Ministry Perfectionism

Orginally published on Sunday, May 13, 2007 at 3:07 PM
by Todd Rhoades

I don't know about you, but I am many times prone to perfectionism. (Those who know me might disagree) After all, it is vitially important to get everything just perfect 100% of the time, right? For example, if just 99.5% was acceptable...

--Two million documents will be lost by the IRS this year.
--811,000 faulty rolls of 35-mm film will be loaded this year.
--22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank accounts in the next 60 minutes.
--1,314 phone calls will be misplaced by telecommunication services every minute.
--12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.
--268,500 defective tires will be shipped this year.
--14,208 defective personal computers will be shipped this year.
--103,260 incoming tax returns will be processed incorrectly this year.
--2,488,200 books will be shipped in the next 12 months with the wrong cover.
--5,517,200 cases of soft drinks produced in the next 12 months will be flatter than a bad tire.
--Two plane landings daily at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago will be unsafe.
--3,056 copies of tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal will be missing one of the three sections.
--18,322 pieces of mail will be mishandled in the next hour.
--291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year.
--880,000 credit cards in circulation will turn out to have incorrect cardholder information on their magnetic strips.
--$9,690 will be spent today, tomorrow, next Thursday, and every day in the future on defective, often unsafe sporting equipment.
--55 malfunctioning automatic teller machines will be installed in the next 12 months.
--20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written in the next 12 months.
--114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes will be shipped this year.
--$761,900 will be spent in the next 12 months on tapes and compact discs that won’t play.
--107 incorrect medical procedures will be performed by the end of the day today.
--315 entries in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language will turn out to be misspelled.

Well… the ministry decisions that you make everyday many times are not life-threatening, but it is important the we strive to do our best in everying ‘as unto the Lord’. However, when we become consumed with perfectionism and getting everything just right, we strike up an unhealthy balance that can cause many different things (according to the University of Texas Austin):

--Performance anxiety
--Test anxiety
--Social anxiety
--Writer’s block

Do you have any of these symptoms? If you’re a closet perfectionist, you can probably relate. Here are some differences between perfectionism and striving to do your best:

A perfectionist sets standards beyond reach and reason. A healthy striver sets high standards, but just beyond reach.

A perfectionist is never satisfied by anything less than perfection; a healthy striver enjoys process as well as outcome.

A perfectionist becomes dysfunctionally depressed when experiences failure and disappointment; but a healthy striver bounces back from failure and disappointment quickly and with energy.

A perfectionist is preoccupied with fear of failure and disapproval––this can deplete energy levels. A healthy striver keeps normal anxiety and fear of failure and disapproval within bounds––uses them to create energy.

A perfectionist sees mistakes as evidence of unworthiness, while a healthy striver sees mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning.

A perfectionist becomes overly defensive when criticized; but a healthy striver reacts positively to helpful criticism.

God knows our weaknesses and inefficiencies. After all, he was in the flesh, just like you and me. It’s something I need to be reminded of everyday so that I can be a healthy striver, rather than a perfectionist…

Your thoughts? Click the ‘comments’ link below to let me know what you think… Are you a perfectionist? How do you deal with your perfectionism?

Have a great week!


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  There are 7 Comments:

  • Posted by Leonard

    I is a purfekshionist.  Actually I am not and have long had the motto.  Sometimes when you are really frustrated you should lower your expectations.  Great article.  I do believe that aiming for your best and striving for excellence it really important but not at the expense of your sanity.

  • Posted by

    To me the issue is when the pursuit of excellence (perfection) overwhelms authenticity. (Maybe that makes me “emergent"). Doing our best for the Lord isn’t about meeting some objective, and often objectionable, standard from other churches or culture. I struggle to learn and know that it is to God and in God that I am truly myself…

  • Posted by

    Coming from someone who “strives for excellence” (How’s that for putting some spin on being a perfectionist”, I love Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great.” After all, I don’t think many would disagree about the fact that we do often times settle for good when we could have had great - in many areas and arenas of life.  However, there is another side to this proverbial coin.  Do you know what the other enemy of great is?  Answer: Perfection.  There are many times where I will not take risks if I do not think I can produce perfection (which is arrogant and sinful). 
    Great article.

  • Posted by

    I strive for excellence but I am not a perfectionist (clinically speaking). Maybe it’s because, as a musician, I’ve seen some beautiful stuff happen when a “mistake” is made. Authenticity and Excellence work together, and Passion is along for the ride… then you’ve got it.

    Chris, you’re right, Perfectionism can get in the way of authenticity. I don’t believe excellence can, though. They’re two different things.

  • Posted by

    another thought:
    One of my favourite quotes (that someone told me is from GK Chesterton but I’m not sure) is “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly”. It acknowledges that there are few things we can do well the first time we try (so true in my life and ministry). Perfectionism refutes that by valuing only the final outcome and not the faithful process of development.
    To clarify about excellence (without this becoming a semantics debate) the pursuit of excellence apart from authenticity is the problem. Achieving authentic excellence is awesome!

  • Posted by Jan

    I think striving for excellence should include giving room for the freedom to fail and learn from that experience, which negates perfectionism.

    I’ve found that when I’m leaning towards perfectionism, it’s because it’s become about me.  And whether or not the ministry moment is “successful” or not, the ministry that could have happened in people terms was compromised because my motives were not pure.

  • Posted by Milton Stanley

    Good word, Todd. I linked to your posts here and on the “Wallenda Factor.” Thanks for the work good work on preaching you do here.

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