So why am I so uptight about excellence? You may not realize it because I work extremely hard to temper my expectations of others, but I am passionate about excellence especially in the body of Christ. Lots of people over the years have simply said “Tom’s just a perfectionist, OCD, or just plain anal about details”. While I realize I often come across this way, that’s not why I struggle to accept mediocrity. That word “mediocrity” was a perfect example. At first I spelled it wrong, but I took the few minutes needed to go dictionary.com and figure out the appropriate spelling. OCD? No. I spelled it correctly because I feel it’s important to be as competent as I can be. I could have let it slide, but for me it’s a slippery slope of accepting lazy behaviors if I start letting little things slide. When it comes to my service to the body of Christ, He deserves better from me. One of the scriptures that’s shaped my attitudes over the years goes like this:
Luke 14: Figure the Cost
25-27 One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple. 28-30 “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’ (The Message Bible)
That passage has always had a jarring effect on me. Many translations actually say “unless you hate your father, mother, etc.” I struggled to understand these words for years in light of how Christ continually taught us to honor one another. The point Jesus was making is that we are called to a much higher purpose as Christ-followers than most people think. Of course our love for Christ should outshine all other earthly loves, but I think it even goes beyond that. Counting the cost of ministry and dedicating oneself to excellence is the surest way to build the foundation solidly. For me, ministry isn’t a game. This has always been true whether I was paid for ministry or not. In fact, for the first 10 years of my service to this church, I was unpaid and worked sometimes two other jobs to get by. For example, during my entire career at Refuge, I have never repeated a sermon. I have preached the same topic more than once, but I never recycled old notes and did a “repeat”. I’m sure recycling would be a lot easier. After all, with all the turnover in churches, I could preach a message from 5 years ago and it’s likely most in my church today haven’t heard that message or wouldn’t remember it. But I think the body deserves better from me.
I have always viewed ministry though that sort of lens. When we were renovating our building, I constantly rubbed people the wrong way because “good enough” was never good enough! And even today, I am constantly going on about how we need to deal with the mediocrity in our facility to make a good first impression on visitors. When we had our ministry appreciation dinner the other night, I spent more effort and time on fresh flowers and decor, but I wanted our volunteers to understand through my subtle efforts that they are truly worth appreciating. I didn’t want to give them a half-hearted, cheesy show of appreciation. I wanted to go as all out as I could to send the right message to them. For me, these details matter and are NOT just about OCD or perfectionism.
I have always felt the same about my time. I remember working at a church in Pennsylvania and sometimes being there until 2 and 3am working on the sound and lighting systems to ensure they were working at peak efficiency for the Sunday services. I have always been passionate about everything I do. That’s not to say I do everything well. I surely don’t and I have my lazy times too. I’m not trying to build myself up here. But my attitude for the most part when it comes to ministry is that God deserves more from me than I will ever be able to give…even when it comes to my time. Upon getting married 5 years ago, it was important to help my family understand from the outset that they are extremely important to me and I promised to strike the appropriate balance with my time with them so that they are never neglected. But I also helped them understand that I am called to a high calling and am dedicated in my service to Christ. This means I will be spending lots of time at church and doing ministry. I make a lot of effort to help them understand this so that they won’t resent my commitment to the ministry or mistake it to mean that they aren’t important. My family is everything to me, but so is my ministry.
It may seem obnoxious of me right now to say that I think more people need to dedicate more of their time, energy, and best efforts to ministry, but it’s true. Most give Jesus their “extra” time which in today’s fast-paced world usually isn’t much. Families gripe about over-involvement in spiritual things when there are T.V. shows to watch. People don’t bother with prayer meetings or midweek church events. After all, we are just too busy. Again, balance is important, but it’s where many draw the lines that sometimes actually seems a bit imbalanced in light of the greatness of the calling to serve Christ. I think the uphill battle is a result of not raising the bar higher long ago. On the flip side, it can also be a result of being used and abused by the body to the point where you have been completely unbalanced in the other direction. Whatever the cause, I believe it’s time for families to take a fresh look at what it means to serve Jesus together AS a family. Perhaps the balance will become easier to achieve.
I hope so because ministry isn’t a game and pastors aren’t the only ones called. Souls hang in the balance and a dedicated few can’t do it alone. The body needs you. You are called to a much higher calling than you think. You are called to a greater level of service. You are called to higher level of excellence.