Words and work truly valued

The December 2005 issue of Touchstone magazine included an editorial by David Mills entitled, “Unadulterated Words: Justly Praising the Great and the Mediocre.” Mills describes two opposite manifestations of what he calls “linguistic sins.”

Inflation is the first manifestation. Words such as excellent, brilliant, wonderful, marvelous are tossed about so frequently in the name of kindness and collegiality that they have lost their meaning. The result is that an honest and enthusiastic “’Nicely done’ sounds pretty much like ‘Nice try, loser’,” writes Mills.

The “greater sin,” however, is to not “recognize and praise the value of good work that is not great–the sort of work the average craftsman does, and the average person doesn’t notice.” When average work falls under our radar screen, we are taking the craftsman for granted “as someone who exists simply to supply services.”

Mills offers an example, worth thinking about now at the start of a weekend, a couple days before many of us will head to church. With so much emphasis on the popular pastors whose faces grace book covers and television appearances or local megachurch pulpits, Mills suggests that the average pastor who does good work is often taken for granted. He challenges us to think again:

“Think only of his preaching: Your pastor’s competent sermon that isn’t as eloquent or learned as the radio preacher’s still deserves praise. Even when, as one sometimes thinks, you could have done better. It deserves praise for the work he put into it and the love of the people it expressed. It deserves praise for the faithfulness to his calling that preacher had to accept (and perhaps not easily) in order to give it, the faithfulness required to stand in the pulpit before people prone to be critical, knowing that he cannot possibly compete at the level they had come to expect from television.

You do not have to tell him that he is another St. John Chrysostom or John Henry Newman or Charles Haddon Spurgeon when he isn’t. You do not have to tell him that last Sunday’s sermon changed your life when it didn’t. But you can thank him for being a man who works at bringing the Word of God to his people, as you would thank a man who walked several miles on a hot summer’s day to bring you water when you were thirsty, even if the water was a little stale and a little warm.“ (David Mills. ”Unadulterated Words.“ Touchstone. December 2005

Imagine the transformative power that could be unleashed in a person and in a community by the practice of showing gratitude for good work from average people–like the typical pastor, like the cashier at the grocery store, like a child's teacher, like me, like you.