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.