Excellence Comes from Participating in God’s Glory

Post a Comment » Written on February 9th, 2007     
Filed under: News
By Don Meyer

DENVER, CO (February 9, 2007) – Borrowing on the theme of this year’s 2007 Midwinter Pastors Conference, “Sustaining Pastoral Excellence,” Dr. John R. Wimmer reflected on what he described as “a peculiar pair of words” – pastoral excellence.

Wimmer, program director for the Religion Division of Lilly Endowment, Inc., was well suited to address the topic of pastoral excellence – it is a Lilly Endowment grant that is funding the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) program.

“We often are asked what we mean by pastoral excellence,” Wimmer said. He then leaned forward with a wry smile and answered in a low, whispery voice, “We don’t know!”

WimmerExploring that challenging question is precisely the purpose of the Lilly funded SPE initiatives – 63 of them across the United States, he explained, while generously praising the Covenant’s SPE project as one of the best efforts.

Using II Peter as a text, he proceeded to explore the word excellence further, observing that the word in our secular culture “conjures all kinds of images.” He noted, for example:
•    Many sports teams display in their locker rooms large signs encouraging the players to win with excellence. “So then, excellence is about winning,” he said in interpreting the secular spin on the word.
•    Numerous best-selling books have titles with the word excellence tied to everything from management concepts to best business practices. “That suggests that excellence is about profits,” he observed.
•    Pointing to well-known and successful figures like Bill Gates, Wimmer suggested that the popular culture would define excellence as success.

“These words grate on our gospel nerves,” he responded. “What does the gospel have to do with winning, profits or success?” he asked. “Pastoral work has elements one cannot quantify,” he said, noting that many people like to define excellence in ministry by the numbers. “Excellence is not about the biggest church or the biggest budget.”

Wimmer boldly proclaimed: “Excellence as a Christian and as a pastor is a term we can claim with biblical integrity. The text today (II Peter) redeems this word for us.”

But, he observed that the word excellence in the text is paired with a second word – glory. “We are called to God’s glory and excellence,” he recited scripture as saying, noting that the two words have a rich history in Greek culture. “These words are paired in this passage for a reason,” he suggested.

The word glory as used by Peter reflects God’s splendor – his praiseworthiness, Wimmer noted. “Glory also conveys what it is like for humans to be in the presence of God,” he added, offering illustrations of the time when Moses and Elijah found themselves experiencing the glory of God.

Drawing from the literature and understandings reflected in the ancient history of the Greeks, Wimmer observed that originally the word glory was fairly drab, referring to someone’s opinion or reputation. “The Bible raises glory to be above all else – it describes God. Scripture redefines the word.”

But, then we come back to the passage where glory is paired with excellence – “that’s an odd coupling of words,” Wimmer finds. He proceeded to explore the origins of the word excellence in Greek philosophy, which most often was used in talking about life issues and virtue, often in response to philosophers’ efforts to define “a good life.”

“I believe this unique pairing of these words – glory and excellence – was deliberate, intended to tell us something particular about excellence in the Christian life,” Wimmer said.

“If God’s glory is God’s very being, then to be called to participate in God’s glory and excellence is a call to God’s own glory – a gift of grace,” he explained. He sees this calling to be one for Christians in general and pastors in particular.

Reflecting on the Covenant’s SPE initiative, Wimmer said he is impressed with three terms that form an underpinning of the Covenant program: character, competency, and constancy. He suggested those three words define quite well the II Peter text.

The scripture offers a set of virtues that define character and produce excellence, Wimmer said, quoting a passage that suggests if virtues abound, they will keep the minister of the gospel from being ineffective and unfruitful. “That is a striking phrase to me,” he said.

“There is a perpetual danger for human beings who believe in grace and forgiveness to allow mediocrity to creep in,” he warned, “mediocrity masquerading as faithfulness.” He then observed, “It is not faith in our own virtues that produces excellence. Rather, character and competence come from participating in God’s glory – God’s own self revealed in Jesus Christ. There is no pastoral excellence apart from participation in God’s glory.”

Constancy through participating in the spiritual disciplines and practices that form what he calls “a community of shared competent practice” encourages a “well-lived pastoral life,” something of growing interest to the Lilly Endowment in the future, he said. “I cannot conceive of ministry as solitary,” he added. “It’s community.”

In his summation, Wimmer asked, “What does all of this mean?” He suggested that we must begin to view pastoral excellence as a way of life. “We (pastors) are particularly vulnerable,” he noted. “We can become so deadly busy saving the souls of others that we lose our own souls.

“Character, competence, and constancy add up to a Christian way of life that gives life. And, that is something the world so desperately needs.”

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