The earliest home I can remember from my childhood was a house in San Bernardino, California. That house’s kitchen, like most kitchens, had a junk drawer containing rubber bands, paper clips, old pens, matches, and forgotten old keys. It was without a doubt the best drawer for a kid to discover. This habit of junk drawers that turn into to junk rooms and garage clutter, often flows into my workplaces.
Every studio, toolbox, and storage closet has served as a junk drawer at some point. I’ve gone so far that I’ve had entire spaces dedicated to odd gear, dead cases, and scenic elements of “sermon series past.” It’s where equipment goes to die, where future projects gather dust, and a place where “to-do lists” can never, ever reach.
As I spend my time visiting production spaces across the country, I’ve noticed that every production team has their own version of a junk drawer. They’re the places I get “hurried by” on church tours. Much like rings within a tree trunk, each space reveals every season the building has had and the caretakers who have looked after them. By visiting equipment racks, backstage areas, or Front of House; I can quickly get a sense of how busy a team is and if the team is suffering from burnout.
But burnout can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint in your own tech team or staff, especially when God is clearly working in the ministries they support and the productions they lead.
The task of executing fifty-two unique and engaging Sundays is no small task. We as leaders often don’t see burnout because it’s hard to see past all the systems and processes that actually go right each Sunday. We stop noticing our team’s late nights and the hurdles they jump from last minute changes, that help make and guard our congregation’s Sunday experience. And frankly, it’s easy to mistake excellence for health. God has and will always work through flawed people. And we often mistake God’s ability to do His incredible work amidst those flaws, as health or even righteousness.
The hard truth is that sustained excellence in ministry cannot be realized without the ongoing effort of diagnosing burnout, advocating for real health, rebalancing, and then recommitting to our calling.
One tell-tale sign for recognizing burnout in your team is how they respond when new ideas are brought to them. If you’ve ever served a dynamic and creative leader, you know they have a unique ability to cast compelling visions and create incredible new ideas. When visions are cast regarding growth, community impact, or missional opportunities, we can hear these ideas and collectively say yes without reservation. But burnout has a way of causing even the most vision-minded tech’s perspective to turn. Turning wholeheartedness into reluctance, dismissive opposition or skepticism. This is why it’s so important to know who you are (clarity) and what your church is supposed to do (vision). Burnout is just as much a result of passion and dedication as it is to poor leadership, lack of resources, and miscommunicated expectations.
It’s because burnout is a thief of perspective. It will cause one to keep a record of wrongs, real and imagined. Where there was once gratitude and trust, burnout can leave one with a victim mentality attempting to protect their time in order to protect oneself.
Now think about the last time a new idea was shared with your tech team, and more indicatively, how they responded. The initial response to a new idea in the past may have been enthusiastic, but over time you notice hesitance or a lack of follow-through. There is nothing that can quickly derail new ideas and initiatives like a tired team.
Imagine you’re in a pool, and more water keeps getting added so you tread harder. Then while trying to stay afloat, you’re asked to dunk a basketball! Being able to dunk a basketball would be amazing, but while struggling to stay above water, it’s not realistic, nor does it sound exciting anymore. In the same way, no matter how compelling a creative idea may be, this is the obstacle new initiatives face when your tech team is burned out.
There are however symptoms that you may spot in your production workspaces before you get to this place. Odd pieces of equipment, cabling, backline, and abandoned projects begin to pile up backstage. “Equipment to be repaired when we have a few down days” turns to “let’s just buy a new one, we don’t have time before Sunday.” When storage areas become full, when workspaces are cluttered, and when purchasing equipment is the knee-jerk response before problem solving. maintenance, or innovation, you’ll know you’ve unfortunately curated a tired team with little margin to be at their best.
Burnout at its worst will have its greatest toll on relationships. In our world of church production, how many stories are there of tumultuous departures, burned bridges, and relational wrongs? We often don’t address burnout until it’s culmination seems irreparable.
But what if we could pinpoint when the workload became overwhelming for our team? What if we could make room for rest, perhaps even find ways to provide it for one another? Perhaps the most profitable opportunity you have as a leader is the potential of a rested and a re-energized tech team. Think about the cost of finding a new staff member, on-ramping them into your team, and building real trust to move forward. How much time do you have to do this well?
As we examine our staff culture metrics, strategize for efficiency, and wonder about the health of our production techs, pay attention to the way your team responds to new ideas, especially the last minute ones. Check out your team’s production spaces after a busy weekend. Investigate the areas your team sets up for volunteers to succeed. And take a hard look at the tension that burnout may be placing on the relationships with your tech team.
If we’re not fighting every day for the health of our teams, we’ve made the unconscious decision to leave their ministry effectiveness, and the health of their families vulnerable.