Confession time: I’ve made some stupid mistakes in my short time in ministry. One in particular stands out to me, mostly because my pastor used it to teach me a valuable lesson: excellence is the product of integrity, not passion. Let me share with you how I came to learn this in my own life.
The annals of fiction are filled with great and famous nemeses: Batman and the Joker; Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty; Jean Valjean and Javert. I found my own nemesis not in a person, but in a shuttle bus that our church owned. The “Fat Boy”, as I christened it (with the help of one of the teens in the church), was the bane of my existence. It was a large, bumbling, diesel shuttle that seemed to take perverse joy in refusing to start every Sunday morning. There was a problem with the electrical system that caused the battery to drain, so I had to be certain to drive out of my way, start it and let it run for at least ten minutes every Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday (it still had to be jumped constantly). It had to be totally cleaned every other week. Rain water leaked right through the roof. It seemed to have constant mechanical problems.Now, I’m not a mechanic at the best of times, and dealing with this shuttle bus quickly had me at my wit’s end. However, I made a big mistake: I got so sick of dealing with the bus that I began to cut corners. I was more lax with keeping it clean than I should have been. I performed maintenance hastily and sloppily. “This just isn’t what I’m good at,” I’d tell myself, “I don’t even like working on cars.”
As you might imagine, this poor attitude caused some conflict between my pastor and I. He eventually confronted me about my negligence with the shuttle, and reminded me that it really didn’t matter if I liked working on the shuttle or not. What mattered is that he had entrusted me with the shuttle, and it was my responsibility to keep it clean and running well. “Excellence is the product of integrity,” he told me, “not passion.”
That simple thought was a real paradigm shift for me. I’ve found that I strive for excellence in things that I really care about (I think most of us are that way). When it comes to putting together music groups, planning youth activities, finding new apps and software for the church…it’s easy to spend hours of hard work doing my best on those things. It’s easy to bring creativity and diligence to the task. It’s easy to have high standards, and hold myself to them. It’s easy because those are things that I’m passionate about. It’s relatively easy to pursue (not to achieve, but to pursue) excellence when you’re responsible for a task that you really care about; it’s much harder to pursue excellence when you’re responsible for something that doesn’t really interest you.
That does not give us an excuse to give a mediocre effort, though. It may be easier to strive for excellence in an area that we are passionate about, but excellence isn’t a matter of passion. We shouldn’t strive for excellence because we are always passionate about what we’re doing. We should strive for excellence because we have the integrity to give our best in everything we do! Colossians 3:23-25 says,
“Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
Paul wrote that servants were to be obedient to their masters in everything. Not just obedient, but they were to do their work “heartily”. In other words, with diligence, integrity…excellence!
I can only imagine that these servants probably were not very excited about some of the things their masters required of them. They probably didn’t have 20% of their time to give to personal pet projects like employees at Google used to have. They probably didn’t get weekends off. They probably didn’t even have a 401k! Even in these conditions, God is clear that he expected them to pursue excellence and do their best. Why? Because ultimately, whatever they did, they were doing it for God, not their earthly master.
Although we are not slaves, those of us that serve on a church staff do have a master of sorts: our pastor. My job as a staff member is not to just do whatever I’m passionate about; I am there to serve God by helping my pastor minister to the church What’s important to my pastor should be important to me. We should have the integrity to strive for excellence in every task that is entrusted to us, even if it isn’t something we find ourselves very passionate about. However, there is a much more important reason to strive for excellence in everything that we do: because really, we should be doing everything we do for the Lord (this is obviously true for ministry, but it’s true of secular work as well). God deserves our very best, no matter what we are doing!
We all sometimes have to do things that we would rather not do. If you are like me, you may find yourself tempted to give a half-hearted effort on something you would rather not be doing! Let me challenge you to remember the Lord’s command to give our best in everything that we do; and remember: excellence is the product of integrity, not passion.