Better Than Excellence

Excellence is taking a hit. In my opinion, it’s a cruel task master and more and more people are noticing. The correction is a necessary one. Anytime we are using people to build church, we’re upside down. In the Kingdom of God, we don’t tap into people like batteries and discard them after using them up. Many techs I know have been burned by churches who seemed to have had that attitude.

I’ve stated a case against using excellence as a standard in my article, Why I Kissed Excellence Goodbye. It pretty much summarizes my views on the matter.

Few churches have made a name for excellence quite like Church On The Move in Tulsa, OK. I was interested to hear Whitney George’s take on it recently. Over on Sunday Mag, Jonathan Malm ran a series called, My One Thing. The idea was for each writer to discuss the one thing they’ve been learning that could help others.

Whit’s My One Thing had to do with pastoring people within a culture of excellence and how that can get out of balance. It’s a good article, and although Whit’s not saying he’s giving up on achieving excellence, he does recognize that the drive needs to be managed to not get out of balance. He recognizes that if people feel you care more about what they’re doing than you care about them as people, you’ve erred. In fact, in his words, he’s learning to not pursue excellence at as high of a cost anymore.

That’s a good start.

Suffice it to say that I would state it a little stronger. Excellence, as it is often used, flows from pride right to striving for perfection. It has more in common with Pharoah than Kingdom building. This is why it chews people up. Start with a philosophy of excellence on one end of the spectrum, and you’ll get chewed up people on the other end. Does God deserve our best? Maybe. God deserving our best sounds like the foundation of religion to me. Bring your best or don’t come at all, is not really a mantra I see Jesus teaching. Authenticity trumps excellence.

BUT it’s easy to take pot shots, what’s the alternative?

How do you motivate people to a high standard without using excellence?

It is a pickle.

If a volunteer asks, “Why should I do it that way? Why does it matter?”

How would you answer without mumbling something about excellence?

Greg Koenig over at Atomic Delight might have an answer for us. After examining the manufacturing process to create the new Apple Watch, Greg concludes with these thoughts:

Jonny Ive often speaks of care. It is an odd word to use as it doesn’t imply the traditional notion of “craftsmanship” in the classic, handmade sense. Nor does it imply quality or precision in the way a Japanese car manufacturer or German machine tool maker would. “Care” implies a respect for the raw materials and end result, with little concern about what it takes to link those two ends of the production chain together, and we see that highlighted with the Watch. Apple could very easily have forgone forging to create stainless steel cases, just like everyone else. Hardening gold alloy with cold working could have been eliminated, putting them on par with the rest of the industry. Nobody will see or feel the inside pocket for the microphone on the Sport, yet it has been laser finished to perfection.

I see these videos and I see a process that could only have been created by a team looking to execute on a level far beyond what was necessary or what will be noticed. This isn’t a supply chain, it is a ritual Apple is performing to bring themselves up to the standards necessary to compete against companies with centuries of experience.
How Apple Makes the Watch

Care = a respect for the raw materials and the end result; executing at a level beyond what is necessary or what will be noticed.

Whatever intangible Greg is trying to capture here, I would contend that it is different than excellence. The craftsmanship, precision and quality he speaks of, and rejects, is more in line with our normal definition of excellence. Excellence is the exact perspective being transcended.

If we use ”care” in this way as our standard, with a priority on the respect of those raw materials, it could sound a little wooden. We don’t normally think of ministry in terms of raw materials. But let’s use it anyway just as a frame of reference. In church, our raw materials would be the anointed word (ministry in sermons and in songs), the congregation (receiving ministry), and the volunteer teams (ministers). Our respect should equally apply to all three areas. We don’t exhaust one for the sake of the other. That’s exactly where the excellence mantra goes off the rails.

Our end result is discipleship or Christ-likeness. The end game is not this particular service, or mix, or light cue. That’s too short-sighted. The true end game is discipleship.

Care = deep respect for the ministry, the ministers, and those receiving ministry; and a respect for the end result which is Christ-likeness. Care is an abiding respect for everyone involved with a focus on our true end game.

We know we’re getting it right when our execution is beyond what is necessary or noticed because that moves us into the realm of worship. It is that worship that transforms us into the image of Christ.

So, if a volunteer asks, “Why should I do it that way? Why does it matter?”

Because we care. We care deeply for and respect the Word and worship we are facilitating, we care deeply for and respect the people who need God’s touch today, and we care deeply for and respect our fellow ministers, those in the trenches beside us. 

Care corrects the misguided notion of striving for something great while using people to get there. 

Care is better than excellence. 



2 thoughts on “Better Than Excellence

  1. I do believe that care is better than excellent. When you build someone up by showing them you love and respect them, they’ll will serve in a way that shows love and respect in return.

  2. Nice. I think perhaps “care” and “worship” can be interchanged on some level here. I do my best because I love Jesus and just as a 20-something spends hours making a present for his girlfriend and isn’t burned out by it because it’s motivated by love, so I can do the same. Motivated by love, we can do our best. Motivated by perfection we burn ourselves out to do what is impossible for us.

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