(This was originally an email to Joshua Skogerboe about a blog post he'd written, but it got posted on a blog, so I'm reposting it here so it's still available.)
I'd agree completely that too often "good enough for church" is used as an excuse for doing less than our best for the Lord. I've been on the soapbox fighting against that myself; it's no different than excusing poor Bible teaching or preaching because according to Is 55:11, God's Word "will not return... empty".
Having said that, I don't believe you've made your case well.
First, while I really appreciate that you provided a definition for "redeem," yours seemed sloppy, particularly given the first use you make of the term: "Our God is a Redeemer, and He uses His people – sometimes His artists – to bring about the work of redemption."
God's work of redemption is not fundamentally a restoration of honor; it is a buying back of His chosen people, paying the debts they cannot through Christ our Redeemer's inexpressible sacrifice.
I have no quarrel with your later use of the term talking about redeeming the phrase "good enough for church." But I hesitate to frame God's redemption of the believer in terms of restoration of honor or reputation of the Christian. Our redemption is completely by God's grace, through His gift of faith, by His choosing, and to His glory. Our value, honor, worth, and reputation is only found in Christ; we should be careful to always keep that in mind, or we'll be starting down a dangerous road.
Second, you spend quite a bit of time encouraging the church to create "excellent art." I would agree, if we share the same criteria for excellence. That's the rub within any critique of art, and I think it's even more important when evaluating anything created directly for usage in worship or other ministry.
For example, are there objective standards of beauty that can be used as criteria? If so, what are they and what is their source? Are they self-evident in the nature of created order, or are they founded in some aspect of God's character?
Here's a more difficult one: Is effectiveness a criterion? If so, where does it rank in priority? Is "Does it work?" synonymous with "Is it good?" This is not an empty philosophical question; pragmatism is a horribly seductive error. It's seductive because it's so in tune with American cultural values of hard work and success; it is a two-fold error because at its core it assumes that we can (1) by our efforts move anyone toward (2) choosing salvation, contrary to Eph 2:8-9, and Luther's useful synopsis of Scripture found in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostle's Creed. The embrace of pragmatic methodologies is causing enormous damage within churches today.
Until one has a biblical, consistent criteria of evaluation, there is no point in "recalibrating your excellence meter." In fact, it may be harmful, if one's meter allows worldly standards to trump eternal ones.
Unfortunately, you don't develop any criteria in this regard, Joshua, so the reader is forced to supply the missing context. Frankly, that is dangerous. Are you arguing that only those with as-yet-undefined-but-significant talent and training should be allowed to serve in church? That a body that's unable to develop advertising that holds its own in the local media should close the doors until it can, or hire out the expertise that God hasn't brought to the congregation? That excellence is a fluid target, depending on the size of the church and the talent and training of the people within it? Regardless of your intent, I could see all three positions claiming the support of your article, even though they're mutually exclusive!
I don't want to just throw stones, so here's what I'd argue, and I believe I can support: God has called us to be faithful, not effective (see Ezekiel and Jeremiah). A church that preaches the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:21-27), edifies the body, and practices church discipline is being faithful; any numeric growth (or lack thereof) is by God's will according to His purpose. To be blunt, there is no such thing as a "seeker" as defined by Revs Warren and Hybels (per Rom 3:10, "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.")
Given that, we as believers should be good stewards of the gifts and talents that God's given us, as we are faithful in the works He has prepared for us. I would agree that Col 3:23 has implications for the believer in serving the church, and that it calls us work diligently, to the best of our ability, but always keeping in mind biblical priorities and constraints. For example, could I play piano better on Sunday if I practiced three hours a day? Yes. But should I do that if it means ignoring my family? No.
Does this mean that sometimes I have to lower my expectations a bit because I'm singing with people who are less skilled? Absolutely. And I'm sure that tomorrow or next week, another in the body will have to be patient with my clumsiness in some other way. We strive to do our best, but if we keep in mind how flawed and defective our best is (outside of Christ) in relation to God's perfection, I would hope we'd be better able to be patient with someone else in church who has trouble staying on pitch every now and then.