I don’t know many people who aspire to be ordinary. We grow up being told we are special. What would our parents think if we just turn out to be regular people?
So if you write a book encouraging Christians to be content with ordinary ministry in ordinary life, there needs to be some qualifiers. Michael Horton does this in Chapter Two, “Ordinary Isn’t Mediocre.” Because if you’re like me, after reading chapter one you might be asking, “Sure, this is sounding like a cool drink of water, but how can we be content with our callings in ordinary life but still strive for excellence?”
Well, I’m glad you asked. Horton explains that striving for excellence is good, but not just for the sake of being excellent. I’ve always said that I love it when people are good at what they do and do it with joy, whether it is my grocery bagger or my chiropractor. Our vocations are about serving God and neighbor, and Horton explains that “true excellence has others in mind.” (29). So this chapter discusses godly ambition and faithful commitment over time. Excellence is about passion, not selfish ambition:
You find yourself desiring something or someone whose inherent truth, beauty, and goodness draw you in. You love a particular object enough to endure whatever setbacks and challenges stand in your way. That’s true of anyone who is driven by a worthy prospect, romance, cause, or calling. (31)
One obstacle I had to reading a book written by Michael Horton praising the ordinary is that I wouldn’t call a guy who boldly marched up to James Montgomery Boice at age 13 saying, “I want to be a reformer just like you,” and then basically does just that with his life as ordinary. But the thing is, ordinary is not the same as typical. And it isn’t mediocre. “Mediocrity results from not caring at all.” He explains, “In countless examples of those we consider successful in life, we can see there was a patient commitment to daily routines, routines that to the outside observer seem dull, trivial, worthless” (32). Whether we are talking about doctrine, athletics, music, parenting, or practicing law, it’s often by faithfully exercising the foundations that we reach the freedom to be good at what we do. It’s usually the everyday commitment to our pursuit, not the novel, and not the quest for superiority itself, that leads to true excellence. And it isn’t something we can usually do alone. This is especially true for the Christian life:
However, in any field, excellence requires discipline. Discipline requires disciples, just as craftsmanship requires apprentices. Much wisdom for this discipleship may be found in the community’s accumulated resources. However, books will not be sufficient. In the church today, we do not need more conferences, more programs, and more celebrities. We need more churches where the Spirit is immersing sinners into Christ day by day, a living communion of the saints, where we cannot simply jump to our favorite chapter or Google our momentary interests. (35)
We may be talking ordinary means, but certainly not mediocre service. Love for God and our neighbor motivates us to serve with excellence, not mediocrity. And maybe it is pretty extraordinary to look outside of ourselves. The slogan Horton gives for the ordinary Christian is pretty darn exceptional, but beautifully familiar: “Because of Christ alone, embraced through faith alone, for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors alone, on the basis of God’s Word alone”—and nothing more. (44).
*Originally published on September 29, 2014.