This week I got an interesting request… a friend from Sydney, Dave, asked me if I could share my journey into leadership. This is what he wrote:
I will be leading up a production team for young adults … and this Sunday I will be making my presentation, I would love to mention how you become a song writer, singer, choir conductor and more! I would love to know where you started? … When did you know you wanted to write songs? And any inspiration for other Tanya’s out there?
I actually never thought my story would really interest anyone haha…. but I’ve often wondered about how I was supposed to find my calling, so I think there is something that can be gained in writing it down. But what is cooler is that this is a group of techies. I’ve learned most of my leadership skills from techies, so this is a chance to give something back – those guys up the back with the black teeshirts. I rate them. So here goes…
I was officially recognized as a singer when I got bored in class and sung a harmony to ‘dem bones dem bones’ in grade 2. I would have been about six. My teacher, Mrs Smith, was startled at this, and contacted my parents, suggesting they plan to vocally extend me. My parents were tone deaf, so that confused them for a while. I joined the school choir and sang lots of solos etc, but I don’t remember it – I’m pretty sure I started singing formally in an external choir when I was in grade four, so I would have been about eight/nine years of age. I just started in a local chapter of the Australian Girls Choir who came to our school and did auditions.
When this secular choir I sang in closed, it coincided with a request from our church (Hillsong Church) that people serve in one Sunday service and attend the other. I enrolled for children’s church, but found myself hiding behind a pillar staring into the main auditorium during the morning band rehearsals. I asked the children’s ministry if they would mind if I joined the tiny (and pitch-wise, terrible!) choir that had begun to form once a month. They were happy to release me, and so I joined the choir. I just felt completely at home there – it was a place I could sing completely freely, to God.
It’s there that I met techies for the first time. I’ve learned most of my enduring leadership lessons from the production crew. So I guess, Dave, in order for you to make some points that are relevant to a new generation of tech leaders, I’ll think about what I learned from the Hillsong techies. We’ll call it “passing forward” leadership skills.
1) I never chased “big opportunities”. Every job I have worked in and leadership role I have been given came from diligently following up small opportunities that presented themselves to me.
I learnt this discipline from the sound and lighting guys who got to church hours before us, and left hours behind us. I noticed that the techies gave of themselves joyfully, extravagantly and reliably. So I served in the choir every week. I decided I would be content with singing in the choir. Week in, week out. Album in, album out. I loved doing this! I knew it was such a little thing, but I was doing it unto God! I sometimes wonder how I had so much commitment. But I did!
2) It’s always a balance between using your natural giftedness and serving your community. When that balance is found, it’s a beautiful thing.
Lots of people refused to be in the choir because they believed that they were better than that. And doing something mundane faithfully is hard – we believe everything will stay exactly the same forever – and so it frustrates us. But if you’re gifted in the area, it’s too easy to imagine yourself on bigger stages. So, discipline yourself to be content. Position yourself in a place where you can see your usefulness benefit the church, and contribute your strengths, you will enjoy it beyond belief.
The Hillsong techies taught me that backstage was not ‘lesser’ than being on stage. We were all serving God. They never sought promotion but just trusted that God would use their skills at the right time. I was naive decided to believe this too, and definitely God did… I ended up on backing microphones before too long. Other people grumbled and were jealous that I got the opportunity – but, I would have served happily in the choir forever. I didn’t ‘need’ to be promoted, it was an unexpected blessing.
3) If you can do the little everyday things unto God, then He will sort out the bigger things that you couldn’t handle if you tried.
When I wrote my song ‘Jesus What a Beautiful Name’, our family was really going through a terrible time. My dad really struggled with alcohol and I was in my senior years at high school – I was not dealing well with it. I dealt with my pain and all the pressure I felt in worship – I sang my way out of that season. One day I sang this song to a leader, and it ended up on a Hillsong CD. There were plenty of obstacles and problems in between, but they were all worth it. It wasn’t something I was planning, to be a published songwriter, I was just lifting my faith and being creative in my bedroom at home, and somehow that found a broader audience. I still get so surprised at how many people this song speaks to, and that it relates to so deeply.
Every single lyric I’ve written I’ve had to learn how to live first – when I wrote ‘grace that blows all fear away’, I knew that fear was a constant presence in my life. I still struggle with fear! But I trust that God is crafting a space for me to inhabit that is impenetrable – his perfect love is driving fear away.
I found songs just came to me, and they still do. But this doesn’t mean I don’t have to try. I can’t just slap words down on a page and present them to worship leaders and publishers. I make sure that I’m giving the best I can give. I watched the Hillsong techies google the BEST way to do lighting, the NEWEST methods and the MOST CREATIVE answers… they read blog after blog, trying to improve their art. If this is how the techies approach mic-ing the drum kit, then why should I get away with laziness in songwriting? This brings me to my next point…
4. You don’t know whether ‘this’ or ‘that’ will succeed, so do ALL you can well.
Recently, the production head of Hillsong stepped down from his position, because he felt someone else could take it to the next level. I’m not sure how many people know, but I consider that to be one of the best leadership lessons ever. He’s not famous, and his family are just like every other Sydney family – trying to figure out how to balance rising fuel prices with the mortgage and school fees. But he had some skills he knew he could fall back on – he was so committed to the team that he started again in a new job. I guess maybe this is why I’m less fearful to take risks – moving overseas was a huge step, but I feel that it may meet a need the church doesn’t even know it has yet. To be able to be that flexible, you have to be good at a number of things. I learned this biblical principles from the techies.
6 In the morning sow your seed,
And in the evening do not withhold your hand;
For you do not know which will prosper,
Either this or that,
Or whether both alike will be good – Ecclesiastes 11:6
Just get good at LOTS of things.
So… I’ve been honoured to learn so many other skills from techies. I learned how to use a microphone when I was a teenager (I’m still grateful for the many tutorials on how to roll a mic lead). I’ve learned about studio work and what it takes to put together a CD. I’ve learned from the techies how to communicate to the back of the auditorium – and a whole heap of physics about how much dancing causes choir risers to break :-). As a worship pastor, I learned how to sit up the back of the room and watch the response of the people. I learned that the person running the lyrics was the real worship leader. I learned to appreciate how hard techies work. I’ve drunk coca cola with them and slid under the sound-desk when there’s feedback due to the person on stage not using their mic right (the congregation’s heads can turn faster than you can make the sound). I’ve learned how to fearlessly run up on stage during a silent moment and change a battery. I’ve learned how to ask whether the batteries are changed BEFORE the service…. I’ve learned to pray myself through being on a ladder doing staging, and how to sit back and appreciate the beauty of what you weren’t sure would work. I’ve learned to love the team around me and to prefer them and their needs above my own desires and giftings….because they preferred me.
I think the best representation of Christianity is an army of people in black teeshirts. I heart the production team.
Go well guys (& girls)!