Monday, June 4, 2012

Sometimes you get what you pay for, but sometimes free is best

[by guest blogger Carrie Davidson]

At 9:00 am on a Tuesday, my normal routine is sitting in my climate-controlled cubicle and wrapping up my previous day’s work in the financial industry. Fortunately, my normal routine got a bit mixed up
on Tuesday, May 22nd at 9:00 am when I piled into a 15-passenger van/bus with 12 other tech-minded folks from Northeast Kansas. We were in for the long haul to Chicago to attend the 2012 Gurus of Tech conference at Willow Creek’s Crystal Lake campus. The mission of the Gurus conference is to give church tech staff and volunteers an opportunity to learn new skills, connect with Christian brothers and sisters who share skills and interests, relax, and return to our home churches feeling refreshed. Did I
mention that the conference is free?

Most of you have either been to a conference before or can imagine what one is like, so I won’t divulge
every single detail about the sessions, speakers, or schedule. In short, the conference was comprised of
three main sessions each day, featuring some superb keynote speakers, a time to worship, and last but
not least: games, nearly all of which resulted in some completely random prizes for the winners (i.e. an
alarm clock belt buckle, a bag of cotton candy). The main sessions were exciting, fun, and refreshing.
In addition to the main sessions, the conference featured a number of breakout sessions, which could
be attended at one’s leisure. In these sessions, speakers from various churches helped attendees build
upon their audio, video, lighting, and leadership skills. There were also a few product vendors on site to
highlight some of their super cool gear and rub shoulders with the conference attendees.

The conference filled my little nerdy brain with all sorts of great techy ideas and takeaways, but you
probably don’t want to hear about every single thing I learned or every geeky conversation I had. For
your reading pleasure, I’ll summarize my lessons learned by subject in the most concise manner I can.

Technical knowledge:

Being a light designer myself led me to attend every lighting class I could.
Personally, I am at a point where I aim to make my light programming faster and more efficient. The
lighting classes at Gurus of Tech emphasized that the purpose of lighting is visibility, composition of
form, revelation of select objects or areas of the stage, and to influence mood. If my primary aim is
to influence mood, then I am probably missing the most important part of lighting (and have perhaps
discovered the reason why lighting is so time consuming for me). Lesson learned: Go back to the basics; improve as a light designer by learning neighboring arts, reading trade magazines, and watching concert DVDs. Be more efficient by using tools that are perhaps a bit unorthodox, such as mannequin heads mounted on microphone stands. When it comes to designing sets, think outside the box. Use everyday materials like straws and plastic cups to help build an interesting set. And, oh yeah, pink foam might very well be the best friend of an engaging set design.

Spiritual applications:

One of the keynote speakers, Nancy Beach from the Sling Shot Group, touched
on a subject that I have rarely considered in my lifetime: honoring the Sabbath. For techies, this one’s
NOT easy. In addition to their responsibilities at church, many technical artists have full-time jobs and
families. But this doesn’t mean we should ignore the Sabbath altogether. It’s OK to start small. Perhaps
we can just set aside two or four hours on a Wednesday to stop doing all of the things on our to-do list
that we HAVE to do and spend time embracing that which gives us life. God rested after he created the
world so he could glory in His creation. Remember, techs are not the one-and-only exception to the 4 th

Heart issues: 

1) Remember the job you signed up for and give as you have purposed in your heart, not
begrudgingly or under compulsion. Know that you will likely have some long nights working on projects or you will have some stuff go majorly wrong. When this happens, just brush it off and move on.

2) In ministry, relationships are of utmost importance. We serve so that we can bring Glory to God and grow His kingdom. There is no better way to do this than building genuine, Christ-like relationships with those around us.

3) Never underestimate the value of encouraging those we serve under. Be the first one to
reach out to your lead pastor and tell him that he’s doing a great job.

Refreshing/encouraging times: 

The best part of the main sessions was attending a big service and NOT being preoccupied with making the service run smoothly. Not one of the conference attendees thought
twice about making sure the slides appeared on the screen in the right order, making sure the keynote
speaker grabbed the correct microphone, or cuing the lighting sequences at just the right moment. Now
THAT was refreshing. The pinnacle of my conference experience occurred on the first evening when
I enjoyed a long acoustic worship time and communion. The only lights on in the auditorium were a
few simple face lights to accentuate the features of the three musicians on stage. It was an excellent
reminder that a big band illuminated by beautiful LEDs is not a prerequisite for genuine and meaningful


It’s seriously fun to have the opportunity to get to know the people that you serve with every week
at church. Not to mention, it’s pretty cool to bond with tech people from other churches in your area.
How often can you start a conversation with “Screen sharing has eliminated the need for media servers”
or “The Jands is sooooooo much more intuitive than the SmartFade for novice light designers” and have someone actually listen to you? An eleven-hour car ride isn’t necessarily how anyone wants to spend a day, but with 8 laptops, 8 iPhones, and 3 wireless networks an eleven-hour car ride isn’t really a normal car ride. It’s a barrel of laughs, fellowship, and a whole lot of geeking out! And that’s OK when you’re going to and from a free tech conference. The adage “you get what you pay for” couldn’t be any further from the truth when referring to the Gurus of Tech conference.