There’s word that’s tossed around a lot in conjunction with worship here in North America. It trickled out of the business world into the church. It makes me a tad nauseous.
The word is “excellence.”
Ugh. There it is. I just threw up in my mouth a little.
I don’t hate the concept of excellence. In fact, I think a lot of us could work harder at upping the quality of our musical offerings.
But it’s what the pursuit of “excellence” can cause to the worship leaders (especially in smaller churches) to feel:
“I can’t reach it.”
“I don’t measure up.”
Or the worst, “I feel like my worship and ministry is inferior.”
So why does the idea of “excellence” potentially send us down that road? Let me ask a few questions about excellence to narrow in on this:
Whose standard do we use?
If we use the excellence standards of the “North WillowBack SaddlePoint” kind of churches, then 95% of us are hosed.
But even if the smaller church looks to the church of 500 members down the street, they still can’t live up to that standard of excellence. And that 500-member church can’t live up to the standard of excellence set by the 2000-member ministry across town.
How are we suppose to measure it?
Is excellence measured by the number of new guests each week?
By the amount of mistakes we didn’t make?
By how smooth we made our segues?
By the amount we practice?
By the singing volume of the congregation?
By the number of people after the service that said, “Great worship!”?
When do we know we’ve ‘arrived’?
Excellence seems to be this pinnacle—this apex—we strive for. If we’re not sure how to measure it, how do we know we’ve achieved it?
How do we sustain it?
If we do find ourselves attaining some level of excellence, how do we sustain it? Does it mean scheduling ONLY the A-list musicians every week? Does it mean I only do songs that people love to sing?
Too often, we make insatiable monsters when we try to reach and sustain “excellence.”
I think there are three big problems with the pursuit of excellence:
1. Excellence is subjective.
A couple of those questions proved that. If you serve at a church of 200 or less, you can’t hold yourself to the excellence standards of larger ministries. But we still do.
Why is that?
Larger churches and resource-rich recording artists are where so much of our current worship songs and trends come from. Deep down where we don’t care to admit it, that’s the sound we think we need. And we think we need that same level of talent to be “excellent.” And we feel this compelling urge to wear man-scarves.
OK, maybe not the man-scarves.
2. Excellence is easier to judge than practice.
It’s easy for people (both on and off the team) to sit back and assess your ministry as “less than” excellent. Critics will even point to how you need to be more like Trendy Metaphor Community Church down the street. But when pressed for an answer on how to reach excellence, the answers are vague or unrealistic.
Even if we can ignore the critics, we find ourselves taking up their cause as we judge our own lack of excellence.
3. Excellence as the end goal is idolatry.
I think the quest for excellence is easily placed above glorifying God. I know I’ve done it. We try to convince others and ourselves that this pursuit of excellence is about glorifying God.
But too often it’s about trying to look good. Or at least ‘not look stupid.’
So what do we do? Forget quality and craftsmanship in music & worship?
No. But I think there are two things we can do. The first one is an absolute must. The second is optional, but it might help you like it’s helped me.
First, we need a heart shift. With the right heart attitude that seeks God’s glory, I believe excellence becomes a byproduct. If we’re truly pursuing Jesus Christ and His glory, quality will flow out of that.
Second, consider a vocabulary shift. For the most part, I’ve done away with the word “excellence” and replaced it with “remarkable.”
Jon Nicol is a worship leader, blogger, teacher in Lexington, OH, USA. He loves helping churches and leaders build remarkable teams & ministries.
What do you think? How have you pursued excellence in your environment but lived with compromise? How do you define excellence in your worship setting?