that should propel us towards fighting the negative perceptions and begin to redefine the impact the arts and artists can have.
I realized early on, I was unintentionally requiring my XP to have the same knowledge of technical stuff as I did and to “feel” the art the way I did. It all came to a head when I asked for money to buy a $700 microphone. It was a Neumann KSM105 in matte black. Mmmm. It was planned to be an upgrade for the fleet of SM58s we had. We had a phenomenal vocalist, and this mic would’ve been butter with his voice. My XP looked at me and in all seriousness said, “No. I don’t understand why this mic is that expensive. I just saw one at Radio Shack for $50. It can’t be 14 times as good.” After being slightly amazed with how quickly he did that math, I was pissed off. I huffed out of his office mumbling. About an hour later, I realized he didn’t and wouldn’t know the difference, and I shouldn’t expect him to. But, what I could do was teach him. I began a very very long process focused on teaching the relationship between gear and collective outcomes. It forced me to think about the macro goals for our technical arts ministry and make sure they were aligned with the macro goals of the church. For example, we shared the goal of speech intelligibility. I was able to teach the relationship of different types of mics to their ability to cut through a mix and how that wasn’t always volume dependent. Also, I taught how having one type of mic for all the different types of vocalists wasn’t always the best idea. When we were portable, It allowed me to talk about an Aviom system and how that was better for our musicians, which translates into a more emotional and excellent “performance”. We talked about how it would make the volunteer FOH engineers better because they were just concerned with one mix and not 10. It would also save money renting the space for a shorter amount of setup time. I was and continue to be in a constant state of teaching about how gear will impact our processes and goals. What I stumbled upon were two unforeseen yet awesome things. First, needing to teach the very technical details of things to people who don’t have that background forced me to become a better teacher to my technical teams. Most of us still use volunteers, and I don’t foresee a time when I’ll even want to change that. However, there was a challenge with volunteers. They were volunteers. Being able to teach effectively was really important, and I found that teaching other staff helped immensely. The second unintentional outcome was an increased level of trust amongst our lead team and myself. I had to be able to justify why I chose to ask for something in a way that furthers the vision and mission of the church. It made me ask hard questions before they ever had to. They knew I’d thought through it; and because I’d spent a lot of time teaching, they knew that I knew what I was talking about. All of that built trust.
This feels like a no-brainer; and if you’re like me, reading one of the many “ministry-help” things I read, you’re already thinking, ”yeah, duh”. But make no mistake, this takes work and a level of intentionality that often gets lost. In “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni the very foundation of dysfunction is a lack of trust. He goes on to talk about how almost every dysfunction can be traced back to a lack of trust.
Does your XP know you also think about the rest of the church and are willing to go without so another ministry can thrive?
Have you clearly communicated how a piece of gear can make the ministry more effective in a way they can understand?
Do they know you are stewarding what’s already in place?
Do they know your teams are ready for the next level because they’re trained, competent and on time?
Have you said no to something for the betterment of the entire church?
Have you taken the time to really show how something will make a real difference to the mission and vision?
Have you prayed for and publically supported them?
Are you looking for ways to build up trust between the finance people and the arts team?
When I request something, it’s always accompanied with a spreadsheet of at least two options of what to do. I always include a paragraph or two with the differences between the options, but it’s almost never gear differences. It’s always something they can relate to such as: visibility, impact on volunteers, overall experience or something else that aligns itself with the vision or mission of the church.
There’s a saying we have about our XP that he “Hearts the Arts”, and I can tell you it’s true. Over time, we’ve been able to develop trust through teaching, the breaking down of stereotypical perceptions and my gaining of some perspective. It’s gone a long way to make our weekend communication of the gospel better and more effective. I’m praying, if you struggle in these areas, God will provide wisdom to help create a healthy environment. And as always, if you’d like to talk, just let me know.