Excellence?

January 7, 2008 at 11:25 pm 7 comments

Fountain Hills, Arizona

We were driving to the store this morning in rain that was so like a Northwest rain, I had to keep telling myself this was Arizona.  The only difference is the rain will be gone from here by tomorrow and it seems, this time of the year, the rain is never gone from the NW.

Several weeks ago we were sitting in a meeting with some ministry friends discussing a ministry school format, we will launch this fall, combining the mentoring of students in both the Spiritual life and professional rodeo.  (weird combo for some of you, for sure)  During the meeting one of the contributors, who is the consummate rodeo professional and a committed follower of Jesus, kept using the word “excellence” to describe his conviction that as Christians we must do whatever we do with excellence or we fall short of the Father’s call on our lives and ministries.  His view, shared by much of the Christian community goes like this “if we can’t do it (whatever it might be) with excellence then we shouldn’t do it at all.”

As one who struggles with perfectionistic tendencies and one who spent a fair amount of his life driven by a performance/approval need, I wonder if excellence isn’t a word used by perfectionists to shame those who have neither the means nor the skill to achieve anything near excellence in their lives, let alone their ministries.

There is a generation of people now taking the reins of church leadership who have lived their entire lives under the excellence mantra who assume anything that isn’t an “A” is an “F”. 

I have spent quite a bit of time, since that evening meeting, thinking about doing ministry with excellence. Here are some things that concern me about this idea that as Kingdom people our only option is excellence:

First, the word sounds elitist. The Family of God is made up of lots of people who have no chance of doing something with excellence, so unless we are open to a “C” or even an “F” grade once in a while we are excluding a great many from ministry in our church Families.

Secondly, excellence costs a lot of money.  The generation my generation raised wants only the best of everything and they seem to believe they are entitled to it, but their pursuit is bankrupting them.  Not only are individuals overwhelmed by debt, many of the biggest, most influential and supposedly doing ministry with excellence churches, are are carrying historic debt loads, trying to be excellent.

Thirdly, excellence is impossible.  The excellence bar must always being raised.  Whatever was excellent last year is so “yesterday” today. I would often leave church on Sunday, after hitting the ball out with a great sermon, with the nagging conviction that I couldn’t do it any better than I had just done it, yet knowing there was another Sunday coming in less than 7 days.  Excellence promotes the idea that the Father is impossible to please, so every Christmas and Easter and really every weekend, requires another level of excitement and quality that can only lead to burnout and drop out.

Fourthly, excellence in church ministry is not generally producing excellence in the Spiritual lives of those who are experiencing it.  We have excellent worship leaders but mediocre worshippers.  We have excellent youth ministries and ministers but rarely does it produce excellence in living the life of Jesus in our local high schools.  The level of preaching is so excellent these days, you would think those listening would be far superior to any generation in history at living out the Spiritual life with excellence.  But are we seeing any thing close to excellence in godliness as a result of excellent preaching?

Fifth, pursuing excellence has a tendency to lead to perfectionism and perfectionism is not something positive or something to be applauded.  Perfectionism is really nothing more than a psychological disorder, that unless dealt with, will end up in self-destruction. I know, I spent 18 months in counselling, salvaging the train wreck I made of my life in the pursuit of perfectionism disguised as excellence.  At best being a perfectionist is a bad habit, at worst it promotes a salvation by works theology that is just plain wrong.

Sixth, excellence creates division.  One person’s excellence is another person’s mediocrity.  For years the worship leaders in my former church were the best around but there was no shortage of people who thought what they were doing was awful.  Routine excellence is so unattainable that when reality catches up with expectation there is desertion and frustration flowing all over the place.

If we are wrong to pursue excellence what alternative is there?  Is the Father satisfied with just getting by or just showing up?  Is there some place in between excellence and mediocrity we should be shooting for?   I will suggest some excellent alternatives tomorrow.

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Entry filed under: Authority, Belief, Christianity, Church, Culture, Faith, Institutional church, Jesus, Kingdom, The Father, Thoughts.

Monday morning meanderings. Vol.26 Excellence? Part 2

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sumijoti  |  January 9, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Jason’s post sparked some thoughts…

    Of course we need balance. I think God is the author of balance, and the areas of our lives that are perfectly yielded to Jesus will be in perfect harmony.

    Jason mentioned working with what we have. Jesus asked his disciples the same thing when they wanted to feed the five thousand: “What do you have?” When they gave the little that they had over to him he was able to do much with it.

    For me it is about giving more, not striving more. Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, then gsve it. He does the same thing with everything that we offer up to him. He accomplishes more in our brokenness than he could ever do in our own human effort.

    The world’s mindset is to try a little harder. The kingdom principle is to give a little more, to allow him to break us a little bit more.

    God told the priest in Leviticus to wear linen clothing. They were not supposed to wear anything that would make them sweat. We are not supposed to sweat either. We are just supposed to be willing to offer a sacrifice.

  • 2. Mike S  |  January 8, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    I forgot to say: this was excellent….

  • 3. Mike S  |  January 8, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Maybe when you don’t try for excellence you have a better chance of getting excellence. Some things may seem excellent but they are only excellent by man standard. God does not want us to be unable to do well and if we are doing God’s well that is excellence. Of course, how do we know what God’s will is. Another topic for you to work on.

  • 4. Jason Curlee  |  January 8, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    Of course excellence is in the eye of the beholder…one person’s excellence might not live up to another’s expectation of excellence. Which is why it is so frustrating of a topic.

    Excellence should be doing the best with what you have. It is looking at something you are doing and saying can I do it a little better. If it is your best it is saying can I give better than my best.

    I also think that it is a cop out to say we shouldn’t have excellence. I don’t believe that is what you are saying though…there should be a balance.

    The one thing we can’t get around is that we live in a culture that expects excellence and for a church not to attempt it in one way or the other is failing with our culture.

    Should we swing the other way. Go in your church and have the bathroom a mess with toilet paper on the floor…walk in your sanctuary and it not be cleaned. Look at the stage and mic chords are all over. Wall’s dingy and dirty. Chairs in no order but are all over the place.

    If there shouldn’t be no excellence then maybe we should swing the other way. I think not. Do the best you can with what you have…and glorify God while you are doing it.

  • 5. sumijoti  |  January 8, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Very thought-provoking post.

    I hate the word ‘excellence’, and the excellence mindset, for all the reasons you mentioned and more. I am one of those broken vessels without a hope of reaching the bar of outstanding achievement. Yet, maybe because of that, Jesus can be potentially big in me.

    Jesus said he can do nothing of himself…it is when we have that same mindset and are dead to our own efforts and agendas that we will be able to do the greater things that Jesus promised we would do.

    I think the ‘excellence mindset’ is pure Babylon. (which is what my pastor calls the institutionalised church) Babylon originated when people said to themselves: “let us build…let us make a name for ourselves…” at the tower of Babel. The result was confusion and division.

    Waiting to see what you write tomorrow, and as always enjoying your blog,

    Sumi

  • 6. amanda  |  January 8, 2008 at 10:43 am

    absolutely on target. there is way too much excellence in our world today. whatever happened to doing our best and being satisfied with that. (i know i struggle with this in most every thing i do, especially my riding) Society today is much too entitled and much too caught up in being perfect. it is insane and very hard on the people caught on the mill of trying to keep up with it. it causes burnout and in some cases misplaced blame on the Father. He NEVER meant for worship, church, tithing, or anything else to be unatainable. i try and remember the words in the song “Come as you are”. i think we should apply it not only to our spiritual life, but everyday.

  • 7. Doug Wright  |  January 8, 2008 at 7:51 am

    One way to get input is with a passionate blog that talks to such a sensitive and sensible issue. I believe we are to live our lives as excellent as possible to the Lord with the knowledge that we are broken and unable to attain the perfection we humans expect of the person next to us. One has only to go through an experience of total disaster where confusion, fear and frustration reigns. I’ve been humbled directly to my knees over things so out of my control and in Gods control that there was nothing else to do. When I responded it was in the most excellent way I knew. It likely didn’t appear I responded and worked excellent in the situation to others, however I acted according to the Spirit and my skill set. The question then could be in the mind of the one who expects excellence at a human level: “Whats he thinking?” Personally I need to read the Word, have a prayer life and realize; perfection will be what God leads me to, with the skill set He provides, to accomplish that which He called me to. Unfortunately there is always room to grow so:) excellence will remain what I expect from you!
    Great blog and serious food for thought.

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