February 15, 2011

Is Excellence the Ultimate Goal?

Excellence. It's what many of us set as the mark that we strive for in all we do. Whether as leaders, pastors, teachers, team leaders, or simply as Christ-followers, it's a worthwhile goal that in everything we do - as representatives of the King - that we strive for excellence. But in a conversation last week with a friend the question came up, "Is it possible to actually cripple the progress of your vision because you're too obsessed with excellence?" Needless to say, my automatic knee-jerk reaction to this idea was, "No way!" Like only the Devil himself would suggest such a ridiculous notion. After coming down from my high horse, I allowed myself to consider this idea. And I think - holding my breath as I type these words - that there might possibly be some potential truth proposed in this question. Allow me to explain.

As a pastor, I desire that everything we do as a church is done with excellence in mind. I challenge our staff that anything they send out - want people to take the time to read - be excellent. We strive to make our worship services the absolute best they can be. We work hard on our facilities, our communications, our website - everything we do - being excellent. Period! But at the end of the day, as the church, is our #1 goal excellence? Or is it to show people who Jesus Christ is and to cultivate them into His disciples? (I think you know the answer to that question.) And part of our desire and plan for disciples is to lead, teach, equip, and empower them to serve - inside the church and outside in the community. Yet, at times, it's possible to actually keep this from happening. If we're more concerned with excellence than we are with growing people, we very well may never even give the person an opportunity to discover what it is that the Lord has ignited their heart to do to serve others. We just might squash the Spirit's work because we refuse to let someone fail.

An example of this right now is that there is a certain area of media that we have just resolved we're not going to utilize to the extent we want to because we haven't been certain that the finished product would be "excellent". Here's what I've been challenged to consider: Is it a possibility that it just might need to be "good" for a season so that it can grow to become "better" and then eventually shoot through the roof and attain "excellence"? When I was a youth pastor, one of the things we prided ourselves in was our videos. (We made some pretty stinking funny videos!) But for a lengthy season I was so caught up in them being top notch - being exactly how I wanted them to be - that I would do all the editing myself. The first time that I fully released this responsibility to my friend Mark - during our biggest event of the year - I was so freaked out that it wasn't going to be just how I had always done it. That it wasn't going to be up to the standard. Man, was I wrong! The night we showed our camp video was like therapy for me. And what it revealed to me is that many times, while I think excellence is what I'm striving for and demanding, it's a front. Excellence isn't really the root of it. It's self-centeredness. It's arrogance. It's the thought that there is no possible way that any way other than MY way can be the best way. [Ouch.] And yes, it's a painful realization. But a freeing one as well. I can't even begin to explain the liberation I felt that night when I realized that I didn't have to obsess over this anymore. I had equipped, cultivated, and empowered my friend to run free. And yes, to fail. (Ultimately, he become MUCH better at shooting and editing video than I had ever been.)

To say "Excellence is a bad thing!" is an oxymoron. I just don't think that idea can hold water. But like alcohol, or food, or power, or money - if it becomes the end-all goal that dictates everything we do and how we do it - it can become a tool in the hands of the enemy that ultimately distracts us and keeps us from the MOST important thing: cultivating people into followers of Jesus Christ and equipping them to be set free to serve others for the sake of His Kingdom.

Are you striving for excellence in your life? That's a GOOD thing.
But make sure that excellence always answers to the mission. If the mission and the vision begin bowing down to excellence - if they become enslaved to this standard - you might miss the opportunity to see something good grow into something GREAT!

What do you think?


delana.haney said...

This applies to education as well. I have found that when I let go and let the kids teach each other sometimes, they blow me away when they use the technology available:) Thanks for this reminder!!

Brian Mayfield said...

Great thought Delana!