Saturday, 26 December 2009


Excellence is our second value as a church. It’s a word that has huge currency in the business world since the publication of Peter’s and Waterman’s book “In Search of Excellence” back in 1982. They were two consultants who researched hundreds of organisations to see if there were common factors that made these companies successful. What they discovered became the substance of their book. One of the key things that emerged from their research was that for too long ‘bean counters’ (accountants) had been given too much influence in how companies ran.

Profit was not the only bottom line. In pursuing excellence some companies actually made unprofitable decisions, just because it was the right thing to do. They maintained quality, both in their product and their relationship with customers. And many times this bought them trust, respect and loyalty which, in the long term, had a definite impact on the traditional bottom line. This of course touches on one of the most essential ingredients of Excellence that the scripture agrees with – Integrity.

In Dan 6.3 we read; “Then Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm”. Excellence is not just what we do or produce like excellent craftsmanship. True we can have excellent results. Biblically excellence is what we bring to something, an attitude, an approach to life, a conviction about what is of true value, a spirit if you will.

This is what distinguished Daniel. He was surrounded by ambitious men. We see this play out in the rest of chapter 6. They were jealous of Daniel; jealous of his success and favour with the king. But all of that was a by-product of a man who lived by his integrity. What he believed he lived – no matter what the cost was. He learned back in chapter one that God was able to bless him if he walked in integrity. He was tested for ten days to see if a simple diet would nourish him as well as the king’s food was sure to do. After ten days he and his friends looked better and more nourished than all the other men who ate the king’s fare, Dan 1.11-16.

If we are going to pursue excellence we need to cultivate an excellent spirit like Daniel. And that begins with living by integrity. The word integrated comes from the same root as integrity. The more our life is integrated – where the outside world and the inside world match, the more we have laid the ground work for pursuing excellence. Integrity means we are reliable, trustworthy, faithful and true to our word. Excellent results need to be preceded by an excellent spirit.

Excellence is not about doing things perfectly. Perfectionism is a curse. Perfectionists seldom live with any real sense of satisfaction from their achievements. They see the faults and this robs them of the joy of what is good about what they have done. Perfectionism is usually rooted in a need for recognition that is only achieved when something is faultless. And this is usually an impossible goal. Notice too that perfectionism is always about the end product.

Excellence is not like that. It is about what we bring to a task. Think of Jesus for a moment. He chose to use weak, imperfect people. This is the power of redemption. He saw their potential and called them apostles long before they were walking in the reality of what that meant. They learned from Jesus that it’s not about trying harder; it’s about surrendering all we are to Him so that He can work through us. The Holy Spirit is the excellent Spirit we all need and in time His fruit is developed in us so that we bring excellence to all we do.

Henry Ford once said, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”. Perfectionism makes no room for failure but excellence is able to learn from failure and move on. Thomas Edison failed over 900 times to produce a working light bulb. When mocked for his failure he said, “I have successfully proved over 900 ways not to make a light bulb”. I like that kind of attitude. He had an excellent spirit and broke through in the end; a breakthrough that has literally reshaped our world.

John Mark had every reason to give up on ministry. Having attended with Paul and Barnabas on their first journey he abandoned them when they left Cyprus and reached the mainland. It must have been difficult for the team because when Paul wanted to revisit the churches he and Barnabas had planted Barnabas was of a mind to give John Mark a second chance. Paul would have none of it. So these two great leaders went in two different directions, unable to reach agreement on this issue.

I am persuaded Barnabas – the son of encouragement who had been instrumental in making room for Paul, Acts 9.26-27; 11.25-26; was able to see past Mark’s failure. This is the young man who went on to accompany the apostle Peter and become to him what Timothy had been to Paul, 1Pet 5.13. He wrote the gospel that bears his name and later in life Paul could write these words, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry”, 2Tim 4.11. These are some of the last words the great apostle ever penned. In them there is a tacit admission that Barnabas got it right.

Failure should never hold you back from pursuing excellence. It is the lesson that should motivate you to try again – more intelligently. The danger with all failure is that we stop trying. After all, failure is embarrassing. Nobody wants to be mocked or noticed in that kind of way. Worse we may even develop a fear of failure and this has a paralyzing effect on us. But when others believe in us we should allow their words of encouragement to enter our hearts – for that will inspire faith. And faith dares to take the next step in the pursuit of excellence.

Another distinctive feature of those who pursue excellence is that they have a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude. It’s like they are ready for resistance and have made up their minds they will overcome. Some do ‘whatever it takes’ at the expense of their integrity. But those with an excellent spirit do so within the bounds of their integrity. It is a gritty attitude of stick-ability. Have you ever read this unusual verse in 2Sam 23.10; “He arose and attacked the Philistines until his hand was weary and his hand stuck to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only plunder”.

This was Eleazer, one of David’s three mighty men. I love this little story. It summarises what I am trying to communicate. Eleazer had a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude. All Israel was fleeing but he stood his ground to fight. He fought so long that when it was all over he couldn’t let go of his sword. It had become part of him! He was stuck with it. And that’s my point. Some people are able to do things in such a way that it looks like it is a part of who they are. The golfer, the tennis pro, the ice skater, the brilliant chef all make it look easy. What they do has become part of who they are without necessarily defining who they are.

The last ingredient is that those who pursue excellence take responsibility for their life and actions. Some people make excuses for the way things are. Blame shifting is easy. It may give us a temporary feeling of being justified but it never gives us a sense of fulfilment or satisfaction. How can it? Excellence requires that you take ownership for the way things are beginning with your own life. As long as you blame parents, siblings, lack of education, work, your boss, life, God you don’t get on with living much less pursuing excellence.

Your life can make a difference if you take responsibility for the way it is now and through the indwelling power of the Spirit seek to change it. And what we experience personally we can experience together. Society changes when the church stops pointing the finger in blame and takes ownership for bringing about change. We bring an excellent spirit to all we do in the community. We fight on behalf of our community and like the people who followed Eleazer the community gets the benefit of the plunder.

What area of life or ministry do you need to take responsibility for? What is waiting to change if someone will just take responsibility for it? Daniel accepted his life in Babylon. It meant a new language, a new way of dressing, a new name, a new education program, a new country; things that speak to our identity. But the one thing he could challenge was his diet. None of those other things were prescribed in scripture. He could let them go. But what he ate. That said a lot about his faith. And we know how that worked out.

Taking responsibility has a way of focusing our attention. Daniel knew where he needed to focus in maintaining his integrity and it left him free to embrace many changes in his life. Into the godless society of Babylon he served and ruled – with excellence. And he was noticed, even by an ungodly king. That’s the beauty of pursuing excellence; it gets you noticed and often leads to promotion. And in such a place we can influence others towards the Kingdom of God.

Think of an area of ministry you have been involved with. Would you describe it as excellent? What changes and improvements would you like to see? What will it look like in three years time? What can you do now to begin to move you in that direction? Are you reproducing excellence in others by the way you approach what you do? I pray that in character we can become like Daniel and touch our world with an excellent spirit.