In a previous blog, I addressed the scriptural mandate to strive for excellence. “Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people” (Col. 3:23). My friend, Paul Turner, read this and offered, for lack of a better term, a warning. As we strive for excellence, excellence itself should not be our goal. It should be … well, I’ll let Paul tell you in his own words.
Webster defines excellence as the quality of being outstanding or extremely good, and it uses these synonyms for excellence: greatness, perfection, superiority, supremacy.
The Apostle Paul addressed excellence in 1 Corinthians 12–13 and these verses center around selflessness and love in our relationships in the church. Paul aslo addressed excellence in Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”
So far, so good. But …
In today’s church culture, we are apt to jump on the excellence bandwagon and couch it in Christianese (semi-biblical language with a certain cultural twist). It looks a little (or a lot) like this many times:
- “Let’s make sure our programs are excellent.”
- “There can be no mistakes. Technical issues cannot happen.”
- “No crying babies in the service.”
- “Keep up with the lyrics on the screen.”
- “You were a little pitchy on that song.”
Well … you get the idea. We see these issues as detractors from an excellent worship service, but actually, these “impefections” can be used to model grace and love to the church family.
Jesus modeled grace on many occasiona with His disciples. For instance, in Matthew 17, Jesus cast out a demon in a young boy that the disciples had previously failed to help. Jesus did not blast them for not performing the act with perfection, but He reminded them of the truth that, in and through Him, nothing is impossible.
I find no record in Scripture where Jesus tried to “out program the synagogue down the street” to attract followers. He spoke truth and those who were willing to hear and obey were transformed. Jesus attracted people to His Father. His words at times were very harsh. His commands were clear, concise, and uncompromising. When Jesus taught the crowd about His role as the bread of life, many stopped following Him (John 6:60-66).
If the church is another “business option” rather than a “family,” then perfection/excellence is a must. After all, we are “competing for customers” with other churches in the area. If our goal is a skweed sense of excellence—to be the best, to entertain, and at the same time “get a little Jesus in”— we can easily become unfaithful in how we pursue excellence.
But if our goal is to be faithful to the One who is always faithful, then perfection (what we think we control) will not become an idol in our ministry and service. Being faithful may mean that He does not lead us to be the most “efficient,” “superior,” and “great,” but it does mean we allow Him to work through us for His glory. And with tha mindset, we are OK with how He chooses to use us for His kingdom and His glory alone. This requires surrender, risking being misunderstood, and choosing to direct all glory to God— the One who is praiseworthy and faithful.
Paul Turner has been a friend and encouragement to my ministry for close to 20 years. He’s worth getting to know. Follow him @pturner63.
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