The Continuum of Excellence, Part 2

In my blog post in September, I gave some thoughts about using a continuum of excellence as a guide to help us improve our ministries and some biblical rationale on why it was important. I want to provide thoughts about some pitfalls of taking this to the extreme and conclude with some practical tips about pursuing excellence.

Concerns About Pursuing Excellence

1. It can become an end in and of itself. As worship leaders, we should strive for excellence in multiple realms, whether musical, interpersonal, spiritual, musical, etc. However, excellence in worship ministry is not the goal: worship is. Excellence in these areas can be the means to achieve the goal, but when the means overshadow the end, this can lead to unexpected consequences.

2. One unexpected consequence is that it can create a toxic culture. When people are fearful of making mistakes, like playing a wrong note or missing a slide cue, that alone can cause someone to make a mistake. While striving toward excellence, we must have communities of grace. We should always keep in mind that people are more important than processes. One tech director once said that when someone makes a mistake, he reminds them that “Jesus is still Lord.”

3. When pursuing excellence, it is easy to fall into the trap of comparison. It is easy to look at other musicians, staff members, or even churches and want to be like them. Comparison robs us of our joy as we look at others who are seemingly more gifted or who seem to have better life circumstances than we do.

While it is good to have others that are better than ourselves to motivate and encourage us to be better, God has not called us to be them. He has made us to be ourselves, so to that extent, we are only competing against ourselves. The Lord only requires our best to serve Him well, not someone else’s best.

4. Pride is also a dangerous trap. If we constantly look to others in comparison and find that we are better than them, we can grow an unhealthy sense of pride. There are many biblical admonitions about pride, with perhaps Proverbs 16:18-19 being the most well-known: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.”

5. Overly pursuing excellence can lead to the paralysis of perfection. Perfectionism is grossly inefficient. While I will carefully write this post, proofread it myself, and have others read it and make suggestions, repeating this process five or six times would most likely be a waste of time. I could spend hours and hours trying to make it better, but after a while my ability to make it better would wane. Pursuing excellence to the extreme can lead to being paralyzed by things never being good enough.

Considering these things, I want to leave you with five practical ideas about moving toward excellence in a healthy way.

1. Model excellence by being prepared. This can mean communicating well prior to rehearsal, having a plan for the rehearsal time, having the sound system on and ready to go before rehearsal time, or being musically prepared. Your example, positive or negative, will speak volumes to those you are leading.

2. In my ministry context, my goal is to always leave my ministry area better than I found it. For me, this is a stewardship issue. The outcome of these efforts can vary widely depending on what the needs of the group are. Perhaps there is a deficiency in musical training, a need for volunteers, or unhealthy attitudes in the worship team culture. By using the continuum of excellence, you can measure various aspects of your ministry to see if there has been (or still needs to be) improvement in certain areas.

3. Setting goals for the group can be a tangible way to encourage a way to move forward, particularly if those goals are measurable. You may want to share these with your team, or you may want to keep them to yourself depending on the nature of the goal.

4. Challenging your team is a great way to move towards excellence. What this looks like will vary widely based on the challenges and opportunities present in your ministry context. Maybe it is something like encouraging people to memorize their music with a goal to have no music stands on stage by a certain time. Perhaps it is something as simple as starting rehearsals on time every week.

5. Above all, love your ministry teams well. As 1 Cor. 13:1 reminds us, if we don’t have love we are like “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” It goes on to say that we can do great things, but if we don’t have love, we are nothing. If we have excellence without love, it is meaningless.

2 comments to The Continuum of Excellence, Part 2

  • Abigail M

    This is a great reminder that sometimes we focus on all of the wrong things. I have realized after reading this post that my drive for excellence is very selfish. Sometimes I am only focused on myself and that is not ok. One of my biggest takeaways from this post is that Jesus is still Lord even when we make mistakes. I know for myself, I am so focused on not making a mistake that it actually distracts me from the worship. Instead of beating myself up, I should walk in to the next week being more prepared by practicing ahead of time so that I do not make the same mistakes.

  • Josh Peoples

    This has been an incredibly helpful summary/warning of the potential pitfalls of the desire to pursue excellence in all things. For many, the pursuit of excellence becomes the pursuit of perfection (which is impossible and only brings wrong perspectives into the mix). It might also become the pursuit of becoming a cover band of a major worship band instead of developing into the unique worship team God has put together at your church. Excellence is valuable, but sometimes it’s beneficial to remember that excellence is not the end goal.