Pursuing Excellence (Part 1)
(Over the next few weeks or so, I am going to be exploring the “pursuit of excellence” in our service to God. I understand that its not keen political commentary or dynamic prophetic insight, but I have been convicted that we have lost to a great degree in the Body of Christ, our thirst for excellence. So, read these post or don’t; I am simply following the ache that I believe God has placed in my heart. mkg)
“Even so you, forasmuch as you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to excel to the edifying of the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12)
ex-cel(ik-sel’)v.t & v.i. – celled, -cel-ling To surpass; outstrip; be outstanding.[
In his first letter to the Corinthian church Paul challenges any notion of mediocrity within the church or the individual life of the believer. In the closing verses of chapter 9 he writes:
“Do you not know that they which compete in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? So run to win, And every man that strives for excellence is under control in all things. Now, they do this in order to obtain a temporal reward; but we are striving for an eternal reward. Therefore, I run with confidence to win; and I fight, not as one who strikes aimlessly at nothing, but as a man with a plan.”
To the Philippians Paul wrote: “…..I pray that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that you may approve things that are excellent….”(1:9-10) And again, in 1 Corinthians 14:12 Paul admonishes us to seek excellence in our ministry of edifying the church with the words, “Even so you, forasmuch as you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to excel to the edifying of the church.”
Excel is the perisseuo, a Greek word meaning to be over and above. The person who will move in the realm of excellence never, never, never is satisfied with getting by. The challenge is to strive for excellence. Picture a runner; a man in a race. Paul says that the man who crosses the finish line first, he who gains the laurels is the man who runs to win. He not only runs to win, he trains to win. He eats to win. He conditions his body to win. He prepares to win. If he doesn’t do these things – he doesn’t win.
A runner isn’t in the race to cross the finish second, or third. He runs to be first. He runs to be the best. He runs to finish fastest. He runs to be over and above everyone else. He wants excel. Race day is not the only day he runs. He runs every day. He doesn’t eat healthy and bodybuilding meals on race day only. He does not exercise and lift weights only on the day of the race. Every day is about the race. Every day is preparation for the race.
Paul says that every man who strives for excellence controls everything other thing in his life. He goes on in verse 27, “but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.”
In this, the runner gives us the secret to successfully pursuing excellence. His greatest challenge for supremacy is not the man in the lane next to him, but the man in the lane with him. While in every race there are surely other runners, his race is not with them – no his race is against his own body, against his own will. The word subjection means to lead into servitude. The runner compels his body toward mastery; toward excellence.
We can learn much from the example of the runner striving for mastery in a race. In our personal life and in our corporate life success and excellence are ideas that are bonded together. The vision that will compel us toward the fulfillment of our purpose is excellence in ministry. The vision statement of my church is: “To win, equip, and send committed followers of Jesus Christ who will share His gospel from Brattleboro to the ends of the earth.” The admonition of Paul from 1 Corinthians 14:12 is that regardless of which facet of that vision I labor in – whether winning, equipping, or sending – I should seek to excel. Whether as an outreach ministry designed to reach unsaved men with the message of salvation or to bring the delivering power of God to men and women with addictions; or, perhaps as we reach out with clothing, food and other types of emergency relief to those on the street it should be a ministry that strives to be over and above.
Perhaps you work in an edifying ministry of the church where your focus is not the winning, but the equipping of others for the work of the ministry. Whether I teach in the Sunday school or Children’s church, I do not simply fill up an hour with mindless busywork to keep the children quiet. Rather, I strive for mastery in my craft so that the children in my care are thoroughly equipped for every good work. I teach so that my students can’t wait to come back next week and learn more of the things of God. I teach to capture children – body, soul, and spirit – for the Kingdom of God. I teach to seal them in their relationship to Christ and to equip them that they might not ever become victims of the enemy’s cunning deceptions. I accept a portion of the the responsibility for the care and nurture of these, my students So convinced am I of the urgency of the task It would not occur to me to enter a classroom unprepared to teach at the apex of my ability. I consider my teaching to be more than a ministry to children, but in fact, an integral part of my worship of God, and therefore it is unthinkable that I would give less than my best. This is teaching with excellence.
As I serve as an usher or greeter who meets the congregation at the door each service and who provides serving ministry to all, in particular to those who are new in the church – my mind is set to serve. My task is far greater than shoving a piece of paper into their hands and pointing to a vacant chair. I see my service as a holy trust given to me by the Lord of the church himself to care for and serve His people. I am trained to serve. I am dressed to serve. I am seeking to serve. I have an attitude that knows only to serve. I am there before anyone arrives and I leave only after the last has gone. I don’t have to help; I am privilege to help any who have need of my services. I can’t take the time to visit with my special friends or to conduct personal business for I am a vital assistant to the Pastor in the ministry to the congregation. Without me there will be disorder and confusion and i am committed to seeing that these enemies of worship and spiritual growth do not enter the worship center. I am more, much more than a seating supervisor and bulletin distributor. I am a guardian of the place of worship set to see that no enemy enters and that all of the saints and sinners who do enter come into a place where holy order and peace prevails that the Spirit of God may commune with God’s people. This is ushering with excellence.
As a member of the worship team I must realize the Levitical commission which encompasses both service to God and ministry to God’s people. I am not a performer, but a worshipper. I am not putting on a show, I am showing the way into God’s presence. I am not a bandleader; but the leader of a band of worshippers bent on pleasing an audience of One.
It is not important whether I am seen, or heard, or recognized in my place. It is vital that He is seen. It is not important whether my talent is known for what it is. I pray that people don’t see me. I pray that the people aren’t impressed by me. I pray that whenever I pick up my instrument or lift my voice in song, the congregation will heed the sound as a call to worship; a call to come into the presence of a Holy God to magnify His name and bask in His presence.
What is absolutely essential is that the people are brought into the holiest place of worship. As the Levites of old, I hone my skills; I seek to be trained better and better in the arts of worship. I bathe myself in the presence of God. I polish my stones so that I may reflect the beauty of the One we worship. And, I will give no less than the absolute limit of my ability. I will keep my artist’s ego in check, humbling myself beneath the Hand of God, desiring always to decrease so that Jesus may increase in the sight and hearing of the people. I know and keep in mind always that God is not listen to me so much as He is listening to us and that my holy calling is to make the sound that He hears pleasing to His ear. This is worship with excellence!
Whatever your place, whether a writer, singer, preacher, teacher, or toilet bowl cleaner; men and women who have are committed to excellence in their ministry have heard the heartbeat of God. We are commanded that whatever we do, we do heartily as unto the Lord. We are the salt of the earth, the light of the world; living epistles read by all men everywhere. Do we dare exist with such a holy calling carelessly and thoughtlessly? Do we dare present the gospel of Christ and the life that it brings as making no greater change in our lives than a change of address we haven’t been saved only that we might go to Heaven. We have been transformed into new creatures where all that is old has gone away and we have become new. We are ambassadors for Christ, representing Him to a lost and dying world Do we represent Him with low regard and meager commitment? Or, shall we exalt Him both in what we do and in how we do it?