The word “excellence” has become a staple in church lingo over the past ten years. We have come to believe that everything from church administration to worship services should be executed with excellence, insinuating “without flaw”.
It may be a surprise for some to learn that the concept of excellence is actually part of a business paradigm called “Total Quality Management”. Excellence as defined by the Total Quality Management model is not necessarily a Biblical principle. The Bible refers to the excellence of God and charges us to strive for moral excellence, but nowhere in Scripture does it command us to conduct a flawless service. (In fact, according to a ChurchMedia.net poll, the majority of media ministries make up to five mistakes in each service). The idea that excellence is a necessary component to achieve a growing and effective ministry has put a great deal of pressure on church leaders and laypeople. This demand is dramatically compounded for someone in charge of a media ministry.
Personally, I called excellence the “E word” in my tenure at Calvary Baptist Church in the mid-90s. The word was used extensively and was saturated into every aspect of church operation. Once I kept a tally of how many times the word “excellence” was used during a staff meeting. As a beginner in the media ministry with a limited amount of equipment to work with, the idea that I could achieve the level of production excellence that was expected of me was almost laughable. Being in charge of the most visual aspect of a worship service places tremendous demand on any media minister. To add the concept of excellence on top of that existing pressure was simply too much for me to take.
I became very self-conscious about my work and felt that I was never quite meeting the expectations of the staff. I began to doubt my abilities and started to think that I was inadequate for the job. When a church employee begins to feel that they are failing the church staff, it is easy for them to start believing that they are failing God as well. When I realized this was happening to me I began to strongly resent the concept of excellence in the church. This was obviously not healthy and did, in fact, affect my work. Because the demand for excellence was so high, it actually had the reverse effect in my situation.
For years I hung on to this “anti-excellence” attitude. Once I was explaining my stance on the topic to a friend of mine and he said, “Sounds like grace was not in the picture.” I began to think about that and discovered that he was right. I’m sure it was not intentional, but the staff never balanced the concept of excellence with the grace that we all experience as Christians. When excellence is tempered with grace, the pressure that striving for excellence naturally creates is relieved. When assigning a task to a media ministry team member it is perfectly acceptable to ask that they do their best and even use the “E word”. After all, God definitely deserves our excellence. I also believe that most people want to achieve excellence in everything that they do. However, when placing this challenge before someone, a church leader should always lace his or her statements with encouragement. The team member should feel that the church leader has confidence in their abilities. They should also be assured that there is forgiveness if they fail. Here are some examples of how to temper excellence with grace when speaking to someone:
“I really want this video to look like the show we saw on T.V. last night, and I know you will do your best.”
“That wasn’t exactly what I was envisioning, but you did a good job. What would it take to do this?”
“Hey, the media team really didn’t do so hot last week. There were several distractions that I’m sure we can avoid in the future. I know your team is capable of more.”
“They did a great job a couple of weeks ago. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Great job last week! I really appreciate the dedication and hard work that you put in. Your ministry adds so much to our church.”
Using this type of language will reinforce confidence in staff members and laypeople in a media ministry. Too much emphasis on excellence without much encouragement will drive people away and out of ministry – maybe even out of church life. A church that creates an atmosphere of excellence balanced with grace will generate a healthy and powerful team of ministers. This team, in turn, will help foster spiritual growth within the church as they strive to achieve a higher standard of quality in everything that they do.