I don't know.
by Mike Sessler, ChurchTechArts.org
I see this all the time. People speaking authoritatively from a position of ignorance. The internet is awesome for this. Just check out any of the online forums or groups. And pick a topic - any topic. I of course see this in church tech groups, but it exists everywhere. I also see it in every day life. I'll hear someone make a fairly definitive statement that obviously comes from a place of no knowledge or background. But boy, are they convinced they're right. My mom used to have a magnet on the fridge that said, "My mind is made up - don't confuse me with the facts."
What does this have to do with being a technical leader in church? Quite a lot, actually. I've removed a large amount of equipment from various churches over the years, and I'm sure it was all installed confidently. That is, whoever installed it was confident in their choice. Even if that choice was not based in any kind of knowledge or experience. Even if it didn't work. At all. That wastes a lot of money and undermines trust in our profession.
Why does this happen? Well, I think there is an unnecessarily engrained concept in most of us that we have to be right all the time. And we have to know everything about our jobs. Now, the truth is, it's impossible to know everything about a subject. And if you ask people that have been doing a particular thing for a long time, they will likely tell you that the longer they do it, the more they realize they don't know.
But not so when we're starting out. We know everything! And that is a dangerous place to be. Look, I've been doing production/tech/design now for going on 30 years. I'm the expert. I get paid to tell churches what they need. And I can't even tell you how many times I say, "I don't know." There are literally tens of thousands of pieces of gear in the AV universe, and it's impossible to know the details of all them (let alone know that all of them exists!). Often times, the best thing I can tell someone is, "I don't know." But I don't stop there.
Let Me Find Out
When I say, "I don't know," it's almost always followed by, "but let me find out." Then, I call or email someone who knows more about this particular thing or topic than I do. I have a deep contact file filled with smart people who I call when I don't know something. Once I get an answer, I report back, and life goes on. The problem is solved and everyone is happy.
But you know when people are not happy? When I (or someone like me) make up an answer that we think might be right and it doesn't work out. Best case, we waste some time. Worst case, we break stuff. Find out the right answer and move on. There is no shame in not knowing everything. But there is in breaking stuff because you made up a wrong answer.
If you want to last in this business, you need credibility. One senior pastor I worked for once said to me, "Mike, I've worked with a lot of tech guys and they all come in and tell me the last guy didn't know what he was doing and it all needs to be changed. Why should I listen to you?" That is a legitimate question. Two years later, he was listening to me. Why? Because I made smart decisions, after consulting with smart people that made real improvements.
Know that when you start as a TD of a church, you start where I did. Why should anyone listen to you? Don't burn the tiny little bit of credibility you have as the new guy by making stupid decisions. Don't do things confidently out of ignorance. Get help. Find good advice. Make smart decisions. Don't gamble your church's money on ideas you think might work. And please, for the love of all that's good and holy, don't listen to every commenter in a Facebook group that thinks that XYZ product is the "best ever!!!" when it's the only thing they've ever used.
Make sure the people you're getting advice from actually know what they're talking about. And a good way to tell is that they will often say, "I don't know. But let me find out."