Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Excellence?

When I was a sophomore at Penn State, we got a new campus minister who was very particular about one thing: excellence in all things.  If we were going to do something, we were going to do it very well.  It's an interesting concept in theory.  In practice, it's very difficult to pull off.

In my ministry, I find I fall somewhere in the middle of two sides on the issue.  On one hand, some argue that excellence or perfection puts God in a box.  We can only plan out so much and it's a little arrogant to say to God, "Ok God, this is where we've planned for you to come in and do some amazing things."  Because God tends not to respond to such requests on demand, those who plan things out, tend not to plan on the miraculous happening.  Some churches rely on being so perfect that there is a minute by minute breakdown of the service.  Every detail is planned meticulously and critics argue that there is no room for God to influence anyone or anything... that God only does what the planners allow Him to do.  These are the churches that work for hours to perfect the look that they just threw together a worship service last minute that happens to be the peak of excellence.

On the other side of the fence (on the issue of perfection and excellence), observers can find people who say that one should not give anything less than his absolute best.  These are the churches who tend to have their members show up in suits and ties, if they're men, and dresses if they're women.  The conservative attitude makes church less scripted, but less adventurous.  It might not be uncommon to find two bulletins with the exact same order of worship, but a date 30 years apart.  These churches have found what works and stuck with it.

Now, I mentioned before that I find myself somewhere in the middle here.  I think most people would.  Obviously, the object of ministry is not to give God any less than our best, but there's no reason that we should be legalistic about that.  Even though my church tends to dress conservatively, I showed up in sandals last week and everyone survived.  Someday, I vow I WILL preach in jeans, but that day is still to come.  However, our services are fairly scripted, mainly because there is very little that can't be controlled.  Because we don't have live music, I know *exactly* what verses are coming up next in the worship songs since I've had the CDs at my disposal all week long.  In the 5 months or so that we've had an LCD projector, I've averaged less than one typo every two months.  How many churches can say that?

With the resources that I have to work with at my church, I think our services are about as excellent as anyone could expect them to be.  So there... I've given God my best... good enough right?

And that's the root of the problem.  If all we're doing is trying to give our best to God... without involving God in the process, we're going to end up climbing up an infinitely tall hill.  Jesus came because our best wasn't good enough, so why do we try to fool ourselves into thinking otherwise?  

But then you go to the other side of the coin... if our best is never going to be good enough, why try at all?  God can take those mountains and turn them into molehills without our help... why not just let him do everything?

It's led me to realize that I need to reorient what I think is excellent away from my own preconceptions.  I've seen some pretty excellent things turn out to be pretty sour, and some things that I thought were lost causes turn out to be great.  Ironically, the key is in preparedness, but not in dressing super-nicely or making sure that church begins at 11:00 AM and ends promptly at 11:59:50.  We need to prepare ourselves to be ready for God to use us to glorify Him at any given time, not just on Sunday mornings.

We must humble ourselves and accept the fact that our idea of excellence pales in comparison to God's.  We can come to Him and say "God, our best isn't ever going to be good enough, but we know that You have given us many gifts, talents, abilities... we realize we need to work to hone all of those things so that we can use them whenever you call us to do so.  But we also acknowledge that apart from You, our best is useless.  Empower us with Your Spirit as we learn to give You what you have called us to do, in the way that You would have it done."

Eph 2:8-10

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.