Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Churches: Strive For Excellence, Not Competition

I'm tired of competition in the Church. I'm tired of one congregation afraid she will lose members to another group (perhaps a sister congregation) in the community that has become the "It Church." The flavor of the month. "Hot."

It's so worldly and we Christians are supposed to be anti-cool, anti-slick, anti-commercialized. We are to be the very antithesis of "relevant" (whatever that means) but, rather, timeless. We rebuke society's fallen values, not applaud them.

Let's face it: not every church budget is created equal. Not every pastor will see the "success" of Francis Chan. Not every worship leader will be the next Darlene Zschech. Not every church will have an annual Passion Play with a cast of dozens and complete with live animals and multicolor lighting hitting angels as they descend (via wires) on the garden tomb.

Not every church will be a mega church. (And thank God for that. Seriously.)

No, not every church can compete with one another. But every congregation—whatever her size, whatever her budget, whomever her pastor and worship leader—can strive for excellence.

As Paul told the Philippians:
Finally, brothers...if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (4:8 ESV)
The word rendered "excellence" is ἀρέτη and it is an important word. William Barclay spoke of it this way:
In classical thought it described every kind of excellence. It could describe the excellence of the ground in a field, the excellence of a tool for its purpose, the physical excellence of an animal, the excellence of the courage of a soldier, and the virtue of a man. Lightfoot suggests that with this word Paul calls in as an ally all that was excellent in the pagan background of his friends. It is as if he were saying, "If the old pagan idea of excellence, in which you were brought up, has any influence over you--think of that. Think of your past life at its very highest, to spur you on to the new heights of the Christian way." The world has its impurities and its degradations but it has also its nobilities and its chivalries, and it is of the high things that the Christian must think.
Strive for excellence. Have you ever seen it? Or heard it? Years ago a girlfriend took me to see pianist Jim Brickman in concert. He walked out onto the stage, sat down and began playing his song, The Promise, from his "Simple Things" CD. I was a novice to Brickman and didn't know his compositions but when The Promise began flowing from his piano I was instantly mesmerized, transfixed. I was haunted by its simple beauty. I whispered to my girlfriend, asking her for the song's name. I experienced excellence that night.

A high school English teacher told my class that when she laid her eyes on Michelangelo's "David" at Florence, Italy she began crying. Excellence can evoke that response in a person.

Here's the good news: Worshipers can experience excellence during your worship service this Sunday.

As Ecclesiastes instructs us, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might..." (9:10 ESV). God doesn't berate your preacher for not being John MacArthur; he should just strive to be the best preacher he can be. God never called your music ministry to compete with Hillsong Church. They should just work with what they've got to the best of their ability.

Reasonable people don't demand perfection but they have a right to expect excellence.

If it seems to a congregation that a preacher is just phoning in a sermon with a half-hearted slop job effort then the saints have been cheated.

If the church thinks the worship leader has just picked worships songs out of the hymnal that Sunday morning at random then they have been cheated.

If a Sunday School class or small group gets the impression that the teacher/leader just took a peek at the lesson a few minutes before the meeting then they have been cheated.

Do you best, whatever that is, and pray the Holy Spirit fall upon you and your efforts with Awakening Power.