What I've Learned as the "Church Media Guy"
When I was 18, I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew one thing: I would never be the media guy at a church.
Fast forward to age 22, when two years ago last month, I accepted the creative director position (read: media guy) at Arrowhead Church. And I was so excited about it.
These two years have been wonderful, challenging, and sometimes quite tiring. Most of the time it feels like I enjoy my job way too much for it to be considered "work", and some weekends I have to basically live in my office to get a project done.
For context, "creative director" basically means I either create or ensure that someone else creates: sermon videos, story/promo videos, websites and webpages, social media posts, graphic design, merchandise, stage sets, service handouts, and weekly teaching material. Encompassing all of that is the development and careful oversight of our communication strategy and guidelines. To put it simply, I make things and I make sure they look good.
It's been a lot of learning.
Here are the lessons I've learned along the way.
Do Fun Things
At first, I loved my job so much that even the mundane things seemed interesting. That newness didn't last terribly long. Starting a new project is fun, but eventually, all new things become familiar and eventually, a little boring. What I found to be really helpful to keep me engaged in all of my work is to constantly make new, unexpected projects once I get my main tasks completed.
I stole this idea from Google, who used to encourage its employees to spend 10% of their time on new, random projects that they were interested in. I started doing the same thing, spending about 5-8 hours a week on something new that I was really excited about. What kind of things?
- New church website (arrowhead.church)
- Dance videos for the family VBS we do each summer
- Communication Guide for all our staff and campuses
- New church app
- Video campaign of our college students' summer missions
These were things that weren't scheduled projects and hadn't been discussed in meetings - they were simply projects that I found fun and exciting, and ended up being very helpful to the mission of our creative ministry.
Pray over your work
If you've not worked at a church, let me possibly be the first to tell you that it can easily become more like work and less like the spirit-led ministry you might (rightly) assume it is. "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks," says Jesus, in Luke 6:45. And likewise, there's a correlation between a dependent servant of the Lord and gospel-directing communication. This (I have learned painfully) becomes problematic for us media people when our hearts become independent and our minds become entangled in to-do lists.
Quickly, I found the solution was simple. Just pray. The value of submitting my character and hours of effort humbly to God in service to him is the most valuable discipline. It orients my heart to him.
My best days have begun with prayer over my work. What kind of things do I pray for?
- Love for my co-workers and fellow church partners
- Success for my co-workers
- Creative and good ideas (literally the hardest part)
- Mentality of a missionary
- Gratitude for my job
- Effective use of my time and attention
Love your Co-Workers
You are a team.
You're not always going to agree. You're all sinners. All of you will make bad decisions sometimes.
And yet, you all share in the privilege and responsibility of serving the church body.
The best way to do that is to do it with grace and love for one another. Teamwork makes the dream work. It's not about being right. It's not about getting the credit for something good.
You are a team.
The more supportive you can be of your co-workers, the more effective their ministries will be, and the more people will see the character and message of Jesus.
Take Risks and Be Wrong
"Move fast and break things," used to be the unofficial slogan of Facebook's employee culture. That seems careless to me (and apparently they concluded the same thing), but a willingness to experiment and take a chance on something is very important.
An example of this, for us, has been a weekly podcast we call "The 10 Minute Think Thru." Each podcast episode consists of 3 church pastors/staff discussing a question related to the Bible, culture, or current events. Going into it, we had never produced anything like it before. We've spent hundreds of hours and obviously some amount of money to produce the 64 episodes. Spending this time and money on something so different and so out of our wheelhouse has been a huge risk. We've made mistakes and had to evolve along the way, quite a bit. We enter each month asking ourselves, "Is this project effective? Do we continue?"
But those are the kind of risks that create great things.
Similarly, you need to embrace being wrong and making something that sucks. The goal isn't to be a great director/media guy/designer/filmmaker, the goal is to make something great.
Your worth and identity, good or bad, doesn't come from what you create. It comes from Jesus. That can be hard because as artists, we put so much of ourselves into our work. As "media guys," our work is constantly judged and critiqued by literally everyone who sees it. When you get it right, it can be tempting to wallow in the compliments. When someone doesn't like something I made, it can feel like a huge personal blow.
I've had to grow through that, and I still am. It can be hard.
Remember, it's not about you.
So take a risk on an idea - one that you've given a great deal of care and thought over, one that you believe will be awesome - hope for the best, and if it doesn't pan out, learn from it and move on. You are not your work. And even the greatest artists have many, many failed projects.
Risk something and be willing to be wrong.
attend to the details
I once wrote that the value of a project comes in the final 5% of the work. It really is. If you care for the detail, even the smallest thing, it can make all the difference in the world. For example, when I "finish" a video, I load it on my iPad, take it home, and watch it over and over throughout the following days to carefully pick it apart and make changes before I publish it. I listen to it while I'm driving. I get feedback from people I trust.
This process helps me tremendously. Unfortunately, I haven't yet gotten it right. I still have typos (I misprinted the date of Father's Day on the church calendar, ugh).
Details matter. Whatever you're doing, give it your full attention and care. Make everything the very best you can possibly make it. Do not settle.
The best lesson? Keep your heart humble and eager to discover something new.