If your heart is in functional awe of the glory of God, then there will be no place in your heart for poorly prepared, badly delivered, pastoral mediocrity. We should all be shocked at the level of mediocrity we tolerate in the life and ministry of the local church. No, I’m not talking about giving people room to grow and mature so we don’t crush them with criticism. I’m talking about those places where our standards are simply too low. Mediocrity is not a time, personnel, resource, or location problem. Mediocrity is a heart problem. We have lost our commitment to the highest levels of excellence because we have lost our awe. Awe amnesia is the open door that permits mediocrity in.
Awe of God inspires, motivates, and convicts. There is no replacement for such awe in the leadership of the church of Jesus Christ. Awe asks more of us than we would ever ask of ourselves. Awe reminds you that God is so glorious that it is impossible for you, as his ambassador, to have ministry standards that are too high. I’m not talking about lavish, expensively furnished buildings. I’m talking about a sturdy commitment to do everything you can to display the glory of his presence and grace as powerfully and clearly as you can each time his people gather. You are in such awe of, and have been so satisfied by, his grace that you have zeal to display that grace to those under your care.
You can get this zeal no other way. You never are just doing your duty. You never are just cranking it out. You never are just going through the motions. You never are just putting on a front. You are worshiping your way through life as the ambassador of an expansively glorious King. And you are in reverential fear of doing anything that would dent, diminish, or desecrate that glory in any way.
Our ministries are not just shaped by knowledge, experience, and skill, but by the true condition of our hearts. Excellence in ministry flows from a heart that is in holy, reverential, life-rearranging, motivation-capturing awe of the Lord of Glory. Excellence is, in fact, a relationship. Only One is truly and perfectly excellent. He alone is the sum and definition of what excellence is and does. So the one who is excellence, in his grace, came to you when you were in a state of anything but excellence, and by grace offered you the promise of actually becoming a partaker of his divine nature. He then connects you to purposes and goals way higher and way grander than you would have every quested for yourself. By grace he causes you to think what you wouldn’t have thought, and desire what you never before wanted. He opens your eyes to his glory. He opens the door to his kingdom. He calls and empowers you to display his excellency and the excellency of his grace. Only this excellency has the power to free us from the false excellency of human pride and the mediocrity that results when we are okay with ourselves and our world just the way they are.
When I am in awe at the reality that I have, by grace alone, been attached to what is truly excellent in every way, I want to be an ambassador of that excellence. So I will have high standards for every aspect of ministry under my care. Whether it is the children’s or youth ministries, men’s or women’s ministries, small groups or outreach, leadership training or short-term missions, public worship or preaching, I will want all ministries of the church to faithfully display the excellence of the one who calls out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Pursuit of Excellence
This means we will be committed to the disciplines that cause these ministries to be as free from chaos and mediocrity as is possible between the “already” and the “not yet.” First, we must be committed to preaching the gospel to ourselves, reminding ourselves of our ongoing need to be rescued from us and low standards. We constantly remind ourselves of how we are tempted to value what is expedient and comfortable, rather than what is excellent in the eyes of God. And we tell ourselves again and again that for these battles we have been given bountiful grace.
This also means we will do everything to maintain relationships of unity, understanding, and love between us. We know we are sinners. We know we will sin against one another. We know there are moments when we will be disappointed and hurt. We know we will be misunderstood and wrongly judged. We know we will be selfish and controlling, self-righteous and demanding. We know we will ask one another to give what we have already been given in Christ. So we determine to give ourselves the humility of approachability and the courage of loving honesty. We will commit ourselves to regular patterns of confession and forgiveness. And we will celebrate together the grace that enables sinners to live and minister alongside sinners in a community of unity and love.
And we will be committed to the discipline of adequate preparation that enables us to do well what we have been called to do. You cannot have a ministry that is committed to ambassadorial excellence if these things (disciplines) are not a regular part of your community. If you forget who you are, your ministry will be shaped by a smugness that is more about displaying how great you are, rather than how glorious is the Savior who still meets you in your weakness. If you are not committed to loving gospel community, you will minister out of frustration and discouragement, displaying God’s glory in an abstract form, but not in its living, life-changing vitality. And if you are not committed to the discipline of preparation, you will offer sloppy leadership to poorly sighted people that will become more of a distraction to, rather than an enhancement of, their ability to see God for who is he and place their hope in him.