I’m a perfectionist. But I’m not a perfectionist in every area. I’m also not a perfectionist with everyone. I insist on perfection from myself much more often (or so I think – if you know better, let me know) than from other people. Perfectionism has it’s advantages. When we aim to be perfect, the effects we seek to bring about might be more likely – we get better results. But not always.
Sometimes I need to take up the attitude Dave Browning describes in Deliberate Simplicity: How the Church Does More by Doing Less. Browning speaks of “excellence” instead of perfection. In his life in ministry he has seen an emphasis on excellence work to exclude people from ministry. He choose instead to push a sense of “good enough.” I like the idea of good enough. “Good enough” leaves room for grace. It allows more people to step up and try something.
The “Good enough” principles fits with the idea that “if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly” (Chesterton?). More often we hear the opposite – “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
Actually, I think both principles are true. First, if we never try something for the first time – and quite often when we first try something we’re rather poor at it – then are guaranteed to never be good at it. Second, if something is worth doing, if it is an act that truly produces good and blessing for people, then that act is not only worth doing, but it’s worth doing in a way that maximizes the goodness. Sometimes the “doing poorly” will happen in a context that allows for preparation for a different setting where excellence matters more.
As a preacher, I want my speaking to accomplish something in the lives of my hearers. I cannot be lackadaisical about my preparation, therefore. I need to put all my effort into doing the best that I can. But I don’t come anywhere near perfection (by my own standards, at least). I’ve noticed over the years, though, that God chooses to work through me in spite of my failure to reach my own standards. I’d guess that the more imperfect I am – and the wider the audience that recognizes my imperfection – the more necessity I have for God to step in. That’s why I want to be sort of perfection-adverse. I don’t want to get to the place where I perceive myself to no longer need God. I also don’t think God wants me to get to the place where I do nothing.
So with Browning, I want to lift up the idea of “good enough.” I want to extend grace to people to try new things, to reach out in new forms of ministry. But I also want them to take the ministry seriously enough that they pour their best into, while they trust God to fill in the necessarily remaining gaps.