6 Thoughts on Perfectionism and Church Leadership
“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
― Brené Brown
Church leaders can be driven by perfectionism and it might be driving you into the ground. The stakes are super high in what we’re doing and so we ratchet up the internal (and sometimes external) pressure to perform beyond a healthy desire to honor God with our work. We’re inspired by manically driven leaders who polish every detail of their product or service but willing ignore the impact that has on the people around them. I’ve gone through phases of my ministry where I’ve suffered from perfectionism and it has been painful. Here are a few things that I’ve learned about this mindset and it’s impact on church leadership:
- Perfectionism is hindering your church. // There is a line between wanting to do an excellent job to honor God and inspire people and obsessing towards perfection. When a leader is driven to perfection you put the focus on you and your talent rather than on what God wants to do and your people. You make it about your standards. It repels people from serving with you and it reduces your effectiveness.
- Perfection is Procrastination. // Continuing to polish your latest “thing” at your church is slowing you down from having an impact. It can feel so much safer to be in the workshop perfecting your craft rather than in the showcase making a difference. You’re spiritual gifts were given to you to make an impact in the world around you … not as a private gift for you to perfect. The more you polish towards perfection … the more you are putting off making an impact in the world.
- Perfectionism leads to black-and-white thinking. // If you find yourself boiling everything down to binary approaches than you might be suffering from perfectionism. Often time perfectionism can lead towards thinking that we either are going to hit a certain standard or be an absolute failure. Life is more nuanced than that! Reject binary thinking and explore the multiplicity of options available to you in solving the problems you face as a church leader!
- Perfectionism repels people. // Leaders who suffer from perfectionism suffer from the “superhero syndrome” … thinking they need to do it all themselves because they are the only ones who really know how to get something done. By doing this leaders find themselves doing all kinds of tasks and roles that they shouldn’t be doing and ironically they do them less effectively than other people who could excel at the job. People around you see you trying to “doing it all” and not do it well and builds up resentment because they’d like to help but you are rejecting their assistance … and doing the tasks poorly! Church leaders suffering from perfectionism find them in a very lonely leadership spot.
- Practice persistent starting to fight perfectionism. // One of the best ways for leaders to fight perfectionism is to consistently start projects. Deliberately “beta testing” a new approach in your ministry. Figure out what the “minimal viable outcome” would be for a ministry area and try that. Cultivate a mindset that allows you to “try stuff” and see what happens. Take a risk … tell yourself it’s only for a short time. Don’t look for it to be perfect out the box … if it doesn’t work right … start over with something else. Persistently start stuff.
- Perfectionism rejects grace. // At it’s core when I’m driven by perfectionism I’m rejecting grace. I’m trying to convincing myself that I’m perfect and that I can only accept perfection. I’m not leaving room for the fact that I do stumble and fall … that there is a gap between what I can do and what I want. If I’m not careful perfectionism can ultimately block out what God wants to do in my life because I remove my sense of His grace at work in me.
Whadda think? How have you seen perfectionism creep into your leadership at your church?
Need some more help with perfectionism? [Download this PDF for helpful insights and tools for dealing with it.]