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The Problem With Excellence

I had a crazy front row seat watching a church grow from a house group to 6000+ people on a weekend. Whether that’s good or bad and something to celebrate or deride, I’ll leave that to you.

At one point, in a survey we found that 40% of the people attending our weekend gatherings had either never been to a church before or only went once or twice a year. Again, depending on your ecclesiastical roots and theological stance, you can determine for yourself whether that’s good or not.

Regardless, one thing never popped up in our core values: Excellence. It’s not that we thought we should do shoddy work, it’s just that excellence carried some baggage that competed with another value that was more important to us: Reproduction.

Let me explain.

Part of our DNA consisted of a simple phrase we had inherited from our particular tribe: “everyone gets to play”. It was a way of restating the doctrinal idea of “the priesthood of all believers.” For us, it meant more than each person’s individual access to God; it implied a responsibility to also do the work of priests. In Paul’s Ephesian letter, he lists five primary roles in the church and makes a stunning statement in regards to their purpose: to equip believers to do the “work of ministry.” EPHESIANS 4:11-12 And so it seemed to us that all of us, despite any official position or job description, were to be trained and charged to do what Jesus and his disciples did.

But there was more to it. Because “Community” was also a core value, that meant that we needed to reproduce as many small groups as we could…which also meant we needed to reproduce a lot of leaders.

Then because “Churchplanting” was another core value, we wanted to reproduce a lot of churches. We ended up planting over a couple dozen churches.

And because “Worship” was another one of our top values, it meant we wanted a worship leader in each small group…guitar, keyboard, accordion, or whatever. Okay, maybe not accordion.

So, for instance, leading worship in our weekend celebrations was purposely kept simple and heartfelt, because we wanted the average nominal musician sitting in the church to think, “I could do that!” We didn’t want a highly-produced, slick show because how could that be reproduced? And by the way, we called our weekend gatherings “celebrations” rather than a “services” because we wanted the word “service” reserved for the work we did outside the church, rather than simply sitting for an hour on a weekend; in other words, we celebrated what God had done through our service to Him and others that week.

Planting new churches and releasing new leaders would have felt overwhelming if we had to pull off some amazing production in a new fledgling church. One of the churches we planted about 45 minutes north of us grew into a large church. On their church sign underneath the name of the church, it read, “A Pretty Good Church.”

I like that. It's honest.

There’s nothing wrong with having “excellence” as one of your core values. But be aware: you may end up with only specialists doing ministry and a church full of spectators. For us, there was simply a higher value, one that was a bit more important for the particular mission we had been given. Your core values are the hills that you’ll die on, the ones that ultimately have the greatest importance to you.

Have you discovered the values that make your church distinctive in its mission? There are dozens and dozens of worthy values and traits, but you can’t do them all…nor can your people remember them all.

Could the average person in your church tell you what your church’s top five values are…based on your activities, your messaging, your budget, and your mission?

Dave Workman | The Elemental Group


Is there a lack of clarity in your church or organization regarding your core values, vision, and mission? Maybe it's time for EnVision...a revolutionary gamified approach to charting your church's future. Team-based, self-facilitating, and interactive!


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