Pursuit of Excellence (In Ministry)

(2 Thess 1:1-12; Luke 17:20-21) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, November 3, 2019 – UBC Digby

One bit of wisdom we learn in life: don’t try to do everything. For instance: preacher, don’t try to explain everything – in one sermon.

Such as all of 2 Thessalonians chapter 1. Without answering the questions we may have about it, suffice it for me to say that, in the troubled times those people faced, they needed encouragement that God was with them, and that the right things would happen, in the end. I want to focus on one thing that this letter to a small church illustrates: a small group can do excellent work. Consider with me, now, the Pursuit of Excellence in Ministry. 

This is our final theme from Dennis Bickers’ book about the Healthy Small Church. I have touched on his themes over the past 2 years.
Ch 1. The Importance of Small Churches. 2018 Feb 4
Ch 2. The Problem of the Unhealthy Church. Apr 8
Ch 3. The Importance of a Proper Theology & Doctrine. June 3
Ch 4. The Value of a Vision. Sept 9
Ch 5. Transformational Worship. Oct 14
Ch 6. Acceptance of Change. Nov 25
Ch 7. The Ability to Handle Conflict. 2019 Jan 27
Ch 8. Spiritual Leadership. Feb 3
Ch 9. A Sense of Community. Mar 10
Ch 10. Financial Health. Apr 7
Ch 11. Mission-Mindedness. May 19
Ch 12. Long Pastoral Tenure.
Ch 13. Involvement in Outreach. Sept 8
Ch 14. Pursuit of Excellence in Ministry. Nov 3
Ch 15. Lay Ministry Involvement. Oct 27

In his chapter, The Pursuit of Excellence in Ministry, Dennis Bickers’ main point is this: The healthy congregation stays focused on a few things to do well – don’t try to do everything, or to be all things to all people.

What we do well, will be blessed by the Spirit. Look again at those praises for a small church long ago: the Thessalonian Christians. The authors of this letter say of them:
‘We give thanks for you because your faith is growing abundantly, and your love for each other.’ Faith is action, not simply a thought or feeling. So too with Love. Love is not just attitude; it is activity.
‘We boast about you to other churches, for your steadfast faith amid your persecution.’ There will be justice, from God, they are assured.
‘We always pray for you,’ they are promised… For your good resolve and work of faith.
Name of Jesus glorified in you, and you in Him.

Whenever we read one of the New Testament letters to a Christian group, it is interesting to see what the congregation gets praise for – in this case it is their growing faith and love, in the face of opposition. There are not a lot of other clues in this letter, or the previous one, about the specific things they were doing in their town. They likely had a few things they did, and did well.

If we take Dennis Bickers’ book as a modern letter to a small church, we find him saying that the pursuit of excellence in ministry for us means:
Focused ministry leads to excellence.
Determine and define your focus.
Maximize your strengths.
Remember: excellence does not mean perfection.
Excellence begins with leadership.

We have not really defined our focus here, Digby Baptist. We have not made a vision statement that describes what we feel called and capable of doing right now. We’ve not declared anything like this:
Digby Baptist aims to excel in traditional evangelical music, in ministry by seniors and for seniors, and by including a wide variety of local people.

If we did become clear about our focus, I wonder what the Spirit would show us that focus is?

And for a group to have a focus means it lets go of trying to compete with other groups. Bickers says:
This is the same strategy used when small stores try to compete with megastores such as Wal-Mart. … The stores that survive are the ones that identify some things they can do better than Wal-Mart, and they focus on doing those things with excellence. They don’t try to appeal to everyone with low prices.       …A clothing store may begin to carry different brands or different styles of clothing… and offer excellent personalized service when a customer enters. (Bickers, pp. 122, 123)

As a local church, we are not in competition with the Wesleyans or Catholics or Anglicans, or other Baptists, or television ministries. We are called by God for ministries that are needed in our town, and that we are equipped to do, by our Master. 

We pray: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. In Luke 17, we hear Jesus say, “the kingdom of God is among you or within you.” The professional Jewish religious men were asking the same questions the Thessalonian Christians would ask just a few years later: ‘When is the Kingdom of God going to come and take over the world?’
‘You can’t see it, like other things. “Look, there it is! Now it’s happening.” No. God’s Rule is within you. It is hidden among you.’

This is what the phrase ‘Divine Conspiracy’ means. God’s sneaky, secret plan, is already underway, in operation, hidden in plain sight.

And for groups of us to work together to build the Kindom here, it is excellent for us to stay focused on a few things we are good at. Things we are called upon to do, by God. Things that we are made to accomplish. Our part. Our life. Our purpose.

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