Home > personal > Noticing and Appreciating Excellence

Noticing and Appreciating Excellence

I recently had the privilege of hosting a Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit at our church in Brownsville. But there was something very different about this one, it was a Cumbre Global de Liderazgo, done entirely in Spanish. It’s the International model on US soil, which makes sense given that we’re in the Rio Grand Valley of Texas.

My charge and role was that of producer. The burden was on me to pull off an event that met Willow’s high standards of excellence  in a region that is typically (and I can say this because I live here) not always as keen on these characteristics.  Down here we start things late and go over our time limit. Flow is often interrupted by any number of things. Often there are technical difficulties and the response of the people is usually folks yelling “Gloria a Dios” (Glory to God) while someone scrambles to fix the problem.

I likened the whole thing to rolling a boulder up a hill. Willow’s 80 page pdfs fly in the face of conventional wisdom and practice. We had many obstacles to overcome. Fortunately I had some great help, and good people in the right seats on the bus. These volunteers caught the vision for something greater.

The local radio manager was brought into the planning committee and voiced some of the hurdles that we’d face. People down here don’t like spending money on conferences. They don’t like to plan ahead and pre-register. They don’t like the idea of a video-cast and feel it won’t be personal. We put all hands on deck and moved forward and broke through all of those seemingly impossible barriers. We had 230 leaders registered who interacted beautifully with the “video-cast” and live segments. The ice has been broken. This is a dream years in the making and is the right format to explode from here on out.

Those leaders who attended were so blown away by everything and especially the smoothness of all the programming. They noticed and appreciated the excellence with which things were done. Like I said– it really is a rarity and a unique trait down here. One of the coolest things was seeing people in there seats before the opening prelude video (we scheduled registration at 5pm and started at 6pm). There was a countdown in the registration area and in the auditorium. As I am seeing the countdown near it’s end and praying that everyone remembers the cues that we rehearsed and rehearsed I was surprised by something that I did not expect. At 5 seconds to start the audience started clapping! Right out of the gate excellence in the fact that we are starting when we said we would is making an impact.

Our technical team, assembled from various different churches, with limited experience in events of this caliber came together and became such a well-oiled machine. It made my job of producing a breeze. I did not expect to be so relaxed and at ease. I told them that, along with a quick word to not become complacent and be ready for anything. Every transition was fluid, no problems arose. The team worked so well together and the crowd was amazed. Willow’s training was to ensure that distractions were at a minimum and that people could receive the messages and programming elements that were planned. That’s what went down. It was amazing! Here’s one of my favorite pictures:

More pictures here- http://www.flickr.com/photos/brotherjohn/6349019562/sizes/z/in/set-72157628138147382/

It was also awesome to have two original pieces in the program- one potter video and a video made just for the Summit with local pastors in it. This was one of 4 cities in the US to have a Spanish Summit. The others were Chicago, LA, and NY! What an honor to have this unique event in our church. It made all of the hard work worth it.

My kids thought I was on a trip or something. I’d leave before they woke up and get home after they were asleep. They missed me and I them. On Thursday I got to the church at 7:30am and home at 12:30am only to go back at 2:30am and home at 3:30am and back at 8am or so. This was because the band I booked from Mexico arrived late due to some complications. They missed our dress rehearsal which made for a frantic Friday before our starting time. But it all worked out beautifully and come Saturday night, the band, myself and Andre Jennings who came down to train and help us, were celebrating a job well done at Cheddars.

While at Cheddars they asked us point blank, “Why all of the organization and practice and preparation? Shouldn’t there be room for the Spirit?” We gave our answers and they listened intently. We talked about the burden of time for people, respecting their busyness. A visitor may give church one shot and first impressions are vital. We talked about how our culture places a premium on excellence in their marketing of products, and we have the most important message of all and are far too content to package it in less than great ways.  Broadway will be flawless in their transitions because if they aren’t people won’t pay money to be entertained. I’m not talking about entertaining people in church, but rather transforming people and minds. How much more important? Sports teams practice and practice, two a days at times, to go out and compete. It’s a sport or a show. We have the gospel, but don’t want to practice or improve? We talked about how the Spirit can lead you in preparation, not just when things are live. It was a totally new and foreign concept to them! They said themselves that they had been to school and learned excellence and would be better for it. I guess we stretched them, and they did a terrific job in this new territory. Oh, and they gave me a great nickname– “Látigo Santo” (the holy whip).

I was glad to play a part in this difficult feat. It’s impact will be widespread. The emphasis placed on quality impressed so many that attended and they let us know. Quality vs. Perfectionism may be a future post, but is not really the point here. I don’t claim to be an expert in this area. I’m just a learner. In fact, I came out of this with many areas to tighten up in our own church.

How about you? How do you view excellence in the church?

  1. November 24, 2011 at 9:53 am


    I find it really annoying when people use the excuse of “being led by the Spirit” as an excuse for poor or no preparation. It’s an insult to the Spirit to claim that He can’t guide in proper preparation just as much as during the event. That said, we do also need to be open to the Spirit’s leading during events – just sometimes He might prompt us to change things and go down a different track to that which we’ve planned.
    As to quality – I firmly believe that God requires the best we are able to do now – and that He expects us to work to improve our standards and competance.

    • November 24, 2011 at 10:50 am

      Thanks for commenting. I call that “throwing the Spirit under the bus”. Like you said, it’s a cop out or excuse for not coming ready or preparing. It also may be a misappropriation of ” the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12:12) which was a promise made specifically, when you think about the context, to the original Apostles, not to the church, necessarily. Whereas, I also believe the Spirit can inspire in the moment, but He blesses our efforts ahead of time.

      We allowed some padding in our programming, especially in the live elements and coached those involved to know that if their time is up and there’s a move from God to possibly go beyond our time, we’ll roll with it and as producer I’d make adjustments on the fly, etc. The times were all well thought out and sufficient. The whole thing was a move from God and the response was beyond our imagination as we planned ahead of time.

    • November 24, 2011 at 11:04 am

      As to quality, Well said! I agree. Gary Molander (www.garymo.com), in his book, Pursuing Christ, Creating Art says, “Excellence requires that we take all of the ability given to us, and intersect that with all of the resources at our disposal. And we create from that exact intersection – Ability and Resources…At no point in this creati ve process is your excellence compared with my excellence. The two look and feel and taste and touch and smell entirely different. When I look back at some of the short-fi lms I’ve created, or the writing I’ve done, I’m embarrassed. I think I create art today far bett er than I used to. Other artists have told me that, too…But I don’t create anything that’s more excellent than I used to. Years ago,
      I created my art with the Ability and Resources at my disposal, with the honest feedback of other arti sts, and with the understanding that my art would be seen or read by others.” p. 83-84

      We do simply the best we can at this point in time. A year from now, hopefully we will have grown and stretched and our best is better. I’ll be doing a post on “perfection vs. quality” later on.

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