There is a common word that is used in the vocabulary of the leadership circles where I frequently find myself. That word is “excellence”. It seems to be the goal of many (or even all) of the things that we do. We ask the measuring question “Was that excellent?” or “Did we do that with excellence?”. I have had several things bugging me about this lately, so I wanted to allow you to share my frustration and maybe together we can answer these questions and better understand what our motivations should be for doing things. So let me share the questions that have been bugging me.

What is the difference between excellence and extravagance?

I have seen many things done extravagantly that were not necessary. The excuse in the church world where I operate is always “well God deserves the best”. So God is more pleased with our gold plating than the dirt floor of a servant of Christ in India? We often call extravagance excellence when I am not sure the two are equal. Sometimes they possibly are, I just think that our ego at times makes us believe that extravagance is excellence. I am not sure I have the complete answer to this (as with the other questions I will ask today), but I am convinced there is a difference most of the time. Should the measure of excellence to extravagance be effectiveness? If we can be just as effective with A instead of B, when A costs $5,000 and B costs $15,000, would A not represent excellence while B would be extravagance?

Can we be excellent at everything?

Many people would define excellence as: doing the very best you can possibly do at any given task. Thus, you would have done it with excellence. May I just say that there are things at which I could do my best and it would still suck? My excellence would be pathetic. Would not the most excellent thing I could do be to get out of the way and let someone else do it who is better than me? Someone who could truly excel at the activity? Meanwhile, I could find and do something at which I truly excel. Wouldn’t my team, staff, business or church be better served if at times I was excellent at just getting out of the way? Just because we give it our all does not make it excellent. I think we have to be honest about what things we can offer excellence in and then offer excellence every single time.

Does anyone care?

This one is the toughest for me. Let me explain. I know we use models of companies and churches that seem to excel in every area. They are kind, friendly, professional, compassionate, knowledgeable, etc. What ever their field is, they seem to excel. But we have to acknowledge that there are organizations that are successful that do nothing (or mostly nothing) excellently. I have been to restaurants where the food was bad, the service was bad, the location was bad, the decor was bad, but the business was booming. It seemed that the only thing that was excellent was the money (so maybe the had the most important thing right). From the outside it appeared that nothing was excellent, but it also appeared that no one cared. So does it matter if no one cares? The simple answer is yes. You do excellent for yourself, and you reap any rewards because it benefits others. It is your own integrity on display when you serve with excellence. If people care, then great. If they don’t care, do it anyway. The most important thing is that you care.

So what questions do you have about excellence? Am I the only one this bugs? Let me hear from you.