Churches rightly talk a lot about carrying out ministry with excellence. God is excellent, after all, so to pursue excellence in ministry is one way to live out his character.
But what do we mean when say “excellence”? If we’re not careful, we can make excellence all about human effort and mean little more than “technical perfection.”
When excellence is defined only in terms of human input, though, we miss the mark of biblical excellence, along with its blessings. What do I mean by “biblical excellence”?
Excellence in the Bible
The Greek word translated as “excellent” is hyperbole, which is obviously where we get the English word “hyperbole.” Throughout the Bible, the word is used in ways that mean a throwing beyond, or as a metaphor to explain that something is superior, pre-eminent, or beyond measure.
But there is another Greek word, arete, a noun that is translated as “excellence.” Whereas hyperbole is used to describe something, arete denotes something worth striving for. Arete conveys a virtuous course of thought, feeling, and action, such as in Philippians 4:8, where Paul writes,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence (arete), if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Arete — excellence — starts with virtuous thinking but doesn’t stop there. Excellence moves from virtuous thinking to virtuous feeling, and results in virtuous action. Which is why Paul follows with verse 9:
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Biblical Excellence Defined
Biblically speaking, excellence is the awe-inspiring, Christ-exalting jubilation that rushes into the heart and mind of the believer overcome by the gospel and results in faith-fueled action for God’s glory and neighbor’s good.
Excellence is not technical perfection, though it is perfectly technical. It is the renewing course of thought, feeling, and action made possible by the Holy Spirit that exalts the Son and brings glory to the Father.
And the benefits of pursuing biblical excellence?
“The God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).
Ministry is biblically excellent when its result is peace in the presence of God. This is man’s greatest longing, is it not? To be present with God? Since Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden, we have been longing to be in God’s midst, in his presence.
What does that look like? Well, this is one of those things you know when you see it. You also know the absence of it when you don’t see it.
But what about doing ministry to the best of our ability? What about technical perfection? Biblical excellence and technical perfection are not mutually exclusive. A church can pursue biblical excellence while still doing its best with the resources it has. (More on this below.)
How then do we pursue biblical excellence in our churches?
Pursuing Biblical Excellence in the Church
The first step in pursuing biblical excellence is to develop a definition of “excellence,” as seen above. Defining excellence is something best done by a church’s pastors and elders, with appropriate input from other church members along the way.
Once a church agrees on a definition, it can begin to flesh out that meaning across its ministries. Wisdom and discernment are needed here. If excellence is the awe-inspiring, Christ-exalting jubilation that rushes into the heart and mind of the believer overcome by the gospel and results in faith-fueled action for God’s glory and neighbor’s good, then each ministry of the church should be focused on cultivating environments and relationships where this is possible.
This means ministry leaders should be primarily concerned with clearly presenting and displaying the gospel. Practice and work hard, by all means. But don’t do so with little regard for what’s being communicated. The gospel — not our level of perfection — is the power of salvation.
Practical Questions for Ministry Leaders
Practical questions for ministry leaders to ask themselves are:
- What is my ministry goal?
- How does the gospel speak into or shape this ministry need?
- Are we experiencing Christ-exalting jubilation when we see this truth? Why or why not?
- What can we do to clearly communicate or demonstrate this facet of the gospel?
- Do the peripheral aspects of how we are carrying out this act of ministry help or hinder that message?
- Have we shown people what an application of this gospel truth into their lives might look like?
The third question above is important because it’s almost impossible for people to experience biblical excellence if their ministry leaders are not experiencing it themselves. It’s difficult and dishonest to ask people to be inspired to action by something you’re not excited about. If what you’re communicating doesn’t inspire you, it’s not going to inspire your audience.
Our churches will never experience biblical excellence and its blessings if they’re pursuing the wrong kind of excellence. Excellence in ministry is about ushering people into the presence of God so that he can commission them into action for his glory and our neighbor’s good.