The church has been afflicted with something that will surely cripple our creative efforts. On the surface, it sounds honorable, even essential, but I am here today to call it out for what it is… A crock. Oh I know I am going to make some people mad over this one. I’m okay with that.

I’ve heard it so many times. “We’ll only put the best out there in front of the congregation.” “We have a culture of excellence.” If you’re a church leader and you have spouted things like this, please know, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Think about it. One of the biggest things we church leaders are constantly lamenting is the consumer mentality so pervasive in the church, and it is a HUGE problem… one we’re perpetuating. What do I mean? Well if only the “excellent” can ever participate in the church service, what do the rest of us do? Basically we become the audience and if we’re all relegated to being the audience, should we really be surprised when people pick up and leave for the “better show?”

I can almost hear your protests from here. They all start with some variation of someone’s “Aunt Erma” who is convinced she can sing and so takes all the solos in the choir, sounding like someone stepped on a bagpipe, while strangling a cat, who is simultaneously dragging his claws across a blackboard (do they even have those anymore?). Yes I have heard that and it is painful, and yes, I get that it may turn off visitors, but is that really the best you’ve got? The fact of the matter is every single human being has been gifted by God in one way or another. In the church, we need to do the hard work of helping people to find their gifting and gently guiding them out of places where they’re not gifted.

How do we find someone’s gift, not to mention hone it and refine it, if we are only willing to involve a few virtuosos? I suggest we need something different:

1. We need a safe place to fail: Your culture of excellence all but eliminates the possibility of taking risks and taking risks is the soul of creativity. The church needs to be a place where people can try new things, give it their all, and try again if it doesn’t go well.

2. What is excellence anyway? Who is excellent? Pavarotti or Dylan? Pollock or Picasso or Rembrandt? Who’s to say what’s excellent and what’s not? Then compound that with the fact that all this is being placed in the hands of a God who can quite literally work in anything and anyone.

3. What’s more important? Talent or character?: We’ve all seen the disaster that happens when someone’s gifting is way ahead of his character. “Man, looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart…” and I for one happen to think a character fail will be far more detrimental to the Spiritual vitality of the church, than a sincere but lackluster “performance.”

4. What if? What if we discipled people and helped them to grow both their talents AND their character? What if we cared as much about how well the people who stand before us are following Christ, as we care about their talent? What if we gave people “appropriate exhibition” Where people could try new things in a safer environment than before the entire congregation? What if we founded discipleship groups for people who want to take their gifts further? What if we began to consider excellence by the only measure that really matters, i.e. is the person in question bringing his or her best to the table? Are they preparing, practicing and working to develop what God has given them? What if we helped people find their true gifts and show them how to serve the Lord and others with them? That’s what was done for me.

“A culture of excellence is a crock because it builds walls when the church is about opening doors. It’s a crock because it keeps so many things in the hands of a select few and elevates those few above the masses. Its a crock because it ignores or attempts to negate, God’s power to work in and through us all. Maybe being excellent really does just mean bringing your best to the table every time.

The best you can do is the best you can do. What if that is excellent enough?

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