Posted by: Jack Brown | March 22, 2013

Great to Good

WARNING: Spoilers follow for the film “Oz the Great and Powerful,” currently in theaters.

At the beginning of Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful we meet Oscar Diggs, a shady con-man who ekes out a living doing magic for country folks on the dust bowl circuit. Despite his (many) faults, “Oz” believes he was destined for something more than making pennies from farmers at county fairs and risking his life romancing the Strong Man’s girlfriend. At one point the only person he seems to have genuine feelings for says to him, “I know you’re a good man, Oscar,” to which he replies, “I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be a great one.”

The distinction between “good” and “great” is one we’ve heard a lot about in America the past few years, thanks to the runaway success of Jim Collins’ book on organizational management, Good to Great, published in 2001. It’s a book that has enjoyed adulation in all sorts of organizations: small companies, big companies, schools, consulting firms, and yes…churches. In fact, there was a time there a few years ago when it seemed you couldn’t attend a church conference without somebody asking, “Have you read Good to Great yet?” If you had been standing near to me when someone asked that question you might have noticed the muscles of my face struggling to keep a grin while preventing me from making a snide remark. In the years since I have made no effort to hide my disdain for Collins’ book.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I read Good to Great and thought it a pretty insightful book, and I realize that many of the concepts in it are easily transferable to the church. The ideas of humble leadership, focusing on gifting and passion, being brutally honest…much of what Collins says is good stuff, and worth bringing into the church. No, my issues weren’t with the book itself, my issues were with the obsession many in the American church developed for it. In my opinion it’s yet another example of how we let the world define what makes us “great” rather than God. For no matter how many cool principles we adopt from the business world, “greatness” in the Kingdom of God is always defined as something different. In the business world “great” is defined by numbers, influence, and power. In God’s kingdom it is defined by servanthood (Matthew 23:11). In the business world you are great if you are noticeable and do enough things to “put you on the map.” In God’s kingdom our goal should be to disappear so that Christ alone is visible (John 3:30). In the business world the bottom line is profit. In God’s kingdom the bottom line is bringing glory to God (1 Cor. 10:31). When are we in the church going to realize that greatness is God’s venue, not ours?

On a personal note, I realize I used to be a lot like Oscar Diggs. Sometimes I still am. Sometimes I find myself struggling with how much I’ve accomplished in this life and wondering if there isn’t something “greater” out there for me. But leave it to a movie to expose the lie I so often believe. Towards the end of Oz the Great and Powerful there is a very striking exchange between Oz and Glinda the Good Witch:

GLINDA: I knew you had it in you all along.
OZ: Greatness?
GLINDA: Better…goodness.

When I heard that my heart skipped a beat. Goodness…better than greatness? And as I reflected on that I had to reply, “Absolutely!” Where “goodness” is defined not as an inherent, internal quality, but rather as the inward working of God’s Spirit in my life conforming me to Christ and causing me to pursue his purposes for my life, then by all means I desire goodness over greatness. To hell (and I mean that) with fame, fortune, power, influence, money, and all those things the world defines as “great.” I desire goodness. And God has defined for me what goodness is:

Micah 6:8 (NIV): “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Doing those things may not ever make me great in the eyes of the world. But in the end…that’s good.



  1. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11

  2. I just went to the book, Good to Great, on Amazon…and the first words are. “Good is the enemy of Great” and I was thinking Great is the enemy of Good. Thank you. I like the way you think.

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