Why Perfectionism Can Spell Trouble for Church Leaders

It's better to lead with excellence than perfectionism. (Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash)

Back in the 1990s, church leaders started talking way more about "excellence" in worship and ministry. Many churches have written excellence into their core values with phrases such as:

—"We do all things with excellence for the glory of God."

—"If it's worth doing, it's worth doing with excellence."

—"Excellence in all things, and all things for God's glory."

Excellence, as a core value, is a double-edged sword, and we talk about both edges of that sword a lot among our church's pastors and staff members.

On the one hand, yes, we should do all things with as much excellence as possible for God's glory. It's true that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. It's also true that excellence is attractive, and while attractiveness isn't the primary goal, it's not a bad goal by any means.

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On the other hand, excellence has its problems. Or at least the way we pursue excellence can be problematic. In particular:

—Excellence can be the enemy of execution—we don't start things because we're waiting for perfect conditions.

—Excellence can be the enemy of authenticity—we sometimes feel we have to "fake it to make it" and become afraid of showing our flaws.

—Excellence can easily slip into the idolatry of perfectionism in which grace has little room to work.

—Excellence can be intimidating for people who approach a church or ministry with a spirit of humility.

—Excellence can also feed our need to please people rather than to serve them, and there is a legitimate difference.

I don't believe the answer is in abandoning a commitment to doing things with excellence. After all, getting sloppy or lazy is never the best approach to bringing glory and praise to God.

I believe the answer lies in an examination of our motives. And this simple question helps in that search: Am I pursuing excellence because I'm passionate about my work? Or because I find my worth in the presentation?

Perfectionism drives us to "get it right" every single time. Don't let people down. Don't mess up. Don't settle for second best.

Passion, on the other hand, motivates us to do things with a full investment of our heart and our energy.

When we're passionate about Jesus and helping others to come to know Him, we desire to perform at our very best for an audience of one rather than for the watching crowd. And we also desire to serve people well in a way that draws their attention to the message we have to present and not merely to our excellent presentation of the message.

Recently I was being coached by a leader I respect greatly, and he shared this thought: Excellence creates comfort, and comfort creates repeat customers.

I agree entirely. He didn't mean that church attenders are "customers," but rather that if a business is willing to do its very best to take care of people so they come back, the same ought to be even more true of the church.

So, out of passion, not perfectionism, think about the details, the environment, the lighting, the seating, the sound, the quality, the delivery, the greeting, the kids' and youth spaces, the decor, the cleanliness of the restrooms, the stylishness of printed pieces and social media graphics, and everything else.

Just do it for the right reasons. Pursue excellence because you're so passionate about the cause that you'll give God your very best effort.

Brandon A. Cox planted Grace Hills Church in Bentonville, Arkansas, in July 2011 and serves as the lead pastor. He previously served as a pastor under Rick Warren at Saddleback Church and developed the online global community of Pastors.com. He is also a coach to leaders, pastors and church planters.

For the original article, visit brandonacox.com.

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