Earlier this year, a century-old fresco of Jesus was deteriorating on the wall of a Roman Catholic church in Spain. This was more than one parishioner, Cecilia Giménez, a little old lady in her 80s, could bear. So she restored it. She entered the church with her art supplies and repaired the painting.
When church officials first saw the restoration, they assumed the church had been vandalized. I mean, look at the before and after photos. She did a good job of covering the fresco with paint, but Jesus ended up with a neckbeard and a generally cartoon-monkey-esque appearance.
I don’t know all of the dynamics involved here, but it seems to me that this woman, bless her sweet little heart, was simply offering her abilities to God. The painting needed to be restored, and she had paint and a willing heart.
So we shouldn’t be upset about this, right? It’s the heart that matters, not the level of talent. Right?
I think this story—simultaneously tragic, sweet, and hilarious—provides a good lead-in to an important discussion. Is there a place in the church for excellence? A person’s heart absolutely matters, but should we also take into account his or her level of skill?
Most of us don’t have important works of art in our churches that need to be restored. But we have all heard a solo sung by a willing soul with a horrible voice. I’ve seen comically horrible paintings prominently displayed in churches because nobody wanted to offend the nice lady who painted it with the best of intentions.
While we need to honor the intentions of those who volunteer their talents in every area of church life, I believe it is a mistake to let anyone assume any duty simply because they have a willing heart. In the following quote, Barbara Nicolosi shows that the problem here is not letting people with good intentions serve, the problem is transforming service to the Lord into a tool for garnering self-esteem:
“We’ve wrecked art by making it a tool of a sort of egalitarianism, in which we now consider the arts as something that is about making people have better self-esteem. There is an interesting ratio that goes with this egalitarianism: the increase of self-esteem in the untalented people who get to perform stands in direct proportion to the flaying of the aesthetic sensibilities of a thousand others who have to listen to them. What we’ve done here is to say, ‘You know what? Doris and Stan have good hearts, and they love the Lord, and they wrote a song.’ So we let Doris and Stan sing, despite the fact that they have terrible voices. We’re not doing it to raise a beautiful song to the heavens. We’re doing it to make Doris and Stan feel good. Somebody needs to say to the pastors who are making the rest of us suffer for Doris’s and Stan’s self-esteem, ‘there are other ways to make Doris and Stan feel good.’”
I’m not suggesting that we all become art snobs in our churches. Nor do I think we should set an excellence standard and reject all service from all persons who do not measure up. It is essential that all members of the body serve (1 Cor. 12), but this does not give every church member a blank check to serve however, whenever, and in front of whomever he or she chooses.
Excellence glorifies God, and if we find a person attempting to serve in a capacity for which he is not gifted, then we should graciously redirect him to an area in which he is gifted. Excellence is not the only factor in play here, but neither is self-esteem.
 Barbara Nicolosi, “The Artist: What Exactly Is an Artist, and How Do We Shepherd Them?” in W. David O. Taylor, ed., For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010) 111-112.