1 Corinthians 10: 31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Excellence is a word that is often bandied about in the world of sport, but what does it actually mean? And how does excellence differ from perfectionism? Dr. Chris Stankovich, often referred to as “The Sports Doc”, wrote an article entitled: “Successful Athletes Strive for Excellence, Not Perfectionism”. In the article he suggests that some people describe themselves as “perfectionists” and actually consider that to be a positive trait, especially in sports. Stankovich suggests that: “in reality, perfectionism actually holds people back and often leads to increased stress and frustration. Think about it for a moment – in the eyes of the self-proclaimed ‘perfectionist’, anything less than perfect is unacceptable and viewed as a failure!”
Perfectionists set ambitious goals, which in itself is a good thing, but unfortunately those goals are set impossibly high. When they fail to live up to perfection, they consider their performance a failure, even if they were really close to achieving it. Stankovich comments that: “It is in this moment of not quite reaching those “perfect” standards where the perfectionist loses sight of all the good he or she has accomplished and instead focuses exclusively of not reaching those “perfect” goals. This perceived failure, of course, leads to more personal distress, frustration, and sometimes even anger.” As a sports psychologist Dr. Stankovich encourages his athletes, especially young athletes, to strive for excellence because this approach allows for: “subtle mistakes, off-days, and even losing (so long as learning occurs with the loss).”
I think the aforementioned lessons can also be applied to some Christians, especially Christian Athletes. As many of us are wired for excellence, we can misapply that as looking like perfection when it comes to our Christian walk. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we can view being a “good Christian” as not sinning. When we sin or when we miss the mark in some other way, we are a failure. This can lead to a spiraling fall that leads to despair and moves us away from God rather than nearer to him. The reality is that sin is not good and certainly not God’s desire for our life, but God’s desired response is repentance (1 John 1:9) and turning from our sin towards God (Acts 3:19). It is about repenting quickly; it is about getting up quickly when you have fallen. This is pursuing your Christian walk with excellence, not perfection.
Another issue, however, within Christianity, and perhaps a bigger issue, is complacency. Many Christians are not pursuing excellence in their Christian walk. They rely on verses of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Hebrews 4:16) and thereby excuse sin and sloppy behaviour. When it comes to the workplace, Christianity9to5.org tries to encourage Christians to work with excellence. Michael Zigarelli writes in Reclaiming Excellence as a Christian Virtue: “We seldom talk about [it] in Christian circles, but we should: From a Biblical perspective, excellence is a virtue and we should pursue it at all times. Whether we’re washing windows for a living or washing dishes at home, whether we’re running a business or running laps around a track, whether we’re driving a car or an aircraft carrier or a golf ball, we’re called to please God through our efforts.” If we understand that all we do is for the glory of God (1 Corinth. 10:31, Coloss. 3:23-25; Matthew 25: 14-30), then we will not take shortcuts, or give a half-hearted effort. We’ll pursue life with excellence. Excellence, not perfection. We’ll take on life with the indwelling Christ (2 Cor. 13:5); the God of excellence.