In the words of Aristotle, “Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” Church (or Christianity) is not something we act out – like an actor on a stage – but something that is habitual; it is something (or someone) that we are to the core of our being; it is a way of life, lived by a life supply. John Wesley used to tell his preachers, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach it.” While many understand this as a sort-of fake it until you make it kind of thing, I think Wesley was speaking to our practices and our values. Though we can pretend anything, for a period of time, we habitually practice what we value. Faith is habitually practiced, and once we are transformed by it, we will practice it habitually.
Because we admire Jesus (as a teacher or example of morals/ethics, or as a founder of a movement) it does not necessarily follow that we have been transformed by Him. We can feed the poor and clothe the naked as an organization all day every day, and still be faithless (many in the church, encouraged by the church, have done so for years!). But not until we are transformed by the life supply of the Resurrected Christ will we do such things for the benefit of others, and not ourselves. Our attempts to simply change society lack the transformation of individuals in that society. Through Jesus’ internal transformation of ourselves do we externally change society. The individuals of society are internally transformed by Christ in a society changed by faith.
A hand-out is, in fact, not a hand up. In the primitive church (approx. the first 300 years after Christ’s ascension) ministry was not “to” or “for” society, but it was mission “with” society. It was expected that everyone would participate, not spectate. Christ (“Excellence”) is not an act nor a string of acts (ministry) but a habit (mission, empowered by the Spirit of Christ). Jesus came – and is here – not to plant churches, but to implant the Good News in humanity.
Do we value our ideology of church more than the actual people of it? We act as though quantity is of prime value – more ministry, programs, and people. When will we live in and out of the quality of excellence – mission, people, and lives? It is an act when we attempt to bring people in, control them, adding to our numbers. Excellence is a habit of transforming faith where we send people out, equipped for mission, multiplying faithful followers of Christ – the Church.