I was walking down the street at the Morganton Festival about a month ago – a festival full of various food, arts/crafts, business/non-profit vendors, when, outside of a craft vendor’s tent, I noticed a cardboard sign on the ground that said, “Yes, you could make it, but will you?”
How many times have you passed by a piece of art, jewelry, or furniture, and said (or at least thought), “I could make that.”
How many conferences/workshops have you been to where you complained to someone (or blogged about, or at least thought), “I could’ve led that workshop.” or “I already know this.”
How many books have you read, that while you were reading, hoping to find some new, inspiring, thought provoking tidbit, you thought, “I could’ve written this book.”
Me. a thousand times, me. And I’m guessing, also – you.
For the first thirty years or so of my life, I pretty much thought that I could do things better than other people. My father encouraged me to “be the best” that I could be. at everything, really. So at an early age (6, to be exact) I learned to idolize perfection and demonize failure. “Excellence” was my daily metric, and anything sub-par was unacceptable. My way was the right way, sometimes the only way, to do things; any other idea wasn’t as good. I would entertain others’ ways of doing things so that I wouldn’t be completely ostracized, but often I was frustrated. I would criticize, demean, and judge others’ methods as if life depended on it, and I would get worked up about so.many.little.things.
The last four years have been a mixture of death, grief, struggle, and conflict, and, coupled with two job transitions and two moves, have forced an existential crisis of changed perspective and world shattering value changes.
A wise coach sent me spiraling when I read his article on how “excellence” should not be a value. I began to wonder, as I continued going to various conferences/workshops on innovation, design, and improving processes/structures/cultures – who gets to decide what “better” really means?
I recently went to a conference on design/innovation. It was a fabulous networking event of ministry professionals who think outside the box, and we were challenged to create subversive liturgies and innovative ministries. But the last day, they had a church staff on display that seemed to communicate “be like these people. they’re the best.”
I decided a long time ago that trying to be like the people next door is NOT how I want to spend my resources. I decided a long time ago that flashing lights and the best technology/sound and the coolest, most hip-looking people on my ministry team were NOT my definition of “better.”
So who gets to decide what’s “better?” And what does “better” even mean? In ministry, “better” is subjective. There aren’t real factual metrics to quantify that one ministry is “better” than another. If you have a hundred youth at your gathering, it doesn’t make it better than my five youth. If my five youth are growing in depth spiritually and yours are having fun together playing dodgeball, it doesn’t make my ministry better than yours. Does it? Who gets to decide?
My previous appointment wrecked all sense of “better” for me. I KNEW my ways were “better” than someone else’s. …by MY standards, that is. But the other person believed their ways were “better” than mine. We were at a stalemate.
So then, what do you do when you have two people whose different value systems lead them to different conclusions on how to define success?
a) leave, and let the other person win.
b) fight til the death
I’m gonna choose c. Because life is short. Because excellence isn’t always the best thing. Because ministry isn’t about being right all the time. Because “better” is subjective. and because God gave each of us unique traits and ways of being, that, when celebrated, make the world a better place.