Possible and Passable are the Enemies of Excellence

I went back and forth on whether to write this. I don’t want to seem like I am the only person that cares about excellence. I am not. What I am talking about here are things most people don’t realize hinder excellence. This mostly concerns the technical execution of events and services. There are things about that which normal people don’t know, or need to know. So, understand I am not criticizing people, but the idea that what is simply possible or passable is good enough for God.

What frustrates me is when we approach ministry work with the attitude that anything that is done is passable. And anything passable honors God. We have all been put in the place where we were asked to do something that could have been better with different resources or more time. And where there was no reason to rush things, or to not devote more resources to it. In my opinion, this isn’t excellence.

How do we balance an acceptable level of quality with demands placed upon us?

We have a space on campus that has some technical equipment, but is not really set up for Image Magnification (IMAG), and in most configurations it’s not required. On multiple occasions events in that space have asked for IMAG and video recording. I always explain the limitations of light, angle, and available camera equipment. The response I normally get is, “I’m sure it will be fine.”

Define “fine”.

Fine as in better than I can do with my consumer, single-chip camcorder? Sure, but I wouldn’t ever use that to do IMAG for an event. Fine as in as good as other locations? Not even close. But it is passable. We can do it, but it is not the best we can do if we would decide we need to do this, and do it right. If devoting time and resources to this isn’t a priority, then we should live within the limitations.

The tension comes when the ability to do something with poor quality will actually cause more distraction than good. In the previous example, is the image we can produce with limited light and 20-year-old cameras going to be a distraction, or a help? In most cases in that room IMAG is a bonus, not a requirement. In those cases, I push pretty hard for not doing it. But sometimes we put 800-1000 people in that space, with no floor rake, and a small stage in a rectangle room. I almost always provide camera support in that situation. But, it bothers me because I know the quality of that image should be better. Sadly when it comes to equipment, there are much more pressing needs, so this remains unresolved.

Growing up in smaller churches in the country, I would cringe when I heard the soloist say, “Well, I didn’t have enough time to really practice this, but it’s for God so that’s OK.” If something is done for God, it should be our absolute best. I define excellence as doing the best you can with the time and resources available. Sometimes, we need to have the guts to say if we don’t have the time or resources to do it right, we should not do it at all.

Doing something in a passable fashion, with poor quality, because we don’t want to spend the money or take the time to do it right is not excellence.

Sometimes a good idea comes up at the last minute. In many cases, we can do it. But by making the last minute change we add significant tension to the tech guys and gals trying to pull it off, and the chances of mistakes (read: distractions from worship) goes up exponentially. Sometimes a great idea- if we’d known 3 days before- becomes a nightmare 3 minutes before.

If we do it because it is possible, it can compromise the quality if a mistake happens. I’m not talking about minor changes that happen, or deleting elements. I’m talking about adding major elements to a service. We’ve heard about these: Wouldn’t it be great to show this video? To display this picture? To add this instrument? To sing this new song without rehearsal? In most cases it is possible to make the change, but the risk of mistakes is a danger to excellence.

Do not mistake concern for excellent execution for an indifference to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I know that just like he works on Mondays, the Holy Spirit may stir right before a service, or even during one. I these instances, we will always follow the lead of the worship leader. However, in every case we should think and pray long and hard before we make a major change right before a service.

But even if the idea comes up months in advance, just because we can do it does not make it something that should be done. Does this new thing fit into the vision and direction of the ministry? Does it work with what we are already doing? Do we need to stop doing other things if we start this? Can we handle the work load? Will this new thing distract our people more than help them? Every change should be strategic, and implementation should be systematic. Doing something just because we can is never a smart thing. There must be a compelling reason.

Doing something because it is possible may endanger excellence.

Remember, this isn’t about not doing things, it’s about doing things with excellence. Works which may be passable, or might be possible, are the enemies of excellence.

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