Recently I read the book Deliberate Simplicity by Dave Browning of Christ the King Church which argues the point that good enough is good enough in ministry, that the pursuit of excellence that many pastors and leaders pursue in churches may actually be a stumbling block to ministry. Now that's a new one. And it really got me thinking.
I've grown up with the mindset that we should always strive for excellence in our work for the kingdom, citing Colossians 3:23 "whatever you do unto the Lord, do it with all of your heart", as my reference verse. I recall being asked the question several years ago, why would anyone come to our church over the one down the street. My answer was that we do things better, with excellence. As I look back now I realize that is certainly one way to attract people to your church but probably not the Biblical way. Now I agree with Browning that excellence should not be our goal after all.
It is a very real struggle to keep up with not only the world, but also churches in our neighborhoods, to always come up with the bigger and better. And there should always be a tension and desire to do things better with "all of our heart". We shouldn't ever do anything half-hearted for Jesus. The church has been notorious for lacking quality in ministry, doing it without creativity, imagination and inspiration. But should excellence be the goal of the church?
As I look back on my thirty years in ministry, even though I thought I believed in the concept of doing everything with excellence, I didn't do ministry by that standard. Not until I read the book, Deliberate Simplicity, did I understand that excellence was never my goal. What I desired all along was transformation and it does not take excellence to transform someone. Actually the pursuit of excellence in ministry often times becomes a stumbling block to transformation. Rick Warren wrote, "You have heard it said, 'if it can't be done without excellence, don't do it'. Well Jesus never said that. The truth is almost everything we do is done poorly when we first start doing it - that's how we learn. At Saddleback Church we practice the 'good enough' principle. It doesn't have to be perfect for God to use it and bless it. We would rather involve thousands of people in ministry than have a perfect church run by a few elites."
Doing things with "all of your heart" in Col. 3:23 does not mean with excellence. It is a motivation to do things with a heart for Christ, not to please people or reach some man imposed standard of how things should be done. When my motivation is transformation to Christ-likeness, then when I am putting together a mission trip, I am more concerned with having a team of individuals that need transforming, that are willing to be transformed and those that can help transform those in which we are ministering to. I'm not trying to put together the perfect team that will get the task done with excellence.
A worship leader struggles with the tension between excellence and good enough every week. Do I limit the team to just the three or four best singers, or do I include others who don't quite meet the excellence standard? If you are more concerned with the sound than with transformation of your team members, allowing them to grow and use their giftedness for Christ, then you will exclude those who don't measure up. It is ironic that it is easier using only the top singers each week, not having to develop less than great talent.
An unhealthy focus on doing everything with "excellence" can take your focus off of relationships and put it on the task. It can cause volunteers and staff to avoid risk, to avoid taking chances and innovative things. We seldom do things quite as well the first time. It will limit the number of people who are involved in ministry because we are prone to do it ourselves or use the experts and paid staff. This is a real issue in churches. Pastors and staff must deal with the tension between effective ministry and "excellent" ministry on a regular basis
In a new church plant, with limited resources, you try to stretch every cent as far as it can go to reach people for Christ. Most new plants worship in less than excellent spaces, use less than excellent sound systems, have less than excellent children's and youth ministries. And yet church plants have a much better evangelical effectiveness than large, churches. Excellence has no bearing on the evangelical effectiveness and that is the point.
Should you always "do your best"? Of course, but with the proper goal in mind. We can't keep up with the world's insatiable demand for bigger and better and we don't have to, if we keep our focus on the true prize; transformation into the likeness of Jesus. Then we can let go of the burden of "excellence" and be satisfied with good enough.