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Burnt To a Crisp

Blake Engel, All Church Sound


If you've been involved in the sound or technical ministry at your church for a few years, you've probably experienced some type of burnout due to a lack of appreciation. If you haven't you either have a GREAT technical ministry at your church, or burnout is just around the corner.

"Burnout is an unfortunate reality in far too many tech support ministries."7 When you find yourself feeling that "you have to be there [at church] because no one else can do what you do, it is only a matter of time before burnout"6. We feel alone and unappreciated in this unseen ministry-the only time we're noticed is when something goes wrong! And when things go wrong, "you've worked just as hard (and sometimes harder) than those on the platform who receive all the attention of the congregation."7 "Oh, by the way, my name is not , 'is this microphone on', OK!"9

People in the technical ministry are invisible--as long as everything goes well. "It's a little like getting away with something and nobody else has a clue."9 You can assume if no one says anything to you after the service, either it went well (and you did your job really well), or everyone is deaf and doesn't want to talk to you! As Doug Benson points out, "the audience shouldn't notice the sound person. So, when my guys are ignored, they take it as a compliment."

"Deep down, all have that need to be loved and appreciated...God created in us the need and desire to be loved."10 Blair McNair couldn't explain it much better--"Some would say that it should be enough that we have served well and God recognizes our offering and will reward us. That's totally true. Really! HE will. I wish I could tell you that is where I am. But, sorry, I'm Not. I need the affirmation of people. I need acceptance, respect, acknowledgment and even praise. WE ALL DO. Now, before you pick up your Bible and smack me on the forehead, just hear me out. No I haven't gone new age humanistic mambo-jombo on ya. It should not be the goal for us to seek these things. It should not be the reason we started to do this stuff in the first place."

So, what does it take to feel appreciated and needed? "I find that one kind sentence will last me a month. Unfortunately I get a kind sentence about twice a year."2 "I have found that even someone coming up to me and saying that they really appreciated how well sound went for the event is an encouragement."3 Mark Chapman was at a church where the senior pastor took direct responsibility for this--"...the senior pastor would come up to the booth and sit and talk to me for a few minutes and then have a brief time of prayer with me. To know that he was concerned with my emotional and spiritual needs made the difficult times easy to bear."

What can the technical leader do to help? "I continually give my guys verbal strokes even when they screw up bad. Such as, 'Wow, this was a tremendous learning experience for you! The way you dealt with a bad situation was admirable.' I mostly try to feed them positives during the services. 'I like what you're doing with the snare drum.' 'The vocal blend is very good tonight, show me how you accomplished that.'"4 Always, always, always build and support your team in public! This can't be said enough.

What about the relationships between the tech-people and the musicians? "Every person in the tech support team and the music team is an equal member of the worship team. Y'all need to like each other."7 To get to this point, you need to get to know each other. "It takes an investment in time to get to know one another--outside of the church functions."7 After a while, the technical team will better understand the needs and feelings of the musicians, and visa-versa. "While we, sound guys and gals, should cause nothing to happen that causes us to be noticed (good or bad) by the rest of the production team, i.e. Worship leader, singers, Pastor, etc. THEY should know when we do a good job and recognize that fact verbally to the team. After all, how often do you, sound guy and gal, verbally express to a soloist or praise team member how good a job they did on a particular song?"10

Are you the sound team all by yourself? ("And how many TEAMS OF ONE are there...?"7) "...train additional people...God never intended us to walk through life on one finger, rather that the whole body be involved in the experience."1 Seek people with a music background--don't worry if they know nothing about the technical end of things. This they will learn in time.

I've helped out with the technical side of things for a few youth outreach events. You know the kind--they want all the gear you have, and they want it all to be setup and in perfect operation 3 hours from now. Well, these events were always rather stressful--I was glad when they were over and everything was cleaned up. A few days later, I'd hear from the youth pastor that "x" number of new people were there, and "x" number of people accepted Jesus into their hearts for the first time. Hearing the results of the time spent made it all worth it! To know that you took part in an event that helped bring people to Christ gives you a great feeling. Talk to your pastor(s) and let them know you're interested in knowing when people make a decision. Now, realize their decision probably isn't based on how well the sound went, or that the spot light operator didn't miss a single cue--but you'll be reminded that what you're doing is for the Kingdom. You'll see your labor isn't in vain

We all need to be fed if we expect to grow. Why are we at church? To praise God and to learn more about Him and His ways so we can GROW. "It is difficult to receive anything from a service that you are working in."6 "It's discouraging, because as Christians, one of our main missions is to minister to others. We tend to forget that the ministers also need ministering!"8 Make sure everyone has at the very least one week off each month. Better yet, take two weeks off. Two weeks to be totally involved in the service itself. Everyone needs this time to learn and grow.

There comes a time in some peoples lives when they feel they just can't go on the way they have been. Curt Taipale gives a important words of advice when you feel this way--"It's okay to walk away from the sound ministry, just don't walk away from God. I was so burnt when I left that church the first time that it was more than six months before I stepped into another church to attend a worship service. And then I wasn't about to tell them what I did for a living. I never stopped loving God, but I was really hurt through my experiences at that church..."

As a team, you need to share the glory of work well done. If someone complements your work, pass on the glory! Acknowledge you couldn't have done it alone--you needed the support of the other team members. Make sure that glory doesn't stick to man, but that it goes on up to God. God has given each of us certain abilities and talents. We need to be thankful to Him for what He's given us.

"...if everyone keeps looking to Him, it'll be okay. It's like going through a tunnel--there's light at the other side, but it can be scary and frustrating while you're in the middle."7 "Burn out is avoidable. Seek His will for your life. Go remembering He knows what's up with you. You will never be given a challenge you can't handle. All things work for good for those called by His name."9

One final thought--"God knows. Now, when you're hurting, that and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee, but He knows. He knows your diligence. He knows your heart. He knows your hurt. He knows."7

--Blake Engel


Special thanks to the following people who have so graciously contributed to this article.

1. Jeff Knight
2. Don Clayton
3. Rich Marcolini
4. Doug Benson
5. Mark Chapman (Crown Technical Representative)
6. Robert Martin
7. Curt Taipale (Church Soundcheck Magazine)
8. Robert Enlow (RESOUND Co.)
9. Blair McNair (Crown International)
10. Keith Kotch