Hannah Stolze, quality, excellence, ministry, work, service, value, wisdom, church, nonprofit

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What ‘Christian’ Work Looks Like

The case for quality as a baseline for Christians at church and in the marketplace.

Perceived Benefits ≥ Perceived Cost

Benefits > Cost

It’s an irony that the unbelieving world is possibly a step ahead of the church in recognizing the power of some biblical principles.

I’m sure we can all come up with examples of services and products provided in “Christian” spaces that are underwhelming in comparison to more “secular” options. When I wrote Wisdom Based Business, I had a colleague tell me that he felt like the book reclaimed biblical principles for the church — principles already in practice in mainstream businesses. One of those principles is an orientation toward quality.

Evidence in business practice indicates the world accepts standards of quality and excellence that Christian versions sometimes seem to ignore. At the heart of the quality dilemma in Christian circles is a constant tension between grace and legalism, excellence and mediocrity. I have a feeling that this also has to do with the relationship between the church and money. And I wonder if the nonprofit model of the church, while necessary, has positioned some churches to function like underfunded organizations, operating without a true understanding of how to activate financial and human resources. This leaves a church reliant on volunteers and/or underpaid staff to do much of the “work of ministry.” And this can also leave the work parts of the work of ministry lagging behind when it comes to standards of quality and excellence.

The work of ministry inside and outside the four walls of the church is central to the Great Commission. The truths of the Bible are more relevant than we often think or practice, and the Bible does provide us with principles and patterns to carry out the whole of the Great Commission.

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:16-20).

I think we have done an OK job with verse 19 over the years. I’m not saying that we have achieved it, but we hear more sermons on this concept. We have lots of resources for evangelism and baptism. However, in all my years in nondenominational church settings, I’ve seen an increasing disinterest in digging into the work of understanding and teaching Scripture beyond direct evangelism. I have seen an increasing willingness to adapt marketplace practices over biblical teaching. In a “throwing the baby out but keeping the bathwater” scenario, it can appear as though churches adopt the worst of the capitalistic marketplace (the bathwater) and leave out the underlying principles and strategies that make them work (the baby). However, I believe the church has a call to be a standard bearer of excellence. 

Scripture is replete with examples where God’s people are called to reflect his glory and splendor. In architecture, in clothing, offerings, character. Glory and splendor indicate a certain level of quality and excellence that, by very nature, must go well beyond the expectations and experiences of the world. The good news is that we are not in this alone. The standards of excellence the people of God are called to in Isaiah 60-61 are because of the cross and in spite of us. In his letters to the church in Corinth, Paul encourages believers to do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). 

So, what is a quality orientation and where does excellence fit in? A quality orientation is the business goal of ensuring the customer will be satisfied with the product (a tangible good or intangible service) in every respect. A quality orientation defines satisfaction as the perceived value of a good or service. Value is determined by the balance between the cost of the product and the perceived benefits it provides. Excellence goes beyond value and satisfaction to provide customer delight above and beyond their perceived cost and expectations.

Scripture speaks to many different scenarios of value exchange. Examples range from people being taken advantage of to a total in-balance in the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. Examples of righteousness include win-win and even sacrifice-delight scenarios:

  • Win-Lose: “Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 20:10 indicates the seller profits at the loss of the customers.
  • Win-Win: “Do not withhold good from whom it is due, when it is in your power to do.” Proverbs 3:27-28 indicates that both the seller and buyer receive a good result.
  • Sacrificial-Delight: “Christ paid the price to free us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Galatians 3:13 indicates that God is willing for us to be delighted/win at his own sacrifice/loss. 

Companies have come to realize that customers in the United States expect quality products and services as standard practice. If you feel like you spend more on a product than it was worth, you will likely not buy it again. In business practice, the total quality movement of the 1960s set standards for continuous improvement. These standards were further augmented by the philosophy of the Toyota Production System, which recognized that quality standards are actually more efficient and save companies more money than producing shoddy products that underwhelm the customer and have a high rate of defectiveness. Product and service quality has become best practice in business today. Best practices indicate that customers shouldn’t be merely satisfied with the products they purchase — whenever possible, they should be delighted. The same goes for Christian practice — an orientation toward quality should delight the servants and those they serve.

Jesus models this for us. Jesus didn’t merely meet our needs to overcome sin on the cross, he offered us eternal life, power through the Holy Spirit, and continuous justification and sanctification that continues to be undeserved. He did all of this by paying a price we couldn’t afford — a huge cost to him at no cost to us. Excellence is demonstrated throughout Scripture in examples of how we are called to reflect the love and glory of God in relationship to our neighbors. 

In Proverbs 31:10-31, the valiant woman sells high-quality linen sashes and garments to merchants at a profit (v24), she then has excess resources to share with the poor and the needy. Lady Wisdom herself raised a standard of excellence for the benefit of others. Similarly, the parable of the Good Samaritan demonstrates how we obey the greatest commandments in Scripture. The passage doesn’t capture the Good Samaritan preaching the gospel in words. However, it is clear in the passage that the Good Samaritan, a man who is neither a priest or a Levite, offers excellent service to the man left half dead. He has no expectation of repayment, yet he offers the best of what he has in service to a stranger, offering to pay for all his expenses. 

Our opportunity to be a light in the world, which we normally associate only with our words, is as much in the quality of our actions. If we are called to do all things to the glory of God — I believe we have a huge opportunity to apply practices of continuous improvement and quality to the way we serve each other and the world. If we maintain a motivation to do this as an act of love by delivering our very best to our neighbor, we shift the practice of throwing out the baby and keeping the bathwater to being motivated by the gift of baby Jesus who was excellent and perfect throughout his life so that we could be a people who demonstrate the glory and splendor of God to a broken world.

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