Production: Impossible

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My wife and I are huge fans of the television show Restaurant: Impossible.

Each week, muscle-bound chef Robert Irvine visits a different failing restaurant across the country. With a limited budget and less than two days to work, he and his construction and design team completely overhaul everything in the restaurant, from menu to marketing to décor. The result (hopefully) is that the reinvigorated owners are blessed with the tools to succeed in their “second chance” and can launch themselves back on the path to profitability.

While the issues that the show depicts are often pretty obvious ones connected to a failing restaurant (tacky décor, extreme filth, bad food, etc.), one of the common themes in many of these restaurants is how poor of a job the owner does in actually leading the staff. Too often, Chef Robert points a finger at the owner and screams, “You’re the problem!”

Most people would just think that the visible issues in the restaurant are keeping consumers away, but in reality, it’s the behind-the-scenes management who are causing the poor performance.

It may seem like a stretch to equate a failing restaurant with a church tech team, but just go with me here. I think there are actually some parallels between the two. On the surface, a church’s tech issues may seem pretty straightforward: poor transitions, user error, poor equipment usage, and even equipment failure. But how many of those can be attributed to us as leaders doing a poor job managing?

On Restaurant: Impossible, there are a few common leadership themes that the owners are struggling with that I think those of us in the production world could learn a thing or to from as well.

  1. Lack of vision or identity. If there’s no central vision or unity driving the function of the restaurant, then it will fail. When everyone is running different plays (looking out for themselves and their paychecks primarily), they’re all going in different directions. And the same is true in the church tech world. If we can’t unify our volunteers behind the mission and vision of the church, then we run the risk of building “me-first” teams who are more concerned with their mix and their style than serving the vision of the house.

Remember, Lucifer was kicked out of heaven because he chose to exalt himself and his personal agenda over that which he was called to serve. So cast a vision for your team: It’s not about me and my talent; it’s about how I can use my gifts to bring glory to the Lord. We must remember that we are serving behind-the-scenes so that those visible on stage can reach people effectively. Our success is all connected.

  1. Lack of accountability. As the leader, it’s my job to create a culture of accountability. I must clearly communicate the expectations to those under me, whether for their performance or character. I can’t avoid having a tough conversation with someone just because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Iron sharpens iron. That means there are going to be friction and sparks from time to time. My job is to help those under me get better, and that starts by setting clear expectations and holding my people to those certain standards. 

Too often we allow talent to trump character. We think that we can’t confront someone’s poor performance because we work for a church and have to welcome all volunteers with open arms, regardless of skill level. Or we’re afraid to address someone’s character shortcomings or behavior and attitude problems because they’re our most-talented volunteer, and we can’t afford to alienate them. But when we allow ourselves to make excuses instead of addressing whatever the issue may be, it undermines our ability to lead. It makes it difficult for others on the team to trust that we’ll do the right thing in any circumstance because we are clearly compromising whatever standards have been set. When there is no accountability, people quit caring about doing their job well.

  1. Lack of humility. So many of the restaurants on the show are in dire positions simply because the owner was too stubborn to do things differently—too stubborn to change the menu or décor, too stubborn to try new things, too stubborn to learn. They too easily embraced the mindset that “this is the way we’ve always done it.”

Unfortunately, as soon as we as leaders stop learning and taking steps forward, we start sliding backwards. Our organizations or teams will never grow beyond what we are capable of. If I’m not learning how to improve at my craft, or how to use new technology, or how to learn from other churches or organizations, then my team will never grow either. It takes extreme humility to be able to look inward to identify areas of weakness and then admit to others that you need their help in order to grow.

Remember, it’s the stuff bubbling below the surface that causes the problems. The visible issues are only the result of the deeper issues. Take the time to grow yourself, to ask questions, to learn. Otherwise, your team may become Production: Impossible.