I remember the business meeting very well. My coworkers and I had set it up at the embassy of my host country. The service organization I was working for had developed a large portfolio of projects throughout the country, and I was hoping to build relationships with one of our major supporters.
We were waiting for the meeting when the officer we were scheduled to meet suddenly entered the room. He was outspoken, intimidating, and for no reason I could determine, he began telling us the story of how he had rejected Christianity for the faith of our host country. He was abrasive, even hostile at times.
When it came time to do business, we gathered in a nearby room. His tone changed as he turned to me unexpectedly, “You know why I like you and your organization?” he asked. Uncertain what his answer might be, I waited to let him explain. “I‘m retired and was asked to cover this post for a transitionary period, but several years ago I was here and I observed the excellent work that you did.” He continued, “In every duty station that I have been since then, I have spoken highly about you.”
I left a very fruitful meeting that day with an agreement in hand and a request to submit a proposal for another project. I felt good.
Immediately our team began developing a new proposal. But from the very beginning the process was less than ideal. The proposal was rushed. We did not follow a proper quality assurance process. It was mistakenly submitted before proper approval was given. The timing couldn’t have been worse.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of personal and professional excellence when we’re doing mission. We often confuse excellence with perfection. Our awareness of our limitations warns us that because of sin we are not perfect. It is easy to stumble along on a dangerous path of self-complacency and conformism. I have learned in my personal experience how much more effective my outreach and witness is if my strong sense of service, my spirituality, and my love for the lost is empowered by a constant pursuit for excellence.
This is especially true for my witness as a tentmaker. My integrity, work habits, quality performance, and sound judgement are crucial if I want a positive context to engage those in my workplace and circle of influence.
Excellence opens doors for the mission God has given me, and it helps me to stay active in it. When I am not excellent in my work, my mission for God is weakened and my witness is poor. I risk dismantling what others have done before me. I lose credibility as a representative of the kingdom. I limit the places and people that I have access to. I miss opportunities that God has prepared for me.
I want to take seriously what Scripture says in Deuteronomy 28:13 when, describing how God wants to establish us as His holy people, Moses records the promise, “The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail…”. This doesn’t mean He just wants to bless us materially or with status. I believe He ultimately wants to set us apart so we can excel in our witness to others. I think of the words of Jesus about stewardship in Luke 12:48, “great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities’’.
This implies some type of accountability with the privileges that God has given me to play a unique role in a very special and noble mission, the winning of souls.
I believe God invites us to change the way that we understand our role as tentmakers and to intentionally create space for self-improvement and education. We should invest time preparing plans for our personal mission, to set goals. Even while we pray and listen to His leading, we can articulate the results we want to achieve, the activities we’ll undertake to achieve those results, the performance indicators we will look for. And we can continually evaluate what we’re doing. That includes clearly identifying the areas of self and professional improvement and education that we need to invest in so we achieve our mission goals more fully.
And what about that glowing reputation my organization had with the retired officer?
Well, he returned to retirement and another officer came on board. It soon became clear that the new officer’s first impression of our work was not good; all he had to measure us by was the project proposal that did not comply with the standards of our profession. I cringed as we received some very candid, very negative feedback from him.
We had not excelled; we hadn’t even met the minimum. Our contact soured. Funding slowed. Within two years we had no relationship with our supporter. Our service to others was hampered. Instead of being in a position to interact and influence, we had no witness at all.
If we prayerfully surrender our will to the Lord and genuinely accept the fact that we are God’s hands and face to those around us, we will realize that good is not good enough! God is worthy of nothing less than our very best investment, our excellent work. That is the opportunity He calls us to and that is the calling for which He is able to equip us. He simply needs a commitment from us to do our best for Him. --JS