Excellence? Inconceivable!

In the movie, “The Princess Bride,” Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) keeps using the word, ‘Inconceivable’ when asked about possible flaws in his plan to start a war or when things happen that he, as a genius, did not foresee or plan. At one point in the movie, Vizzini and his crew, Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Pantinkin), are being chased by the Man in Black(Cary Elwes) as they are climbing a rope up the Cliff of Insanity. In order to stop his pursuer, Vizzini cuts the rope only to find that the Man in Black  is not dead but now climbing up the cliff with his bare hands. To this Vizzini says, “HE DIDN’T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE!”

Finally, Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Often I think we in the church keep using the word “Excellence” like Vizzini’s ‘Inconceivable’. Our Worship must be excellent. Our media must be excellent. Our music, drama, welcome, etc. must be excellent. Excellence also applies to things like our blogs, Facebook pages, and websites among many other things. Maybe it doesn’t mean what we think it means. Or, maybe we are using it to describe the wrong things.

Recently I was asked about excellence in worship when I was being interviewed for an associate pastor’s position. A church board member asked me what I would do to foster ‘excellence’ in our worship services.

I didn’t answer the question directly (big surprise); instead I told them how I thought excellence in the worship service would look.

“We will have achieved excellence in our worship service,” I said, “when we…

    • have created an environment where a person can come without pretending or feeling like they need to put on a mask to fit in.
    • have a place where people can be seen for who they are and what they are with no condemnation or fear of judgment.
    • accept people where they are in life physically, emotionally, and spiritually and patiently and lovingly help them find life in Jesus Christ.
    • live a life that is filled with forgiveness and grace.
    • work hard to reconcile with people that have harmed us in anyway.
    • carry each other’s burdens and restore our brother or sister that is trapped in sin.
    • are recognized by our undying, self-sacrificial, and unconditional love for one another.
    • work hard to proclaim and advance the Kingdom of God through our efforts to eliminate poverty, fight illiteracy, stop injustice, and take care of the homeless, faithless, and hopeless.

Finally I added that if they were talking about the flow and style of our music, or the quality of our preaching, etc. we will have missed the point of excellence entirely and will be settling for nothing of everlasting consequence.

Please don’t think I am against that stuff. I like good music, well played. I prefer good preaching to bad. I like all that and more. I just think that those things fall short of what we should be working toward when we discuss excellence.

How would you describe excellence? What needs to be added to the list? What needs to be taken off?

7 thoughts on “Excellence? Inconceivable!

  1. My friend, Lisa Marcoff Lackey, wrote, “I honestly feel like the word ‘excellence’ belongs in the corporate world rather than the spiritual world. It connotes ‘better than’, and I don’t think that’s the intention. I am a proud Unitarian Universalist, Dave (full disclosure!) – so of course I love the acceptance/lack of mask part best. And I want to say, I love your spirit!”

    I’m really challenged by that comment about ‘excellence’ belonging in the corporate world. It is an angle on the word I had not considered. Thank you Lisa for adding your voice to the discussion.

  2. Terry Clees

    Can we equate excellence with perfection? If we can than I think of vision. 20/20 is perfect vision; the eye is doing exactly what it was designed to do in the manner it was designed to do it. However, perfect vision is not the best vision one can have. Some people have better than perfect vision (inconceivable!). Worship is perfect when we are worshipping the one we should in the way we were designed to at that moment in our life.

  3. Kim Nebel

    indeed, what can present a clearer picture of excellence, than the life of Christ? I think your answer very clearly illustrates that. Our services are excellent, when we bring the gospel message to life.

  4. Dave t

    To elaborate a bit, excellence is the development of community, not heirarchy. We play to heirarchy when we elevate one’s talent or penchant for performance above the heart.

    Excellence is the making room at the table for everyone to have a seat, and not just at the little kids’ table in the adjoining room. Then once at the table, they have the encouragement to speak, and not merely be a passive, respectful guest trying to observe the house rules. We want and cherish their participation at the table and their perspective. We become family–no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, but one.

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