Have you ever heard something that has changed your thinking? Not just a convincing argument, but something that really hit you to the core of who you are, or, thought you were? Last fall I experienced one of these eye-opening, vision directing changes. It wasn’t that I held an opposing view, but it was that I didn’t have a view, which in my opinion is far worse.
Last fall I went on a staff retreat with my church. Our staff retreats are different than most. We don’t sit around, drink lattes, and sob uncontrollably like a 14 year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert. No. We fire hand guns, play tackle football, and shoot paintballs at each other as we run through the woods; shirtless. Want a job?
I remember distinctly the first night we went into the lodge to have dinner and the rectangular wooden tables set with plastic forks, cups, and trays that everyone was so accustomed to, had been exchanged for fine glassware set upon beautiful flowing tablecloths. At this meal everyone was served, no one got up, and surely no one did the dishes.
As I was eating dinner with a group of pastors, the head pastor leaned over to me and asked me a question. He said, “Do you know why we are using these?” as he picked up his plate. Before I could respond he said, “It is because we take out our best for those who we value most.”
It’s true isn’t it? We give our best to what we care about the most.
If this is true, then why do we as Christians create second rate, half-assed, downright pathetic displays of the gospel, and think for a split second that people feel loved and valued through this.
We need to quit fooling ourselves.
We hold the world’s most powerful message in our hands, and we need to communicate it with excellence.
As ministry leaders, excellence should be the expectation in the production of organized church services. I am convinced that the value of delivery needs to trump the exasperation of inclusiveness in the local church.
Everyone is not a winner. Just because we preach a lifestyle of grace does not mean we should irresponsibly allow others to do the job they “feel” qualified for. The line needs to be drawn, people will have to be let down, and feelings will get hurt. It is okay to say NO.
Excellence is necessary for a ministry to function at its finest. I am going to concentrate on three specific aspects of excellence and how they contribute to the overall purpose of every ministry: bringing more glory to God through making and teaching disciples. This article will be filled testimonies, which act as tangible examples, breathing life into my argument. Excellence matters.
Excellence Communicates Value
The first reason why excellence is so important is because it communicates value. Excellence communicates a ministry’s value of other people. I think we can all agree that God values others and we should as well. I mean, it is the greatest commandment; love God and love others. When we love others by showing them they are valued by us. When we put time, energy, and excellence into an event or service it communicates the degree in which we care about the people we are serving. Let me prove my point.
Dating. (I realize at this point 90% of you want to quit reading at the site of the word, but nonetheless I urge you to continue.) When we go on dates, or in some cases only watch others go on dates, it is understood that both parties should prepare themselves to the same degree. Guys, pay attention. I want you to think about going on a date with someone. You think they are attractive, you like their personality, and you finally get asked to come over for dinner on a formal date. You spend time getting ready, you make your hair look nice, and maybe you even buy new clothes for the occasion. As you ring the doorbell you feel good about yourself, and your heart begin to race as you anticipate the site of the other person. What are they wearing? What did they prepare for you? Are they really just a creeper trying to lure you in? As they open the door you can’t even make eye contact because you are so distracted by their sweatpants, and the mustard stain on their 1981 Lynard Skynard t-shirt. They look like they could really care less about you or even the date itself. The meal consists of cheap carry out and Diet Rite. How does this make you feel? Upset? Awkward? Uncared for?
It is disappointing when someone dresses up and spends a lot of time on their appearance, and the other person looks like they rolled out of a dumpster the morning after Cinco de Mayo. It’s the same way with ministry. If ministry events or services are thrown together, reeking of garbage and procrastination, a ministry’s value of others isn’t communicated positively. Chances are they won’t get a second date.
Ministries need to care about excellence in performance. A ministry should want to see people coming, learning, and growing. The way to best execute this is through providing an excellent ministry that makes the people feel cared for and more importantly demonstrates how much the ministry values God.
I think testimonies can be a church’s most efficient feedback loop; especially when it comes to value. An example of preparation playing out in a positive way was demonstrated to me personally one day as we were leaving for summer camp. As I was running around making sure our sign-in for summer camp was running smoothly, a dad who I had seen before came up to me. He is worth a description.
Picture a typical brawny construction worker. He had rolled up sleeves, a skull tattoo, and was suspicious of anyone who drove a hybrid; my kind of guy. As he walked toward me the expression on his face gave me the feeling that he wanted to talk. As he approached me he asked me if we could talk in private. At this point I thought it could be about two things. One, that he had some concerns in regard to his daughter going on the trip, or two, that he had a gun.
As we walked to a more secluded location he shook my hand and said, “I hated this place (referring to the church). But I saw how much everyone here cared about my daughter and how much she loved coming here. It made me want to be a better dad, but I didn’t know how. And finally, it clicked that I need Christ in order to do that. I just wanted to tell you.”
We did care about his daughter. We cared about her feeling valued and wanted to make every ministry experience the best one she’s ever had. The outcome was worth it and reminded me of why I do ministry in the first place; to change the lives of others through revealing the hope that can be found in Jesus Christ.
Showing value touches the lives of others. It communicates a more powerful message than we think. Even more importantly than communicating our value for others, excellence communicates our value of God. This is a BIG deal. As Christians, I am convicted that we are called to give our best to God in every way we do ministry. Paul said, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” I agree with Paul.
Being that as believers we claim to lives for God, people (specifically non-believers) will assume certain truths about of God because of our actions. I am not saying this should happen, but it does happen. Let me give a few examples.
|When we…||They assume…|
|Cry out to the Lord in prayer||God answers prayers|
|Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain||God is worthy of respect and honor|
|Passionately praise the Lord through well orchestrated worship||This God is worthy to be praised by many|
|Laugh and text during a message||God isn’t really that important|
|Procrastinate and are unprepared||God isn’t worth the time|
|Make the message a comedy routine||God perhaps is a joke|
Do you see what I’m saying? All of these examples I have heard personally. People read into a ministry’s actions. The way we conduct our ministries will inevitably communicate our value of God. We need to show our value of God through how we run our ministries. The way we keep up our church and practice stewardship communicates this value. Well planned out and practiced worship communicates this value. Having a smooth check-in for Childrens Ministry communicates this value. Everything we do communicates value.
With this said, in order to communicate the best message about our values, we need to put or best foot forward. Does this mean we should only let our best lead worship? Do we need to turn away some of the volunteers? Do we really need to move that awkward, touchy greeter to another area of service? Should every aspect of the weekend service be thought out and planned before hand? Yes.
Excellence in Seasons
I can already smell the lighting of torches and hear the sharpening of pitchforks. Before you go Lord of the Flies on me, hear me out. I believe that we are called to do the best we can with what God has given us. This principle is from Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. If God has given a particular church a large congregation and resources, they better use them to the best of their ability. If God has given a church a small congregation and limited resources, they better use them to the best of their ability. God deserves our best and no one is off the hook.
The first thing to understand is that God is totally in control of what He gives. Whether a church is 20,000 or 20 people, God demands excellent worship and conduct from both groups. There is a great example in the bible that illustrates this principle.
In the Old Testament there is a story about a king named Asa who destroyed idols and turned back to the Lord. During one battle he acquired many animals and he sacrificed to the Lord 700 cattle and 7,000 sheep and goats from the plunder they had been taken in the battle. This is a lot of animals. Even though it seems like a lot, it is what the Lord gave him. He gave back to God in worship only what he was first given.
In the same way, another story in the Old Testament that many are familiar with is the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. In obedience Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed and God stopped him. It says Abraham lifted up his eyes and behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. He named the place “The LORD will provide”. In the same way as Asa did, Abraham used what God had given him as a sacrifice.
Even though Asa sacrificed 7,700 animals and Abraham sacrificed 1, they both responded in a way that glorified God through what He provided. Both men saw what the Lord had given them and decided in which way they could use it to bring maximum glory to God. This is an illustration of what we need to do. We need to take what God has given us and do the very best with it in the season our ministry is in. Bigger isn’t better. Better is better. If you would like to look further into the area of church size and its relationship to media and communication check out the article Throwback: Art History Informing Today’s Church Media.
If [we] are going to achieve excellence in big things, [we must] develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude. This principle is true for any size ministry or church. God has chosen to make some ministries bigger than others. In Isaiah it says, “You have enlarged the nation, O LORD; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land.” It is by the Lord’s doing, not merely our own if our ministries grow. With this established we need to do our best with our staff and volunteers while maintaining the conviction that everyone is not a winner but everyone, specifically every member and leader, is called to serve.
For example, I am part of church that desires to be racially diverse. This doesn’t mean we outsource an inner city gospel choir to come in and sing to bring in a more diverse crowd. We use our own volunteers and staffed worship pastors to orchestrate the best choir with the people God has given us.
It is irresponsible to only shoot B.Bs when God has given you a canon; and it just as irresponsible trying to shoot missiles when God has given you a sling shot. We must remember that we don’t perform with excellence for the sake of looking good. We perform with excellence for the sake of bringing glory to God through the exaltation of Jesus Christ.
Excellence and Jesus
Excellence is taking every assignment seriously for the glory of God. We need to be all about Jesus. In regards to excellence, my goal is to have events and ministry nights run so smoothly that people don’t even notice. Let me say that again. When people don’t notice awkward transitions, off key singing, and whatever else it may be, they can better focus on Jesus. This is why everyone can’t be a winner.
Here is an example. Last week we had open mic time during the worship time at our weekend services. The worship leader invited anyone in the congregation to read a passage of scripture dealing with God’s love into mics at the foot of the stage. As people were invited up, they were greeted at the foot of the stage by two pastors. The one pastor stood by the mic stand in order to adjust the mic and provide a smoother transition, and the other made sure the person who was reading already had a verse or two picked out. This is to make sure someone doesn’t mistake scripture reading time for personal tyrant in front of thousands of people time. This has happened before.
Last week, one specific man came forward and felt the need to bring his four small children up with him as he read scripture. As he came forward the one pastor discreetly informed him that he could not bring his children up front with him because they would be a distraction (This is an example of everyone not being a winner). He smiled and responded to the pastor saying, “I can do whatever I want.”
In order to not cause a scene, the pastor allowed him to stay up front and read. This is where the fun began. As it was his turn, and the cameras panned over, he decided that he was not ready to read and graciously had the person on the other end of the stage go ahead. As the camera panned back over to him, his kids decided to run into the mic stand, try to close his bible, and slide through his legs as he read a verse that had nothing to do with God’s love. He ended his magnificent performance by walking straight down the aisle out the sanctuary door.
Here is the point. Worship was taken away from Jesus. I am not ok with that; no one should be. That is why it is important to prepare, put rules in place, and follow through with excellence. As ministers of the gospel, we need to keep the focus on Jesus. Even though this is a relatively small incident, keeping the mindset that we need to point all things back to Jesus, it still matters. We need to strive to make every aspect of a worship service as Jesus focused as possible.
Not only should excellence be prevalent in organized services, but it should exist in personal interactions. A situation I remember distinctly was when I was running Jr. High summer camp. During a highly competitive and energetic game, a verbal scuffle broke out between two of the 7th grade boys. As I walked toward them, I witnessed the one boy with Asperger’s Syndrome named Josh punching another kid in the mouth as he screamed, “WHO’S THE BOSS NOW!? WHO’S THE BOSS NOW!?” I responded, “I’m the boss now!”, as I now galloped toward the boys. Immediately Josh began sobbing because he thought he was in trouble, and the kid who got punched was still in shock because he got hit by a 75lb kid who was screaming “Who’s the boss now!? Who’s the boss now!?”
Being new on the job, I wasn’t exactly sure about how to handle this situation. As I made the boys stand by a large tree not facing each other or talking, I had one of the head pastors come over and help me deal with the situation.
As the pastor talked to the boys individually he brought them straight to the Word of God and lessons we had been learning at camp that week. He showed them how their actions were not matching up with the God’s Word and gave them an opportunity to get right with each other and right with the Lord. The way he spoke to them sounded as though he had the entire speech prepared in advance due to its persuasiveness and excellence.
This is an example of using excellence to bring more glory to Jesus in a personal encounter. Even in the small situations, we need to handle them the best we can to bring glory to God. It would have easy for the pastor to tell the guys to simply knock it off and send them on their way, but he didn’t.
The last story I want to share is in regard to our Good Friday service. One of the head pastors received an email and I wanted to share this not to brag on personal accomplishments, but to be an example of how excellence brings glory to Christ in powerful ways.
The person wrote:
“Hey, I don’t write letters like this very much. But seriously. I was driving home from the 6:00 Good Friday service in Rolling Meadows last night and – seriously! – I had to promise God that I would follow through and write this note to you guys.
I have been a Christian almost all my life. I’m 51 years old now. And I have never been to a more meaningful and worshipful Good Friday service than last night’s.
Excellent and moving music. Excellent and thought-provoking drama. And that video of Christ on the cross finally made it SO REAL to me. I think it was so powerful because the man wasn’t a “Jesus actor” with the long stringy brown hair. Ya know what I mean? This guy looked like a guy from today. He kind of reminded me of somebody I work with! To have that video and audio run for – I don’t know how long it was, but it seemed like an eternity. Listening to him breathing, gasping, and choking was immensely powerful to me. You all made the entire experience very meaningful and I wanted to thank you very much.
But I also was realizing how much work you guys are doing to present this. I know you did another service at 8 last night. And I know you have 4 more to go today. And then Easter on top of all that! So, from at least one person in your audience, I realize how much you are doing, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I hope that you are encouraged in your service. Because, wow, what an impact you are having! I hope that rather than this long weekend being exhausting for you, that instead it will be exhilarating and a great time of worship for you personally, too.”
I believe in excellence. It changes lives. I hope that more than anything else, this paper has caused you to think and reflect about how you view the “production” aspect of ministry. I hope that you have seen how excellence communicates value, how we are responsible to use what God has given us with excellence, and most importantly how excellence brings glory to God. The size of the church doesn’t matter. We are all held accountable to the work we do for Christ. Let’s not hold anything back. It is time to take off our coats, put on some gloves, and get ready to pour our hearts and souls in the ministries that God has put us over.