When GOOD Becomes the Enemy of BEST

By David Allis   [email protected]

I have always thought that ‘good’ and ‘best’ were very close together.  When I was at school, on the occasions that I got a ‘good’ result in a test or exam, it was usually very close to the ‘best’ result.

In a strange paradox, I can now see situations where ‘good’ is not close to ‘best’, but rather it is at the opposite end of a spectrum from ‘best’.  In situations like this, ‘good’ is good, but if we settle for ‘good’, we remain a long way from ‘best’, and hence ‘good’ is effectively the enemy of ‘best’.

Let me give an example to illustrate.  Imagine you are walking on a path though the forest, and your goal is to get to the beach. You reach a point where the path splits into 2 paths, and you can’t see the beach, so you are unsure which way to go.  The only sign giving any direction says ‘go this way to see the beach’.  Thinking this is a good choice, you follow the direction of the sign, believing that if you can see the beach, you should be close to it.  Unfortunately the path leads you to the top of a mountain, where you find lots of people sitting on their beach chairs enjoying the beautiful view of the beach.  The place you have arrived seems good – at least you can see what the beach looks like – but you have taken the wrong path and are now a long way from the beach.  Hence, this ‘good’ result (seeing the beach) has effectively been the enemy of the best result (getting to the beach).  To get from the ‘good’ to the ‘best’ in this situation requires a long journey, retracing your steps and then going down the right path.

As I consider some of the aspects of church and Christianity I see around me, I am becoming increasingly convinced that many of us are settling for ‘good’ results, that are often the enemy of the ‘best’.  We accept many things that are helpful in themselves, but are stopping us reaching out for the best.  Another simple example is that of a starving person, who needs a full meal, but instead eats some nice chocolate which staves off the hunger pangs and stops them searching for that nourishing meal that their body needs.

So what are some of the areas where the ‘good’ might be the enemy of the ‘best’?  Consider these possibilities, which might whet your appetite (you can probably think of further examples).  They all deserve more in-depth examination than this brief article can offer.

Sermons might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • Sermons are usually built around the ‘person of God’, who has had in-depth theological training, and has heard from God and is now disseminating the word of God to the people in eloquent discourse.  This creates a dependence on being ‘fed’ by the necessary combination of ordained ministers + theological training + eloquent preaching.
  • Sermons typically assume that God is saying the same thing to everyone.
  • Few people can remember a sermon the next day, week or month (often the preacher can’t remember it either).
  • Passive listening is a very ineffective way of learning.
  • Sermons usually allow no opportunity for questions or discussion.
  • People who have been in church for many years, and have often heard 50-100 sermons each year, still think they need to be ‘fed’ by a sermon each week.
  • In the New Testament, preaching is almost always linked to preaching of the gospel or kingdom to those that are outside or on the edge of the kingdom.  There is arguably no biblical basis for preaching in churches to people who have been Christians for many years, particularly as firstly the NT apostles were formulating new doctrine (which we aren’t allowed to do), and secondly we have the New Testament available to study ourselves, complete with many wonderful study aids.
  • BEST might be private and corporate Bible study, listening to God, discussion, and working together in community to help each other apply biblical truths in our lives and communities

Evangelism programs might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • We should take individual and corporate responsibility for ‘mission’ to our community
  • Church members often get so absorbed in church activities that they have little personal time left to form quality friendships with people outside the church
  • Many people involved in good ‘evangelistic’ churches seem to have no sense of personal responsibility for mission, but instead rely totally on the church evangelism programs.
  • Evangelism programs might help people feel good about themselves, but they are usually very ineffective.  Most western churches are static or declining, and few grow consistently at even 5% per year.
  • BEST might be individuals taking personal responsibility for mission, including building valuable relationships with people outside the church.  There would be significant changes if  normal church attenders started thinking & praying ‘If I was a missionary here, I would ….”

Church-centric programs might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • They are built around a ‘come to us’ thinking.  “build it and they will come’ might have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but it rarely works today
  • ‘Come to us’ thinking is one of the same problems that stifled the effectiveness of OT Judaism
  • Church-centric programs keep everyone too busy, and create barriers to the community
  • Church-centric programs have a bizarre need to ‘own’ the programs.  Churches seem to have an insane desire to start tramping clubs, playgroups, cafes etc, which seems a lot like keeping the salt in a saltshaker & asking the meal to come into the saltshaker.  It seems wiser and more biblical to encourage Christians to be involved in community-centred organisations and activities – the equivalent of adding a little salt to a meal.
  • BEST might be genuine community involvement with no hidden agenda.

Excellence might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • Commitment to excellence can restrict people’s participation in events, and put the emphasis on the outward aspects rather than the inward.
  • BEST might be opportunity, involvement and empowerment.
  • Contemporary programs to reach youth (loud, high-tech programs with all the bells and whistles draw the youth crowds in) might be GOOD, BUT ….
  • Church health studies show that whatever is used to draw the crowd usually needs to be maintained at ever increasing levels to keep the crowd.
  • It can be very hard to turn youth who are drawn to the bright lights, into true disciples.
  • BEST might be a counter-cultural call & training to radical discipleship

Teaching about the blessing of God for individuals might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • This often seems like a re-packaged, slightly more acceptable version of prosperity teaching
  • The Bible says very little about ‘God wanting to bless us and give us a wonderful life’, but rather it contains a strong call requiring us to commit to generosity, sacrifice and care of the poor, loving our neighbours and laying down our lives for them.
  • BEST might be teaching and obeying the Biblical emphasis on sacrifice, generosity and care for the poor.

Tithing to the local church might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • It costs a lot of money to operate a ‘normal’ church.  To quote a friend ‘while you have temples and priests, you need tithes and offerings’.  It seems reasonable that church members pay their share towards the cost of running a church – but there are good arguments questioning the Biblical basis for what is often taught about tithing to a local church.
  • BEST might be lower cost churches, and discipleship which incorporates a commitment to sacrifice and generosity.

High quality ‘professional’ worship services might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • They often seem like karaoke worship.
  • They often focus on what ‘I’ feel and get from it, rather than being an act of giving to God.
  • They neglect the wide variety of ways we can worship God.
  • They slot worship into a Sunday worship service, and ignore the possibilities for worship during the remainder of the week
  • Corporate worship is conspicuously absent from the example of the early church in Acts 2&4, and is hardly mentioned in the rest of the NT.
  • BEST might be genuine participation, variety, and the realization that we can worship God 24/7 in an amazing variety of ways

Bigger churches might be GOOD, BUT …

  • As churches get bigger, the structure gets more complicated and harder to manage
  • As churches get bigger, it is easier for people to hide (there is no back pew in a house church)
  • As churches get bigger, they get less personal and it is easier for attendees to not be connected with others.  Hence, bigger churches attempt to fix this problem through the use of cells or house groups
  • As churches get bigger, they get even more expensive to run (per person).  In contrast, house-based churches cost virtually nothing.
  • The larger the church, the wider the ripples when something goes wrong.  Terrorist cells have learnt this principle, and stay small to ensure that if anything goes wrong, it will only affect a small group of people.
  • Research (eg NCD) shows that smaller churches are more effective at evangelism, and empowering people to use their spiritual gifts.  In fact, Natural Church Development (NCD) studies show that overall, the only area that larger churches are better than smaller churches is in corporate worship.
  • BEST might be many smaller churches

Structured churches might be GOOD, BUT

  • In smaller, less structured churches there are usually no power struggles, as there is no power to struggle over
  • Unstructured or lightly structured churches can respond rapidly to adjust to changing situations.
  • BEST might be churches with minimal structure.

Measuring attendance might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • BUT Jesus didn’t seem to measure attendance – his focus was on the kingdom & discipleship
  • BEST might be measuring discipleship, or maybe measuring nothing and just being radically obedient.

Leadership training might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • I’m not sure there is much NT basis for the current emphasis on leadership
  • Leaders talk of ‘servant leadership’, but it seems strangely different from the version that Jesus taught & demonstrated
  • Current church structures typically necessitate a controlling form of leadership, particularly as churches become larger
  • BEST might be discipleship, service and radical empowerment

Ordained ministry might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • There is arguably little if any biblical basis for officially ordained ministers
  • The Protestant Reformation was birthed with the concept of the priesthood of all believers, yet we still usually have the power and spiritual gifts held firmly in the hands of the ‘minister’.
  • BEST might be empowered laity in a virtually unstructured church environment

Pragmatism (accepting models of church and christianity because they seem to work & get some reasonable results) might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • BEST might be rethinking the paradigms

Building the church might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • BEST might be building the Kingdom

Lets work together to ensure we don’t settle for ‘good’ and miss the ‘best’.