May 15, 2023
by Anthony Blair, President of Evangelical Seminary and Professor of Leadership and Historical Studies; David Williams, Kairos Executive Partner; President of Taylor Seminary, and Greg Henson, CEO, Kairos University; President, Sioux Falls Seminary
Do you know the children’s game “Simon Says”? One child at time is permitted to command others to do silly things—like pat their heads and rub their tummies at the same time—but only as long as the leader uses the words “Simon says.” If “Simon” doesn’t say so, the words of the leader have no authority. But who’s Simon? Who is the person whose name invokes so much authority that the rest of us have to do whatever he tells us to do? One of the theories is that a Roman game roughly translated as “Cicero Says” was renamed centuries later after Simon de Montfort, an English nobleman who was so powerful that he could order kings around. Sort of makes sense, doesn’t it?
We’ve been exploring in this series what is meant by Spirit-led excellence, including how, why, and by whom quality standards are defined. There was once a time when most of those decisions were made by a few people in positions of authority. If Simon said it, that settled the issue. But noblemen and kings rarely make such decisions anymore. Last weekend a crown was placed on the head of a new king of Great Britain, but no one expects Charles III to be an autocratic ruler. Others now decide what is excellent governance in his nation.
And who decides what constitutes excellence in our own community? We do. The community does. And who is the community? It’s larger than just those of us who work for Kairos, and even broader than the “community of communities” that, in an earlier post, we defined Kairos to be. The end users—those who are the recipients of and participants in what we do also influence our understanding of excellence. Patients and clients get a voice in how they are treated. Government agencies help codify and police the standards of professionals in their jurisdictions. The public at large speaks into the creation of professional standards that matter to them.
Having acknowledged these other voices in the process it is nonetheless those who excel in a craft or profession who bear the greatest burden of maintaining their own standards and those of their peers.
Quality standards emerge from “communities of practice” comprised of people who both created and are governed by the standards of their professional practice. In other words, our standards of excellence are, to some degree, determined by others in our field. Think about it this way: Who is it that sets the standards for good medicine? Doctors do. Doctors determine what medical care leads to health and which doesn’t. Then they are held accountable to those standards in the care they provide. Who is it that sets the standards for being a good lawyer? Lawyers do. Who is it that sets the standards for good therapy? Therapists do. This is why peer-review is so important in nearly any profession.
These practitioners are willing to do this work of quality control because they know that their standards are not arbitrary. They are arrived at by reason with rigor and care, with much conversation over a long period of time, with a fair amount of trial-and-error, with wisdom gained from having seen or felt the pain of failure. They are willing to do so because the people they serve matter. Standards keep our eyes on what we are about, what we’re trying to achieve, and who we’re impacting.
Practices are best when they are aspirational, not just legalistic. That is, when they are moving toward an end or a goal, when they’re persistently, consistently trying to make things better. It is only when we know what we are trying to do, and why we are trying to do it, that we can assess whether or not we are, in fact, doing it, much less doing it well. Thus, recognizing what we are trying to do is essential in developing the appropriate standards of excellence for hitting our target, for achieving our outcomes.
It’s enlightening, sometimes even amusing, to watch the intense dedication of any community of practitioners to their chosen standards. Gamers can spend hours perfecting their craft so they can excel in competition with others online. Musicians will rehearse and rehearse, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, so that a public performance achieves the perfection expected by the band members. A committed gardener will endeavor each year to grow a crop even better than that of last year, something worthy of showing off at the fair or market.
We’re like them in our own endeavors. We exhibit the same passion, the same diligence in the things we care about. And it’s not because Simon says, or even, perhaps, because God says. Does that surprise you? Yes, there are Scripture passages that encourage, even admonish us, to do things well for the glory of God (e.g., I Corinthians 10:31). But those who are led by the Spirit do not need a command to do things well; their love for what they do already do and the people for whom they do it—this is what motivates them toward excellence. Their inherent passion is what makes them wonder what excellence in their field, in their community, should consist of. And that’s the topic we’ll take up next week!