One of the 10 Lutheran Education values is Quality. Sometimes as Lutherans we tend to shy away from naming this for what it is – that is to be Excellent. In many ways this unease is a tension between the theology of glory and theology of the cross.
In Lifelong Qualities for Learners the following explanation of the value – Quality is provided:
Quality – (value, worth, excellence, merit, effort, usefulness, of important …)
People bring their gifts, abilities, skills and talents to fruition
seeking excellence, striving always to do their best, giving careful
attention to every task, every relationship, every interaction. They
ensure that their input and efforts result in quality outcomes that,
in turn, lead to the successful use of their gifts, abilities, skills and
talents for the benefit of others.
Sometimes we tend to blur the distinction between “excellence” and “perfectionism.” However, excellence is what God wants us to pursue, while perfectionism is detrimental to our spiritual health. Excellence is from God:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Phil 4:8 (NIV)
But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. 1 Cor 12:31 (NIV)
To strive for excellence means to do our best, and to be content to leave the rest for God; to be perfectionistic means that we are not ever truly satisfied with the results of something that we do.
To strive for excellence means to live at peace with God, knowing that we are giving, with His help, our best efforts; to be perfectionistic means to live anxiously, always worrying about the flaws in what we are doing or have done.
To strive for excellence means to use our gifts to the best of our ability, but ultimately putting people first; to be perfectionistic means that sometimes, perhaps often, people are relegated to a lower place than the details of what we are doing.
To strive for excellence means to work like this: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” Col 3:23 (NIV). To be perfectionistic, is to seek praise from people, for the “perfection” of your work.
To strive for excellence means to humbly depend on God for our abilities, strength, and results, and to give Him glory. To be perfectionistic means to begin to believe that we are responsible for our own gifts and successes, that we are self-sufficient.
To strive for excellence means to live in contentment and peace, knowing that God is pleased because we are working for Him, and doing our best. To be perfectionistic means to live in frustration, and to have sleepless nights because of fear of mistakes.
So how do we go about changing from perfectionism to seeking excellence?
We can begin by having regular conversation with our gracious and loving God, praying to Him to help us to commit all that we do to Him, and to stay focused on the fact that we are working ultimately for Him, and for His glory. He is our motivation and purpose.