Chad McDonald Exclusive Interview
Where are you in life right now and how does that affect what you create?
I think what affects me the most right now, is that on Sundays I am usually playing guitar on our Broadcast stage. Obviously, I do it because I love music and I love worship, but one of the main benefits of this for me personally is that I get a very unique seat in the house to watch people’s eyes as they view the content we create. As a service is happening I can definitively tell you if people thought it was funny or engaging or if they even paid attention at all. Its very easy for an artist to lock themselves away in an edit bay or a cubicle and constantly be cranking out content, but if you’re never looking the people in the eyes how can you really know if what you’re making is effective or not. In my experience, the most frustrated artists in Creative Ministry, the ones on the edge of burnout, are the ones who have lost touch with the people in their church and in their communities. They’re probably not serving anywhere and are using Sundays as an excuse to “get more work done” and thats a very dangerous place to be.
Describe your typical schedule, what do you do in a typical day/week?
Mondays to Thursdays are in-office days and Sundays are service days. When I’m in the office, my time is spent meeting with artists about current projects and meeting with ministries about future projects. When I meet with artists it could be to present a Creative Brief, run a brainstorm, have an internal pitch, or it could just be a check-in on how things are progressing. With ministries it could be to have kick-off meeting, it could be a quick sync to get more vision, or it could be a long-range creative planning session with our teaching team.
Describe how you find inspiration or inspire your team:
My personal inspiration comes from all over. I don’t have a set website or person I look to necessarily. Don’t get me wrong, I still look at Vimeo, or Dribbble, or whatever, but inspiration is more of a mindset than it is a process. You have to keep your mind open and in tune with what The Holy Spirit is trying to show you. I like to say that my brain has an ESPN-style news ticker that is constantly running at the bottom. Its always taking in little notes from movies, TV shows, or ads that I’ll file away and wait for the right project to come along that is the right fit. Its sort of like my little savings account of inspiration that I dip into when I need it.
What keeps you going in creative ministry:
I know its what the Lord has uniquely created me to do and I know how valuable it is to The Church. One day I want to hand this church over to my children and their children and its my responsibility to build the foundation now and the best way I know how to do that is through creative media.
Everyone’s heard someone say ‘ministry is hard’ and that’s true, it is. But I think we spend too much energy and effort trying to find ways to make it easier. In Creative Ministry, the answer to whatever your current struggle is, is usually HARD WORK. I guarantee you the most impressive pieces were not made under ideal circumstances. They probably didn’t only work on it from 9–5, they probably didn’t have a perfected process and system. If you want to know the secret to not having to make “week of” content, the secret is you have to work hard. Creative ministry SHOULD BE hard work, if it’s not then you’re doing it wrong.
Describe one thing you wish everyone knew about working in the creative ministry field and why it is important:
Everyone’s heard someone say “ministry is hard” and thats true, it is. But I think we spend too much energy and effort trying to find ways to make it easy. We’re always looking for an easier process or some kind of template system to ease the burden. System and process can be a good thing, but we can’t run from the work or just because something is hard it becomes a bad thing or something to be changed. One thing I wish everyone knew about working in Creative ministry is that the answer to whatever your current struggle is, is usually HARD WORK. How do you get better at your craft? You work hard at it. If you want to know how someone or some church did some cool thing that you’re impressed by, the answer is that they worked really hard. I guarantee you the most impressive pieces were not made under ideal circumstances. They probably didn’t only work on it from 9–5, they probably didn’t have a perfected process and system. I bet something major changed along the way that they didn’t plan on and I bet they didn’t have a whole ton of time to do it. I bet they worked really really hard. If you want to know how to get teams to collaborate better or communicate better, the answer is that you have to work hard at it. If you want to know the secret to not having to make “week of” content, the secret is you have to work hard. Creative ministry SHOULD BE hard work, if its not then you’re doing it wrong.
Describe how you overcome difficult situations in Creative Ministry:
One of the most frustrating things for NewSpring Creative used to be when a project got cut or drastically changed at the last minute. It can be devastating to an artist or a team when something you’ve put blood sweat and tears into gets cut from a service. There have been a few practical things we did along the way to try to prevent that from happening. We created the Creative Director role to carry the weight of making sure the project stays on vision. We have multiple pitch meetings between artists, the Creative Director, and the ministry all before any real resources or time have been spent. But the two most important changes we made were heart changes. We fell in love with the process and not the product. If you chase the joy of learning, creating and collaborating then the product takes care of itself and in the end if the product is cut then the process is still there. The other heart change was realizing that The Lord puts authority over us for a reason and the burden of what plays in a service is on the shoulders of a service producer and not the artists. Love always assumes the best and if something was cut we had to choose to assume that the person who cut it understands that weight and responsibility.
Every member of a creative team needs to believe 3 things. They are a Child of God first, a Brother/Sister in Christ second, and an Artist for the Gospel third.
Creative ministry SHOULD BE hard work, if it’s not then you're doing it wrong.
Describe your work/life balance:
There really isn’t such a thing as work/life balance for me. Its all one and the same. Don’t get me wrong, my family is my primary ministry, I’m the Creative Director for the McDonald family. But as much as I know that I am called to Creative Ministry, Katrina knows she’s called to be the wife of someone in ministry. A calling isn’t something you can shut off. I never stop thinking about how to leverage art for the church. And I never stop thinking about my wife and kids. Every decision is calculated. When I say yes to shooting in Utah or Morocco for a week I know that I’m saying no to spending that time with my family.
If you have (or could) build a creative team or atmosphere, what are some of the key elements you would include?
Every member of a creative team needs to believe three things. They are a Child of God first, a Brother/Sister in Christ second, and an Artist for the Gospel third. The order is very important. To build a healthy culture every artist has to realize that their identity is in Christ and not wrapped up in their ability to create. Their artistry is not who they are first. Secondly they are brothers and sisters in Christ. Artists in a collaborative environment need to act like brothers & sisters. Siblings call each other out on their crap. Siblings lift each each other up. Siblings love each other no matter what. Siblings work together. We should be iron sharpening iron. A knife that is never sharpened is still a knife, its just one that no one wants to use. The third and final thing is that they are an artist FOR the gospel. For the good news of Jesus Christ, not for their own portfolio, not for their own dribble account or their own Vimeo page. If every artist on the team believes those three things, you have an unstoppable combination.
What is one creative tool you cannot live without:
I can’t live without Evernote. I have a terrible memory so my Project Manager Tara and I try to capture everything we can in shared notes. I keep it on my phone so when I wake up at 3am and can’t shut my brain off I can jot down ideas. And it all syncs up. I love it.
Describe your work environment:
I’m naturally an introvert and if I had my way I would sit in a cold dark cave and never talk to anyone. But I work in a very open and collaborative office space that helps me break those isolationist habits.
Every member of a creative team needs to believe 3 things. They are a Child of God first, a Brother/Sister in Christ second, and an Artist for the Gospel third. The order is very important. To build a healthy culture every artist has to realize that their identity is in Christ and not wrapped up in their ability to create. Their artistry is not who they are first. Secondly they are brothers and sisters in Christ. Artists in a collaborative environment need to act like brothers & sisters. Siblings call each other out on their crap. Siblings lift each other up. Siblings love each other no matter what. Siblings work together. We should be iron sharpening iron. A knife that is never sharpened is still a knife, its just one that no one wants to use. The third and final thing is that they are an artist FOR the gospel.
Describe how your creative team works at NewSpring:
Its a basic three step process that can be as simple or as complex as needed. There’s a Discovery phase, a Develop phase, and a Delivery phase. The Discovery phase has a kick-off meeting with the ministry making the request, the Creative Director, and the Project Manager. The CD and PM will then have a series of Briefs, Brainstorms and Internal Pitches with the artists before the CD ultimately will pitch the idea back to the ministry. Once approved we move into the Develop phase with is simply where the thing gets made, there are usually a few check-ins along the way between artists and CD/PM. Once the artist is done it moves to the Delivery phase where the CD signs off on it and it gets quality control checked and is presented to the ministry by the CD for final approval.
Tell us about the behind-the-scenes on one of your projects:
Christmas At NewSpring – For Christmas of 2016 we wanted to create more of a ticket-worthy experience and less of a service and we wanted to tell the story from a new perspective. We also wanted to weave in traditional Christmas music and contemporary songs. We chose the story of when Simeon meets Jesus in the temple. We felt like the audience needed to feel the longing that Simeon felt, so we wrote a backstory for him and we had the unbelievable opportunity to go shoot it in Morocco, on the set they used for A.D. The Bible Continues. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. The crazy thing was that it was really one of the first projects that I Creative Directed, I had no idea what I was doing, still don’t. But everything ended up working great together, all the lyric videos and teaching content felt very seamless.
Easter At NewSpring – The big thing this year was that we really were tired of using the same clips from Passion of the Christ that everyone’s been using since the movie came out. You can go on YouTube and watch a million videos where people have taken that movie and recut clips to Christian songs. When people come to NewSpring I want them to experience and see something that feels fresh and new and something they can’t get anywhere else. Thats what we say when we’re talking about a relationship with Jesus, why should the creative content be any different? One of the behind the scenes moments that happened while we were filming was that our actor who played Jesus, even though he was covered in fake blood and fake sweat, was so cold that we had to heat him up with a blow torch between takes because that was all we had.