It was about 10.30pm in the evening when the call came through. The Comrades Marathon started early the next morning, and our youth group was going to be braai-ing and supporting the runners from the side of the road. The youth leader had just then decided we should have a sound system and invite bands to perform. He had asked someone to call me to arrange something. I was 15.
Having no PA of my own, I arranged to use the church mobile PA. It was everything you would imagine a mobile church PA to be. Two 12” passive speakers, paired with piezo tweeters in home-made boxes, and powered with an 80W amp. We had no CD player, so I borrowed my parents one (along with every extension cord in the house) – and headed out at 3.30am to start the set up in darkness.
Why am I telling you this story?
Well – the memory of this morning is seared into my mind as a defining moment for me. What followed was, as I look back, an experience that could have completely extinguished my passion for tech, and ministry before I even started.
I remember it being the 3rd band of the morning. They were a ‘hip-hop’ band that sang/rapped over a cd track. They strutted onto the stage (a grass bank) and without looking at me plopped their backtrack CD on the audio console, mentioning that they would have preferred wireless microphones.
Despite my best efforts it didn’t sound great. It sounded pretty bad. It was an out-door gig – the volume was underwhelming, over-compressed, and right on the verge of clipping as I tried to squeeze every precious decibel of life out of those tired, sad speakers. The band did not hide the fact that they were not impressed – from me or from the audience. When they were done they came to collect their CD. As I handed it over, the leader of the band looked me straight in the eyes, paused for a moment, and with a disgusted look said ‘that was the worst sound we have ever had’. He turned, and I watched him walk off.
I was broken.
I wasn’t even angry. I was just complete empty. I had got up at 3am, and spent 2 hours in complete darkness alone, hauling gear onto the side of the road. Called in favors, begged and borrowed for every piece of gear we had – then negotiated with nearby homes to ‘borrow electricity’, stressed about mic stands and kick drums and too few DI boxes. While my friends ate boerewors rolls and cheered on the runners and the bands, I was patching cables and wracking my brains for how we would mic up a 5th vocalist. What I had got in return for my effort was a lambasting by a popular artist – a public assault on my competence, which for whatever reason I felt on a really deep level.
Have you ever felt abused as a tech volunteer? Have you ever got to the point where you wonder why on earth you’d put yourself through one more day of this? You don’t have to do this/! You’re not paid! You’re just doing the job no one else wants to do! Why are you serving, instead of enjoying being served – and putting yourself under pressure for no perceivable gain?
My road to processing and recovering from that complicated experience was and is a long one, that has brought me all the way to where I am today writing this post. As I sit here after 8 years in tech ministry, I’m still not sure I have it all worked out! It may sound nuts – but I can tell you that I think I have just about the best job on earth. It may be the death of me – but I love church tech work! At Grace we are committed to honoring the people who serve in our church. It’s a fundamental part of our DNA. Nothing in our church would operate without ‘Grace people’ giving up their time to serve God, by serving each other – and I think that may be how it’s supposed to work.
What I can say with absolute clarity is that God calls us each to a purpose in his kingdom, (Romans 12:3, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26) and only when you find your place, can you start to understand the paradox of being served by serving others.