Could Excellence Be Killing the Church?

Quality“I left my Small Church because the quality of worship, programs and preaching wasn’t great. Then I came back to my Small Church because the quality of worship, programs and preaching in the megachurch was so high, it made me passive.

“The big church didn’t need me. My Small Church does. And I need to be needed.”

That was the essence of a recent conversation I had with an old friend.

It made me wonder, is it possible for a church to have too much quality? Could there be millions of believers who are being lulled into passivity by the excellence of their church’s programs, without having my friend’s awareness of what’s happening to them?

To be clear, this is not just a big church problem. It happens in Small Churches too, when the pastor insists on running everything because he’s the only one who can do it “right”. We end up creating the impression that ministry is not something average people do, but something that is done for them by well-trained professionals – and could probably be done just as well without them.

But this is a particular temptation in a bigger church when the quality level is really high. People hear a world-class worship team, watch Hollywood-level video announcements, then pick their kids up from a Children’s Ministry that could compete with Sesame Street. The subtle message is, if my skills aren’t on an uber-professional level, the church doesn’t need me. I’ll just leave my money and go.


Passion Or Technique?

If you had to pick one over the other, which would you choose? Passion or technique?

I get the feeling that the western church, like Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, has chosen poorly.

The good news is, we don’t have to choose one or the other. We can, and should have both. But it’s important to constantly guard ourselves against the tendency for technical excellence to overshadow, and sometimes sap us of our passion.

In his recent autobiography, Keith Richards talks about the difference between technique and passion. To him, as a musician, passion is about finding a great sound, rather than perfecting his guitar skills. As he puts it, “There are some people looking to play guitar. There’s other people looking for a sound. I was looking for a sound…”

I should probably be quoting Charles Spurgeon instead of a member of the Rolling Stones, but Keith has a great point. For 50 years, he and his band have set a benchmark for the gritty, disjointed, less-than-perfect band that blows the audience away with their sound, fury and passion.

Keith insists that technological expertise can undermine passion and community if we’re not careful. As he explains about the recording process, “Everybody got carried away with technology… they were all in their little pigeonholes and cubicles. …This idea of separation is the total antithesis of rock and roll, which is a bunch of guys in a room making a sound and just capturing it. It’s the sound they make together, not separated.”

Those are the kind of churches and believers I think we need more of. People in the same room, hearing and capturing the creative sound of the Holy Spirit, then responding to it with passion, unity and a common voice. That beats technique and technology every time.

And there’s no better place to find, foster and develop that kind of joyous, passionate imperfection than in a Small Church.


What’s Wrong With Excellence?

Let me take a moment to state what should be obvious here. I’m not against doing things with quality. Or good technique. Or technology. Or (fill in the blank). And I’m definitely not in favor of poor preaching, lazy worship or haphazard church administration.

But when we always insist on technical excellence, we can

  • stifle creative mistakes
  • promote pride
  • create a two-tiered system of haves and have-nots
  • turn potential disciples into permanent audience members

Sometimes “God deserves our best” can serve as a cover for our pride. God also wants and deserves our second best. And our worst. And everything in between. Those less-than-perfect moments are where the Holy Spirit often shines the brightest.

I have certainly felt a holy stirring while worshiping along with world-class musicians. And I’ve been inspired to action by well-researched, expertly-delivered sermons.

But I’ve also grinned like a Cheshire Cat watching a nervous teenager trying to play guitar in front of his church for the first time. And I’ve been moved to tears of gratefulness as a stay-at-home mom overcame her stage fright to speak with a stuttering, trembling voice about how her church family prayed, worked and counseled her alcoholic husband back to sobriety and responsibility again.

Their lack of performance quality didn’t hinder their message. It made the moments a little more real.

Sometimes it’s the lack of technical excellence that creates space for creativity and passion to grow.

One of the reasons I love Small Churches is that our needs are more apparent. An obvious gap in technical expertise can show me where I’m needed. I can help. I can make a real difference.

And I don’t need to feel embarrassed about messing up as I’m learning how to do it, because these people know me and love me. Not in spite of my imperfections. But because of them. Because I’m trying. And because we share our imperfections with each other.


So what do you think? Have you ever experience of performance quality undermining the passion of the church?

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(“You’ll Eat It and Like It” photo from Lisa Campeau • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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