7 Lessons I Learned on the Road That I Use Every Weekend at COTM
There are numerous similarities between what I do now in the church world and what I did for years touring on the road. Even though that road was most certainly not paved with gold, it did afford me the opportunity to gain a practical production foundation that might have eluded me otherwise. It’s humbling when I realize how much God was mapping out my future even way back then and even more so when it became evident that most of those lessons would be applied to almost everything I do for the church. So here’s a look at some of the ones I use every week in my role at COTM:
SUCCESS OR FAILURE IS IN THE DETAILS
Some of you may already be aware of my feelings on the importance of details in the church production world, but I learned this lesson early on in my touring career. Even though I was fortunate to be able to participate in road shows early in my career that were comprised of mostly seasoned touring veterans, our life was completely dependent on thousands of details working together to make it happen. Tours, albums, bands, and careers could live, die, succeed, or completely flame out solely from the details that were caught or missed.
Paying attention to details may just be the most important thing I focus on when working on a church event. Our pastor, Willie George, floored me when he said this once, “Sometimes when people blow the details, it exposes the entire company.” You may think that one detail here or there might not matter, but never forget that one detail could save someone’s life or might even be the difference between a bottom line that’s in the red or black. You pile up enough “minor” details and you’ve just discovered what separates just being good from moving on to becoming great.
STAY AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS
I run into fellow production people at churches quite often that honestly don’t seem very aware of their immediate surroundings. Let me be clear that I’m not referring to being aware of the weather or something. I’m talking about things like maintaining a discerning spirit as you work on an event, staying in tune with the DNA of your team, keeping a watchful eye on the big picture so that you’re not caught off guard when a major ministry change rolls around. Consider this challenge: look ahead six months down the road (or maybe even twelve to eighteen months), so you can accurately forecast budget expenditures.
The successful road guys were always those that seemed to have eyes in the back of their heads, constantly aware of what was going on around them so they could stay ahead of a potential issue or problem. Proactive, savvy, street-smart, whatever you want to call it, these guys were the ones I tried to emulate. Their keen ability to forecast and identify potential problems before they actually became problems was what made them such tremendous assets to a tour.
IT MAY NOT SEEM LIKE IT, BUT THERE REALLY IS A PROCESS
In almost every single situation I’ve been thrown into, there has been a required process to achieve success. Walk before running, design before build, concept before creation. You wouldn’t believe how many people approach me in a week hoping to find the “easy way” to pull off their chosen production idea or challenge. Don’t you think if there was an easier way, someone would have already done it?
The years spent on the road taught me to appreciate, respect, and even admire the steps it took to pull off even the most mundane of tasks. Even though most days there was NOTHING that seemed to come easy, I began to thrive on the process it took to get from A to B. The process itself became the mechanism that you could trust and believe in. In some cases, even more than the final result.
On the road, thousands and thousands of details only come together with someone (or several someones) exhibiting a high degree of organizational skill with accuracy and determination. From travel logistics, hotels, local stagehand crews, proper catering representing a slew of dietary needs that are all over the map, expense forecasting, profit and loss reports, the comfort of guests in the seats, a myriad of production and design details, etc, etc, etc. Any of these sound familiar? They do for me; most of them are part of my church responsibilities. Staying organized is a requirement, not an option. Exactly like I did while on the road, maintaining organizational principles is one of the most important ways I can lead my part of the team to success.
The most important thing in my possession while on the road was my reputation for being someone that could be trusted and counted on. You don’t achieve this by talking a good game, being cocky, or by riding the coattails of someone else. You earn trust one way: by delivering the goods no matter what. Deliver on what you promise and be someone whose word actually means something. All my expertise means absolutely nothing if I’m not a man of my word. Be honest, be realistic, under-promise and over-deliver. Buckle down, focus and DELIVER on every task; remember that accomplishing the small tasks ultimately demonstrate you as worthy of being trusted with something bigger.
WOE IS ME
Believe it or not, this is one of the more prevalent (and aggravating) traits I see and hear about in church production; especially at really busy times like Christmas and Easter. Here’s the trap: when you play that martyr card, no matter how small, it can completely work to your advantage. People become sympathetic to your sad plight when they realize how hard you’re working (yes, I’ve done it too!).
What’s interesting though is I don’t ever recall doing this on the road. I loved what I got to do! It was an adventure traveling the world on someone else’s dime and getting paid to rock; what wasn’t to love? But then I started working in the church and encountered fellow techs wandering around like someone had held a gun to their head and forced them to work there. Well, perhaps it’s time to stop being a crybaby, suck it up, and realize that we have an amazing opportunity to be used by God to move His message forward! AND yes, perhaps still do some rocking! I don’t deny that the church schedule is one of the most relentless schedules I’ve ever been a part of, but quit your lamenting and let’s do this thing!
LEARN FROM THOSE WHO HAVE COME BEFORE YOU
OK, so even though this one is last, it may be the most important item on this list. I submit that in almost everything I’ve wanted to do, someone, somewhere has probably thought or done something similar that could make my life much easier if I had just stayed humble and willing to learn. I gleaned almost everything on the road from those who’d been there and done it before. Remember this, you are not taking full advantage of your situation until you can learn from those around you. It’s amazing what you can learn by paying attention to history. For me, listening to the older road guys recount the odd road story here and there literally became the most useful parables in my road bible.
Although not a comprehensive list, I feel that my future contribution to the church is exhibited well through these 7 items. Some people feel that they have been specifically called to work for the church and others may feel it’s more of a pit-stop, but no matter the specifics of your own situation, never hesitate to reflect on your experiences. It could be exactly what’s needed to make a difference.