God saw all that he had made, and it was very good ” (Genesis 1:31).
God was into quality before corporate Japan popularized the movement or America coined the term “quality control.” His good is our excellent. Holiness calls us to moral and spiritual excellence. It’s about giving God our very best.
Unfortunately, many Holiness churches have developed a second-class, mediocre mind-set. Unchurched people often think of the church in terms of poorly kept buildings, boring church services, or dowdy people who have little else to do with their lives. As with all stereotypes, most of these perceptions are false, but enough truth apparently exists to create those images.
In an age of consumerism, few non Christians will be drawn to what they perceive as mediocre or second-rate. With increased competition and viable alternatives to church, people are no longer satisfied with half-mast quality that used to suffice. For this reason, evangelism of the lost means that we must be challenged more than ever to pursue excellence in ministry. Churches must “improve their serve” if they want to reach the unchurched sector of the population.
Through mass media, people have access to some of the finest speakers in the world. Increased Internet usage has made it possible for people to shop for the best prices and for top-of-the-line products and services. The rise of corporate excellence has subtly, but strongly, raised the expectations of parishioners. Now more than ever, churches must provide excellence in communications, services, and programs.
Trinity Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma City, pastored by Stan Toler, coauthor of this article, has established the following quality goals:
• We will always seek to speak an encouraging word to our guests.
• We will focus on our strengths and seek to improve our weaknesses.
• We will strive to build quality ministry action teams.
• We will be thoughtful and Christlike in every relationship.
• We will cultivate physical, mental, and spiritual growth.
• We will treat others as we hope others will treat us.
• We will ask, listen, and hear— to determine the felt needs and potential of each newcomer.
• We will seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in every decision-making opportunity.
Scottsdale Family Church, a new Nazarene congregation pastored by Alan Nelson, coauthor of this article, was established two years ago in an upscale community in north Phoenix. Though the church meets in a portable, temporary, church-plant environment, it is relentless in its pursuit of excellence. The result of this striving for excellence? Both churches have seen significant growth. Without self-promotion, we can testify that unchurched people are looking for quality, and where they find it, they will return. Nearly 70 percent of the current attendees at the Scottsdale church were not previously active in any church.
How do holiness and excellence intersect? A theology of excellence is biblical. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the
Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24). God has always expected the first-fruits offering, the unblemished lamb, and the finest materials as a part of His temple. Why do we stop with moral excellence (holiness) when we can bring glory to Him in all we do?
Excellence is often misunderstood. It is not perfection. Perfection is never satisfied and usually looks at what is inadequate. The perfectionist tends to be difficult to please and negative in attitude. Moreover, perfectionism, in its darkest form, results in intolerance. Excellence, on the other hand, tends to be process-oriented, striving to create a system that perpetually rewards improvement. Excellence is not expensive; mediocrity is. Haphazard programs and visions do not motivate people and resources.
Can a pursuit of excellence be holy? Excellence is not mere window dressing, not prideful showmanship. Pride is a matter of the heart. You can be proud and mediocre just as you can be proud and quality-minded. But if the focus of our ministry is to offer God our best and to serve people, then the pursuit of quality improvement is a humble, sanctified, and holy endeavor. In our book, The Five-Star Church, we deal with excellence in three arenas of ministry: physical, program, and spiritual. The physical arena has to do with whatever is tangible, such as the church signage, properties, entries, sanctuary, classrooms, offices, and staff attire. The program arena includes the organization, curriculum, and resources. The spiritual arena involves the kind of people we are producing.
Are we seeing character growth, leadership development, and life transformation? Are we reaching the unchurched? Are we interested in being the best quality we can be? An honest look into how we are doing in the physical, program, and spiritual ministries of our church will cause a renewed interest in excellence unto the Lord.