Excellence as a word: overused or distinctive?

Excellence… we seek it and celebrate it, yet in our culture the word excellence is often overused. In a Christian ministry setting we are sometimes wary of this word – does it smack of ambition and success? Yet on the other hand should we be settling for mediocrity? Is this word helpful to us? Does it help move us in the right direction?

We need vigorous discussion about what this means in a Christian ministry – this is one of the best debates we can have because if we seek excellence for the right reasons we can gain a clearer understanding of our mission and are led into doing passionate ministry.

I love the word excellence and consider this verse as a key to understanding the proper context for excellence: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,
not for men.” Colossians 3:23

Therefore Christian excellence is:

  • Motivated by a desire to please God and fulfill his purposes.
  • Demonstrated by offering one’s best to God as an act of worship.
  • Demonstrated by doing something great for God and being faithful to his call and claim on your life. Some examples: Solomon building the temple, Samson destroying the temple of the Philistines, Paul’s missionary journeys.

Our context in Christian schools is often framed in competitive and quantitative ways by our public school counterparts, NCLB, and business. If we define excellence in simply reductive, results oriented ways we are missing a critical dimension of excellence in Christian education (see my blog post of 2/09/07 – Generation (and re-generation) through Christ.)

What is the true standard of excellence? In their book Resurrecting Excellence, Reclaiming the Church Jones and Armstrong state: “Fidelity to the crucified and risen Christ …Christian ministry, lived faithfully and well, is beautiful.” Excellence is cultivating the eyes and ears to see and hear the beauty of God, his world, and his people.

The motivation for excellence in our ministry flows from a heart of passionate love – we understand this best when we are in love and want to give the best to another …the finest diamond we can afford to one we love, the most beautiful flowers, and doing the best we can at a task that we know is valued by the other.

Beautiful ministry is inspired by people who have lived and are living out their lives in the beauty of Christ – this in turn inspires standards of excellence. “Learning to attend to God’s beauty and to see and hear through God-inspired eyes and ears calls forth the strongest patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting. This is an excellence that is not about our efforts or culturally defined expectations. Rather, it is an excellence that is shaped by God’s excellence, nurtured by the new life in Christ to which we are all called in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Jones and Armstrong, pp. 20, 21)

Let’s focus on fueling a passion among ourselves and a beauty of ministry in our midst…is there a richness of character, of grace, of virtue, of faithful actions, of restoration and reconciliation, of creativity? If the kids see this attractiveness in us as examples of excellence, they may also be inspired to serve the Lord with excellence.

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13 Comments

Filed under book, distinctively Christian, mission measurement, worship

13 responses to “Excellence as a word: overused or distinctive?

  1. Perhaps we need to recognize that excellence is not, first of all a measure of effort but of accomplishment. These days we encourage by making much of small effort and call that effort excellent. Doing that may encourage or inflate a person, but it misses the mark and often thwarts excellence.
    Excellence requires motivation (as unto God), effort (with all your heart), and results (“and God saw all that He had made and it was very good”). Without results we are merely seeking excellence but can not be said to be achieving it.

  2. Rebecca Vander Wilt

    Another reason to pursue excellence in all our work, and especially the endeavors that we specifically label “Christian,” such as Christian music and Christian schools, is that God’s reputation is riding on it. Unbelievers, whether they should or not, judge our God by the quality of our work. When the Israelites offered sacrifices to God, these sacrifices needed to be pure. They needed to be the firstfruits, the cream of the crop. Even though (and especially because) Jesus has already been our spotless sacrifice, we shouldn’t think of giving anything less than our best.

  3. Emily Botkin

    Excellence is something that we as Christians are called to on a daily basis in all that we do. When I think of the word “excellence” I think of it in reference to something or someone being held to a higher standard than others. If we act in accordance to this we are showing that we not only value our own success but that we also value the gifts and talents that God has given each of us to excel in life. Not using these gifts to their fullest potential can show a disrespect to Christ and all that He has given for us. He gave only his best for us when he walked this earth so why should we not also do the same for Him?

  4. Leah Zumdahl

    This article reminded me of a conversation I once had with a professor over the true meaning of “Amazing”. The professor believed that the word was overused and thus should not be used in writing. The point I’m trying to make here is that if we overuse a word we will forget the true meaning and importance of the word. I fully believe in the importance of Christians striving for excellence, but if consistently push the term, we as humans, tend to overlook the “amazing” meaning of the word.

  5. Shelley Lagestee

    Everyone tries to do the best they can whether it be for themselves, or for God. Even for Christians it is difficult to remember we are doing everything for God because of our sinful nature. God has given us everything we have, and because of that we should do everything for him. It is extremely important to strive for Christian excellence because we need to give back what God has given us. Excellence is not just a word, but a way of Christian living.

  6. Emily van den Brink

    I agree that the word excellence is over used. I heard it a lot throughout my grade school and high school days, but never felt that anyone really achieved true excellence because there was little example to follow. Often teachers and adminstrators seemed to ask us to strive for excellence, but then only pointed out our weaknesses. Never showing us what excellence was through themselves or other students. I strongly encourage teachers and adminstrators to lead by example as the article states and continue to ask for excellence out of students; but remember to recognize it as well, whether it is small or large in the midst of so many other tough issues in schools today.

  7. Michelle Schurman

    I do agree that striving to give our all and do our utmost for the Lord is where excellence can be witnessed. The Lord bestows upon us our gifts and abilities. It is only when we attempt to utilize these gifts in the best service of the Lord that we can grant God total and complete appreciation. Many can be born talented, or praised for stardom without having given any heart and effort towards a cause. By labeling these weak efforts with glorious results as excellent, we are not saying anything of the Lord’s expectations of excellence. The glorious results or talent can only be given as an excellent attribute of the Lord that is portrayed through a human being, and not even completely developed. True and absolute excellence comes when God’s gifts meet 100% effort. This results in the paramount of God’s expectations being fulfilled. Thus, true excellence is no less than pure divinity.

  8. Christine Marchione

    I believe that excellence is a word that is used very often but needs to be. Excellence is represented in so many aspects of our everyday life. Being a future educator, excellence is extremely important within schools. Every school, student and teacher should strive for excellence. In order for there to be excellence in a school it must start at the top with the administration and work its way down, so that the students will want to strive for it.

  9. Excellence in our work with God’s children and people provides an example to the world and a standard that reflects our God. It requires that we seek out direction and clarify our place and purpose in the Body of Christ. And it compels us to be accountable to bear fruit, challenge our comfort zones, and confront our current realities. Without doing this work, we jeopardize our relevance and our calling to be leaders, influencers and renewers of God’s world.

    Yet, excellence has to have pleasing God, humility, and serving others as its basis and foundation. If we allow some other standard to “set the bar” for our service unto the Lord, we surrender our Christian character, authenticity and principles and thus conform to that which is and within an unrenewed and fallen system and culture.

  10. Somehow we seem to continue to have difficulty differentiating the concepts of effort and excellence. Surely there can be efforts of excellence toward excellence, but “trying” is not the same as accomplishing.
    Further, no person truly knows another’s effort. Educators should understand that better, it seems to me, than nearly any other group in the world. There was a day when a student in elementary school was graded on effort. We are blest that we can see past such notions today. Should effort be acknowledged? Possibly, under certain circumstances. On the whole, however, we just do not really know what effort goes into the activities of others. We can only recognize accomplishment, that which has actually been done.
    The notion that we all try to do our best also flies in the face of actual experience and observation. Many people really do not care to do their best. Many students are certain that if they do their best on some responsibilities they will be expected to continue at that level of performance in future activities, and they have no wish to be so burdened. Many of those students carry that attitude into adult life as well. Perhaps they learned it from the signincant adults in their childhood lives. Christians need to know and be taught by word and example that one’s best is none too good for the One from Whom the ability to perform comes. We owe the very best we can do (excellence) to our Father who has given us the skills, abilities, wisdom, insight, and all the other gifts requite to that performance level. Anything less is a repudiation of the value of that with which we have been entrusted. These gifts are never really our private property but must be seen as stewardship responsibilities from God Himself.

  11. Kevin Potts

    Excellence is such a commonly used term for those people in the education field. I too believe in a level of excellence in spiritual matters and in academic matters. I think that it is important to not separate the two worlds but rather join them and look through everything with a Godly perspective. The part that I really feel to be important is to be an example of this in our lives. No matter what we do in life it is extremely important that we exude this Christian worldview. We may not be able to preach our faith in the excellence of God but surely people will notice a distinct difference when we act differently. It is as the old saying goes :”Actions Speak Louder than Words.” Our duty then is to be a Christian example of His Divine excellence.

  12. Gloria Toscano

    In a Christian ministry work with excellence it is part of the mission because the work is for God and not for men. The Bible tells us that we have to do our best for him. The idea of excellence is superiority and preeminence. We are motivated to do things with excellence when we love and enjoy what we do. Kids like to imitate their parents and teachers; they want to be like them. Teachers and parents have to demonstrate excellence in teaching any subject at school or home. Sometimes we are not good examples, but we can do it. We need to ask God for help, because the power of excellence comes from Him.

  13. Looking back over the remarks I was encouraged by the importance attached to the ideal of excellence, but discouraged by the wide range of views on what it actually is. This diffusion might explain why christians are not on the whole known for their dedication to excellence, but mostly for their talk about it.
    I believe that it is a very important part of our witness and credibility, but I would like more input as to why our schools in NA mostly settle for mediocrity in practice.

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