Fulfillment, Excellence, and a Critical Spirit

By | 23 Feb 2022
the achievement of something desired, promised, or predicted.
e.g., “winning the championship was the fulfillment of a childhood dream”
the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.
e.g., “a center of academic excellence”
expressing adverse or disapproving comments or judgments.
e.g., “he was critical of many welfare programs”

As a musician, I am frequently engaged in an interesting team-building exercise called “a band.” In a church setting, this takes on the hyper-spiritual label, “praise team.”

Oh, the pressure!

I’ve played music in church for over 30 years, most of the time with good-to-excellent musicians. (By the way, if you are not an excellent musician you might not be able to tell the difference, but there is a very real difference). When you are a good musician and you get to play with other good musicians, it is a lot of fun. Music is a form of art, and as such is directly and instantly as good — or not-good — as the artists performing it.

I say all that to say this: I feel qualified to render an opinion on what is “good” and “not-good” music.

My wife and I have led worship teams for more than 20 years in various churches. The typical small-to-mid-size church worship-team member (musician or singer) is a volunteer, there because they wish to give to God and the church from their gifting. Being a volunteer member of a team is an amazing display of humility — the only reward for the amount of time invested is the fulfillment it brings to the heart and spirit of each team member.


struggle with tone deafness memePersonal fulfillment is a wonderful thing. Doing something solely for the passion of doing it, and accomplishing what you set out to do is deeply fulfilling. I wasn’t forced to do it, I wanted to do it. I wasn’t paid to do it, I wanted to do it. Ultimately we, in service to Father God, knowing that we have humbly done what He wants done should be fulfillment enough.

However, there is a downside to personal fulfillment: it lives right next door to pride.

The human heart is a tricky thing; it really enjoys attention, accolade, recognition. Even in the midst of self-sacrifice and humble service, there is opportunity to begin being proud of how humble you are.

“My gift I selflessly gave tonight was extremely well received! I sure blessed a lot of folks tonight! Just look at how wonderful I am!”

It is crucial we regularly check our attitudes and intents of all that we do, especially in Christian service.


It reminds me of a story about a professional basketball team locker room after a close loss. There was not an attitude of united consolation, but caustic, harsh criticism of the things which could have been done better — a fierce demand for every member of the team take it up a notch! We’re not here to play, we’re here to dominate!

The picture was that these team members were out for absolute mastery — “pretty good” was not an option, we will be the best we can be! They demanded excellence out of each other, because a lot was at stake. They were not interested in each other’s feelings; it was put-up or shut-up time.

Being part of a team is a balance of skill levels. Any team is really only as good as the weakest player. The band is only as good as the least-skilled musician or singer. I have been on both ends of this equation. In what I consider to be a healthy mental state, there is a little bit of shame on one end and a little bit of impatience on the other end. Only when all members of the team are at a nearly equal skill level can there be true enjoyment, true fulfillment.

A Critical Spirit

One more foundational paragraph before I begin to weave all this together, on the matter of criticism, or a critical spirit. The quest for excellence is different in each person. In the basketball reference above, excellence was the goal, no excuses. In the church music team, working with volunteers of varying skill levels, one must deal far more graciously. Regretfully, I have not always demonstrated such grace. For a long time, I had very little patience for members of my team with regard to being on time, knowing the music before you arrive, and paying attention 99 percent of the time. I have been guilty of making people cry in my rehearsals, and expressing impatient frustration over a skill level that made certain musical passages impossible. I became overbearing, critical, even mean in my pursuit of excellence.

A spirit of excellence lives right next door to a critical spirit.

Regarding this circle of fulfillment and excellence, I recall a not-so-nice conversation (read diatribe) that I was on the receiving end of.

…and what about that visitor, David? He hasn’t been back since you made him audition before singing a special song in church!!

Clearly, this precious saint expressing his opinions to me was far less interested in David’s level of excellence than they were his personal fulfillment. Such a person will allow almost any level of ability (or lack thereof) to be presented from the platform because surely it will bring a high-level of personal fulfillment to the person bringing the performance. The fulfillment/excellence scale is tipped all the way to the “fulfillment” side, and excellence is a complete non-issue.

When I expressed my opinion about the ability/excellence issue, my counterpart reacted like this was a completely foreign concept. “This guy wanted to sing, why not let him sing? You crushed him! You crushed his spirit.”

play anyway memeI truly don’t want to be the guy who crushes someone’s spirit, but I do want to be the guy hearing lovely music on a Sunday morning in the House of God. Sooooo, there has to be some kind of balance. I believe in the personal fulfilment that comes from expressing a gift, but what does that investment cost? Lets look at this particular case in point.

First, let’s set the scene: I am running sound at a 35-member Baptist church, average member age 72. I am God-directed on assignment to be here for my mother-in-law, a precious woman of God. Even though I have been born again 45 years and in ministry 35 years, I am still a junior member.

The “David” just mentioned who wanted to bring a “special” was a visitor.

A visitor.

He showed up on a Wednesday night, saying he would like to sing in church. He got sent to me because he was holding a CD. The CD was not a factory disc, but a “burned” disc (which would not play in my CD player).

“Tell me how many churches have you’ve sung in in the past year?”

“None, I’ve been doing karaoke in clubs and lounges, but don’t worry, it’s a Christian song.”

“Uh, okay… sing a little of it for me.”

“Which microphone would you like me to use?”

“No mic, just sing the song.”

“Well, I ain’t never been treated this way just to sing in church!”

“What was the last church you sang in?”

“I can’t remember the name of it…”

“When was that last time you sang in church?”

“Couple of years…”

From my point of view, this man had no right to be singing in any church, all he wanted was the performance, the personal fulfillment, which is just pride, the desire for recognition and accolade. If all you want is the personal fulfillment side of the fulfillment/excellence equation, you are out of balance. In this instance, there is an investment to be made to balance out the F/E equation.

  • Become part of the church. You don’t have to become a member, just come four four weeks in a row.
  • Get to know the people a little.
  • Sing well in the congregational singing, be engaged in the services.
  • You want to sing on the fifth week? Your chances are much better now that you have invested some excellence into the equation.

I have a dear friend in Kansas who was my drummer for 11 years. The worship team he is currently on has had to make some changes due to personnel moving out of state. He lamented to me, “I am in the worst band I have ever been part of.” The person placed as the “worship leader” can’t sing. Can’t keep time. Can’t come in at the right time. No knowledge of music, no investment in learning the music.

No excellence.

I once ran sound for an event called “the Worship College.” It was terrible. The leader could not even tell his guitar was out of tune. Eating a sandwich during the session. Sloppy. Had a drummer that could not keep time.

No excellence.

I understand emergency, and crisis, I understand filling-in because there is simply no one else, but at some point the crisis has to end and excellence has to be introduced! The outflow of this lack of excellence is that we, as a church, appear to be undisciplined, fly-by-night shams who are unwilling to invest the time , money, and effort necessary to represent the God of the Universe to those walking through our doors.

Let’s contrast these scenarios against King David’s direction for those set in place to minister in the temple:

Together with their relatives, who were all trained and skillful in the songs of the Lord, they numbered 288. I Chronicles 25:7

Trained and skillful. These people invested in their craft until they were described as trained and skillful.

Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before Kings… Proverbs 22:29

Even in King David’s arrogance which led to the discipline of the Lord be exacted on the nation of Israel, David knew that there must be an investment in what we bring to the Father as a gift.

Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the Lord your God accept you.”

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.

David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.

2 Samuel 24:22-25

In closing

So let me boil all this down to some personal thoughts. Maybe just opinions, but I think they are valid ones. I love the local church, and its function in the community as the expression of God’s Kingdom in the earth. It has been said most people will not go to a church that is “less nice” than their own home, where they are most comfortable, the place they will be their most open, intimate, vulnerable self.

Why is this important?

Because such a place is where you can shed your inhibitions, your worship is pure, undiluted and undistracted. I am an artist and musician, this is my gift for Almighty God. Please hear the weightiness and gravity in that statement: we are seeking audience with the King of the Universe, the Mighty One, that is my heart.

Martha vs. Mary

I am not Martha, I am Mary. No, actually I am both.

I take my worship seriously, and my preparation is equally as important as the event.

At Thursday night rehearsal I am Martha. All business. No play, no casual, no goofing off, no jokes. Come prepared, focused, undistracted, ready to listen, ready to add, ready to work. Come early, have your music out, have your instrument tuned and be ready to play. Know the songs, know all the words. Be flexible, be ready to take your craft to the next level.

The pleasure comes in “the groove.” When seven (or 11 or 45) musicians and singers sound as one, when the instrumentalists know each other so well that they can read, at an instant, where the music is going, where the energy is going, where the flow is going. When the power is rising, when to be silent, when to raise the energy level and how to do so.

This is the fun, this is the fulfillment.

When it seems effortless on Sunday, it means the team has put in the effort on Thursday.

On Sunday I am Mary. I am not distracted with preparation, that has been taken care of. I want to sit at His feet. He is my focus, He has my full attention. He has my offering, I will wash his feet with my tears and dry them with my hair. I am gloriously, passionately in love, and way over my head. There is no time or place for distraction.

  • If you’re spiritually and emotionally healthy, fulfilment and delight comes with discipline, investment, excellence. It is pleasant and organic. Patience and encouragement is expressed when encountering those that are less-developed than you are, and you instruct the need for excellence and mastery before presenting their craft in public, teaching the need for discipline and investment.
  • If you’re not spiritually and emotionally healthy, pride and self-worth comes from performance, and excellence is not a factor — the performance is the summit no matter how good or not-good it is. You will cut-down and berate the less-developed, and make excuses for yourself when encountering persons of a higher level of excellence than you possess.

I have always swelled with admiration at some words attributed to Abraham Lincoln,

I will study, I will prepare, for one day my time will come.