In Praise of Mediocrity

I hesitate to speak up about this. After all, who wants to be a spokesperson for mediocrity? [MORE]


K.H. said...

thanks for writing this.

Anonymous said...

I've always considered myself the patron saint of mediocrity ;-)

We'll all forgive you that these thoughts are "above average."

Anonymous said...

This is a helpful reminder when I'm writing finals these next two weeks. They don't have to be amazing; they just need to be competent and done. Getting them done sometimes requires aiming for mediocrity. Always aiming for perfection often (necessarily?) leads to never completing anything. Thanks for the encouraging word.

Anonymous said...

I'm a perfectionist.

It's interesting what John said. This was the lesson I learned last semester. Oops. Well, I guess I'll be mediocre in most things, and (hopefully eventually) great at one thing, at least. And by great, I don't mean famous . . .

For me it's hard to figure out where I have truly holy and good desires, and where I have selfish ambition and vain conceit. Lord, help me to see through the crap.

The AJ Thomas said...

This post was alright. Not the best I've ever read but not bad either. Not great but..you know...pretty good I guess. Worth reading at least.

Mark Schnell said...

Thank you, Keith! These are certainly liberating thoughts.

joel said...

This is the best purpose-driven, adrenaline-fueled, passionate article on mediocrity I've ever read!
Seriously, a lot of great...er... pretty good truth.

matthew said...

I remember when I was at Bethany Bible College, I had to find a church to intern at. I looked into a large church in WNY (my home district). I just assumed that working at a mega-church would be the most valuable experience. Thankfully, that plan didn't work out and I ended up interning at a regular church, much like my own. During those months, I grew to admire the grind of the supposedly regular pastor and the friendships with the hundred or so regular christians.

Since my internship I've not had any desire to plant my own 'perfect' church or pastor a mega church. Heck, I don't even really care if I'm ever a senior pastor. I'd be fine to, and probably even prefer, serving consistently & decently at a regular sized church.

In my observation, the people in the pews are struggling with addiction to excellence too. It seems more and more of the people at our church are wondering why we aren't a mega church. I try to have them look out the window at the tractor going by in front of the corn field, but I'm not sure they're willing to settle.

thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject

Jjohn Mark said...

This post was hilarious, as have been some of the reponses so far. It made me think of Mozarts rival, who (in the movie Amadeus anyway), says "Mediocrities of the world, I absolve thee." I struggle with being mediocre, and I can relate to Ray Charles who said once "I never wanted to be famous, I just wanted to be great." My best gift is, or was, singing (I am 56, it gets harder all the time) but I make my living at preaching, and live for those Sundays when it seems everyone is at least paying attention. In my most honest moments, I realize I am not praying for revival, I just don't want to look bad!
So, to hop on the wagon, let me say again, a pretty good post, which should resonate with a wide audience. There are lots of us out here. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was fresh out of seminary John Maxwell was the man of the hour. The mediocre people you described where given the title of "losers." How many times did I hear clergy who were average and faithful referred to as 3 or 4's on Maxwell's rating scale of 1-10.

I think this mindset has contributed to a lot of burn out, discouragement and frustration among many pastor's from that generation who bought into the market success driven ministry model promoted by Maxwell and many others.

Pete Vecchi said...

That was a "pretty good" article, Keith!

(and I needed to read it)

Anonymous said...

I've been in a 'regular' local church for the last year and a half. I don't think I was even capable of fulling wrapping my mind around this article a few years ago when I was in college. Now, I understand.

Thanks for sharing with us, young and old, about the realities of life.

tricia said...

Well said and timely as this time of year expectations tend to be high.

Pete Vecchi said...

I was thinking more about this article, specifically as it pertains to school. Perhaps I'm taking this in another whole direction, but I'm wondering whether or not the issues of grades in a classroom setting are applicable, at least when it comes to the issue of whether or not a person deserves an A.

I guess that the question comes down to this -- what exactly are grades supposed to measure? Absolutely, there will be better and worse classroom performers within any group of people in a given classroom. But the issue doesn't seem to be whether or not they are in competition with each other. If there are 20 people in the class, all 20 of them can legitimately receive A's if they master the material.

This then brings the question of whether or not a A truly means "Excellent", B means "Above Average", C means "Average" and D means "Below Average. If so, then the "C" students average compared to whom? Each other? All people who have studied the same thing? The general poulation?

Or does an A mean that a student has mastered 93-100% of the material taught in the particular class?

(Parenthetically, have you ever wondered that if your doctor finished med school with a B+ average, what 10% of the material DIDN'T he/she know?)

Ok, so is as so typical for me, I've taken a smaller piece of a larger idea and taken it into a different direction than was probably intended. But it just goes to show that this professor is making me think...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Coach!! I needed this "pretty good" column today.

ap said...

i agree with PK.

i remember once hearing that "good was the enemy of perfection." i think this is true. but i also think "good is the friend of completion" and "perfection is the enemy of completion" are true as well. i missed out on at least two seminary classes because i was not sure whether i could do excellent work in them. too many times striving for excellence leaves important things undone.

Anonymous said...

How interesting it is that God, after creating the heavens, earth and man, looked at it and said that His work was "good". No, that was not quite good enough, so He said that it was "very good".

Also interesting to note,when it talks about perfect in the text, it is referring to one's heart condition toward God and not one's work! One's work is considered either righteous or unrighteous.

So, if very good is good enough for God, it is good enough for me and should be for every pastor and his/her congregation. Only a fool would think that they could out-perform God.

Anonymous said...

So, on a scale of 0-100, where does God rank for good and very good?

75%, 85%, 100%

Since God was only very good at His work, does that mean He could have done a much better job with creation?

Anonymous said...

Said like a wise "old man": persistant optimism and hope, combined with a liberal (no pun intended) dose of realism. :)

That's what I like about my mother: she is encouraging, but always realistic. Perhaps because she's a middle school teacher!

Anonymous said...

Is it extreme spiritual passion your students have, really? Or was that your point, it is not?

Seems to me, real spiritual passion is not noticable until you get to deeply know a person and it doesn't fade easily, even in the most desperate of situations.

Wasn't it really:

- the average joes in it for the long haul that had the real spiritual passion and

- the 3-year blow-hards just had hot air and fake personalities that bought them their temporary recognition and school/denominational status?

Anonymous said...

I remember when you unrolled that list of churches...now I get it...I've worked in a church of 1400 and a church plant where we started with 6 at a park bench...I'll always prefer the smaller when compared to the larger.

Anonymous said...

Do I detect a slight downturn in the popularity of the following true-isms?

* "Faithfulness is the refuge of losers."

* "The difference between success and failure is the successful people work harder and longer."

* "God does not honor faithfulness but fruitfulness"

* "The DSs job is to get the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the bus--get rid of the losers."

* "If you can't do your work [preaching, worship etc.] with excellence find another job"

* "It is better to burn out for Jesus then rust out."

* "Just do it!"

Is there a new doctrine arising (at least among your responders--who seem to be the younger set)

Anonymous said...

Is it still ok to enjoy a large or mega church? Somehow, it seems like people here seem to be saying that smaller is "better". I agree that for many it may be preferable...but not necessarily better. Can we celebrate the large church pastors who love what they do as well as the small church pastors who love what they do? What about emerging pastors (if they have one) or reformed or liturgical pastors/priests? At what point can we say that God created diversity and truly celebrate that reality instead of find ways to make the "other people" wrong?
Matt (who didn't feel like signing in with Google)

Anonymous said...

Funny isn't it, that the only place you hear those types of slogans is in the "holiness" circles!

I must say though, being an entrepreneurial pastor willing to use all of one's "own" resources to build sucessful churches will get you a "life-time achievement award" and your picture on a website.

However, all the ones who have ever made a true difference for the kingdom have been losers! All the ones whom God could work through supernaturally were losers.

Also interesting isn't it, when the children crossed the Red Sea they were rich. When they crossed the Jordan, they had to give up those riches to build the house of God.

Anyone beginning to see the differences here? Anyone able to see that the holiness church has become a mutual admiration society? Anyone see that Jesus, nor God in the OT, ever gave out awards. Anyone else wondering where the greater works than Jesus did are? Anyone else wondering if the holiness church is not the church that misses it in the end times?

Anonymous said...

Anyone tired of the business of church yet?

Anonymous said...

I happen to go to two churches and I will admit I go to each for different reasons.

The mega church -- to have the physical side of worship (they tend to uplift the flesh but have little "real" spirit in the masses) and the smaller church to have some spiritual food -- their worship tends to be dead/mechanical and there is little spirit as well. But they do offer meat and I've so enjoyed watching God draw the pastor deeper.

I've learned not to expect anything from corporate worship or those I fellowship with. I only expect from God now and wait to see how He uses others.

So, if you think God wants you somewhere, stay there and who cares what anyone else says or thinks. Look at Noah the fool. He didn't care what others said or whether or not they liked how he worshipped his God. Think that was a mega church building in his time. :)

Interesting though, he never received a life-time achievement award and what he did impacted all religions and peoples too. (Just wondering if we are admiring the wrong gods!)

As a side note, please forgive the honesty here, but do you ever wonder if the sex life of folks in these churches is as different as their worship styles. I mean, is the sex life of the megachurch attenders as vibrant as their worship and is the sex life of those who attend the more dead churches as dead as their worship.

It says that in marriage the two shall be one. With the spirit, the two become one.

Just wonder if the sex lives mimic the spiritual lives....flesh vs. spirit. Wonder if Dr. Dobson ever studied that thought?

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate this post, one of your best of the year (all 11 days of 2007). Seriously though, keep this one posted in your favorites column.

I was a pretty good student, who mostly got A's in college, but I learned to be content with just "getting things done." In school, we can spend a month preparing for a "senior sermon"...then you get to doing church and being a pastor and you have one week to prepare a pretty good sermon, while at the same time visiting the sick, the shut ins, perhaps doing a funeral or a wedding, having board meetings, and containing the miscellaneous problems between the worship teams, the discipleship groups, etc... You have to just get stuff done I think. (BY the way, I'm not even in a church right now, so I'm just going by what I've seen).

I don't want to be in some "Great" church. I don't know. I think a lot of emergent types are excited to go to churches that are dying out, full of old people, and well, suck. I want to be in some small church, serving God faithfully and being patted on the head for my "good effort" before I jump into some pressure large church. I don't know if I ever want to get to that point actually. I just want to go where I'm needed, not where I want to be. I have a feeling that a lot of small, dying churches, need really good pastors. I pray that I can be one.

Bitty said...

Hmm...intriguing. See very similar vein of thought at thebigredcouch-bitty.blogspot.com, the one labeled "Bel and the Dragon". It, too, praises the mediocre as a jar of clay.

Russ Veldman said...

Thank you, Keith, for this very interesting article.

I am one of the ordinary pastors of the world and often feel like someone John Maxwell would label a "loser." All I can do is faithfully preach and live the Word, try to lead people to Christ, etc. I doubt that any big church will ever seek me out. Yet the little church I serve frequently lets me know that they love me. It makes me blush, because all the church growth things that have been pumped into my brain for the last few years indicate that since I have not led my congregation to take over most of our county I am a loser and not worthy of respect, let alone love.

I love my little church. I love it enough that if I left pastoral ministry for other things and wanted a church to attend, I would come to this one. I would come to this one because I would want my 2 1/2 year old daughter to be in a loving church like this one.

We are not taking over the world, but we do have that 1 Cor. 13 love thing down well. That has got to count for something. Mediocre in size but great in love - I'll take that over the opposite anyday.

Casey said...

I just wanted to thank you for writing this. I just went back to school after about a year away. I pretty much just bombed out of school because I could never get any work done. Last week, one week into school, I already had a 5 page paper due and normally I wouldn't do it because I would want to write a perfect paper, which is impossible. I decided to just get it done instead, and I would be shocked if I got better than a C on it, but hey, it's better than not doing it at all. Thanks for reminding me that doing ok work is better than doing none at all, even if that wasn't particularly what you were getting at.

Anonymous said...

I think this is one of the best articles you've written. Not because "large-church ministries" are unspiritual (which I do not believe you implied here); but because "small-church pastorates" are too.

I pastor a small church in a small denomination and most of the time I find genuine joy here. But I get a lot of advice to move on to something "bigger and better". Bottomline, though, we're here because God called us. We go where he sends us.

Thanks for the encouaging words.

Anonymous said...

enough of the maxwell bashing! Much of his material is sound leadership advice...while I do agree that the whole triple shot latte guy who wakes up singing "in my heart there rings a melody" and goes into the office to write 12 books while jogging 9 miles is a bit much...but dont throw the baby out with the bathwater

and as far as mega churches vs small churches...I think the important thing is that Jesus remain the center...that we take God seriously and not ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with mega-churches as long as their pastors can take their people where God wants them...dig a little deeper!

California Gold said...

I am surprised no one here seems to have picked up on the fact that "mediocrity" seems now in vogue in the Richard Foster/Dallas Willard set. Within the last few months I heard one of the Renovare disciples preach on mediocrity. Maybe he was a prophet and knew what you would be writing about. I don't think Renovare as a group has always taken this approach but this is the tone I have been hearing recently. Maybe you should join.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what amazes me the most here is that no one seems to be disagreeing with anything that Keith (or anyone else here) said. That hardly ever happens.

My thought: There's a difference between "excellence" and "perfectionism". Excellence is doing the best with what we've been given, but not killing ourselves in an attempt to be the best.

We should strive for excellence but not become perfectionists. You don't have to be THE best, just the best YOU.

Anonymous said...

The excitement of mediocrity is the realization that you are always at your best.
Sir Winston Churchill could have very well been describing the modern day church when he said,"They are decided only to be undecided,resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift,solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent."

Perfect is good enough.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so I am a little late in responding. Oh well.

My husband and I (both graduated cm majors at iwu) just started pastoring our first church. Coach D wrote a reference for my husband, and after reading this article, I'm pretty sure Coach D considers him one of those mediocre types. He scraped by in college, its true, but he never gave up. Thank you, Coach Drury for realizing that maybe that unwillingness to give up was what a little church barely making it might need most in a pastor. He is doing great too...he cares more about people than anyone I have ever met before and reminds me of why we're here every time I get homesick for Indiana. Sometimes the mediocre really are the BEST.

Crystal Jacobson (formerly Sellers)