God named my ministry, Seed of Excellence. Ever since then, I’ve meditated extensively on the meaning of the word excellence…not just a definition, which we’ll get to momentarily, but a deep meaning of the word and why it’s so important to God.
Many years ago, when I was a young sergeant in the Air Force, I was attending an intensive leadership training course in New Jersey. Each Friday, we were given a very difficult exam that covered all the material that was presented that week. I remember clearly, the sweaty palms, nervous stomach and lump in my throat as our instructor; a somewhat aloof, gray-haired Senior Master Sergeant entered the classroom carrying the stack of tests. He always tried to ease our minds with a lame joke and other mindless ramblings, but it never worked for me. "Just give me the test!" I'd scream under my breath. Just before he passed out the tests and score sheets, he always admonished us to, “Strive for excellence, not perfection.” It’s important to understand that in an ultra-competitive environment such as that school, one missed question meant potentially-negative consequences when graduation time came. It could mean the difference between returning to your unit with a highly-exalted academic award, or the D.G. award. Now, D.G. had a double-meaning. One was, it was a real award and it stood for, “Distinguished Graduate,” but the other meaning was a traditional joke among the non-award-winners was that D.G. also meant, “Done Graduated.” Nobody really wanted that one. So, the idea of striving for excellence, not perfection never really sunk in for me…until many years later, when the Lord spoke to me about beginning a ministry.
In order to gain more complete understanding, let’s look at some definitions. First, Webster defines excellent as, “To surpass; exceptionally good of its kind; Superior.” Next, let’s look at perfect. “Lacking nothing essential to the whole: complete of its nature or kind; being in a state of undiminished or highest excellence; Flawless.
Wow! Do you see what I see? I see that excellence is humanly attainable. Perfection is not. This is why God expects us to develop and achieve excellence but He knows we will never achieve perfection. Why? We know from our scripture reading that there has only been one perfect human…and His name is Jesus. When He was manifested in human form, he was 100% God and 100% man. He personifies the “highest excellence.” Praise Him!
Now, having said that, can we as humans achieve excellence? Yes, we can! God has empowered each of us for it. And furthermore, it’s His desire for us. He commands us to be excellent. Excellent…not perfect. He knows our limitations, because He knew us before He formed us in our mother’s womb. We’re not capable of total perfection and God shows us mercy because of it.
Alright, so we know what God and the dictionary says excellence is, but what is it in real life? Why should leaders be striving for it?
Excellence is nothing more than becoming the best that you’re capable of. How do we know what excellence really is? There are tangible examples of excellence all around us. Things we can see and touch. For example, we know when we walk into the foyer of a church that has been elegantly decorated and furnished, the greeters were well-dressed and genuinely friendly (not the fake church smile we all know) that the ministry is striving for excellence. Superficial? Of course, but let’s not discount the importance of this kind of excellence. Typically, our first impression is visual, and you know what they say about first impressions!
If you walked into another church and it had duct tape outlining cracks in the glass door and badly worn and soiled carpeting, and there are no greeters at the door, what conclusions could you draw? Not favorable, I suspect. Physical excellence is relevant but it’s not all-inclusive. You see, excellence is much more than physical…it’s also an attitude. It’s obedience to God. He’s called every leader and ministry to excellence…excellent in every way. It’s just not enough to have a good sermon and an adequately staffed nursery. Virtually every part of your ministry, big and small should be bursting with excellence, both tangible and intangible.
I mentioned that excellence, the intangible kind, is an attitude. We must, as Christians be careful not to mistake this type of excellence for arrogance or conceit. After we look at this, you should be able to spot the difference at 50 paces. Attitude excellence is apparent in the person who cheerfully accepts and carries out every duty. They are not finished until it’s done, and done well. Excellence in ministry involves the entire ministry, physical appearance, attitude and operationally. Every person who is working to fulfill the ministry’s purpose should exude excellence from their physical or outwardly appearance, to the way in which they approach every task that comes their way…at all times. Excellence is the outright refusal to compromise the quality of anything…regardless of the size or relative importance.
When people develop an attitude of excellence, it will show itself strong! Suddenly, things which couldn’t be done are not only being done, but being done sweatlessly and with less money. Staff meetings become a time of joy instead of mundane “business of the day.” People will begin to display a new kind of thinking that gets results. Once those results manifest, it becomes contagious and before you know it, your entire ministry has been catapulted to a level never-before dreamed of! It really happens and it’s beautiful to watch.
Leaders have a tremendous responsibility to the Body. I believe that it is reasonable to assume that if a leader doesn’t personify excellence in every regard, he or she cannot become frustrated or disappointed when the congregation fails to respond to them in an excellent fashion. People want to be associated with success. Christians want to know, without a doubt that their church association is benefiting them with God’s Best. If they think that the leader is not being everything they are capable of, there’s a better than average chance they will leave and find another church home.
In order for leaders to “raise the level of their game,” they must first recognize that no real improvement can occur without change. This is tough for most of us. Newsflash: We humans DO NOT like change. We like COMFORT. We don’t like to “rock the boat” or “upset the applecart” and we certainly don’t want to tell someone what they’re doing isn’t good enough! But, you know what? In order to achieve any level of excellence, change must happen. What I personally think is very cool is the fact that even if you have the best, most dynamic, Holy Ghost-filled worldwide ministry; you have to change, too. That is if you want to continue in God’s Will for your ministry.
Our God is so awesome! He knows where He’s called every leader to be…and He knows where every one is. We know, from studying His Word that God’s process is to “keep moving forward.” Are you continually moving forward? Are you moving forward, according to God’s plan? Our God is a God of excellence. He demands it from every one of us. I personally intend to deliver that to Him and His Kingdom…one leader at a time, if necessary.
No matter where you are today, you can launch your leadership into new levels of excellence, probably higher than you thought possible. What are you waiting for? The time for leaders to come into their fullness is now. Honor the Lord and strive for excellence!