Tony Romo and The Impact of the Excellence Mentality on The Church
"Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." Colossians 3:23 - NLT
Anyone who has been around the church for any length of time, can surely see that the excellence cultural has overtaken the modern Church. While excellence is definitely something we should be striving for and towards, there is something keenly unsettling in my spirt about the use of that word as of late. First, who defines excellence? What key factors determine what is excellent and what is not excellent?
When looking to scripture, the passages at the end of Colossians 3 are directly speaking towards Christian households. The entire passage actually says:
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. 20 Children, always obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. 22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. 23 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24 Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.
25 But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites." Colossians 3:18-23 NLT
So, does seeing that entire text change your mind at the true meaning of verse 23? Do you become more aware that in this particular moment, we are implored to work diligently, faithfully, and obediently as we are serving our true Master, Christ. Even when no one else is looking, we are faithful to the task because in all things we are working for God.
My issue, as of late, with the catch phrase “excellence,” is that in many of our churches, excellence often times means costly. We tend to spend money on things that are the best and employee and position people in roles that only allow our brightest and best to work on something. Often times, producing a high quality product, service or event, but in the end what was the true motivator for it all? Was it to honor God? Or was it to show off for those attending? Sure, quality and work needs to be at a certain standard. We certainly want things of high quality for those attending our experiences and events, no one is arguing differently, but I sometimes begin to question our motives. Please hear my heart, I am dedicated and purposeful in ensuring our church always hitting a high level of execution, but I also want to measure our efforts under the microscope of the heart to ensure we are hitting the mark, but doing so in a manner that is God honoring and directed.
I have come to believe that there is a stifling effect by the word excellence in some churches. For many, the cost of “excellence” is overwhelming - not only for their budgets and manpower, but also in the abilities to execute at a level established by the much larger church around the corner. For many, the overwhelming nature of this “excellence” model causes many to delay, or worse never execute, out of the desire to only be excellent. How can a church of 100 people compete with the church of 5000 around the corner? The simple fact is they can’t and honestly, I believe, they shouldn’t even attempt to do so. Let me tell you the homeless on the street are not needing an organization to execute at an excellent level, they just need people to execute. The food provided at the shelters doesn’t need to be filet mignon, it just needs to be hot and ready.
When Tony Romo first took over for the Cowboys, I was elated. I had been watching him for a while and truly believed he was the next Aikman, but for a time there, no one on the coaching staff seemed to notice. Then his big break and the rest is history. Now with his departing the Cowboys, he leaves as the most successful Cowboys quarterback of all time. More importantly, in my mind, he leaves with more respect, admiration and loyalty than any sports figure at any point in history. I simply ask this contemplative question: in what sport, at what time in any decade have you ever seen a larger-than-life athlete get up in a public forum and say, “hey, this is a game I love, a team I love and a fan-base I love - sure I am still able to play the game at a high-level, but I also realize that I need to stay out of the way of the momentum that is happening currently on this team?” Let me tell you, I may be missing or simply ignorant of this happening elsewhere, but I truly believe NO ONE, other than Tony Romo, has ever said those words. Tony not only has excelled on the field, but more importantly, Tony has excelled at being a high character leader, that thinks and acts on the basis of making things best for all, not just himself.
Love him or hate him, Tony Romo has truly brought a level of excellence to the game in Dallas. Sure there are plenty dropped balls and missed opportunities. Key interceptions and other mistakes in his game have been highlighted regularly and frequently by the critics. But in it all, here is a man that is dedicated, determined and purposeful towards helping his team win. He has faced harsher critic than many other quarterbacks in the league and he has done so, very humbly.
So, what defines excellence for an NFL quarterback? The most passing yards in a season, the least interceptions or the most touchdowns? Or is the only acceptable form of excellence winning the Super Bowl? If the only form of excellence is a Super Bowl win, then I would argue that each year, only one quarterback is excellent and the rest are garbage and should hang up their cleats. Right? If winning the Super Bowl is the only thing that qualifies as excellence, then honestly, the other teams that never make it to that stage, need to retire and close up shop. How ridiculous is that comment? Surely you get the jest! Under this understanding, the churches that aren’t seeing hundreds or thousands come through their doors every weekend need to close up shop too, right?
Let’s shift this… I want you to hear this clearly…. I don’t believe we are doing our churches, ourselves or our people any service by striving for excellence. I believe our mentality, philosophies and goals need to shift from an excellence mind-set to a mind-set that states, “will always bring our best.” We will ALWAYS bring our best! Sure last night there was a youth lock-in or disciple now and you got little sleep - but today, as you run the lights, or lead worship or whatever it is you do, you will bring the best you have in that moment. The best you have to offer in that moment and situation likely is not the same best you have typically, with the right amount of sleep and energy, but in that moment, it’s the best you have presently. There is a moment of realization for me in this; that with our best, however little or great it might be, God and His abilities supersede and take the little we have and make it work together for His purpose, plans and motives.
So, what are your motives? Are you simply dedicated to always being “excellent” for the sake of excellence, or are you dedicated to making sure that God is always honored and exalted. Are you as focused on excellence, when no-one else is watching, as you are when everyone else is watching? Are there moments where, you don’t bring the best you have, simply just coasting by and resting on the efforts of others on the team or the efforts you have expended in the lead-up to the service or weekend?
Let me tell you this is huge for me. I realized several years ago, that my general work ethic and natural abilities, lend themselves to being at a fairly high execution level. With absolutely no sense of pride or ego, I can tell you that most things come fairly natural for me and with that I tend to execute things well. If you ask just about anyone that I have led or work with, the work product and things I do are always perceived as “excellent.” Here is where I can get lazy though. Throughout the week I work so diligently and purposefully, that exhaustion can begin to kick in, and in those moments it is tempting to rest on the work that I have done, or the natural level of excellence that I tend to have instead of always bringing my best. Then the reality of Colossians 3 begins to kick in and all of the sudden, even though man and people would look at the work I produced as excellent, in that moment, I secretly know my best was not the mark I was hitting, I was just coasting by at times and allowing the perception of man to carry and propel me onward. The heart condition of the motive and execution become paramount in those moments.
What’s the heart of the matter. Are you bringing your best, even thought it might fall short. Are there dropped balls, missed passes and interceptions, but in that you were out there striving and working to bring it? Or are you out there missing the mark and the motives are clearly lackadaisical or complacent, hence the dropped balls? Or are you out there slamming it out of the park, and the heart motive is equally bad, in that the experience and excellence levels have become an idol of your mind, soul and heart?
The heart and gut check here is what does God think about the efforts you are putting forth? Are you bringing your best, even when it might fall short? Are you bringing your best knowing and believing in faith that in your short-comings, God is faithful to do His thing and use those efforts for His glory and purpose?
Today, as you begin to re-evaluate your motives and heart, I pray that first and foremost, you realize that God is merciful and just. His grace is alway present and new. Today you might have discovered and been convicted of a motive that is not in alignment to God’s design and plan. Today you might feel a bit beaten up and that’s ok. Today is a new day, I believe in a God that is not only forgiving and merciful, but completely capable to rectify and create beauty of the ashes of faulty motives. We serve a Great and Mighty God who freely extends His love, concern and the second chances we all desperately need.