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.


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. 


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.


When Tech Fails

break computerThis morning I really wanted to kick a computer. Doesn’t matter if it was the computer that was malfunctioning or not, I just wanted to kick one.

You won’t have work with technology long before something, somewhere will fail. And it’s always at the most inopportune time. At church, you arrive to find a power surge has blown an amp, or the computer you use for lyrics won’t power on. Maybe someone let the magic smoke out of that video scaler. (You know, the magic puff of acrid smoke that lets everyone nearby know that this piece of gear won’t be turning on any time soon.)

This morning we were launching a major project, one I have personally been invested in for months. It’s awesome, you should check it out, get involved: #wearewitnesses First service went off without a hiccup. So far so good. That means that the video venues also get their video feeds without issues.

Near as I can tell, sometime in the 2nd service (maybe multiple times?) something spiked through our network, and caused some disruptions. Now, I’m not an IT guy. I can make my home network function, and get most computers online, but when it gets much beyond that I’m done. Don’t ask me to spoof a MAC address or explain the numbers in an IP address. I just don’t know how it works. But about 30 seconds before the key video piece was to roll in the 2nd service our ProPresenter machine lost it’s link to Planning Center Online.

Linking Planning Center Online and ProPresenter saves tons of time. And most weeks isn’t an issue. But this particular Sunday, the presentation software locked up, and when restarted, it wouldn’t let us access anything past the song portion of the service. Restart the program, reboot the machine, nothing mattered. Later we couldn’t even re-link the entire service. The final solution was to rebuild a new playlist that wasn’t linked to PCO for the last service. But in that moment…

That moment when the lights go dark and the video doesn’t roll, and then the pastor gets up and apologizes for technical failure that no one could have prevented… You just want to kick a computer. I finally just grabbed the sermon notes and the video for playback and threw them into a part of the ProPresenter playlist we could access. That got us through the service, and the video was shown, and the pastor was able to introduce the project.

So, breath deep, service over. Presentation rebuilt and fixed. Network issue bypassed.

Except our main projectors are also on the network. It’s how you power them off and on, and tweak settings. Whatever was happening in the network wasn’t done yet. And in the first couple of songs of the last service the projectors kept shutting down. Our lighting technician had the brilliant thought to rip the network cables out of the machines, and then they both stayed on and passed signal. So two major issues in two separate services. Both probably caused by the same network issue, whatever that might have been.

It’s just a horrible feeling knowing that gear you are trying to operate is causing disruptions in worship. I’ve seen videos that look like Max Headroom recorded them playback in service. (That’s telling my age) Had audio fail to start with video playback more times than I can remember. Had lights burn out, projectors bulbs go out right before services. Had what sounded like thunder go off through a sound system when a DSP died right in the middle of a sermon. These weren’t operator errors, just machine malfunctions.

Here’s the bottom line: In every situation- God was praised, the word was preached, and people’s lives were changed.

God doesn’t need fancy tech stuff to speak to his people. Yes, we use it to enhance and communicate, but technology isn’t required for church. It’s so frustrating when tech fails, but I try (am still trying today) to rest in the knowledge that God is bigger than that, and he speaks in spite of any issues. And then I try to figure out how to prevent that failure from every happening again.

A Decade

It just dawned on me that I passed the 10th anniversary of employment in full time media ministry a couple of weeks ago. If I take a minute to look back over that time I can see how much I’ve changed, hopefully for the better. The world has changed too.

Back then HD wasn’t really going yet. TV was still analog. I think it was still Internet 1.0 (maybe 1.5?) No social media. It would be a year before My Space launched. We had the iPod, but no smart phones. No video streaming services. Blogs were just coming on. Some people still had pagers, I think. No texting. Communications was very different.

But the message was the same. It’s humbling to think that much of my professional life I have been involved in eternally significant things. Who know what the next decade holds…

Christian TV: Now is the Time for Change

We have the chance to show a biblical worldview to a generation that is leaving the church in droves. We can change Christian TV and impact people we have never reached before.

The current pay TV/educational license model in Christian TV is limited in reach, and the donor base is drying up. Younger audiences are not responding to this type of TV. Quality Christian TV is still shut out of the major networks. We may see the occasional show like Seventh Heaven or Touched by an Angel, but generally there are no TV shows that routinely show characters dealing with real world issues from a biblical perspective.

What if we could change that? What if we could use emerging technology to reach millions?

Television broadcasting is in the middle of the largest shift in content delivery since cable was invented. In the next few years we will see the Internet become the primary source for video consumption. Networks are scrambling to figure out how to stay profitable.
With the shift in how people get content, there will no longer be network locks at every door.

Now is the time to use new methods of delivery for quality episodic Christian content. We can bypass the network gatekeepers, and create a new funding model for TV. (Not just Christian TV, but all TV) We can bypass the networks, and make content available to millions of people. We can create shows and distribute them directly on services like Netflix and Hulu, or through YouTube or Vimeo, or any other web video outlet.

We need more people to break outside traditional Christian TV models and create programming that appeals to those who flip past the religious channels on their TV. We need a new wave of Christian media professionals to do to TV what we have started to do to the movie industry.

I am developing a sitcom that will appeal to 18-34 years olds who use social media and can bypass traditional media roadblocks to Christian content.

My show answers one question: What does it really mean to have a biblical worldview? Research shows that 18-34 years olds prefer either reality TV or comedies. My show is based on a freshman college student from a non religious family who has just asked Jesus into his heart. We follow the main character through life as he struggles to understand what his new faith really means, and see the contrasts between how Christendom views faith and how the world views faith. The style is sort of like someone took Stuff Christians Like, Community, and Scrubs and threw them into a blender.

The funding portion of this still taking shape. We will pay for it by keeping costs low and selling sponsorships and product placement. If I can successfully take advantage of the resources available to me, the production costs will be minimal. Start up costs include money for props and advertising, which could be significant.

Target audience of 18-34 year olds who use social media. Delivery through the internet. Funny, compelling comedy that views characters from a biblical perspective. That’s the dream.

How can you be involved.

– Pray
“Like” the Peculiar Show page on Facebook.
– Follow @peculiarshow on twitter.
– Send an email to

This is very early in the process. There are a million things to do, and I only know how to do some of them. But every day things are moving forward.

RIP Flip

I’ll bet the founders of Pure Digital are smiling this week. Cisco, who bought them and their popular line of Flip handheld cameras, shut down manufacture of the line. After spending $590 million on the company two years ago, Cisco shut them down. There are all kinds of reasons why Cisco might want to do this, but the plain fact is that if the Flip line up was still pulling in the cash it did back in 2009, they would have either kept it or sold it off.

In many ways, this is like Kleenex announcing they will no longer make tissue. I mean, Flip had significant name recognition. people would talk about buying a Flip camera, and mean buying a handheld camera. They made it easy to carry a video camera anywhere, and get good looking video that was easy to share on your computer.

And then they didn’t do anything else. They owned the handheld camera market. And then they stopped innovating, stopped improving. Oh, they released a few new devices. One with a larger screen. A larger capacity Mino. There were lways rumors of new Flips, one that could use WIFI to publish directly to the internet video sharing site of your choice. One that could stream video from the camera. Vaporware.

So, with no real enhancements to entice new purchases, once everyone who wants a Flip has a Flip, how do you make money again? Its not like they are poor quality, they last for years.

And the competition isn’t waiting around. I don’t mean Flip-like handhelds. Most of those are still offering the same features as a Flip. We use the now discontinued (But if you get lucky you can find one) Kodak Zi8 for work. It offered a slightly more “pro” set of features with external power and external audio input. (But most people buying Flip-like camcorders didn’t care about pro features.)

The real competition came from Smart Phones and iPod/Music Players. When Apple introduced the 5th Gen iPod Nano, it had a camera. Steve Jobs even said they were competing with Flip (name recognition). Now, you can capture video on a device that also did something else. A device smaller than the Flip Mino. These were not HD videos yet, but it was the beginning of the end. One generation of devices later, and every Smart Phone and iPod Touch could not only capture HD video, but edit and upload right from the device.

I own a Flip Mino, an iPod Touch, and an iPhone 4. Which of these do you think I will carry if i am trying to lighten the stuff in my pockets? I am letting my kids play with the Flip. I am taking the device that let’s me work and play, capture video, edit and upload. And lately I have been using the video capability through apps that add effects. It just does more than the Flip.

I have a friend who was lamenting the demise of Flip. He loves his Flip. He couldn’t believe they were not going to be available in the future. He pulled out his Flip Ultra HD. It’s the same one he has owned for a couple of years. These are the customers Flip could have capitalized on if they had offered anything worth upgrading to. Give him a Flip with WIFI, and he would have been posting to Youtube in about 3 seconds. Yes, his iPhone could do the same thing, but he likes to use the Flip. he just doesn’t like to use it enough to keep buying new ones that do the exact same thing his current one did.

The death of the Flip is a cautionary tale for every technology company. You cannot sit back with your successful product and expect it to stay successful. You must keep improving.

What to Do if the Halon System Discharges

Run. Evacuate as quickly as possible.

I’d like to say that this is just conjecture or something I’ve read, but this morning we got to find out for sure. 25 years ago, when the building was designed the room that broadcast control occupies now was the server room for IT. When they built it, they installed a halon 1301 fire suppression system. Two and a half decades later, it went off.

It was one of those one in a million fluke things. A volunteer put something against the wall, which fell into the pull switch for the alarm. (See picture for just how small of a hole it had to hit) When that happens there is supposed to be at least 10 seconds, if not more like 30, before the halon discharges. Right next to the pull switch is a kill button. If you accidently set off the system, you can hold that button down and prevent the Halon from firing.

In this case, I heard someone say, “Oh no!” and then the alarm sounded. I had enough time to look up and start to get up when halon began filling the room. It was maybe 3 seconds, maybe. Nowhere near enough to make it to the button, or even ask someone closer to push it.

Near me was our veteran video engineer. He helps keep our ancient gear looking acceptable. He’s worked everywhere, and knows a ton about broadcast gear. So, when his first response was to turn and run toward the door, I knew we were in serious trouble.

People poured out of the control room. Luckily we had already met before the service, and most people were out heading toward their posts. Still, we had seven or eight people in the room when the halon fired. I was at the door yelling for everyone to get out, watching a white cloud of halon gas envelope the room. The audio engineers where in the back room, and when I looked at the doorway I saw nothing but white clouds. I later learned that our A1 for the service got a face full of the gas. He was standing up, and the nozzle sprayed right at him.

He could not see, and was stumbling out of that room, when he tripped over another volunteer. Both got up and rushed out the door. Meanwhile, we got the other door open for the machine room (which actually doesn’t have a halon system) and got those folks out.

The general fire alarm was going off. Once I figured out we had everyone out, I ran to security and told them it was a false alarm, but that the halon system discharged in broadcast, so please let the fire department know.

Paramedics came and looked at our A1. The Fire Department came and killed most of the alarms, but they had to wait for HazMat to come before entering broadcast.

Meanwhile we had a service to do. We had no access to anything in the video realm. The switcher was on the preservice loop, and the internet was being sent a “We will begin in a moment” graphic. The beginning of the service had a Parent Commitment segment, and I needed to video tape that. We had no screens and no prompter.

One of our cameras was out being used to record a class, so we called that back in just in time to capture the Parent Commitment portion. The musicians got sheet music and stands, and led that way. We had audio and lighting, but no video. We went up and turned off all projectors.

And the service went on. And God was worshipped. The word was spoken and people responded. There’s no doubt that in a room our size, screens help, but it’s obvious they are not necessary. A bigger question is what will we broadcast next week?

When it was all said in done, they brought in some sort of machine to clear the gas from the room. (You could get light headed standing in the hallway outside the door.) They blocked off the back hallway and after about an hour we could get back into the space. White dust was everywhere. Clean up tomorrow will be a chore

Of course, people stopped using halon systems years ago. Now we get to figure out what to replace it with.