I make my bed in the morning. I eat breakfast. I color coordinate my clothes closet. And yes, I write my sermons three to four weeks in advance. I admit it. I am a perfectionist. I was raised to believe that if I would be tough on myself, then the world wouldn't be so tough on me. I'm most grateful for parents who taught me to value discipline.
Lately though, I've come to realize certain downsides to what I affectionately name as disciplines and what others might better describe as my perfectionistic tendencies. I have particularly noticed these downsides when I think about some of my personal pastor friends. I meet regularly with some guys who are off the charts in the opposite direction. To suggest that they are not organized is to do serious damage to the term "organized." (I don't even want to think about what their beds look like!)
Here's the thing. They have fantastic ministries! They are reaching men, women and children for Christ. Despite their disorganized, scatter-brained outward appearances, they are incredibly effective. They have solid relationships. When I'm out to breakfast or lunch with them, they are like people magnets.
Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for my discipline. But it's worth being aware that there are at least 4 perfectionistic downsides of which I need to be aware.
Downside #1: Less Dependency On Christ. Those who are the weakest tend most to rely on Christ's strength. The opposite is also true. No amount of personal discipline is worth more to me than the power of Christ to work in and through me. My disciplines must always point me outward to God and to the people He wants me to reach. Otherwise it's totally, completely wasted. Am I more dependent on my disciplines or entirely dependent upon Christ?
Downside #2: Relational Walls. Who wants to hang out with the straight A student except around exam time? Remember the kid in the class who raised the grade curve? Not exactly a people magnet. My good pastor friends mentioned above make no secret that they are broken pieces saved by grace in need of God and other broken pieces. People love them because they make fun of themselves, and at the same time, make much of Christ. Who do I make much of? (I probably totally ruin the impact of this by my frustration that I ended that last sentence with a preposition.)
Downside #3: Difficulty Embracing Messiness. Leading a local church means finding the right balance between grace and truth. Those who struggle with perfectionistic tendencies, like me, are usually strong on truth. But grace? Not so much. I'm reminded by Andy Stanley's newest book, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love To Attend, that growing churches filled with spiritually seeking people tend to be messy churches. I struggle with messy. Not Jesus. He loves making exceptions, breaking rules, and not worrying too much about setting precedents. Do I really want a messy church filled with unchurched people?
Downside #4: Doing Too Much. Leading a church necessitates giving away work that I'm good at doing. This is a challenge for me and pastors like me for two reasons. First we like doing things that we're good at doing. There must be some kind of unique pleasure center in our perfectionistic brains that releases endorphins for accomplishing work with excellence. Finishing a job well is almost an orgasmic experience for those of us most perfectionistically afflicted. The second reason giving away work is a struggle is because someone else will never do the job like we would have done it.
If this describes you - and remember I'm a card carrying member of the perfect club - GET OVER IT! Seriously. Our churches will never grow as Christ intends, if we insist on doing the work ourselves. Will I really do what only I can do and give everything else away? (I should write this question on my pillowcase so I see it every morning as I make my bed.)
The fourth and tenth steps of twelve-step programs involve taking a personal inventory and admitting moral failures. This might sound extreme when talking about perfectionistic pastors. Do I really think that my perfectionistic tendencies are in the same camp as alcoholism? Yes, if these weaknesses parading as strengths keep me from doing the work that Christ has given me to do!
Perfect pastors - and you know who you are - remember that God did not choose you and me because of our disciplines. He does not use us because we are so usable. We get to do this. It's a privilege. With Paul, maybe the most perfectionistic pastor to ever roam the Earth, we join to say: "For Christ's sake I have discarded everything else, counting it as garbage, so that I could gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8 NLT).