The Infection of Excellence
We live in a culture that lives and breathes success. We intently focus on excellence and unashamedly run from the mere possibility of failure. We mask our weakness because we believe the lie that our worth is found solely in our ability to succeed. Not only is this exhausting, but it is destructive to our souls. The pursuit of excellence has found its way into the church and onto the stage.
It’s an infection.
As with any infection, we must fight it. But how?
Initially, for some, the impulse is to accuse creativity and innovation as poison to the Christian faith. I would argue for a different way of thinking. In fact, I believe that God calls us to be excellent, though never at the expense of others, and certainly not at the expense of our souls. He created us so that we might be creative. The pursuit of excellence in itself returns void, but the pursuit of excellence for the glory of God yields eternal fruit. The difference is significant. He desires to be the purpose of our pursuits.
Why do we create? Our motivation is the defining characteristic between spiritual nothingness and eternal fruit. In the church, for some reason, we tend to get this wrong. Sometimes our commitment to success can be rooted in insecurity or an addiction to affirmation. Instead of pursuing excellence for the glory of God, we do so for the approval of others, or even to silence our inner demons. We tend to focus far too much on what we are doing and how we are going to do it that we ultimately forget why we actually set out to do it in the first place.
In Philippians 2:3, the apostle Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Let’s break this down. Paul is saying to do nothing from our selfish desires. Immediately, we might think that he is referring to any action that might negatively affect other people. While this is true, Paul is reaching far deeper. He is saying that even as you succeed – do not do so for selfish reasons. Instead, through humility, we must count others as more significant than ourselves. This shatters the prideful heart. This is a beautifully counter-culture way of thinking. Our façade of success returns void because God was never a part of it to begin with. God resists the proud but offers grace to the humble (James 4:6).
And so, we must fight the infection of excellence with humility.
There is no greater example of humility than Jesus Christ. God in human flesh gave up aspects of his deity so that he could become like us. Truly God and truly man, he readily submitted to the will of the Father so that we might have abundant life in him. God became like us so that we could become like him. That is the mystery and scandal of the gospel.
The challenge we now face is embodying a mindset of humility as we pursue excellence. If we write a worship song so that our name will be recognized by someone higher up the ladder, we’ve missed the point. If we seek the company of leaders who can pull strings for the sole purpose of advancing our careers, we’ve missed the point. Even if we preach a sermon that God uses to save hundreds, but we do so for the applause and spotlight, we’ve missed the point.
God is not concerned with the success of your art if your heart is far from him.
The solution to the problem will never be to rid the church of creativity – that will only lead to mediocrity. We have to think bigger. When one pursues excellence for the glory of God, the longing for accolades fades. The desire for recognition becomes trivial. Our successes and achievements cannot quench our thirst for fulfillment – only Jesus can. This realization leads to a love for God and people that is unmatched. When we delight in Christ and seek his glory, everything changes.
As you create, pursue the heart of God, and watch as the pursuit of excellence shifts from an empty idol to an expression of worship to the King.