The Problem with Excellence Part 2

The Problem with Excellence Part 2

August 10, 2011 by

I know you church communication-types (because I’m one too): You get lippy when church marketing sucks, and you get your back up when someone comes along and starts bashing the church. If that’s you, you might be particularly cranky about my recent post on the problem with excellence. I’m hoping this follow-up will un-cranky you.

Let me say this: I’ve come to understand that excellence, in and of itself, isn’t a problem; it’s the unreasonable expectation of excellence that can wreak emotional havoc in you, your teams and ultimately your church family. With that in mind, following are my as-promised solutions:

If excellence is a euphemism for perfect:

  • Stop using the bar as a bat. It seems that “raising the bar of excellence” is an oft-beat drum in church circles. People perform to the standard expected of them, right? Well, sure. Unless they can’t. If you’ve raised your bar to a level that’s not right-sized to your or your team members’ actual level of giftedness, it becomes a weapon. So know those things at which you and your teams excel, and do those things. Of course we can all learn and stretch and grow, but we also have to be realistic about our limitations.
  • Define what excellence looks like. You and I both know people who think their Comic-Sans-laden, animated-gif-infested websites are the best. Ever. And some people actually like Nickelback. Clearly, excellence is subjective. Consider, then, developing clear brand and style guidelines so you—and the people on your team—know, objectively, based on filters you put in place, what is and is not excellent in your specific context.

If excellence is spreading you and your people too thin:

  • Get clear about your vision. You can’t be excellent about everything all the time—not without eventually imploding. Be sure, then, that you’re striving toward excellence in the things that actually, truly matter. You can’t know what matters unless your church has a clear understanding of what it’s supposed to be doing—and not doing. In other words: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t major in the minors. Keep the main thing the main thing. (There’s a reason phrases become cliché: Lots of people resonate with them because they make sense on a gut level.)
  • Set boundaries. More than likely, your communications department supports every ministry of the church. So, unless you’ve worked out a way to influence the time-space continuum in your favor, you simply can’t produce excellent work all the time for every ministry unless you have some clear boundaries in place. Set and communicate realistic advance-notice requirements for project requests. Develop and practice language around your department’s commitment to act as brand bodyguards: “I’d love to produce that 12-page booklet for tomorrow’s training event, but your timeframe won’t allow me to create a product that accurately represents who we are. How about we do this instead?”

    By the way, if you’re thinking, “Boundaries? I don’t need no stinkin’ boundaries. I’m awesome under pressure!” I dare you to ask the people around you if they agree. There’s a difference between producing good work under pressure and working well—being a decent human being—under pressure.

If you’re wrongly motivated toward excellence:

  • Surround yourself with truth-tellers. We all need at least one person around us to remind us, every so often, that we’re really not that big of deal. Find people who are willing to look you in the eye and ask the tough question: “Who’s getting the glory out of this?”
  • Be still. We in church work get so busy figuring out how to tell other people about God that we forget to know him ourselves. If your expectation of excellence is about you and your need for recognition, maybe you need a reminder of how very little our good work impresses him and how much he loves us regardless.
Photo by Roland Tanglao
Post By:

Kelley Hartnett

Kelley Hartnett spent more than a decade working in established churches and helping to launch new ones. She recently launched Tall Tree Collective, which helps nonprofits craft messages that inspire people to get behind their cause. Kelley formerly served as the membership director for our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site and is the author of You've Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators.
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6 Responses to “The Problem with Excellence Part 2”

  • Curtis Brown
    August 10, 2011

    Thanks for the great post, and excellent reminders.

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    • Jason
      August 11, 2011

      An ‘excellent’ post, thanks

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  • How To Interpret the Bible
    August 13, 2011

    Some cool points we should also remember the great men that came before us like Abraham who God said to walk before him and be perfect. Contrary to popular belief perfection is an ongoing process, just excellence is so we should strive for it, but not feel guilty about expressing it.

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  • Kenny Miracle
    August 14, 2011

    Thanks for being so bold to share these things especially in the church context. I’ve seen myself get caught up in all these things. It’s interesting how this often starts with creative energy and vision, yet ends in burn out. One of my favorite quotes is that “lovers outwork workers.” The person motivated by love for God and empowered by His love for her will not get burned out so easily.

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  • Caleb Baker
    August 23, 2011

    A book I highly recommend is “Five Star Church”. It’s a great book on excellence and the church.

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  • Jeremy Legg
    September 6, 2011

    Great articles! (Both!)

    I burned myself out trying to live up to the principle “You can do more than you think you can.” Okay, I was backslidden at the time, but the church for which I had previously worked was burning its people out with demands and expectations, and this kind of spilled over into my life-after-ministry. So I think there are some good tips in your articles for both excessive-excellencers and overworkers.

    I’m still an overworker, by the way, but trying to change. And I know my website is not yet “excellent”, but working on it is helping to develop my sense of vision and some people like it. :o)


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