Is it possible for a church to rely too heavily on technical excellence?
That was the crux of a recent conversation I had with an old friend.
“I left my small church because the worship, programs and preaching weren’t always great,” she told me. “But I came back to my small church because the worship, programs and preaching in the megachurch were done so well that it made me passive. The big church didn’t need me. My small church does. And I need to be needed.”
It made me wonder, are millions of believers being lulled into passivity by the excellence of their church’s programs, without having my friend’s awareness of it?
Sometimes we need to give God our second best.
Before I tell you what I mean by that, let me tell you what I don’t mean by it.
What I’m Not Saying
1. I’m not saying we shouldn’t give God our best, too.
Giving God our second best means we should give him our all. That includes best, worst and everything in between.
2. I’m not saying excellence is wrong.
Whatever we do – especially what we do for the cause of Christ – should be done with all the effort, passion and excellence we have. But sometimes what we have is more raw than polished.
3. I’m not saying small churches are second best.
My friend’s experience just happened to have a big church / small church dynamic to it. But that doesn't mean a small church is a second-best experience. As a pastor of a great small church, I know that to be true.
4. I’m not saying big churches are bad.
The passivity my friend experienced in a big church happens in small churches too. Whenever ministry is seen as something done by professionals, we create passive consumers, not passionate disciples.
Choosing Passion Over Technique
We need to guard ourselves against the tendency for technical excellence to replace or stifle our innovative passion.
In his autobiography Life, Keith Richards talks about the difference between technique and passion. “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. “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.”
I know I’m taking a big leap here, but that’s what makes a great church. People in the same room, hearing and capturing the creative sound of the Holy Spirit, then responding with passion, unity and a common voice. That beats technique and technology every time.
When Excellence Gets In the Way of Authenticity
As I said at the start, I’m not against doing things with quality. Or good technique. Or technology. 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 innovation
- punish creative mistakes instead of rewarding them
- 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. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Cor 12:9)
It’s not that I can’t worship along with world-class musicians using high-quality video and lighting. I have.
But I’ve also grinned like a Cheshire Cat watching a nervous teenager trying to play guitar in front of the 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 when we offer our second best that creates space for creativity, innovation 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.
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