Giving Up On Excellence
I am a product of the Church Growth movement. I went to a denominational seminary and at the time they didn’t teach us anything useful about evangelism or about growing churches. I’m serious. We were taught that people would just come because they were Lutheran. Our job was to minister to the needs of our flock. I didn’t buy that then, and I certainly don’t buy that now.
So, early on in my seminary career, I started to go to conferences and read books to supplement my education. My first call as a pastor was to be the second full time staff member at a church with 600 members that became a mega church very quickly. My whole professional life has been about church growth. When we lived and taught in Eastern Europe, I taught church growth principals to my students. I’ve been sold on the movement for a long time as the hope for the future of the Church.
One of the tenants of the Church Growth movement is the pursuit of excellence for the sake of God. In other words, what we in the movement saw in North American churches was that no one cared enough to give their best. Especially pastors. We felt that God wanted our very, very best and that our services, especially, but all things we did as a church, should pursue excellent. It was the same kind of idea that was big, at the time, in business culture and also becoming to be a big idea in aspects of education and school administration.
Like all my peers in the movement, I bought into the necessity to pursue excellence for the sake of evangelism. After all, why would unchurched people trust us with their kids in Sunday School or Bible School if we didn’t look like we were excellent? Why would any unchurched person come to a church that looked like it didn’t know what it was doing? Why would any unchurched person go to a place whose publications were below the ability of most desk top publishing programs?
Excellence has pursued me and haunted me all during my tenure at Zion where I currently pastor. For several years I ran into stiff opposition to the pursuit of excellence. Why would we want to spend money on having everything look so “professional?” “What we’ve been using for years is good enough, pastor.” “We don’t need new signs, pastor. Our people know where things are.” When we introduced new ideas into worship (that is, we introduced Church Growth ideas) we also met opposition. The worship was said to be “too professional.” I admit I was frustrated.
But now, thankfully, I can tell you that I’m done with excellence for the time being. Why? Because our current ministry is simply too vibrant for excellence. What do I mean by that? Well, simply put, we’re so busy trying to keep up with the needs of the people we serve that we don’t have time to be excellent. The image in my head is one of a rescue ship that comes upon a wrecked vessel. You have to get people out of the water as quickly as possible. There simply isn’t time to be orderly or excellent. There is confusion and chaos, but people are being saved. And that’s where we are as a church. We simply have so many opportunities to witness to Christ at any given moment, we don’t have the time to pursue excellence.
I think our focus has shifted as well. Instead of our focus being on what we do in worship or care, our focus has shifted to serving. Instead of spending hours trying to figure out the perfect transitions in worship and pursuing the latest and greatest worship songs and making sure that every word on the power point is spelled correctly and so on, we’re praying with people, helping out at the local school, delivering groceries, teaching people English, and tutoring kids, all the while sharing the Gospel as living sacrifices. It isn’t that we don’t care about what happens on Sunday, it’s just that we’ve moved beyond Sunday and our focus is on the rest of the week where faith has to be lived out to be real and to be seen by a world that increasingly doesn’t attend church.
This blog won’t be published right away so let me say this: Tomorrow night I have a board meeting. It’s really important that I be there. We have a lot of things to discuss as the leadership of the church. But that night, at the same time, is also the school board meeting and I’ve been invited by a board member to come and speak and explain how our church “buses” 30+ kids to and from school every school day and how a simple change in their policy will lead to a major benefit for 100s of kids. I think I have to be at the school board meeting. I think the love of Christ compels us to go. Jesus said, “Go!” And when we go we can’t stay and take care of our own business. Our Master is on the move and we must follow him and help him take care of his great business. Because the world won’t come to church because it should. It will only come to faith when the church goes out and shows the world what the love of Christ is all about.
So, for the sake of the love of Christ, we have changed our opinion about excellence. What was once the pursuit of excellence in service to those who came to us is now the pursuit of excellence in service to those who have no idea who our Lord Jesus is yet but will hopefully come to faith in him through our meager efforts.
We aren’t even excellent in what we can do for others because there are so many of them in need. But I take comfort in this: What we do we do for Him, our Audience of One. And also, that in a great darkness, even a weak light shines very brightly. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ