How Excellence Can Kill Passion

Excellence is a Christian virtue. Whatever we do, we ought to do it well. My father taught me this. Excellence, however, can quickly become the end in itself, rather than the means to an end.

When I was in school, I began a local outreach effort. Although the school was located in a downtown area that was full of opportunity for outreach, there was no organized student-led effort to reach out and minister within the community. I started one in 2000. We met every Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. in the prayer room at school. We would strategically plan our outreach efforts for the day and then head off to tell people about Christ and attempt to connect them with a local church. We called this group the E-Team (Evangelism Team). Green in our strategy, we were red-hot in our passion.

Within a few months, what began as a small group of passionate students became a concerted effort and organization with leadership teams, local church connections, a prayer list, and a website. I was very young in ministry and my passions would often trip over my experience as they passed by. It was a learning process, but the E-Team was my baby.

One day I received a message, from someone in the upper echelons of the school administration, summoning me to a meeting about the E-Team. It was hard to fight the pride that welled up within my heart, as I knew that word of the success of our organization had gotten back to them. After all, this is what the school was about. We were providing hands-on pre-graduate practice. I imagined what they would say: "Michael, we are so proud of you for putting this together!" "What a wonderful effort. You are already showing your skills as a leader." "Thank you for your heart for the lost. This E-Team is what we are all about."

This was not what was said.

"Sit down Michael," he said as he turned around in his chair and typed on the computer. "Is this website yours?" He had brought up the E-Team website. "Yes," I answered, "it's part of the E-Team." "Did you put it together?" "Yes, I started it a few months ago and we now have four groups of . . ." He interrupted. "No, I mean this website. Are you responsible for this?" "Yes," I said, wondering why the website was such a big deal. "Notice here," he continued. "This word was spelled wrong." After a long pause and ensuing silence, he continued by telling me about the importance of excellence in all we do. He made it plain that this effort of mine was rogue and did not represent the ideals of the school due to what the misspelling communicated. He told me to take down the website and then concluded our meeting.

I could have handled this in a much more mature way. Deflated and embarrassed, I told him that it seemed as if excellence had taken priority over the Great Commission. The E-Team was eventually shut down due to a misspelled word.

Excellence should be an aspiration in all we do. We want to look nice, have good hygiene, color coordinate, understand font usage, vacuum the floors, be articulate in speech, have a smooth transition between the choir and the violin solo, and have immaculate websites with all the proper spelling.

These things, however, are not, or should not be, what we are about the most. Content is king, and the content of our ministry is not the virtue of excellence. Yet I fear that we mistake excellence in presentation for the Gospel message. It often seems, these days, that ministries and churches are more concerned about how they look than what they preach. They are more concerned about the background of the PowerPoint presentation than they are about its content, more concerned about the aroma of the church sanctuary than the aroma of the Gospel, more concerned with finding misspellings on their websites than recognizing the enormous potential in people. As hard as it is to believe, font size can take the place of godliness.

I wonder what God thinks about our lofty aspirations of excellence. From his perspective, we are but clay pots. From his perspective, we are blind, dirty sheep. None of us are that excellent. No matter how much we prepare, no matter how many editors we employ, no matter how clean the place is, no matter how much we look like Hollywood, we are not that perfect.

We should care about these ancillary details. I am not saying that the misspelling on the E-Team website was acceptable. It was not. We should strive to take seriously every part of our ministries. But we need to assess carefully whether our commission for excellence is progressively replacing the Great Commission, and whether an obsession with excellence is obstructing or constraining the hearts of our congregants when they are on fire for God.

Sometimes excellence can be the enemy of passion.

12/24/2010 5:00:00 AM
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    About C. Michael Patton
    C. Michael Patton, ThM, is President of Reclaiming the Mind/Credo House Ministries. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter, or read his blog at Parchment and Pen.