We can’t expect perfection

Photo: Daniele Levis Pelusi, Unsplash. Photo: Daniele Levis Pelusi, Unsplash.

Recently I had my three-year pastoral review. Though I trusted my church and the process, I got anxious every time I thought about it. 

I realized that I always feel this way when I have work reviews. I have never had a terrible review, or one that I felt was unfair. But I am often nervous and even afraid about what I might hear. 

I think this is because I strive for perfection. Now, this does not sound bad on its own. Growing up in church, I was often told we are to strive to be like Christ, which meant we were to do our best to be perfect, even though that was unattainable. 

This has helped motivate me to do my best. But it also gives me a sense of failure and dread when things do not go perfectly.

One thing I’ve learned in ministry is that perfection is not something you can count on. You can have the best planning ever, and yet there will be moments that don’t go as planned. 

In my first few months as a pastor, I already had my first three years planned out. I knew exactly what I wanted to happen. I thought I had a perfect plan. 

Then, three months into my ministry, COVID hit, and our church had to pivot. 

Add to that natural disasters in our area and political tension in our larger community, and perfection began to drift further and further from my view. 

This was a difficult time for my congregation and me. We were not off to the start that we had hoped. 

It was a scramble to figure out how to be community while staying safe. 

We got through the difficult time, but not because of our good ideas or because we executed everything perfectly. We got through it because we were open to failure. We realized this was going to be an imperfect time. 

Zoom services were bumpy. My sermons lacked some energy. We were all exhausted. 

But we adopted a posture of grace that carried us through the most difficult moments. We were open to trying new things. We refused to give up even when the new things did not work out as planned.

There’s a saying that perfection is the enemy of the good. I think perfection also can be the enemy of ministry. 

When we expect perfection, we lose the grace we need to take risks. The expectation of perfection leads to fear of failure, and fear of failure leads to inaction and stagnation. 

Yes, we strive to do ministry well. We always need to give our best effort. But we have to realize that even our best plans will at times fall short. It can be easy for churches to become discouraged and skeptical of new ideas after they do not deliver as people had hoped.

In the Gospels, we read not only the story of Jesus but also the story of the disciples. We see both their successes and their failures. Peter had a knack for saying the wrong thing. James and John lusted for power. Thomas doubted the resurrection. 

Each made mistakes, but by grace each did his part, contributing to the new things God was doing in the world. 

These are the lessons of grace within the Gospels. God allowed the imperfect to participate in Jesus’ -ministry, spread his message and establish the church.

We need to apply the same grace to our own ministries. There will be mistakes and hard times, but through grace we can learn from our shortcomings. We can grow together as we all participate in what God is doing. 

The church here in the United States is short on people and energy. We can’t expect perfection. We have to open up space and room for mistakes to happen and work together to smooth out the rough patches. 

This will require patience and grace. We need to have the same grace for each other that God has for us. 

Don’t let perfection be your enemy. Have grace for others. Like you, they are doing the best they can. 

Jerrell Williams

Jerrell Williams is pastor of Salem (Ore. Read More

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