I buy laser printers. I’ve had a few inkjets; I hate them. The laser printer interest began after starting seminary. I heard someone mention how much sharper the letters were if you used a laser printer. As one who would be printing out lots of paper over those four years at Dallas Seminary (before digital submissions), I wanted a laster printer that printed on thick, bright white paper.
So that’s what I did.
I’ve long-enjoyed doing that little bit of extra work that probably nobody sees or even cares about. I didn’t care if it mattered to someone else; it mattered to me. I get annoyed if something is a little off or if I know I cut a corner somewhere. (Remember: you’re currently reading the guy who has a neurotic approach to locking doors.)
Excellence is a trendy word in the church world. Some people use excellence to mean, “The way I like it.” As I use it, I mean it in this sense: that you do the best you are able. Sometimes your best is pretty bad. Still, you put in the work, stay up if you have to, research it as much as possible, and then finish. As a leader, I want the things that I do and am a part of to be excellent—the best they can be.
But I’ve had to live with the consequences of such a value, too.
Excellence Leads to A Job Well Done
I take a lot of satisfaction in doing a good job. I love the little things that make a project stand out. Even over fifteen years ago I remember overhearing my dad mention that a certain event didn’t have tablecloths ironed (my dad has spent many, many years in food service and hospitality). I’ve never forgotten that statement. I also have never thought of tablecloths in the same way.
I really believe—for better or for worse—that anyone who is a part of the church should be concerned with doing a great job—with going the extra mile on whatever project they are a part of. Someone saying, kind of as an excuse, “I’m just a volunteer” irks me. Why do something if you aren’t interested in doing it as well as you can? Why only sort of learn about something? We are people who belong to a different order—we serve a God who thought about everything. Our God is wildly creative, always thoughtful, and has provided us more colors, imagination, and passion than we know how to harness. Just ok, as the commercial goes, is not ok. We know better.
Excellence glorifies God. To be concerned with detail shows care and concern. God did the same thing in the creation of the world. He didn’t go, “Ok, guys, I think that’s good enough.” Galaxies exist. A universe full of undiscovered items and unknown beauty is everywhere—up, down, and all around us. We are still discovering. As I write this I hear birds singing and owls hooting. God thought of everything. We should reflect our creator in how we approach whatever we put our hand to.
. . . Except that my compulsive desire to do more, try harder, stay up later, and buy that laser printer can start to cut the wrong way as my focus shifts from God to me.
When Excellence Leads to Loneliness
Excellence becomes an island. It’s an island that we sail to a boat by ourselves. The reason? Because we don’t trust any other drivers to get us there. When we get so caught up in our desire to “be excellent,” we might find that our preconceived standards don’t actually make room for other people. Rather than bring others along in doing a great job together, we just say, “Fine, I’ll do it myself!”
Suddenly, we find ourselves embittered, isolated, and annoyed—and we often go the martyr’s route with our explanation.
Doing things by yourself because “No one else cares as much” is far less about other people and far more about you. It isn’t other people’s faults that we’ve created a world in which we become the primary actor(s). What ridiculous notion that our way is even the best way. We simply assume it is the best way because, well, we created it. All of a sudden we live in a leadership world where we are the savior because we are the only ones who “care enough” to get the job done right.
How presumptuous, insecure, and untrusting do we have to be to somehow make it sound like our lack of sharing the load and enjoying work with others is a good thing?
Didn’t Jesus pick twelve? And even of those twelve wasn’t one a . . . well, he was Judas. Didn’t Jesus send people out two by two and ask them to do the work of the kingdom? How did someone so perfect send imperfect people out to do something so significant?
Because Jesus always shows us a better way.
The way of meaningful ministry demands others be a regular and integral part of it. Excellence isn’t in the final product. What’s more important is how that process formed us to be more like our Lord. If we pursue the wrong metric, we get the wrong result. Further, there is really only one who is excellent, isn’t there? Why rob him of that?
Be excellent, yes. But be excellent humbly, with a proper understanding of your limitations, all while bringing others along. It’s better that way.