How to be excellent (without the performance mindset)

How to be excellent (without the performance mindset)

Guest post by Jon Nicol on cultivating excellence without performance


One of my blog readers, Jonathan, asks, “How do I cultivate an attitude of excellence without making it a performance in the mind of our team?”

Thanks for your question, Jonathan. Part of the problem is the words we choose. The term excellence has always bothered me. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be excellent. But that word is so overused and actually quite vague—what does excellence really mean?

I know a lot of worship leaders define excellence with some variation of “doing the best you can with what you’ve been given.” But that still doesn’t tell me what it looks like.

The biggest problem with the word excellence as a description is that it is focused on me and how I am doing. Or in the case of a worship team, excellence is about us and how we are doing. So it can’t help but bring out a performance mindset.

What we need are some words that change it from being about “how well we are doing” to “how well we are serving.” A word that conveys that better than excellence is engagement. How well are we engaging the congregation?

We serve by leading, guiding and modeling worship. So that requires communication. In-person communication requires engagement on three levels: words/content, tone/emotion, and body language.

The words and content are easy. They’re already projected for us. The other two are tougher. Jonathan, do your singers express the emotion of the song? Or are their eyes glued to their music stands (or confidence monitor)?

And does their body language work to engage? Statues are sometimes interesting to look at for a few minutes, but they don’t engage well. And instrumentalists, you’re not off the hook here: this same stuff applies to the band.

One of the keys to engaging the congregation is confidence. And guess what it takes to be confident?  Work…practice…rehearsal…learning to be expressive…learning to lose the music stand…and on and on.

If your team is working on all that and they begin engaging the congregation, they just might find that another “e” word is being produced: excellence. “Excellence” is much better as a by-product than an end goal.

Jonathan, let me give you some practical stuff. As a way to help worship teams learn to engage better, I’ve created a free resource called 5 Barriers the Block Great Worship. It’s a five-part video workshop to help you and your worship team better engage your congregation. It comes not only with the videos, but a downloadable leader’s guide. You can grab it (for free) here: 5 Barriers that Block Great Worship.

This article has also had some great comments and discussion over on Facebook.

Jon Nicol is a worship pastor/blogger/teacher. He makes his home in Lexington, OH with his wife, Shannon, and their four kids. Jon writes for and as well as his own worship resource site, You can also connect with Jon on Twitter @jonnicol.

 Other posts you might like:

The lifecycle of a worship song and why it matters for your church

Performance vs worship. 6 things to consider

Forget excellence in worship