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If It’s Worth Being Done, It’s Worth Being Done Badly

I’m not sure who coined that saying, but we used to throw it around a lot at our church leadership meetings. The argument goes something like this:

__Joe__ (fill in name of church volunteer) is not a very good worship leader. He has a great heart, but his timing is poor and he can’t carry a tune. But we need to have someone lead worship and Joe is available. Besides, if worship is that important, then we can tolerate Joe being an amateur.

You can substitute just about any church ministry for “worship” — nursery worker, youth group leader, soup kitchen volunteer, small group host, etc. I only use worship as an example because, for us, it was something we wanted to do well but never had the talent to match our aspirations. So we did worship, we just didn’t always do it that good.

The comments in my last post, specifically the ones about craft and mediocrity, reminded me of that saying —  If something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing badly.

That reasoning used to bug the crap out of me, probably because I couldn’t rebut it. As someone who’s obsessed with details and takes pride in wanting to do certain things well, I had to concede that some things are just too important to have to do perfectly all the time.

Take the scenario above, for instance. Joe is not a very good worship leader, but he is available and his heart is in the right place. Should the church just cancel live worship until Joe improves or until they find another worship leader? Or is worship important enough that the church should tolerate Joe’s mediocrity?

I chose the latter, and here’s why: Allowing mediocrity is different than accepting or approving mediocrity. In Joe’s case, I can tolerate his mediocrity without being satisfied with his performance. This is how people grow. We love them where they’re at and drive them to a higher standard. The problem is when we both tolerate and approve mediocrity. Then there is no reason for anyone to get better.

So if it’s worth doing, go ahead and do it badly. Just, next time, do it better.

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Nicole July 29, 2009, 2:41 PM

    Mike, I really do understand your point. And I understand that some stay at "mediocrity" because they've decided it's not bad and have little desire to improve in either stretching themselves to get better or learning new ways to help themselves. But with "Joe", we're assuming by your description, he can improve.
    The point is: some people are at their best when we assess them at mediocrity. They are giving their all, have worked constantly to improve whatever it is they're doing. And some of those people are appointed for whatever reason to do just what they're doing by the God who loves them. As Elaina said, God is pleased with them regardless of our assessments of their work or talent.

  • Nicole July 29, 2009, 2:43 PM

    Bringing it back to writing, for those who study the craft and ache and pull those "perfect" words out to form a story, yes, they see published (and unpublished writing) that they shake their heads at and some pony up criticisms of "mediocrity" or just plain awful to their offerings. We've all read those books, but the thing is we can (and do) judge them with or without our literary prowess, but we do not know in fact how God views them if they were done in obedience to Him and we do not see that individual's labor over those words and that story to produce that offering.
    It's okay for us to say we don't prefer a particular writer's style or stories–certainly we will not all like the same levels of writing–but to tag it with "settling for mediocrity" when a writer has slaved over it to honor God: not really our call.
    And I, too, think Mick Silva's recent post was spot on. Good for him.

    • Mike Duran July 30, 2009, 1:37 AM

      To be honest, Nicole, I think you and Elaina are really misinterpreting, if not misrepresenting, my points. Of course we cannot judge people's hearts and motives; even people who perform menial tasks, in uncelebrated careers, with minimal talent, can be pleasing to God. Of course something or someone the world overlooks can be great in God's sight. I'd be a fool to say otherwise, and don't think I have.

      Just because I'm making a judgment about someone's talent level or artistic contribution does not mean I am disparaging and condemning them, or minimizing their piece's worth before God. The fact is, some writers, artists or musicians are actually better than others. It's just the way it is. Most people who believe art criticism is subjective would still have no problem conceding that the Beatles are actually better than my old high school garage band. Likewise, it's not a stretch to assume that Fitzgerald, Joyce, Hemingway, or Chesterton, are actually better writers than my Uncle Earl (especially since Earl didn't start writing till he was 74, blind in one eye, and in the early stages of dementia). Sure, God can bless and use Uncle Earl's writing — no one's questioning that. But to suggest there's no difference between the two in terms of quality is disingenuous.

      Just because someone's "slaved" over a story does not mean it's not stylistically mediocre. Sorry. Just because the author's heart is precious to God and the story may be of great value to the Kingdom, does not mean the laws of grammar and plot and structure and dialog don't apply. I mean, c'mon, do you really think there shouldn't be a bar?

      Sorry for the blast, but I just felt Elaina's tone, and your support, just inflated a point I wasn't making.

      And regarding Mick's post (which i read about a month ago), to me, it had more to do with literary vs.commercial than quality vs. mediocrity.

  • Nicole July 30, 2009, 2:37 AM

    I concede there's a bar. I concede there are inferior pieces of writing. I also concede that more than likely some people do the arts who are purely doing them for their own pleasure and not necessarily for God's pleasure. I think basic craft elements are critical to good writing (which I thought I emphasized in my retorts). And I think for an individual to consider writing a call, a gift, a talent–whatever spiritual term one chooses–that individual needs to be focused on producing their best, learning, and pursuing the best they can do.

    I simply understood where Elaina was coming from–her heart's objection to what is often perceived as belittling other writers (or anyone) for not being "as good" as someone else's standard. In writing we all face that judgment by agents/editors/publishers. The thing is if you subtract the craft elements as a given, people will select whatever touches them or they think is important or whatever judgment they choose to use to decide if some story is good.
    Just an example: I think your Uncle Earl may be on a par with Hemingway as far as his writing goes, but Hemingway could tell a good story.

  • Nicole July 30, 2009, 2:38 AM

    It just seems very difficult to universalize or qualify "good/excellent" writing since opinions are so divided on what that really is with very few exceptions.
    And with that I concede I got off point from your original topic. 😉

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