Focus on Excellence… to Your Peril!

By Bill MacLeod, Director, MissionConnexion 

Recently I was asked if I thought MissionConnexion operated “with excellence”, i.e… “The fact or state of excelling; superiority; eminence. An excellent quality or feature”. My first thought was to make a list of what things I thought we were striving to do with excellence.

The kinds of things I listed included:

  • being above reproach
  • making Christ the lens through which we motivate our people
  • caring about the quality of our programs e.g., not settling for less…equipping everyone to be a part of God’s global purpose (the Great Commission)
  • maintaining right relationships vertically – with God, and horizontally – with people
  • practicing due diligence in all we do, etc.

I thought of Daniel 6:3 where we’re told he possessed such an excellent spirit, and distinguished himself above all the other satraps, that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. I thought about the value of working heartily as Col. 3:23 instructs us to do “as unto the Lord”. I thought about 2 Cor. 8:7 and excelling in faith, speech, knowledge, but also in the act of grace too.

In 1 Cor. 12:31, the Apostle Paul says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way” and proceeds to introduce us to the “Love” chapter of 1 Cor. 13 and that more “excellent” way.

Then I was reminded of Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

“What do each of those qualifiers represent?” I wondered.

True The literal meaning of the word λήθεια is “the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident.” It can also mean factuality or reality.

Noble σεμνός worthy of respect, noble, venerable; honorable, reputable, Phil. 4:8; grave, serious, dignified.

Just δίκαιος right, righteous, upright; in the NT this refers to God’s proper standards and actions, expressed in the covenants; as a noun it refers to a person in accord with God’s standards, in proper relationship with God.

Pure γνός innocent, morally pure, pure, chaste, modest, innocent, blameless,

Lovely προσφιλής gracious, lovely, pleasing; friendly, grateful, acceptable,

Admirable εφημος admirable, appealing, praiseworthy, pr. of good omen, auspicious; hence, of good report, commendable, laudable, reputable, Phil. 4:8*

Excellent ρετή moral goodness, excellence, virtue

Worthy παινος praise, applause, honor paid, Phil. 4:8; approval,

These are all character qualities, i.e., different synonyms all expressing a certain and similar kind of moral value. Technical or practical qualities do not even seem to make the list, it is as if those things are a given, that they will follow but only when character qualities are present, and in abundance.

It starts with being true – the state of not being hidden but being evident, factual, a “what you see is what you get” kind of real. All the other qualities seem to hang on this one. Also, these qualities are all embodied in our Savior, Jesus Christ. So, does MissionConnexion operate with excellence? I would like to think that we do.

However, then I thought of the infamous “rich, young, religious, ruler” of Mark 10:17-27. He had focused upon keeping the Jewish law and religious rules since he was a youth, but had somehow not only missed the mark, but now departed from Jesus… dismayed!

Then it suddenly dawned on me why Paul would say in 1 Cor. 12 “I show you a still more excellent way.” While marketing, setting goals, striving to be the best we can be is admirable to a degree, if that is all we are doing, then like the talented, young ruler, we too will totally miss the mark and walk away from Jesus …dismayed!

If we want our work to be excellent and to stand the test of time, we cannot focus on excellence in and of itself. Almost counterintuitively we must focus predominantly on Jesus Christ – who IS Love – loving and serving Him alone, so that we might possess all the excellent character qualities of Philippians 4:8 and do it with joy and humility.

So, when our leadership teams in the Northwest or Southwest meet to pray, we do not say: “Lord, help us to be the BEST we can be!” but rather, “Lord, humble our hearts so that in all we do we might reflect YOU – your righteousness, your purity, your beauty and goodness so others see You in us and so that You are lifted up above all else!”