Is excellence killing the church?

If you regularly attend church conferences you will no doubt hear the rallying cry for excellence in the church. In some ways this is a good thing. I am all for pastors working hard and doing all they can do to reach people with the greatest message ever told. Where excellence starts to kill the church is when we make our church a polished flawless exhibition that we invite people to be impressed by.

When the church takes its cue from the business world and perfects its processes so that it can extend its reach and solidify its brand we have lost our way. [Tweet “When excellence drives us to be efficient with people so we can be innovative with problems we are no longer the church “]When excellence drives us to be efficient with people so we can be innovative with problems we are no longer the church we are simply a 501c3.

What I think we need more of is simply “really good churches.” What is a good church? [Tweet “A good church is a family, not a factory.”] A good church is a family, not a factory. The church I serve is a big church we want to reach more people not because we want to impress them or count them. It’s because families were intended to reproduce, to grow. There is nothing more exciting in a family than a new baby. Families are messy, families are not perfect and they most of the time not very polished. You walk through our house you will see a house that is well lived in. Does this mean we disregard all awareness of seekers? Not at all. When our family has guests over to the house everyone in the family pitches in to clean up to make ourselves presentable for our guests. We do a good job but I guarantee that if you come visit you will find a stray pair of star wars underwear lying where it shouldn’t be. Why? Because we have kids because we are a family and I think most of our guest find a few cracks in our perfect façade strangely comforting.

My fear is that in our preaching of the gospel of excellence on blogs, at conferences and in our conversations we can actually discourage people that we are trying to encourage. When people from small churches and small towns come to conferences they are wowed by the excellence they both see and perceive and what was meant to inspire actually does the opposite. We must inspire but in our drive for the excellence, we must always bring the application of everything we do back to the gospel. It is only through the gospel and our gratitude for the forgiveness we don’t deserve that we can do excellent things with a heart of humility rather than self-seeking.

[Tweet “We need good churches that preach the gospel with clarity that stand for truth in adversity that love people relentlessly”]We need good churches that preach the gospel with clarity that stand for truth in adversity that love people relentlessly. Good churches are like good families they are far from perfect but they are home. People need Jesus more than a show. They crave relationship more than perfection. They want a pastor, not a CEO.

I pray that my innate drive for excellence doesn’t keep me from helping to build a well lived in church that my kids will always call home.

17 comments On Is excellence killing the church?

  • YES, YES, YES! So much yes in this post! Thank you for your heart, Sam.

  • I have felt this for a long time! I think people want authenticity!

    Kidmin play a huge role when it comes to bringing this change though! We must step away from performances, and embrace real transforming ministry!

  • Thanks for this post Sam. I had lunch with a local Kidman friend last week, and we talked about how sometimes we overthink the things we are doing in ministry to kids and families. Excellence is good, but Jesus is better. If we strive so hard to be excellent and get consumed with comparing ourselves to other churches, we’ll miss out on the opportunities God gives us to love and encourage the people he sends our way.

    “Good churches are like good families they are far from perfect but they are home. People need Jesus more than a show.”

  • Sam you hit a nerve that some will react to but needs to be considered. I’ve believed for a long time that there is a discernible difference between ‘excellence’ and ‘glitz’. When most people use the former term they are actually referencing the latter. Every church can achieve excellence on it’s own terms but not every church can or should even bother trying to achieve glitz, which often is only another attempt to impress. Enjoyed the article!

    • John thanks for your comment. I guess I would say I have no problem with excellence or even glitz as long as those are not the goal of our ministry or what we measure our success by. If the goal is honoring Christ and caring for people than excellence and glitz take their proper place. My contention is that we often times in the pursuit of church growth we have turned our churches into factories that produce disciples rather than families who reproduce children. Do what you do well but not as an end to its self and not at the expense of people.

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  • I appreciate where you are going with this, but I disagree. My guess is we feel the same way, but I believe we should always strive for excellence. Shooting for less than that is a disservice to the calling we have received. The Bible says we should do everything to the best of our ability. To me that’s what the desire for excellence is – trying our best. Being a “good” church and being okay with that is wrong to me. We shouldn’t settle for being average. Just my opinion. And again, I’m sure that’s not what you’re saying, that just what came to mind when I read this. 🙂

    • Jessica thanks for your comment. You are right I am not saying excellence is a bad thing. I’m saying it can be a bad thing. My concern is that churches were never meant to be factories producing disciples like widgets in a giant factory. If that were the case efficiency and excellence would the goal. The goal of the church is discipleship and that is a messy business. It requires us to be shepherds, not CEO’s. My concern is that we have borrowed so much from corporate America and the leadership principles of Starbucks and Apple that we have lost the idea of what Jesus thinks excellence is. We forget that what Jesus model to us was not effective management but humble submission to the Father. The point of this post was that when we are so driven by excellence we obsess over perfecting our environments so much that we miss the people God has called us to love. Who we ironically enough are the very people we are trying to create amazing environments for in the first place. I don’t want perfect environments I want my church to feel like home. I want my kids to see Jesus as irresistibly beautiful. Seeing Jesus in that way doesn’t happen through perfection it happens through relational transparency and through personal brokenness. I get that we should do what we do to the best of our ability and agree. I think the church in America needs to grow in their ability to boast in their weakness rather than relentlessly project strength. I am guilty of this and the older I get the more I realize that I want to build a church my kids will always call home rather than a church magazines write about and other pastors envy. I guess that is where I am coming from. I see excellence as a byproduct of humble obedience to an excellent God not the ultimate goal as it is with many churches. I know this because I slip into this far to often myself. So hear me I am pointing a finger at myself first and foremost.

  • I agree with all you said but I think the strive for excellence that we experienced in the last 15 years is a back lash against the ‘Jesus cheese’ of the 80s and 90s where we were so out of touch we looked silly. You’re correct, now we have goals, lights, systems we need to remember the difference between a living organism called church vs a corporation.

    Last thought: The best definition of excellence is doing the best you can for the Lord with the resources you have.

    • Excellence is secondary in my mind. When excellence is the goal perfectionism and pragmatism seep into the church and people are hurt both intentionally and unintentionally. Our job as pastors is to point people to Jesus whose excellent stainless life what makes us both dependent and different. From my observation and from listening to the pain-filled stories of others church that preach the gospel of excellence are meat grinders of staff and the fruit is not disciples but disillusionment. Thanks for your comment Lori 😉 hope you are doing well.

  • Hey Sam, Have read this content before elsewhere and do agree with it. What works in our churches must work in Africa or we should consider ditching it. Conceptually here not applicable to circumstances or culture. Yes the delivery methods may change, but the spirit of it should never!

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