With the winter Olympics just behind us, the word "excellence" easily comes to mind. The athletes displayed brilliant excellence on the short track, the half pipe, the slope, and many other venues. After years of intense training with the world's greatest coaches these young men and women dazzled us with a feats of athleticism so that shockingly difficult maneuvers looked easy.
However, we don't see on television the men and women who tried but didn't quite make it to the Olympics. In athletic competitions, the really good athletes are weeded out from the best, and only the best, the most excellent, are allowed to compete against each other. That's the way it should be. That's the purpose of the Olympics.
But sometimes it seems that churches take that same idea of excellence and bring it into worship. Boys and girls, men and woman are allowed to participate in worship leadership only if they can achieve some level of technical excellence in reading or playing an instrument or singing. Too bad. I pity churches that define excellence as achievement of a certain standard, because they miss out on so much by keeping many people away from worship leadership.
I'm not arguing for sloppiness in our worship. But I am suggesting that we need to redefine excellence so that it is not achievement of a standard, but a quality of the heart.
Pastor Bill Van Den Bosch has devoted the last 30 years to making Oakdale Park CRC an inclusive community. He said to me recently that excellent worship is worship of the heart. "The best worship comes from the heart, reaches the heart of God, and the hearts of all the worshipers touch each other."
When excellence in worship is defined as technical excellence, many people are excluded from worship leadership, not because they cannot, nor because they are not willing, nor because their hearts are not devoted to God, but because they cannot achieve a certain standard required by worship leaders.
"True worshipers," says the apostle John, " . . . worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks."
Excellent worship, excellent choirs, excellent praise team, excellent readers and speakers include people who have the heart of God beating in their chest. That's true excellence in worship.