How to Take all Your Vacation While Working in Church Media (How to balance life and work in media ministry)

Inevitably, when I hang around a group of church media techs we end up talking about workload. After we share the crazy stories and the cool stuff we got to do, we wind up talking about hours and events Too many times I hear about people who routinely do not take all of their vacation days. And it’s not just vacation, it’s going home for dinner, or having days off.

There is an overworking epidemic infecting church media technicians.

To understand this, and ultimately fix it, we need to acknowledge some realities.

Reality 1: Non church media people will never understand what you do. 

They are busy with their own lives. When you get excited about a new piece of gear and start rattling off specs, their eyes glaze over. They don’t know, and don’t want to know. Mostly people respect us. They understand that our jobs are specific. But they didn’t choose to go into our line of work. While they may appreciate it, they will never know what goes into doing our jobs. 

Reality 2: For the most part, we don’t control our assignments at work.

In fact, most of the people who give us work to do are the same ones who don’t understand what we do. Generally, we don’t schedule events, dream up projects or initiatives. We don’t tell ministries what to do, we come alongside ministries to leverage technology to accomplish their ministry goals. 

That is a recipe for more work than you can get done in 40 hours. People who don’t know what you do, or how you do it, can unintentionally pile too much on you. I’ve heard more than one church media professional describe the hours they have to put in to get the job done right. Many times, after putting in hours and hours of overtime, they are not thanked or rewarded. 

Now, here’s where you expect me to start talking about educating people, and developing an understanding with your supervisors about proper work/life balance. I’m not saying these things aren’t worth the effort. But they require someone else to do something. They require others to learn and change their behavior.

I want to give you some things you can do, within your own department and ministry area, to reduce workload, get home more and take your vacation days.

Deal with your pride.

Just wanted to lay that out there. It doesn’t do any good for me to list the other things if you won’t actually do them. Too many of us labor under the prideful assumption that no one else can do it, or no one will be able to do it right. If you miss a Sunday, things will go wrong. Even if they don’t go terribly, they won’t be as good as when you are there. 

Get over yourself.

I mean that in Christian love.  Stop it. If you quit your job right now, church would still happen on Sunday. God would be worshipped. We like to say that we facilitate worship, but in reality we facilitate a certain style of worship. I’m not saying that isn’t important, but keep perspective here. If you can learn to do your job, someone else can learn to do it. But you have to be willing to let them do it.

Cross Train

Cross train other people to do multiple media positions.  My friend, Dr. Wes Hartley, has a lecture he gives on systems. He talks about creating repeatable and transferable processes designed to reduce cognitive load.  Make checklists, write down important information, then show others how to do your job. If you don’t, you can never be gone.

The key to cross training is not just showing someone how to do a job, it’s letting them do it before you are gone. You can’t just throw a checklist at someone and expect to miss a Sunday with no issues. I used to dread Sundays morning text messages when I was out. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Compare these two conversations… “Hey, boss, I’m taking Sunday off but don’t worry, I showed Billy how to do my job and made some notes for him. He has my phone number if you need me.” Vs “Hey, boss, Billy has been running this media position for several weeks. He has it down and has been doing a great job. He is going to fill in while I’m out next Sunday.”

Which makes the boss more comfortable? The latter, of course.  Cross training requires practice with a safety net. Over time, you can build a team of staff and volunteers who can fill into multiple positions. This team can fill needed positions for weekends and events, so your staff can be gone.

Automate

Technology is awesome. You can automate lyrics. You can tie PTZ camera moves to stream decks or other custom control computers. You can extend monitors and use wireless mice and keyboards to duplicate positions. You can automate lights. There are so many tools you can use to reduce the amount of people needed to cover simple events. 

A fully staffed crew in our Worship Center requires 7 people (staff and volunteers). But we have things set up so that 2 people can cover simple events.  On extremely simple events, we can even remote in with a computer and run the entire room with one person.  1 vs. 7.  That means less time away from family for our staff. 

Simplify

This is similar to automate. In some instances, technology can simplify an event. Other times we can manage expectations and what we provide.

Look at every event with an eye toward what you actually need to cover it.  Depending on how your tech requests may be set up, people might say that they need a technician, or multiple technicians, when they really don’t. Our education spaces are designed so that teachers can run their own presentations without technical help. 

How many people are expected? I recently failed at simplifying an event. The special night was scheduled for the Worship Center, which seats a lot. The past two times this event had been held, not a lot of people attended. It could fit into one of our smaller and simpler spaces. I should have gone to the ministry leader and persuaded them to move venues. Not only to save the effort and time of my team, but to help the event. 50 people in a room that seats 1000 feels like no one came. 50 people in a room that seats 250 feels better. Smaller spaces mean less techs to cover.

What have they asked for? Do they really need 7 wireless handhelds, or could most speak at a podium with a microphone? Are they comfortable running their own presentation from a laptop? Do you need multiple laptops and computers, or can you load everything onto one? 

We have a venue that could use 3 techs to operate audio, lights and CG. Because of cross training and simplicity of events, we normally staff it with one person. That doesn’t mean we won’t use a full crew when necessary, but our goal is to accomplish the tech needs with excellence, using as few people as possible.

Simplifying isn’t just about reducing staff at live events. Sometimes it’s about reducing your internal weekly workload. Are there times when a project comes up and you see that something can be improved? Sure. Is there time this week to do that improvement? Sometimes the answer is no. I know people who take every chance to make thing better, overall, even if no one else will notice the improvement. That’s a good thing. But doing it when it means you will have to work an extra 10 hours this week isn’t.

Sometimes, the time consuming complications we put up with are actually caused by us. I get the arguments. To do it “right” you need to swap out that gear or rewire that rack. And you do need to do that. But maybe not this time. How about you do that upgrade when you are not already filling your hours with other duties.

As with most things, balance is the key. We all want to improve. There will always be something left to do. You have to get OK with going home while you know work is left to be done. You have to realize that sometimes, the work that is left will not be missed by others. You can put it off.  And for the sake of your health and your family, you need to put it off.

When ministry leaders/ pastors/ bosses place work on your plate, they don’t know (or really care) how it gets done. It’s not because they don’t care about you, it’s because of reality #1. (How many graphic designers have been asked to “throw something together real quick”? ) They don’t know or care if you rewired the entire system or just made it work like last time. They don’t know if you went and shot your own B Roll or used a stock footage library. They only know you delivered with excellence.  

Stop piling on extra work. Get OK with going home. Be efficient and get things done. Find ways to use technology to automate and simplify your work. Identify staff and volunteers who can be trained to do your work. Train them, let them learn how to do it well. Set your vacation days. And take them.

That’s how you can take all your vacation, and see your family more even though you work in church media.