Friday, July 02, 2010

The Most Excellent Way

Funny how words that used to mean something become buzz phrases and lose almost all meaning.

I'm lucky enough to be part of a "development team" at our church, and we're going through the book The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence by Tom Peters.

It's basically a collection of 163 of his blog posts about excellence.

Excellence is one of those buzz phrases that I feel has lost its meaning. But it's sure not from lack of use.

We talk about excellence all the time: We want our programs to be excellent, we want our services to be excellent, we want our groups to be excellent, ministries, bulletins, graphics, music, lights, videos, experience, classes, etc etc etc. We want everything in our church to be excellent. We want our church itself to be excellent.

And we should.

We should want everything about our lives to be excellent.

So should you. You probably want your job to be excellent, your family life, your interaction with friends, it should all be excellent. But there's a problem.

We've redefined excellent to mean flawless. Polished. High production value. Professional looking. Smooth running. We want excellence in all things...but do all those qualities of "excellence" really make something excellent?

I don't think so.

Paul actually talks about excellence a great deal. But he doesn't mention the word itself very often. The verse that stands out most to me when he mentions excellence is the 2nd half of 1 Corinthians 12:31. It's almost as if he mentions excellence in passing. The NIV reads "Now I will show you the most excellent way."

Not just AN excellent way.
Not just ONE excellent way.
Not just A GOOD excellent way.

But the MOST excellent way. In the greek, the phrase "most excellent" is actually the same word written twice in a row. It's the EXCELLENT excellent way. The best possible way to do something.

However, what comes directly after 1 Corinthians 12:31 isn't normally seen as a bunch of ways to pursue excellence. Instead, what comes after is usually read at weddings. Because it's 1 Corinthians 13. The love chapter.

Read it sometime. Without thinking about a wedding. Paul is listing out all of these great gifts and achievements: speaking in languages of men & angels, being a prophet, being able to understand all mysteries, having all knowledge, having faith that can move mountains, giving everything you have to the poor, dying as a martyr. He lists all of these with the caveat if we don't have love, they're worthless.

We can have the highest production value around, we can have excellent music, we can have outstanding systems, leaders, groups, classes, volunteers; but if we don't have love...

I think that if we focus on the external forms of excellence, we become obsessed and entrapped by them. Sure it's great to have things look nice and run smoothly...but is it the most excellent thing?

I happen to think that if we pursue love, and all it encompasses, than the excellence will follow.

Maybe love actually IS excellence itself.