When I became the worship pastor at Gateway, there were only 100 people attending each week. We’ve grown quite a bit since those early days, and because of the strong vision God gave Pastor Robert for our church, I was inspired to dream big about all the things we could do in Gateway Worship, including live recordings, choirs, musical productions, and a school of worship. As these things came to my mind, I thought, I need to stop dreaming because they’re not God’s dreams, they’re my dreams. God quickly stopped me and said, “Thomas, I love it when you dream, but I’m always going to supersede what you dream. It’s always going to be better.” So many of the things I dreamed about have already come to fruition, and they have definitely been bigger and better than I envisioned. 

Since those early days, one guiding principle that has stayed with me is the principle of excellence. I encourage everyone on all our worship teams to operate from a place of excellence, because it communicates that you value what you’re doing. But this principle doesn’t just apply to music; it can be applied to any area of our lives. The more we use it, the more we live out Colossians 3:23, which says, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”

However, we must be careful not to mistake excellence for perfectionism. The two are very different: One leads to joy and satisfaction, while the other leads to frustration and disappointment. Here are some differences between the two. 

Perfectionism

  • Motivation: Fear
    Perfectionism is always motivated by fear—fear of man, fear of failure. Perfectionism asks, What will happen if I mess up? And it says, If somebody around me messes up, I’m going to crack the whip and be mad at them! 

  • Unrealistic Aim
    Perfectionism aims for a target no one can hit. No one can be perfect at anything, but we can all be excellent. 

  • No Room for Mistakes
    Even the smallest mistake completely ruins perfectionism. When we fall, there’s no opportunity to get back up and improve after a mistake has been made.

  • Easily Discouraged
    Perfectionism produces disappointment because it always points out the ways you don’t measure up. It doesn’t look to the future or see your potential. It is stuck in the now. 

 Excellence

  • Motivation: Love
    Excellence says, I’m serious about what I do, but I don’t take myself too seriously. There is room for mistakes in excellence. 

  •  Healthy Aim
    God’s given each of us a calling, and we are to be stewards of our callings. Whether you’re a musician, businessperson, artist, or teacher, you are called to aim for a target that makes you better. 
  •  Room for Mistakes
    When you make a mistake, an attitude of excellence isn’t to be confused with apathy. Excellence doesn’t say, Oh well. Instead, when you fall, fall forward so you can learn from your mistakes and do better next time. 
  • Not Easily Discouraged
    Even if you haven’t met your goals and haven’t reached your full potential, excellence doesn’t get discouraged. It looks to the future as you diligently improve your craft. 

No matter what you do, I want to encourage you to do it with excellence. When you apply the principle of excellence to your life, you’ll find contentment with your work as it continues to improve. Trading perfectionism for excellence will bring freedom to your life and help you become a better steward of the talents God has given you. When you work with excellence, God will always supersede your dreams. 

Thomas Miller is an executive senior pastor at Gateway and has been on staff since January 2001.