Shawn Simpson serves as the Director of Technical Arts and Operations at The Church of the Resurrection’s West campus in Olathe, KS.
Last week marked one of the most hectic weeks we have in the Tech Arts department. The National Worship Leader Conference is an “all hands on deck” event where anybody who can move a mic, wrap a cable, carry a flat of water, or point a wayward guest to the proper room is enlisted for all-day duty. 2000 people descend on the Leawood campus for a host of exhibits, workshops, and concerts. The organizer of the event for Worship Leader Magazine, Suzie Stablein, often speaks of the intent of the conference being to rejuvenate and energize worship leaders to touch the people in their congregations. The whole focus is to be serving those who are in service of others.
My job during the conference was to be the “Deck Boss,” which is a cool way of saying that I managed everything getting on and off the stage in the sanctuary. With multiple artists leading worship, each with their own specific configuration of musicians and vocalists, it was very important that we be very deliberate in how we staged each group to facilitate fast and orderly changeovers from one to the next. In some ways, it was very daunting and could be frustrating at times. The groups were invariably arriving from their own hectic travel schedule, coming into our venue where they didn’t know exactly what to expect. ALMOST all of them provided us with a “rider,” which is a document specifying their setup, but NONE of them actually used precisely what their rider called for. That’s where my crew came in. It was our job to work with them to quickly figure out what they actually needed and what we could provide, and in what ways we could make it all go as smoothly as possible.
As you can imagine, there were times when an artist (or their representative) would get…ummm…cranky…. about how things were going. I’m happy to say that in every case, though, the crew was able to get everyone going and all of the artists led fantastic worship sets. Some groups were more fun than others to work with, but in the end we all parted with handshakes, high-fives, fist bumps, and profuse mutual praise for a job well done.
One artist that really stood out was the closer for the whole conference, Paul Baloche. This is the third time Mr. Baloche has led worship at NWLC and each time, he and his band have been a pleasure to work with. This year was no exception.
As I said before, these artists are usually playing NWLC as a stop on a longer tour they are doing. They are travel-weary and exhausted. Our soundcheck with Mr. Baloche’s band was at 11am on Thursday morning and they arrived 20 minutes early to get setup. Ben Gowell, the band leader, came right to me with exactly what I needed to know for their setup, then asked ME what THEY could do to help! Michael Rossback and Carl Albrecht, the bassist and drummer were equally helpful. The setup went smoothly and they progressed through a smooth and professional soundcheck. Mr. Baloche came in after the band was setup and ran through his own soundcheck with them, equally smooth and professional. They finished their soundcheck with time to spare and left us to our work of getting the rest of the groups for the evening checked out.
Now, being a professional in your setup and soundcheck isn’t anything remarkable. These guys do this all the time and I’m sure they understand that things go smoother if you come into it with a good attitude. The deck crew works on that same philosophy, so it makes sense that we would click that way. Here’s where it gets remarkable…
They didn’t play until after 8pm on Thursday evening, following three other worship artists. Their set was scheduled to last for 45 minutes, but went for over an hour. No complaints there. Mr. Baloche is a masterful worship leader. Following his worship set, the conference was officially closed and it was time for the participants to gather themselves up after three days and head home to their respective churches. Mr. Baloche’s band had done a great job and could rightfully have gathered their gear and headed out the door to their next gig…but that’s not what happened. As the house lights came on and the work of tearing down and loading out began, we found that Ben, Michael, and Carl were surrounded by curious “fans.” Ben was happily talking guitar pedals with a smiling group. Michael was giving an impromptu clinic on the rigors of being the bass player AND keyboard player in the band. Carl was holding court with a group most fascinated in how he setup the drum kit to suit his playing style. In each case, these guys, all of whom had to be extremely exhausted were putting aside their own comfort and legitimate right to call it a night, and instead were joyfully serving the people for whom the conference was held.
It was truly inspiring to see a marvelously talented group take the time to deliberately focus on the faithful spirit and serve rather than to focus on their own needs. Nobody would’ve blamed them at all if they’d gone backstage and waited until the crowds left. Instead, they stepped up and offered encouragement and blessings to tired and stressed worship leaders. Beyond the music they played, I believe their true service was to offer that kind word to rejuvenate and energize the attendees to go out and touch the lives of their own congregants. My prayer would be that I could see those opportunities to look outward rather than inward and share the blessings that God has given me.
(and so you don’t think Mr. Baloche was skipping out on some post-worship service, he was in the narthex signing autographs and taking pictures for anyone who asked…smiling and encouraging every person he came into contact with.)
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