Libby and I hosted Kansas City, Missouri Teen Challenge adolescent girls’ home staff members recently, taking them on a tour through the administration building and sharing both the U.S. Southeast Region and Global Teen Challenge history as we went. Over and over in the conversation, the word “excellence” kept coming up.
What do you think of when you hear the word “excellence,” especially when you think of how we operate Teen Challenge?
Chick-fil-A, a U.S. fast-food company owned and operated by a Christian family who loves Jesus, does business with excellence. It’s one of the most frequent comments made about them. Everything, from the quality of the chicken sandwich to the customer service, is done with incredible efficiency. The staff say things like “It’s my pleasure to serve you,” the restrooms are always clean, and they’re closed on Sundays so that the staff can attend church. They exemplify excellence both in their product and delivery of service to others.
The word “excellence” means “the quality of excelling; possessing good qualities in high degree.” “Quality” means “an essential and distinguishing attribute of something or someone, superiority. Something in which one excels. Impressive, magnificence, grandness, richness.”
How do we in Teen Challenge exhibit this value of excellence?
The value of excellence is exhibited by doing what we do to the best of our ability coupled with the deep conviction that everything matters. The Bible says in Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV), “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
This scripture speaks to how we work and the motivation behind our work. We are to work as unto the Lord and with all of our heart. Doesn’t it make sense that if we are doing something as unto the Lord, it should be done with excellence?
So we have to ask ourselves: “Are we committed to excellence in training throughout the organization as Chick-fil-A is, or any other organization we consider an example of excellence” and “are we giving our best in leading and serving others”?
As Libby and I walked the visiting staff through the offices, we talked to them about the conviction we had when we started 30 years ago. At that time, we were the new leaders of the Teen Challenge adolescent center in Florida when nothing about the organization reflected excellence. The facilities were in such disrepair that it was embarrassing. In addition, not one staff member had any formal leadership training.
On top of that, one of the leaders had fallen morally, which only exacerbated the poor community relations and organizational struggles. Knowing it would take time, we began to implement a level of excellence in every part of the ministry. In doing so, we knew the students would understand that we valued them. We wanted them to feel that they were walking into a place that said, “We love you and you will be safe here.”
Excellence in Facilities
When we started at the center, entering the doors felt like walking into a drug den. It was not a good testimony to the ones coming to us for care, nor to the parents bringing their kids to us. We threw away 30 broken-down recliners that had been donated. I had never seen so many console TVs located in one place (in case you don’t know, “console” means that each TV was encased by a massive wooden box with speakers and therefore weighs a ton). Most of them were not even working. It was obvious the center had become the local churches’ dumping ground.
We then systematically worked on every area of the property, painting the inside and outside of the house and cleaning the rooms until, finally, we had a clean, safe environment.
My father taught me and my siblings early in life to take care of what God has entrusted into our care. He expected us to take care of whatever we had until we could do better. I have lived my life doing my best to be a good steward of all God has entrusted into my care and I pray that I will always be found faithful to share it with others.
Excellence in Training
We invested time and money in training and tools and developed a monthly staff training day to deepen the staff’s leadership skills and expand their capacity. It was intimidating for many of them because up to that point they had not been challenged to grow or learn new techniques.
We established a clear vision, a set of core values, a strategy for growth, and developed standards for operation and policies. As we grew and opened other centers, we developed consistent maintenance requirements and expected each director to implement the policies of the ministry while continuing to hold them accountable. We thought about things like the expected appearance of property and equipment. If God has provided it, shouldn’t we then take care of it?
We have held true to this commitment of excellence for over 30 years now. If you visit one of the campuses in TCSE, you will see excellence in facility management and operations. You will also experience staff who have been trained and are skilled at operating in excellence.
We want every visitor who walks onto our campuses to experience that same kind of excellence in every part of their visit. We want them to know that if they bring their loved one to us for care, they will get the best we have. We want consistency across the region and we want our students to feel loved, safe, and to come to know Jesus.
I have this same dream for every Teen Challenge center around the world. I understand that the realities are a bit different in some cultures, yet we are to operate with excellence with what we have regardless.
Excellence in Relationships
How leaders treat staff, students, families, and donors is important. Do we live out our values? Do we find tangible ways to show appreciation? Are we doing our best to take care of our staff and their family needs within the capability of our organizational income?
Early on, we decided we needed to invest in our employees because we knew that one of the greatest assets of the organization is the staff. As I am writing this, about 100 Teen Challenge Southeast staff members are participating in a staff summit at our retreat center. This value has paid great dividends to the organization.
Take the time to say “Thanks” to donors and know that they value being appreciated in a tangible way. It’s important to show gratitude for those who help in the journey as ministry is built out to the Lord.
Every month I send out handwritten notes to a number of our donors who give at a particular level. It is a discipline I have done for years. It only takes a few minutes and makes a difference. We have donors who have been giving generously for more than 25 years and have become dear friends. Saying thanks is easy; just do it.
Attention to these three areas: facilities, training, and relationships, creates trust, security, longevity, and success. May I challenge you to take a few minutes right now to ask yourself if you are working as unto the Lord while doing everything you can with excellence? Are you leading with excellence? Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you, listen, and take action where needed.
God loves you and He will help you. Just be honest, do your best with gratitude in your heart, and God will see you through.
Jerry Nance, PhD
Global Teen Challenge