Sometimes people don't think they are doing all they can for the Lord, that they aren't excellent or perfect enough in their communications ministry unless what they produce professionally perfect, high-tech exciting creations day-after-day, no mistakes allowed. Now all those qualities can be wonderful, but sadly, it also often means that no one in the church is good enough to create the communications in print or on the website, so an outside, professional firm must be hired to do it. Or, if the work is done at the church, only a select person or two in the church is good enough to produce the quality needed. In other words, the church needs to have the design standards of a professional advertising agency to be pleasing to the Lord.
Being expensive and professional, as defined by using the standards of a professional ad agency, though it might be commendable, isn't the only standard of perfection for the followers of Jesus.
If we honestly look at Jesus' life, what sort of standards of perfection did he have?
Let's look first at who He chose as his disciples, the ones who would be trusted to carry out his message. They were a pretty scruffy group to start and they didn't get much better in three years time. Not one of them was a professional religious person.
Second, his meetings weren't very organized affairs: little kids running around, not enough food, constant interruptions by sick people. Not what anyone would consider a professionally managed event.
Third, when he left his remaining disciples with the task of evangelizing the world, he didn't leave them with a plan even vaguely perfected. The Great Commission could be summed up as "tell people about me and help them grow in the faith." For a perfectionist manager today, those parting words have a tremendous about of wiggle room that would allow wildly divergent attempts to apply it.
It wasn't that Jesus didn't care about excellence, but he obviously had a different standard of perfection than what we might consider perfection today.
The true standard of perfection
Though perfection in service is an admirable goal, the primary goal in all ministry, communication included, is love. First Corinthians 13 helps us take love out of the realm of theory and make it practical in the challenge of perfection in ministry.
In 1 Cor. 13 the chapter starts out talking about doing all sorts of things, one might say, with perfection: speaking in the tongues of men and angels, etc. The chapter continues by saying that if all of this is done without love it's just making noise and the chapter ends by saying that the greatest attribute we can have is love.
I think it's the same with church communications. I see a lot of communications today, in print and online that are perfectly beautiful. Right now I'm looking at a sample from my files of church communications: it is a professionally printed folder, done in gorgeous full color printing and it has 2 DVDs inserted in the folder so visitors can see the worship service and hear the praise band at home. It also has a coupon for a free coffee from their coffee cart (one of my favorite ways of showing love). It is professional, beautiful, and yet very friendly and non-pretentious.
I'm also looking at another church bulletin sample that is perfect in another way. This one is not produced with a computer (still happens). The church is small and very poor. The bulletin, with service information and weekly activities is typed and the clip art hand-pasted on. It is reproduced on a copier that has obviously seen better days. Though she knows the limitations of her equipment, the person who shared it with me also shared that the church secretary who produces it each week wants it to be special for the church and visitors. She carefully prepares and proofs it and after her paste-up job she prints it on colored paper. She then collated it by hand and does a 1/3 of the page offset fold. Down one side of the cover fold, she hand-cuts (with the scissors you use to cut scrap-booking pages) a fancy edge. She hand-cuts and hand-assembles each one. Her love and care for the congregation and Jesus in this labor-intensive production brought tears to my eyes.
These church publications are very different in surface ways, but at their core and what comes through most loudly is that their creators loved the people they were creating publications for.
A couple of final observations and commentary and application notes on maybe how Jesus has given us some lessons on perfection in publications:
Observation #1: Jesus always focused on the needs of people in his communication, not on how great he was.
He could have created a little world in the palm of his hand as a demonstration to show his power; he could have had stars fall from the sky to prove his might; he could have healed a city with one booming command, but he didn't do any of those things to show his perfect godhood.
He showed us what God was like by meeting needs of his creation. He bailed out an embarrassed groom who ran out of wine at his wedding feast; he made little kids comfortable; he healed a woman humiliated by a chronic disease.
Commentary and application:
Perfection in communications doesn't come from showing people what a big-deal perfect church you are or how you can create communications that are more expensive and fancier than the church down the street.
Jesus idea of a perfect publication, if we follow his plan, would be one that made sure it addressed the needs of people. One that told them why the event would help them, how it would serve them, how their lives would be better because of it. It would give them all the details necessary to attend without having to take an extra step of calling someone or looking it up on the web or jumping from link to link if it was an email. Those details would include the time, location, name of person in charge, directions, child care provisions, cost would all be there and easily accessible.
One area that I see this "perfection" lacking in so often today is in church websites. I've recently observed a number of websites that were created using professional groups that supplied a fancy, flash-enabled, website with lots of photos of smiling people, great colors and buttons to push to hear sermons. But try to find the details of what small groups are meeting or what time to get your kids to a youth group meeting and where it is being held or what the church really believes about anything and it can be an impossible task.
People do not go to church websites to be wowed by flashing graphics and bright colors, they go to have needs met. If they can't get those needs met quickly and easily, your website is far from perfect.
Observation #2: Jesus focused on potential perfection.
When Jesus called Peter, he was not anything like the Rock he would become. He was more of an irritating pebble in Jesus' journeys.
But every time Jesus called him, "Peter", Simon had a vision of what he would become. Eventually, he became the leader and pastor, the Rock, Jesus knew he would be.
Commentary and application
Your volunteers and staff members doing ministry publications seldom come into that job with any training at all. They are far from perfect in communication knowledge about design ideas or execution. Focus on encouraging, equipping, and providing opportunities. Love them lots. Give them time to try things and to grow up in their skills. Provide training and tools and they will amaze you.
Regarding training, I was recently communicating with a woman whose church had spent several thousand dollars (a typical amount) to have their website professional designed. They were having all sorts of problems getting their church content to fit into the design and the costs kept mounting.
Knowing there were other options for getting this done, I asked her, "How do you think you could have done if the money spent on this company had been used to train you and give you time to implement what you learned?" She just sighed.
This situation could be repeated far too often and it shouldn't be. Your people have tremendous potential and with time, money and training they will not only accomplish great things for the church, but you will have participated in growing them in skills and service. To invest money and time in your people instead of a quick, "professional" solution may take more time, but the results will be much more lasting.
In addition to training, complement your communication team and each other for every step of learning and shield them and each other from negative and nasty people when helpful comments become hurtful criticism. Remind the critics to pray and contribute to the communication program at the church. Remind them that all of us are pilgrims and that we haven't arrived at perfection in anything as yet, but that we all need love and encouragement as we progress to becoming more and more like Jesus in the perfecting of our service to him.