Preaching Articles

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. As Paul put it in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (NLT) If we’re representing God, we should do things well for His glory.

At the same time, excellence shouldn’t be exalted above some other values that really outrank it. In the pursuit of excellence, remember these five guiding principles.

We do things with excellence for God’s glory.

If you’re trying to do your best to impress guests or fellow ministry leaders, your heart is already in the wrong place. Excellence is something we strive for in order to bring glory to God. Or to put it another way, we perform with excellence for an audience of One, so that ultimately, He gets all the credit.

We refuse to make an idol of excellence.

Excellence is not the goal. Changed lives are the goal, and excellence merely describes the way we try to achieve the goal. Don’t miss the active and mighty hand of God in the name of excellence.

We refuse to allow the pursuit of excellence to hold us back.

Solomon said, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4 NLT) We have a lot to learn from successful bootstrapping entrepreneurs who dive into new ventures before having all the details figured out. Seth Godin often says, “Ship it. Perfect the product later.” That’s a good word for church leaders, too.

We will learn from models, valuing effectiveness over originality.

Vance Havner once talked about a young man who came to him and boldly declared, “I’m going to be original, or nothing!” To this, Havner replied, “Then you’ll probably wind up being both.” Originality isn’t the goal—changed lives are the goal. In fact, nothing is original unless God is Creator of it. The most creative people I know are those who are always being inspired by existing models and are building on the foundation laid by others.

We will be a model, sharing our excellence with others.

Everyone needs to be mentoring someone, and every church can serve as a model to another church. It doesn’t do much good for a church of 150 people to try to learn only from megachurches. You need to be learning from people just ahead of you, and you need to be mentoring those just behind you. Whatever we learn, it’s free for all for the benefit of the Kingdom.

Excellence is a worthy pursuit, but it’s not really the target. Jesus chose a rag-tag bunch of rough-cut fellows to be His disciples. He led them on a journey in which He often didn’t have a place to lay His head. They fed enormous crowds from lunch scraps. Never allow a lack of resources to become an excuse that deters you from doing the very best you can with what you have, and never let the pursuit of excellence stop you from pursuing God and pursuing souls for His sake.

Brandon Cox is lead pastor of Grace Hills Church, a new church plant in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as Editor and Community Facilitator for and Rick Warren's Pastor's Toolbox and was formerly a pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. In his spare time, he offers consultation to church leaders about communication, branding and social media. He and his wife Angie live with their two awesome kids in Bentonville, Arkansas.

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John E Miller

commented on Jan 19, 2012

I wonder if the Apostle Paul ever taught the early followers of Jesus to pursue "excellence in ministry". If he did I think he laid out the principle in his letter to the church at Philippi, particularly in chapter two, where he points to Jesus as the perfect example. Of whom else could it be said, "He has done all things well" (Mark 7:37)? We can make up lists of "guiding principles" ad nauseam, but we find all the guidance needed in the Word of God. Suggestions are one thing, principles are quite another.

Leonard Davis

commented on Jan 19, 2012

I agree that we do not need to obsess and wind up mired in perfectionism but I am concerned with any philosophy that advocates "Ship it. Perfect the product later." This way of thinking is what leads to massive recalls by auto makers and food suppliers and drug manufacturers. It is a root cause of the worries of "unintended consequences" and sound like the recent comments made by a well-known legislator that "we can find out what is in the bill after it is passed." How much doctrinal error in a message is too much and how do you "perfect" or "correct it" later? In avoiding making an idol of excellence, we also need to avoid accepting mediocrity or even worse, sloppiness in what the church does. It was not without reason that the sacrifices that were to be brought to God were to be without spot or blemish.

Jason Stewart

commented on Jan 19, 2012

Thank you for the great article Brandon. I still remember years ago, on my first day as an assistant pastor for a mega-church. My overseer at the time sat me down on my first day and said, "There are a lot of pastors on staff here. Some of them strive for excellence for God, and some of them don't. And it is really easy to see who they are. Today, I want to encourage you to be a pastor who always strives for excellence when serving God." That has always stuck with me, and your article is a great reminder and encouragement for all of us who serve God, to do so with excellence.

Very Rev. Sam Aidoo-Bervell

commented on Jan 20, 2012

Yes,excellence should be my watch word. We must strive to be perfect as our heavenly Father is. In doing this, We must work to glorify the Lord. As Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) wrote:" They who tred the path of labor follow where My feet have trod;They who work without complaining do the holy will of God........Every task however simple , sets the soul that does it free,every deed of love and mercy done to man is done to me,nevermore thou needest seek Me I am with thee everywhere Raise the stone, and thou shalt find Me,cleave the wood and I am there."May the passage continue to challenge us to work to His glory.

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