Today, I am going to try to grapple with the E word. There are many E word's out there but the E word that I am going to deal with today is the word "excellence".
I have always struggled with that word, especially in the context of ministry. We "must" strive for excellence. It has always been shouted to me through college, seminary and through conferences. If we do not strive for "excellence"; we are failing God and we are hampering the Kingdom of God because we are not doing everything that we need or should be doing.
I remember back in the 1990's, one of the most freeing books that I read was Freedom From the Performance Trap. However, at times, I still feel the need and urge to strive for excellence. Now is that wrong ? Is it wrong for the church to strive for excellence ?
This post will hopefully address this topic as I flush it out myself. This topic came to me in two different ways this past month. One, there was an article that dealt with this issue from Dan Scantz. He teaches at Central Christian College. The article can be found here. The second aspect is that this happends to be the subject at hand for a meeting that I am attending tomorrow night. I am part of the Canton/Akron Emergent Cohort. So, here we go.
Dan opens his article with a conversation that he had a student that was upset about a B that he received on a paper. Dan was telling the student that it was a great (excellent) grade on the work. However, the student did not see it that way. He talks about that the generation that is in school has "excellence" as their mantra.
I have to say that over the last 15 years that I have worked with students, that is definitely the case. They are so pressured to be perfect and to get the grades, the extra-curricular activities in and more. I remember being at listening to the things that they were trying to accomplish while in hs. I also remember being frightened at how they were into a frantic when their GPA might dip below a 4.0 on a 4.0 scale. However that is just the backdrop of the issue at hand.
Suntle Dangers When Aiming For Excellence
Alternatives to Excellence
I think that the two years that I experience this the most (strive for excellence) was from June 2003 - June 2005. The church and the ministry that we were part of was striving for excellence and the "pressure" at times was difficult. We were looking to produce excellent and look excellent.
Taking Daniel's thought process. I will highlight his 6 points and show how it applied and flowed from our text at that time. For those of you who know where we were and why those 2 years ( bear with me, please ). For others, the church and time frame is not necessary ( no need to name church / minister ).
We had only the "best" and we tried to "showcase" it. From the stage, we did look like we sent everyone out to Saks Fifth Avenue. We had to have the "extreme" professional image from the front. We even made sure the lights hit our "performers" at the right angle. Only the best dressed and best singers can apply. We even tried to add "a church face" to the entrance. The hire had to be just the right look *blah*. We also had the clean-up the entrance in the church. We can not have signs and brochures that advertized ministry. The "Hilton Effect" needed to be the entrance.
Excellence costs money. Only the best was good enough for us. We spent $$ on the best commercials. We spent $$ on catered meals for our mid-week program and the list can go on. To perfrom with excellence does take the green. We run up deficits because of it.
The bar for us was always raised. Each week had to better than the last. Each series had to top the last. our numbers needed to be raised from the previous and so on the cycle goes. I think that when we raise the bar of excellence and do it at accelerated pace ..... we forget what is important and we do not have time for what is REALLY important.
This would definitely apply in a very odd sence. Our members (congregation) came to church very relaxed in their dress and attitude but yet we portrait a different aspect. Also, if I was honest Daniel's third paragraph would be echoed by most of the members. I would also think that we may have been excellent in teaching, preaching and ......... but were the relationships excellent .... unfortunately .. no. So, we strove for excellence in certain areas and not others. And if we were really honest, excellence (if we have to have that) would probably be more 'profitable" if we did it in the relationships that we have.
Pefectionalism is a disorder. When you continually to strive for excellence and you try to accomplish everything right here and now ..... it is EXTREMEMLY EXHAUSTING. I remember thinking that we needed to do and offer a long list of things to have an "excellent" ministry and it was very tiring and I was not faithful in "rest"
Strife is what happens when people have unrealistic goals and deadlines. We as a ministry team came up (because we were told to) a 5-year goal and plan. We were very thorough in this process and what we were expected to do and accomplish was not good (not healthy) and what led to # 5. We had a bunch of exhausted people. We were never able to keep up. The machine just kept on churning.
I think that I am in the midst of being in a place that is the alternative to excellence. There are a lot of people and individuals disagree with the concept and they think that it might even be "unbliblical". Here are the alternitives and how they are playing out in my life and the way that I am in ministry.
You can be excellent and still not be efficient
You can be efficient without being excellent
I think that we need to be efficient in what we set out to accomplish. I think that we can be effective and accompish what we want without excellence. I think that at times, when we reach for excellence (especially when bar is really high) we may not be efficient and we may not achieve the goal. We may spend too much time / money in the pursuit of excellence and what we want ... passes us by. Maybe, it is the simple phrase: work smart.
Every situation is different and requires a different schedule of progress. I know for me at various stages in my life and ministry; we have had some high goals and the time to reach them was unrealistic. It is okay to have the high goals, but to expect to meet them in a short time period may not happen.
I am in the Patience stage right now. I have some lofty goals in my mind for where I am at. Quite a few that I have not even voiced yet because it is not time. I have to be patient. Thus, take a look at your situation, set goals and take baby steps in getting to them. Do you remember the movie: What About Bob? I am thankful that I do not have huge goals placed on me that need to be met by May. In the past, I have had that. For me, it is doing ministry, having goals and walking along in the journey till we reach the goal. Yup, there are a few ministry items that I would love to implement, but some of it will not occur for 9 months or more.
We need everyone. At times, the superstars were the only ones who needed to apply. That is so not the case. We need to include everyone in the process. We are all the body of Christ. We need to be with our prople and help place them in ministry and empower them to do ministry.
For me, what this comes back to is that we really need to know what is important. It kinda reminds me of a post that I read yesterday. I think that we need to spend more time and energy with people. I think that we need to be spending time with those in our church. We need to be spending time with people in our community. We need to be living out the greatest commandments ( Loving God & Loving Others ).
One of the greatest thing, we as a family is enjoying is spending time with people. Wether it be at the free clinic, or meals on wheels, sharing with folks that are at the sports events, dinners with family, youth events ... the list goes on.
If I was spending time going for complete excellence, I would not have the time to be with people. We need to be with people.
Alrightee, I know this was long. I know the flow was not great. But, hopefully, there was a nugget in the midst of it all that you could grab onto.