the shape of leadership

Leading Excellence

Growing competency and commitment in your ministry

Chris Railey on June 8, 2018


The desire and drive for excellence is imbedded in our whole culture. We look for excellence everywhere. We use the word “excellent” to describe a great customer service experience. And we all want excellence from those we lead.

But what is excellence? It seems to be one of those buzzwords that is hard to explain but easy to understand. When it comes to service, we want excellence. You look for it when you need to take your car to the shop or when looking for a handyman to do repairs at your house. You want an excellent restaurant. You want your sports team to play with excellence.

What does it mean in a ministry setting? The first thing most people think of when we use the word “excellence” in church is perhaps an attractive website, a well-maintained facility or highly trained musicians. We may think of a staff that can produce quality results with minimal effort. Our mind may even go toward creative elements throughout the message or on social media.

All of those things may make up excellence in ministry, but they aren’t the main thing. They are results of a church that ministers with excellence. To get there, we need to have a grasp of what excellence means. It’s not enough to value excellence personally. We need to teach it and train it and model it for it to become part of the culture. And before we can do that, we need to verbalize what it is.

An Equation of Excellence

So what is excellence? Let me explain it by way of an equation. Excellence = Competency + Commitment. Simple enough. But it gets to the very fabric of what it means to have a ministry dedicated to excellence.

Many times we think of one or the other of those two components. We believe our church can excel in excellence if we have a staff full of highly qualified and gifted people. Sometimes it plays out with envy. We see another church and think that if only we had the same type of people on staff, we could achieve excellence.

Or we believe that excellence is all about working hard. We imagine that if our team would just put more effort into what they do, we could be a church of excellence. But gifts alone can’t get you there, and neither can effort. It takes both.

Having a church that ministers in excellence has nothing to do with size, location, social media footprint and creative decisions.

First, you must put the right people into the right roles. That’s the competency component. What do your staff members do best, and are they doing it? If you have a role-filler who isn’t qualified to lead that position, you’ll experience a drag in your excellence.

Our approach in hiring can be off if we simply reach for the first available candidate. Does that person’s skillset meet your need? Often, we think in terms of a bus. We don’t know what seat new staff members will end up filling, but we know we want them on board. That’s fine, but the amount of time it takes for them to figure out their key role can decrease your excellence.

The other component is commitment. Is your team sold out? Do they come to work ready to go? Are they giving their full effort? Competency and commitment must go hand in hand if you want to see excellence.

Here’s how that plays out. If you have a team member working outside his or her skillset, it may not matter how hard that person works; you won’t reach the intended level of excellence. And if you have every person working their proper role but only giving minimal effort, you’ll never get there either. Excellence requires people working in their full gifting at their full capacity.

What Excellence Is Not

We need a word of caution here. Excellence is not perfection. That’s a pipe dream that none of us will ever achieve. We may strive for it, but perfection will always be just outside our grasp. So stop expecting it of those you lead.

When we equate excellence with perfection, we put an unrealistic expectation on our team. We want them giving all they’ve got, yes. We want them fully committed to their tasks, following them to completion every day. But we can’t expect them never to make a mistake.

Instead, creating a culture of excellence means you are constantly improving. Everyone on the team is looking to improve on yesterday, last week and even last year. They are driven toward a goal of better, not necessarily best.

Take a moment to assess your team. Is everyone in the right seat? Do you see mistakes repeated that should be avoided? Are you finding a lack of passion in some areas? Are others showing up for work late and leaving early? These are all easily addressed and remedied by influential leadership.

Next, take a moment to assess where you are, where you’ve been and where you want to be. How were things done a year ago? Are you improving on processes? Do you need to implement new procedures to handle current growth and scale for new growth? Do you see the energy on your team lagging recently? These are more difficult issues to address. They’ll take time and effort. But if you have the skills and commitment, you can lead with excellence.

Having a church that ministers in excellence has nothing to do with size, location, social media footprint and creative decisions. It has everything to do with working in your sweet spot and giving it your all. Competency and commitment. When you lead with what you can more easily bring, it will help those underneath you to excel as well. And you’re on your way to excellence.


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