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The Continuum of Excellence, Part 1

As worship leaders, we are charged with helping our groups prepare for Sunday on a weekly basis. Part of that preparation includes rehearsal time in which our groups practice to improve their individual skills as well as playing together as a group. Sometimes, we are helping musicians who only play during rehearsals and performances, and in some cases, they may settle for mediocrity. Similarly, some of the groups we work with might accept a standard that falls short of excellence.

So, how do we help them go above average? How can we go from good to great? How good is good enough?

This is where I find the idea of a continuum of excellence to be helpful. A continuum is a set of things on a scale that have a particular characteristic to different degrees. As we think about excellence, our continuum might look something like this:

While the arrows show movement forward (as improvement should be the goal), it is possible to move backward if you are not moving toward excellence.

One of the initial steps in using this tool is self-assessment. Where are you on this continuum in various skills? Where are your groups on this scale? To improve, we need to know where we are. I find that some of the groups that I have worked with rate themselves much higher than they should, akin to Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. Tigger has high energy and is very self-assured–to the point of overconfidence. These groups tend to think more highly of themselves than they should. Conversely, some groups tend to underestimate their abilities and resemble the characteristics of Eeyore. These individuals feel underprepared and often doubt their abilities.

So why should we move forward on the scale, and how can we convince others that average is not adequate? I believe we find several biblical reasons that can help us in this endeavor.

1. It Is a Stewardship Issue

We all have been given gifts and talents that we are to use to further God’s kingdom and bring glory to Him. I Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” We are to steward those gifts individually, and as leaders, we steward others under our charge. I Cor. 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Being complacent with mediocrity doesn’t sound like we are using our gifts for the glory of God.

2. There Is a Biblical Precedent for Elevating Excellence

Proverbs 22:29 gives a great principle: “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.“ People who are good at what they do will succeed. God chose individuals like Bezalel and Oholiab to help with the construction of the things for the temple because they were skilled (Ex. 31). I also love the simplicity of the next verse as it explains why we should use talented people. 1 Chronicles 15:22 says, “Kenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.”

3. Worship and Excellence Require Sacrifice

David was ordered by God to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and so he asked Araunah to buy it. While Araunah offered to give it to him, David replied, “I will not . . . offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing” (I Chron. 21:24b). David knew that a worthy sacrifice should cost him something. We may no longer have to build altars and sacrifice animals but Hebrews reminds us that we still have to offer other sacrifices: “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15).

4. God Demands our Best

Col. 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” When we work for the Lord, whether it is the work of our hands or rehearsing music, we must do it wholeheartedly as unto the Lord. God is never pleased with less than our best. Malachi 1:8 reminds us that “‘When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?’ says the Lord Almighty.”

The continuum of excellence gives us a diagnostic tool that helps us assess our current status and gives us some general benchmarks for improvement. Its use in different contexts will vary. However, the principles of moving toward excellence and being intentional about doing so will apply to a variety of different situations.

6 comments to The Continuum of Excellence, Part 1

  • Dwayne

    Excellent article on excellence! Thank you, Dr. Roger. Your voice and insights are needed in the worship leadership forum

  • Brennan Berry

    This is such a great article! This topic can be sticky as we deal with perfectionism and legalism, however, it is a crucial part of our ministry. I believe and see that your first point about stewardship, is the most prevalent. This is even true in my own life. The people of God need to see that musical abilities are gifts from the Lord that should be used for Him. Wen we choose not to grow in them, we are not being good stewards of those gifts. Thus, we need to preach the gospel to ourselves and others because when we are lazy and do not want to grow, we are not understanding the gospel in that moment. We have been given grace SO THAT we might worship God and enjoy Him forever!

  • Noah Reaoch

    This is a very insightful article. It is easy to fall into a rut of mediocrity when it comes to worship, especially at a church that is very concerned with worship not being “showy”. It seems like attempts to improve musical quality are received skeptically by those who would settle for mediocrity for the sake of avoiding distraction. However, pointing out that anything we offer to the Lord should be our best raises the standard for our worship and can motivate us to strive for excellence.

  • Josh Peoples

    This is such a helpful article Dr. O’Neel, and I think it is something people are sometimes hesitant to discuss. I think one of the most dangerous phrases I hear frequently in worship ministry is “oh if we mess up people won’t notice” or “people don’t really have that high of a standard.” There is some sense in which this is true, but far too often, I hear it used as an excuse for mediocrity… and while people may not have that high of a standard, God is worth so much more than our mediocrity. Thank you for your use of biblical principles and it was super helpful to consider!

  • This is such a great reminder as we strive to be good stewards of our God-given gifts for worship ministry. Looking from the perspective of a worship leader, it’s important to seek to set our band members up for success. It’s also important to combat a mindset of perfection. I’ve been to plenty of churches with phenomenal worship teams and production, and plenty of churches that struggle to find three or four people who are willing to serve in worship ministry.

    Building a worship team is easy when you have a royal flush, but not great when you’re dealt a weak hand. It’s also important to assess how someone will aid or distract from the worship experience.

    As the worship leader, we must do everything we can to help our teams out. Whether that’s getting music out two weeks in advance, creating tutorial videos for our songs, or offering one-on-one training with our musicians, we should seek to equip and lead others in a manner that challenges and encourages them to further their gifts for God’s glory.