Excellence Is Not Good Enough in Ministry
Excellence is not good enough. What does this mean?
Have you ever met someone who seemed to be stuck in time? The way they dress, style of their hair and speech are all reminiscent of a bygone time.
I remember as a teen in the nineties, many of my dad’s friends still wore pastel leisure suits and the hair-sprayed cotton candy hairdo. I would just stare at them and wonder if they just stepped out of a time machine that they invented in the seventies. Looking back, I remember thinking two things. First, Do they not realize what decade it is? followed by, What caused them to settle on that look?
But as I approached my forties with some of my friends slightly ahead of me, I’d hear them speak the unspeakable. They’d say things like “I’ve found my forever hairstyle,” and I would think, do you really think that hairdo is going to be in style ten years from now? Sure the style is great now, but nothing lasts forever, especially style.
Now as I approach my mid-forties, I find myself wanting to settle on my “style”, simply because keeping up with current trends can be daunting, and frankly, what I’ve got going on right now works for me.
Unfortunately, there are many churches and ministries that have adopted that mindset when it comes to how they do ministry. They find what works, and may even work well, and they stay there. They settle for excellence.
In response to this reality, this blog post will cover:
Two Important Reminders on Excellence
Three Keys to Understanding what the Culture of Continual Improvement Looks Like
Settling for excellence? Sounds a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? But this is a real danger for churches, or for any worthwhile endeavor, really. Not so much excellence (though it has its own dangers, which we’ll address soon), but settling. Settling smacks of stagnation, giving up, the beginning of the end.
While excellence is generally seen as a positive concept, there are some caveats especially in regards to getting ”stuck” there.
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What Is Excellent Today, Won’t Necessarily Be Excellent Tomorrow
Settling for excellence may play out something like this. We work hard, we pray hard, we meet and plan and execute, and produce an excellent ministry or program. It’s great. It has a lot of traction. We praise God for it. We love it. It has a lot of momentum! All great things.
And then we go into maintenance mode. We maintain the level of excellence, the format in which we deliver, and the process of implementation. This program is excellent and we want to keep it that way. And so we settle.
And before long our ministry becomes a pastel leisure suit with cotton candy hair.
In regards to ministry, I’ve heard this mindset referred to as a sacred cow; ministries that have served their time, but are still around strictly for tradition’s or nostalgia’s sake.
I personally am reminded of the biblical account of Nehushtan. Are you going through your biblical Rolodex right now, trying to remember who Nehushtan was? Let’s do a little refresher, shall we?
In Numbers 21 the Israelites of the Exodus were sinning once again, and this time God responded with venomous serpents biting many of them, several even dying from the bites. God tells Moses to construct a bronze serpent and hang it on a pole. If someone got bit by a serpent all they had to do was look at the bronze serpent and they would be healed.
Now fast-forward a few hundred years, long after the venomous serpent attacks and the Exodus, to the time when Hezekiah was king (2 Kings 18:4). People had actually begun to worship and offer sacrifices to this bronze serpent which they had named “Nehushtan.” Hezekiah, seeing that an outdated, temporary remedy had become an object of worship, had it destroyed.
How many ministries or programs, which were great for a time or season, are still being reverently supported, simply for tradition’s or nostalgia’s sake? Does your church have its own Nehushtan? If so, how should you deal with it?
Not only can settling for excellence cause you to hold on to a way of ministry beyond its expiration date, but it can also impose a mentality that you or your ministry “has arrived.” Perhaps you’ve reached a goal, maxed out the capacity of your auditorium or building, paid off your church debt, and now it’s time to coast. But on this side of Heaven, we will never “arrive.”
Thinking you or your ministry has arrived is a self-delusion that things are the best they’re going to get, and you don’t need to strive for better. But that mindset is a trap that will cripple the progress of your ministry and limit where God can take you!
Yesterday’s programs, systems, and ministries were great for yesterday, but are in no way adequate for tomorrow! An expiration date isn’t the only enemy of excellence. Sometimes it’s just a matter of opinion.
What Is Excellent to Me, May Not Be Excellent to You
This one can hurt sometimes, especially if you’re a “creative” type like me. You work hard at something, pour your heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into it. You feel like it’s the most excellent thing you’ve ever produced. Then you show it to someone, perhaps your direct report, and they don’t have the same enthusiasm that you have about it.
Maybe they aren’t impressed at all. You’ve worked hard and birthed this amazing idea and their response is barely, “Meh.” So, your dreams shatter into pieces.
The truth is we don’t all see things through the same lens and what you might think is an excellent concept, others may not. In fact, they may not like it at all. Excellence is in the eye of the beholder. For instance, I may think I’m pretty witty with this blog, and you may think, Is this guy off his meds?
But if excellence is in the eye of the beholder, and essentially is a matter of opinion, then what can objectively be defined as excellence? Aside from the Trinity, not much, which is why striving for and especially settling for excellence should never be the goal of any church, ministry, or person, for that matter.
So if “excellence” isn’t the target, then what is? Better. Now, even as I write this my internal monologue says, “better” isn’t as good as “excellent.” By “better” I don’t mean a state, but a process.
I’m currently painting and remodeling my house and I’ve noticed a pattern in regards to paints, brushes, caulks, and most things involving home improvement. There is a spectrum of quality in products ranging from good to better to best. So, in my mind better is the middle ground, and excellence would be akin to Best.
This is why I mean better as a process, not a state. What if you started with “Best” and strove for better than that? Better than excellent. That’s what I’m talking about.
That’s why excellence isn’t good enough. Excellence can be a trap, it can become dated, and it is subjective. Striving for better is timeless and constant. It doesn’t settle. It factors more than my own personal preferences or opinions.
Does your church strive to do things with excellence? While that doesn’t seem like a bad thing, might I suggest a more effective and sustaining approach? How about your church does everything with a Culture of Continual Improvement?
This means, that while you may have things that some would say are or were excellent, you’re striving to do things better than you did before, even if they were really great to begin with!
Here’s what the Culture of Continual Improvement looks like.
Celebrating What God Is Doing in Your Church with the Mindset That the Best Is Yet to Come
Continual Improvement begins with gratitude and expectation. Thanking God for all He’s doing in your church. Thanking Him for the ministries, systems, events, and programs you have, for how He’s working in the lives of people in the church, and for how He’s using you to do more than you could have asked or imagined.
Continual improvement is about celebrating the wins, but not staying there too long. Yes, God has done great things, but there’s more He wants to do so let’s keep moving forward!
It’s dangerous to drive down an interstate while looking in the rearview window. Ministry is the same way. God wants to move you forward, but can’t if you keep looking back. Celebrate with gratitude and move quickly to expectation!
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Prayerfully Evaluating Your Ministry, Events, and Systems to See How You Can Do Things Better and Have a Greater Impact
Evaluation of your ministry doesn’t mean you’re dissatisfied with it. It just means you acknowledge that there may be things you can do better, more efficiently, more effectively, or with greater impact, and you’re seeking out ways to accomplish that.
I am typing this blog on my video editing computer, an HP Omen with an Intel i7-8700 processor and a whopping 32GB of memory. I am so thankful that the people of Silicon Valley evaluated their systems and asked the question, “How can we do it better?”
We’ve come a long way from my first computer, which was a TRS-80 (often pronounced Trash-80) Color Computer 2 with 16KB of memory, and a dazzling 8 color display.
When it comes to ministry, the Church is offering something better than anything else the world has to offer. We are charged with reaching people for Christ using whatever means possible. It’s a great honor and a great responsibility. As we carry out this mission, a question that should constantly be on our minds and lips is “How can we do it better?”
I’m reminded of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, that he became, “all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”(NLT) Paul had a “whatever it takes” mindset when it came to reaching the lost.
When the church adopts that mindset it is constantly evaluating how it does ministry and looks for ways to be more effective in accomplishing its mission with a greater impact.
Never Allowing a Mindset That You “Have Arrived”
As I said earlier, we will never “arrive” on this side of Heaven. Think about a running river. As long as it’s moving forward there’s life and health in it. But the moment it stops moving the water begins to stagnate and becomes unhealthy. The moment a church thinks it’s where it needs to be is the moment it starts dying.
Again, this isn’t about being discontent with your ministry. It’s about being thankful for what God is doing but acknowledging that God isn’t finished working. He wants to do more and wants to use your church to accomplish it.
God wants to take your church to the next level. The best truly is yet to come and when your church adopts a Culture of Continual Improvement you’ll see God do more than ever before in your church.
Continually pushing your boundaries with expectancy and thanksgiving will open up a whole new world of possibilities for your church. It will require you to lay down some preconceived ideas about how you do ministry. It will necessitate honest and even brutal evaluation of your church, ministries and systems.
And it will probably even require you to sacrifice a few Nehushtans. But what awaits is better than excellent! The Best Is Yet to Come!
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