Over the past few weeks we have been using this space to reflect on the values we rely on in serving our mission as a parish. This week “Excellence.”
Excellence in the church can be hard to define. Some parishioners measure the excellence of a homily by its length (the shorter the better). Still others judge the excellence of church music by their own familiarity with it, or personal preferences. For pastors and parish staff, excellence can be even harder to define.
Over time, we have come to identify excellence as outstanding fitness for a purpose. Here are a few marks of excellence we’ve identified.
Excellence is all about many qualities at the same time: it is energetic, vital, vigorous, potent, effective, enterprising, sometimes bold. It’s moving, it’s going somewhere. For instance, when we first started on our rebuilding journey we heavily invested time, energy, and money in our Sunday evening Mass and the youth program that followed it. Our investment there was absurdly disproportionate to other Masses, programs, and services. And it was there we achieved a level of excellence that we realized we wanted to replicate at our other weekend services and programs. Today, we offer the same experience across all our Mass times. Each Mass has the same message, same music, and same volunteer ministers (though different teams) to host and serve. That might not sound very dynamic but it’s not about doing many things, it’s about doing only a few things in an ever increasingly exceptional way.
Excellence is disciplined, or, in another word, intentional. Excellence doesn’t just happen by accident. Too often in church world, we get caught up in the grind of preparing for the next weekend that we don’t stop to intentionally plan our long-term strategy. Excellence requires us to make time for preparation: message preparation, music rehearsals, event preparation, and staff training. It also requires strategically determining what not to do, which expectations will remain unmet, what requests go unanswered. Admittedly this is hard for pastors and church staff who are often people-pleasers. The disciplined pursuit of excellence will not please everyone.
Excellence is not a destination. As we discussed in a blog post on our value of adaptability, our culture and context are constantly changing. Unless you are a perfect preacher and pastor (I’m not), there is always room for improvement. Seek out experts to learn from. Read compelling books. Relentlessly review and renew the weekend experience with your staff. Experiment constantly, rip off other people’s great ideas. There is a certain habit of discontentment to excellence.
As we launch our new year (September 7 & 8 is “Kick-Off Weekend”), there will be plenty of evidence of our discontent: expansion of our music program, changes on the Concourse and in the Café, expanded and rebranded shuttle parking service, to name a few features.
We define excellence as outstanding fitness for a purpose. In other words, excellence is measured by how well we are serving our purpose: love God, love others, and make disciples. Our mission is the yardstick for everything we do. The excellence of our message, music, and ministers, and programs and services, our campus and buildings, all of our communication is measured by how they are serving and advancing our mission.
We’ve also discussed excellence in worship in a past blog post. Check out that post here. And stay tuned to this blog for next week’s post on the fifth value: “Committed.”