Pursuing Excellence

I recently read a fascinating article entitled “The Mundanity of Excellence” by Daniel F. Chambliss. Chambliss reported on a detaled study of excellence in swimming. The results are both surprising and facinating. They transfer to insights for other occupations including pastoral ministry.

First, he notes what does not produce excellence.
1) Excellence is not the result of unusual personality characteristics.
2) Excellence is not the result of quantitative changes in behavior. (Though the work of Malcom Gladwell in Outliers seems to suggest otherwise.)
3) Excellence is not the result of some “inner quality” or natural ability.

Excellence is the result of “qualitative differentiation.” Chambliss illustrates it this way. “For a swimmer doing the breaststroke a qualitative change might be a change from pulling straight back with teh arms to sculling them outwards, to the sides.”

The Bible speaks of excellence in ministry as an act of faithfulness in response to God. Hebrews 8:6 describes Jesus ministry as now a “more excellent ministry.” Dean Greg Jones (at Duke Divinity School) has written about the need for excelence in ministry. Chambliss noted three areas of change — technique, discipline, attitude. I found myself wrestling with what Chambliss’ insight represent for ministry in the local church.

For instance, in preaching, excellence may be presented by the step up to the next level of through more carefully writing out sermons and then practicing delivery before preaching. I suspect that one of the major differences in preaching levels has to do with the level of preparation discipline. In missions, what are the intentional behavior changes that move a church from good to excellent?

Excellence comes not from a quantitative leap, nor from some innate inner talent or luck (a debatable concept for Christians) but rather from discrete incremental factors that drive mission and ministry in the practices of fruitful ministry. Chambliss writes: ” Excellence is mundane. Superlateive performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then fitted together in a synthesized whole.”

So it is with good preaching, great missional outreach, life changing evangelism and the list could (and should) go on.

The Hedgehog Concept

Last summer I read Jim Collins newest book How the Mighty Fall. It was a fascinating reprise to his marvelous earlier works Built to Last and Good to Great (including the added monograph Good to Great for Social Sectors). Recently I had the opportunity to revisit this work with others. In Collins’ work he talks about the “Hedgehog Principle.” In a summary he writes: “Greatness comes about by a series of good decisions consistent with a simple, coherent concept – a ‘hedgehog’. The hedgehog concept is an operating model that reflects understanding of three intersecting circles: what you can be the best in the world at, what you are deeply passionate about, and what best drives your economic or resource engine.” (Jim Collins, How the Mighty Fall, p. 181)

I am mindful that churches are very different from businesses. Our mission is biblically and theologically defined. The power and presence of the Holy Spirit cannot be over estimated. At the same time (and not in contradiction), business models are helpful tools. They can guide the clarity of our thinking about our divinely called mission.

Bearing the above in mind, I am convinced that a significant question to ask is – what is our Hedgehog Concept? This applies to churches and conferences. It is also important to separate what we think our current Hedgehog Concept is versus what our Hedgehog Concept ought to be (reality verses aspiration). While I wrestle with both, I think at our best Methodism has lived with some version (you can argue about exact phrasing until the cows come home!) of the following Hedgehog Concept.

1. We are best at being (originally) at intentional Christian discipleship development (hence the name Methodist coming from being “methodical” about discipleship growth and development).
2. Our passion is to transform people and the world.
3. Our economic or resource engine (meaning more than just where does the money comes from but rather what drives our best development and transformational efforts) is the local church.

Now the big question is how big is the gap between reality and aspiration?

As I begin this Year of Our Lord 2010 (A.D.), I offer a new blog. I’ve entitled it This Focused Center based on The Message (a paraphrased translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson) version of II Corinthians 5:14-15. “Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.”

My subtitle is Reflections on Christ and His Church. As I wrote in my Wilderness Way #28 column, I hope to share what I am reading and wrestling with. Together I hope and pray that we can live out of the focused center of life with Christ. Truly he came for all and he came to include us “in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.”
I offer this blog out of a conviction that we need to turn and return to a deeply Trinitarian expression of the Christian faith. More explicitly, it appears to me that much of contemporary mainline theological/cultural reflection appears to have a vague sense of God, a passing acquaintance with Jesus as Lord, and little conception of the work of the Holy Spirit. I want to invite us to be focused as explicitly Christian; that is to say, living out of the focused center of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – crucified and risen for all!

Three quotes I ran into in my reading last fall stick with me. First, somewhere Philip Yancey wrote: “How would telling people to be nice to one another get a man crucified? What government would execute Mister Rogers or Captain Kangaroo?” I think was C. S. Lewis who said about Christ as our focused center: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” In meanderings through Willie the Shake (William Shakespeare that is) there is a line from Henry V which clings to my soul. ““This is a stem / Of that victorious stock, and let us fear / The native mightiness and fate of him.” I may have the quotes wrong but they ring of truth for me. We are called to live from this Focused Center. I will try to write ever 3 days or so. You are invited to share a comment or thought.

Given the hectic-ness of my schedule I will only be able to reply spasmodically. Together as we wrestle and reflect on the truth of life and the truth of Christ and the truth of the Great God three in One – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I pray we can live the resurrection life, “a far better life than people every lived on their own.”

Page 58 of 58« First...304050«5455565758