A phrase I hear from time to time at churches is to do all things with excellence. Other churches don’t speak this directly, but they do understand it.
One reason for this may be pure, to give God our best. Or the motive may be practical, to provide a quality program for an increasingly entertainment-minded public.
Relating to all aspects of a church service, from greeting, to ushering, to taking the offering, and so forth, excellence applies more readily to the sermon and most specifically to music. Let’s frame our discussion on music.
While the first motivation of giving God our best is laudable and the second reason of quality programing is understandable, there are three downsides to this well-intended mindset.
Talent is Elevated: When excellence is the focus, talent becomes key. A musician’s spiritual condition is a lessor concern or even ignored. Some churches even recruit talent from anywhere they can find it, regardless of a person’s faith or lack thereof, disregarding his or her lifestyle or priorities. The result is a music performance instead of musicians who lead the church in worshiping God.
Lessor Talent is Dismissed: Every artist knows that there will always be someone more talented. When that person comes along, the musician of lessor talent is downgraded to backup status or simply discarded. The result is people whose hearts are right with God and who have a desire to use their God-given talent to worship him, being rejected because a higher level of excellence is now possible.
Consumerism Results: Excellence feeds into the American desire for quality. This changes worship into performance. If people attend a church because of its excellence, they will just as easily leave it for one that is even more excellent. They become church hoppers, looking for what best entertains them and gives them what they want; they are church consumers. God and faith become the casualty.
In my 52 Churches adventure, I visited churches that pursued excellence in all things. Although they entertained me, it was harder to encounter God there. However, at the churches that did the best they could with whatever they had, the focus moved away from performance towards the true worship of Almighty God, who they elevated to his rightful place.