“That you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ…” [Phil. 1:10]
“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude” – Ralph Marston
Your excellence is important because it tends to influence other people’s perception of your God. Consider the Queen of Sheba’s encounter with King Solomon. She was drawn to Solomon’s fame for wisdom and sought answers to the mysteries of life. Solomon gave wise answers to her most challenging questions [2 Chron. 9:1-9]. The Queen was impressed regarding his wisdom, palace, food, the seating of servants, service and apparel of waiters and cupbearers, as well as the entry to the temple of God. Thus she was impressed by Solomon’s wisdom and the overall excellence that she saw. The Queen was extremely wealthy and presumably encountered excellence in several arenas of life. Nevertheless, she praises Solomon’s wisdom; and praises the God of Israel for what she heard [God’s wisdom] and what she saw [excellence]. The moral: excellence in life and ministry attracts people to receive the wisdom of God, and results in being drawn to God and glorifying Him. Conversely a disregard for excellence can create stumbling blocks between people and God.
In the context of the local church, the perceived quality of various elements of the worship service likely impact people’s receptivity to the word of God. For example, people form opinions about the facilities, greeters and ushers, children’s ministry, praise and worship, hospitality, prayer, outreach, missions, community service, etc. If people perceive that things are generally done excellently than they are likely to be more receptive to the teaching of the Bible. Furthermore, the teaching of the Bible should be excellent to encourage people to submit to God and to live His word. Looking to improve and do things excellently doesn’t mean you are not loving gracious or led by the Spirit. You can rejoice and celebrate your current status, and move forward towards excellence. Furthermore asking, “Where can we improve?” is not necessarily negative. Especially when a discussion of what is being done well or excellently precedes the critique of areas needing improvement.
Paul encouraged the Philippians to approve the things that are excellent. He wrote: “That you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ…” [Phil. 1:10]. The context is a prayer and exhortation for spiritual growth to distinguish good doctrine from poor doctrine. The Greek term deafero means “to differ.” By implication, it means to surpass, be better, differ from, be of more value, and be more excellent. The term was used in connection with testing metals. Paul urged the church to know the difference between good and bad and the difference between mediocre and excellent. Paul is a man who worked hard to live a life that was excellent for Jesus, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” [Phil. 3:12]. Solomon expressed a similar thought: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…” [Eccl. 9:10].
Excellence is an attitude and the attitude is displayed in the process. Excellence is not perfection. Excellence is not an achievement since we never arrive. Excellence tends to sees obstacles as opportunities.
What is required for excellence?
- Motivation: We should desire an attitude of wanting to work harder for the Lord than for any other relationship. When we serve God, we want to give Him our best. The Mosaic Law provides that an animal sacrifice had to be without blemish or imperfection. Imagine a shepherd with two lambs. One of the lambs is blind and has a broken leg and the other is excellent. It would not be difficult to imagine that the shepherd would want to offer the significantly less than perfect lamb as a sacrifice. Yet, God says it is unacceptable. He effectively tells us that if we love Him, then we want to give Him our best. The motivation to give God our best is not to impress people that we are excellent we desire to give Him our best because He is worthy and we love Him. It is love for God that should motivate us to excellence as we minister to Him and His people.
- A standard: Excellence needs a goal. There must be a description of the standard. Since excellence raises the standard we need to determine how high the bar is to be raised. When is it good enough? We know that excellence is not perfection, but what is the standard? For example the Raiders football team says they have, “A Commitment to Excellence.” What does that mean? No team will have a perfect season. A team may go undefeated, but it will not be a perfect season as there will be countless plays in every game that could have been executed better. Perhaps the commitment to excellence relates to winning the Super Bowl, or maybe getting to go to the Super Bowl or even the playoffs. Once you have set a standard, you can work toward the standard. A simple reference to a grade scale where “C” is average, “B” is above average, and “A” represents excellent can be a helpful starting point. Asking the question, “What needs to change for this to move from a “C” to an “A”?” can be helpful.
- Discipline: To become excellent, you need to work towards the standard. Athletes wake up early and train hard to improve their skills. They learn to avoid staying out too late and avoid certain excesses in order to be excellent. No one becomes excellent without self-control diligence and effort.
- Discipleship: We need to be disciples of Jesus and learn from Him. But we also need to learn from others who have gleaned valuable lessons ahead of us. Excellence in ministry is learned from others and taught to others. Paul imparted the lessons that he had learned to Timothy, and instructed Timothy to commit those lessons to faithful people who would teach others also [2 Tim. 2:2].
- Accountability: We need to be accountable to other leaders and team members. We need to receive review from others. In this manner, we can better understand the effectiveness of our ministry. Sometimes we are reluctant to receive review because it will undoubtedly include criticism as well as affirmation. Yet failure to be accountable hinders excellence.
In my ministry and life I want to be excellent by giving God my best. To excel in ministry I try to focus my efforts in the areas where I tend to get the best results. My best for the kingdom generally relate to my roles as a teacher, and leadership development. So I try to concentrate my time where I have the most effective results. Generally wherever possible I delegate other functions to other people [they often do as good a job or better than I do]. To work towards excellence I’m intentional about activities and attitudes that help me grow and improve. In regard to teaching I receive critique after each message from capable teachers who are able to provide meaningful critique. This accountability helps me to improve every week. In my roles as a developer of leaders I regularly meet with various mentors, attend conferences, read books and articles, and seek to apply the lessons to improve.
To grow in life my primary areas of focus are marriage and family. I’m intentional to meet with my wife Karen every few months to receive feedback. I ask her, “How are you doing, and how can I be a better husband to you? How am I doing as a father? Where do you think we are doing well? What are some areas where I can grow as a husband and a father?” I try to incorporate her feedback and look to grow in the months that follow. After a few months we will talk again and I’ll ask similar questions and also ask about the matters that we previously discussed. I want to know if things are the same better or worse. I also started meeting with our sons when they were teenagers to look for their take on how I was doing as a dad and how I could grow as a better father to them and for them. They are now young adults and I continue to have these discussions with them. I want to grow as a dad and represent Christ as excellently as possible to them (and my wife). Finally, I try to remember that excellence is an attitude, not a skill, and my primary motive to give God my best is simply a response to my understanding that He has given me His best [John 3:16].