Sunday, October 14, 2007

On Excellence in Churches

If my "Cheesy Church" post left a bad taste in your mouth, try a bite of this.

I've been having conversations with an individual on the subject of excellence. This person and I have in common that we appreciate excellence on all levels and in all areas of life. In a word, we both hate, well, cheesiness. Sloppiness. It bugs us both when things aren't carried out in a professional manner. And church is the place where we most desire to see things done right.

However my friend and I part company when it comes down to the extent that we value so-called excellence. He recently left his church in search for a place where the leadership has it all together. I wish him luck. Actually--I give him a year. My guess? The honeymoon will eventually be over and alas, he'll be on to greener grass.

(And don't get me wrong--he has good reason to move on. The things that drive him crazy in churches and among ministers annoy me to no end.)

As I've reflected on my friend's decision to go in search of church-done-his-way, I've been asking myself these questions: What am I really after in church? Why am I there? What is and should be my--our--sole purpose in going to church week in and week out?

These questions are answered loudly and clearly every time I see a watery-eyed, broken soul drinking in truth during the adult Sunday School class. Or light-bulbs coming on as I dramatize Bible stories for the children in Kids' Church. Every time someone makes the walk to the altar and reconnects with God I'm reminded of the answer: It's not about me. It's about them.

To the little old ladies that faithfully prepare a Sunday School lesson every week, to the young youth workers who exhaust their energies in planning outreaches, and to the busy mothers who invite visitors over for Sunday dinner--thank you. Thank you for placing people above professionalism in the things you value in church. It may never get better. Some things never change. The sermons may be dry, the stage may look tacky, and the restrooms may stink. But we're all just people trying our best to keep people a priority. I really think God is far more concerned about that than getting us to sharpen up our style.

If you want to talk professional--how about being professional in the way we love each other? Isn't it a rather sloppy love that says, "I love this church and this pastor until it no longer measures up to my standards of excellence?" Contrast that attitude with "professional agape": "I love this church and this pastor because they are God's people and He loves them too." And if you really want a PhD in God's kind of love, try repeating this to yourself until it gets in your heart: "I am no better." Now that's excellence.