Mediocrity is the Goal

Why Mediocrity is the Goal

In my opinion, you can’t have a Christian community (aka, “a church”) without mediocrity, because mediocrity is a result of an authentic struggle to merge faith, relationships and real life. The presence of mediocrity also signals a main difference between attractional churches and communal churches.

What is Said vs. What is Meant

In attractional churches, what is said is “Do your best, as unto the Lord.” What is meant, however, is “Unless your best meets a very high standard of quality you can not be a visible part of our ministry.” That is why if you attend a typical, large, attractional church you should be amazed at the music, the speaking and the video features of its Sunday service. All the elements are choreographed to be perfect, flawless and the very best.

Mediocrity Values People

Most people are not gifted, polished communicators, musicians or artists. When only the professionally trained and superbly gifted are allowed to sing or preach, the message to the congregation is clear—“All of you stay in your seats and watch.”

There is no doubt that the Sunday worship experience would be completely different if the quality of the performance becomes less important than the sincerity of it. It would more about engaging and less about the “wow factor”.

Every church I have attended in my life has proclaimed that loving people is its top priority, its highest value. But what would happen if those churches decided to value people by giving them the opportunity to participate at all levels of the Sunday service? Probably some people would leave the church, the budget would shrink and the professionals would not receive the full amount of their often hidden and overinflated salaries

Near the end of my time within the “excellence model” I recall wanting my friend to speak at the Sunday service. She was (and is) an amazing communicator and was willing to share her story of redemption after an abortion in front of thousands of people. I believe hers would have been the most profound message ever given at that church, but the leadership said: “She does not meet the bar of excellence we have for speakers.” What a tragic decision, one that is repeated weekly, when only the paid and polished can be heard from. Actually, I think it also had a great deal to do with the fact she is a woman.

Embracing Mediocrity

I have been a preacher on staff with both a large attractional church and an attractional megachurch. I have been a contract speaker for large coliseum events. Here is my experience in those roles: I felt like dying. If I had a great week and “hit it out of the park,” the anxiety to meet that standard the next week became unbearable. But if I “missed” by delivering a lousy message, the pressure to not do it two weeks in a row was even worse. There is little room for grace or humanity in a church that values excellence.

 Now that I am part of a small, communal church that embraces mediocrity, I am never stressed when I get to give a message. I never worry how well I am going to do, because no one comes to hear me speak. They come to be with their friends and look for Jesus.

Our services can never be big, because our leadership team has chosen to both welcome the marginalized and value participation. We want everyone to speak, lead communion, sing, ask questions during the “message,” and generally be a part of our services both on Saturday nights when we meet for worship and at other times of the week when we meet for various reasons. Being good at something is not a criterion for getting to do it. Someone once said, “If only the birds sang that knew they could sing, the forest would be silent.”

 

I think the notion of excellence kills a faith community’s effectiveness to invite people into true community, and that if churches continue to value excellence over participation they will perpetuate a faith that is mostly about watching, on Sundays and on every other day of the week, as well.

 

 

 

 

 

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27 Responses to Mediocrity is the Goal

  1. I am so freaking glad you’re blogging. 🙂

  2. Hi Karl, thanks for what you said. I am also tired of the show that modern evangelicalism puts on. In some ways, I don’t care what the message is sometimes as long as it is from the heart and not some contrived speech. Having attended Flatirons for years while I was at CU, I heard a lot of contrived speeches.

    I’m pretty sure I heard you speak, too. Not sure though. It must have been pretty mediocre. 😉

  3. glenwoods says:

    Wow. This is not going to be received well by some power brokers, but it is a needed message and much appreciated by me.

  4. zoggdog says:

    Good point Karl. Jesus let the marginalized people interrupt His sermons, ask questions and even disagree w Him. He welcomed them all. His value was on who they were not what they could do. He doesn’t call the qualitied, but qualifies the called. Should the church do any different.

  5. Brian Newman says:

    Thanks for pointing out this incredibly difficult and touchy situation, Karl. I am not sure the total answer is mediocrity. It feels to me like a reaction to the dysfunction of performance in churches. Maybe. Not sure.
    I was part of a church here in Denver in which the pastor spent 40+ hours per week in sermon prep and there was this bizarre mystique each week about what he would be speaking on. The church received 50-60 phone calls per week asking if he was preaching that week. I was once sitting in the congregation just as the Saturday evening service was about to begin when a guy sat next to me. He asked if X was preaching and I said, “no. He has the week off. Actually I am preaching.” The guy picked up his Bible and walked out of the church!
    Well everyone knew that the stack of cards would collapse some day and it sure did! The pastor left and the church split and splintered.
    And yet I wonder if there is no other path than to go the “mediocrity” way. Is there possibility for many people to exercise talents and abilities that are good without it being excellent? Do we just have to suck at things and that’s it?
    As you can tell, I too struggle with this issue. Thanks again for voicing it and helping many of us process.

    • karlw says:

      i hear that tension. what i believe is that it won’t suck at all! it is beautiful, but not polished. mediocre is simply a way for me to balance excellence. it is not to silence those that have special abilities, but to allow others to be discovered. i think it is mostly that as those who make the plan for that weeks service set out to make it something that has no room for those who are less than spectacular.
      thanks for thinking about these things with me, blessings.

  6. Mark Tracy says:

    Karl, I think you have your finger on the pulse of a real problem here. I appreciate your thoughts on it. “Striving for Excellence” has become the mantra for a lot of Christians and our organizations, but I think we have taken it to a detrimental level. Really, striving for excellence is not a bad thing when the idea is simply to do the best we can with the tools we are given. But you are correct to point out that when we focus on the attraction of our highly polished performance based Sunday morning entertainment, we lose sight of the humility and general acceptance of ALL the lesser magnificent among us exibited by Jesus Christ.

    As a balance: have you ever watched American Idol? There are those who actually think they are a good singer until they are shot down by Simon. A dose of reality is sometimes hard to take, but no favor is done to anyone when we encourage them to pursue something that they are simply no good at. God gifts us with different means with which to serve him. . .but I hear you. It’s a really, really good thing when all are invited to participate in service to him without the need of a glowing resume.

    As a side note to Brian Newman: I’ve seen that story happen a lot. It’s always a bad thing to build a ministry around the personality of a single gifted, charismatic individual. Once that individual is gone, so is the ministry.

  7. jharader says:

    I was part of a “Willow Creek Association” church for awhile and always felt like their focus on “excellence” was a little off the mark, but wasn’t really able to articulate why. Now I serve a church where lots of people preach, share music, read scripture; where kids make noise and people speak their sermon responses and sometimes when we share prayer concerns it lasts for fifteen minutes or more. I think that’s what you mean by “mediocre.” I’d call it a more faithful kind of excellence. Thank you for articulating here some things I’ve thought about for awhile.

  8. ckuniholm says:

    “Excellence” is an excuse to keep control in the hands of the professionals, the experts, and to keep everyone else in their seats, watching.
    I did youth ministry for over a decade – and was sad to see how the idea of excellence kept everyone trapped, afraid to try, afraid to experiment. When I invited kids to do something new (paint a mosaic, put together a “girl band,” lead a Bible study for the first time) I’d tell them “perfection is overrated.” We never learn if we don’t try, and we’ll never try if it needs to be perfect.

  9. Hello My friend! Keep ’em coming! I love your voice!
    I do have to say that I don’t believe real mediocrity values people. You know we have all (in the American church) been wounded at the hands of “excellence” but real mediocrity is ultimately selfishness. It’s more concerned with a cost/benefit ratio than with honesty and true effort. I would assert that most of what is label “high-production value” in Churches is just disguised mediocrity. It’s just money… and money can’t hide mediocrity… Mediocrity mocks our desire for beauty… and beauty is very elusive in our world… It takes to much honesty, humility… in short it’s too hard.
    I will say this, if you love people more than programs you are more willing to sacrifice a polished show to make a space for everyone’s voice. This is indeed a very Jesus thing to do. However, it’s not his style to suggest you skimp on quality because it costs you too much. He’s all about going all in. Just thought I throw my 2-cents in.
    Love you Karl!

    • karlw says:

      You Nailed it! What I was hoping to say is that what gets labeled as sub par is really beautiful and shall we say excellent.
      I did not mean half assed, but intentional about everyone brings a song, it just sounds different.
      Love back at ya

  10. Pam Merten says:

    Excellent. I’ve experienced the same thing for years but couldn’t quite express the problem in words that could be understood clearly. KEEP BLOGGING!

  11. Pam Merten says:

    “Do your best, as unto the Lord.” What is meant, however, is “Unless your best meets a very high standard of quality you cannot be a visible part of our ministry.”

    Jesus is the ONE person, being, entity who doesn’t own a grade book! If churches represent Jesus – which they all proclaim to do – why is there a grade book anywhere near the premise? I have directed a small choir. It was quite a challenge for me when a woman who could not carry a tune wanted to sing with us. Dang! “Make a joyful NOISE!” I remembered the Lord saying. If this woman had any joy at all it was wrapped up in Jesus. And, she made noise. Crap! She became a member of our choir – the Lord’s idea and not mine! It was a good thing for her and for me. She felt good because she was part of a group that really cared about her. AND, her “joyful noise” was not as loud as I expected it to be.

    People are constantly being graded. There is a place for grading. I want my surgeon to have rec’d an A in every one of his classes that taught him how to use a scalpel! When we go to work, in order to keep our jobs, we are graded on how well we perform. Sports. Etc.

    I am so thankful that Jesus does not own a grade book. We need that “safe” place that he provides. Where there’s no pressure to perform. Where we can be real, genuine. Jesus does not keep score. When I’m within faith communities that portray him as if he does, I get out as fast as possible. I mean – I’ve been known to leave right in the middle of a sermon when there is even a tiny hint of: “You’ve got to earn . . . ” what God has given me for FREE. Or – when a worship leader says, “I don’t see many of you raising your arms to praise God. Don’t you love him?” When I see lyrics (even when they are matched with beautiful harmonies/ instrumentation and great beats) and liturgies that portray a god of “performance-based acceptance” – I surely will not say or sing them; I usually leave.

    I love worshiping with gifted musicians and worship facilitators who allow their gifts to flow. I love it. The greatest spiritual moments in my life have been when I’ve worshiped with hundreds of people at a time. But they are great only because there is no attempt at seducing anyone to buy into the world system: legalism/performance-based acceptance. They ATTRACT me because their mission is not to be ATTRACTIONAL, but to simply share Jesus as they know Him. (With all this said, I’m all about practice!)

    • karlw says:

      pam, i am so sorry i am late in responding, my computer has had the flu or a bug or something.
      i love the “toss the grade book out”-so true! i just tossed out an idea about when to leave your mega church and number one- when they announce auditions! can you imagine Jesus saying “dude, you suck!”
      anxious to read the articles.

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