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HomeSpiritual GrowthHere’s What I learned about Christian Excellence, and Why You Should Ditch Success

Here’s What I learned about Christian Excellence, and Why You Should Ditch Success

Pursuing Excellence amidst a hysteria for self-focused success

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

What is Success?

Success is a well without water. But we are all implicitly taught to strive for it, whether we are instilled with this virtue by our parents, bosses, teachers, or contemporary culture. Our society seems obsessed with success. However, what is success? Is this something we should seek as Christians? In his book Christian Excellence, Johnston argues that as Christians, we should not strive for the mirage of success, but the tangible and beneficial ideal of excellence (Johnston, 2004, p. 32). Success is about temporary reward, but excellence goes deep and forms our hearts. It affects our character and reaps lasting rewards. However, it does come with a cost. “If you don’t pay the price day in and day out, you never achieve true mastery.” (Covey, 2020, p. 21). The goal for the Christian has never been how one gains fame and fortune, but how one achieves excellence in the Christian arts.

Christian Excellence

Christian excellence isn’t just about being promoted at our place of work or getting that bonus check; it is about improving our ability to love others and to help them (Perman, 2016, p. 301). God is first and foremost in Christian excellence, borne out in how we live and work. We pursue tasks and goals that do not merely achieve temporary fame and material gain for ourselves but have eternal gain and value. Focusing on excellence, not success, is essential when making choices in my personal life and profession, despite what my contemporary cultural context may say.

Here’s What I learned about Christian Excellence, and Why You Should Ditch Success

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Personal Excellence

Johnston’s book has impacted my life by sharpening my focus on servant leadership. It has also encouraged me to live with a passion for excellence like the ancient Greeks: “One obsession burned within the breast of all Olympic competitors — namely, the yearning for meaningful excellence. Excellence was more precious, it was thought, than costly gems, wealth, or unbounded power” (Johnston, 2004, p. 37). A passionate pursuit of Christian excellence constantly sharpens our Christ-like character and forms us. As Perman (2016) puts it, “To change the world, first change your world” (p. 321). I have learned that if I’m not improving my personal walk with Christ, I will be operating in a suboptimal way toward those I’m supposed to minister to. I’ve learned two significant ways to pursue excellence in leading those I serve in ministry.

First, I continually ask myself if my actions are coming out of a place of servanthood or from a place of personal pride. Johnston (1996) puts it well when he states, “First, many Christians shy away from servanthood because, in reality, it means playing second fiddle, taking a back seat, going to the end of the line, relinquishing the credit, doing things in secret with no fanfare”(p. 79).

It is so easy in life to catch up with a friend and hear of the great accomplishments of others, all the while desperately wanting the person you’re talking with to recognize your great deeds as well. This is embarrassingly childish but true. As humans, we hate going unnoticed, and not bragging a little bit is often painful for us. However, we must remember we are here to humbly serve, not be applauded. The need to have our accomplishments noticed is encouraged as a virtue by the world around us. Success gurus often tell us that if we want to become successful, not bragging about our deeds is a recipe for failure. “Resenting self-promotion will become a huge obstacle to success!” (Allen, 2019). How will we ever be successful if no one realizes our great accomplishments? The pain of doing our best work in secret is that no one sees it! However, as Christians, are we pursuing success or excellence? We should be pursuing excellence, and therefore, acknowledgment from the Lord is all we seek. I like doing tasks around the house if my wife notices them; that way, I get another point added to my husband-of-the-year score. There isn’t much point in doing work that won’t be recognized, right? This mentality shows that I have forgotten who we are ultimately serving as Christians, and that is God alone. God sees everything, and if we are passionate about Him and His will in our lives, we will pursue excellence, even if our friends and family will never see the excellence we achieve.

By what standard do I measure greatness? This is the second core concept I must keep foremost in my personal life. “We must be certain that our security is in God rather than in the reactions of men” (Johnston, 2004, p. 137). Focusing on making decisions that only please my friends, family, or myself is an easy trap to fall into. But as a Christian, I should be focused on excelling in the right decisions in God’s eyes. This often conflicts with the social world around me, which promotes the latest and greatest material things. Family and friends may criticize why we haven’t embraced this new cultural trend, or bought this new toy for our kids. Don’t we love them? Peer pressure can be a powerful master, but I must focus on God alone.

There are many improvements yet to make in my personal life toward Christian excellence, but these are a few of the major ones I’ve been sharpening since reading the book Christian Excellence.

Here’s What I learned about Christian Excellence, and Why You Should Ditch Success

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Professional Excellence

Coach John Wooden once said, “What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player” (Williams & Denney, 2018, p.105). This fact can easily get lost in the workplace and ministry. Who you are matters just as much in your personal life as it does in your professional life. Many times throughout my working career, there has been the temptation to focus too much on the success of the projects at the neglect of the people around me. This robotic way of going through life isn’t the path of Christian excellence. In Christian excellence, who you are at work matters just as much as how hard you work. Perman (2016) puts it nicely when he writes:

I’ve argued that our aim in increasing our own productivity should be to increase our ability to do good for others- that we should care about personal productivity not simply for our own sakes but also for the sake of others. (p. 301)

When working in construction or ministry, the primary goal is always to love God and others.

I used to be bothered by interruptions while working on some project. For example, I would be working on a lesson I was preparing, and often, someone would stop by and interrupt me. I would then try to end the conversation as fast as possible to return to my “real work.” I would return to my project after the conversation, frustrated and stressed. Buy, I missed it. I forgot in those moments what I already knew all along: my “real work” are these people who stop by.“We must be prepared to accept inconvenient interruptions and to accept them as providential gifts from God” (Johnston, 2004, p. 82). My dilemma was simple: How do I get these projects done while also spending time with people? This dilemma is where Perman was extremely helpful. His book What’s Best Nextgives many time management techniques to deal with this issue. Utilizing the many skills highlighted in Perman’s book, I excelled in my time management, which then allowed me to excel in loving others:

My point in suggesting a basic framework to your week is not to eliminate or reduce spontaneous interaction but rather to enable more of it…the point of a basic routine is to keep from letting it be crowded out by the sense that you always need to be plugging away on your projects list. (Perman, 2016, p. 206)

Excellence in time management is key to the quality by which we love others and God. Your schedule needs to be able to account for God’s plans. This was a factor I would ignorantly never plan for. However, I now have a rhythm that allows for others so that when God brings someone into the day unexpectedly, I can peacefully embrace the change. The amount of peace this brings to a day is wonderful. These are the benefits of pursuing excellence in your work and not settling for success.

Here’s What I learned about Christian Excellence, and Why You Should Ditch Success

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Contemporary Culture

Contemporary culture seems at odds with the idea of Christian excellence and overwhelmingly promotes the ideal of success. This is easily illustrated by the plethora of “success content creators”, like Loral Langemeier, who has made a career off her ability to make millionaires out of people who go through her training (Wright, 2018). The allure of success in attaining wealth, power, and social status seems to be the drive of many in today’s society. Constant worry about getting the next promotion, increased social attention online, and the ever-hungry desire for more money, make it difficult to avoid getting sucked into this shallow and unfulfilling lifestyle.

The success culture is after secret tips and tricks to achieve quick success. The concept of Christian excellence grates against all of that. Christianity is about the long game, not the short. There are no quick tips and tricks to developing outstanding Christian character except for the long death of dying to self daily. That’s the trick: die so you may grow in excellence and live like Christ. Christian excellence seeks to be rich in love for one’s neighbor, powerful in servanthood, and well-known before God alone.

Pursue Excellence

Johnston’s book on Christian Excellence has encouraged and sharpened my personal, professional, and cultural understanding. I have learned to live a personal lifestyle of servanthood. I have learned not to get distracted by the accolades of others. I have learned in my professional sphere how to improve time management in order to increase my ability to love others and to remember at work “that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” (Maxwell, 2003, p. 92). Contemporary culture can pursue success all it wants, but as for myself, I will hold fast to Christian excellence. That is where Jesus is, and that is where I want to be as well.


Allen, D. (2019). Success is easy: Shameless, no-nonsense strategies to win in business. Entrepreneur Press.https://viewer-ebscohost-com.go.asbury.edu/EbscoViewerService/ebook?an=2245379&callbackUrl=https%3a%2f%2fresearch.ebsco.com&db=e025xna&format=EK&profId=eds&lpid=nav-45&ppid=&lang=en&location=https%3a%2f%2fresearch-ebsco-com.go.asbury.edu%2fc%2fpwkbqo%2fsearch%2fdetails%2fvyntolncmj%3fq%3dShameless%2c+no-nonsense+strategies+to+win+in+business.+&isPLink=False&requestContext=&profileIdentifier=pwkbqo&recordId=vyntolncmj

Covey, S. R. (2020). The 7 habits of highly effective people: 30th anniversary edition. Simon and Schuster.

Johnston, J. (2004). Christian excellence: Alternative to success (2nd ed.). JKO Publishing.

Maxwell, J. C. (2003). Attitude 101: What every leader needs to know. HarperCollins.

Perman, M. (2016). What’s best next: How the gospel transforms the way you get things done (expanded ed.). Zondervan.

Williams, P., & Denney, J. (2018). Success is in the details: And other life lessons from coach Wooden’s playbook. Revell.

Wright, B. K. (2018). Success profiles: Conversations with high achievers including Jack Canfield, Tom Ziglar, Loral Langemeier and more. Morgan James Publishing. https://viewer-ebscohost-com.go.asbury.edu/EbscoViewerService/ebook?an=1737423&callbackUrl=https%3a%2f%2fresearch.ebsco.com&db=e025xna&format=EK&profId=eds&lpid=&ppid=&lang=en&location=https%3a%2f%2fresearch-ebsco-com.go.asbury.edu%2fc%2fpwkbqo%2fsearch%2fdetails%2felyznkri7r%3flimiters%3dNone%26q%3dsuccess&isPLink=False&requestContext=&profileIdentifier=pwkbqo&recordId=elyznkri7r

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AuthorNathan Collins | BCWorldview.org


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