For years our church has listed “excellence” as one of its core values. Support for this word, if not the idea behind it, has been slipping for years. A growing number of leaders are uncomfortable with excellence for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most common objection is that it’s a more subtle way of saying we are perfectionists. Others object that the word is off-putting to people in the church that cannot achieve “excellence.” It’s exclusionary.
Defenders of the term say it has nothing to do with perfectionism or elitism, but a desire to “do our very best for God.” And one person’s very best may differ significantly from another’s, but both are upholding the value of excellence. In the end the decision was made to change the articulation of the value and drop the word “excellence.” But what word should we use?
Daniel Schantz recently wrote an insightful, dare I say excellent, article about the increasing discomfort with the notion of excellence in the church . . . Here is a brief excerpt:
The term excellence is often spoken by church leaders in condescending tones, as if to say, “Others may be content with being average slobs, but not us. We must have only the best.” This can be a slap in the face to members who don’t have the capacity or means to be excellent—the “good,” the “fair,” the “poor.”
Can only good-looking, gifted singers serve on the worship team? Must church buildings resemble palaces in order to be useful? Do all preachers have to be Madison Avenue models, professional comedians, celebrities, best-selling authors, and able to speak five languages? The gospel was targeted to the poor, not just to the exceptional.
Schantz’s article reads like a transcript from one of our church leadership meetings. He captures the arguments surrounding the term “excellence” perfectly. But the question remains—is there a positive alternative? What word should replace excellence in our ecclesiastical lexicon? Or, are you a true believer in excellence who is willing to fight the slippery slope of mediocrity?
Commenters offer some good suggestions. Faithfulness. Authenticity. Etc.
I think much core value terminology has the tendency to lapse into meaningless jargon, buzzwordism if you will. Ponder the uselessness of the word "authenticity" in church marketing. Do most congregations even know what their church's core values are? I think of such things like I do mission and vision statements. They don't hurt, but really, are they that big of a deal?
The biggest problem I have with a church's core values being reduced to things like "creativity" and "innovation" and "excellence" is how biblically deficient such prioritizing is. Creativity and innovation and excellence are all good things; they are all important things that can bring God glory. But if you were to search out the Bible's suggestions for a church's "core values," would that shortlist match most churches' shortlists?
The shortlisted core values of most churches are a reflection of the main weekend worship strategy, and as many more are learning, a weekend production does not a church make.
More than Words: Meaninglessness in the Busy Church