I should have warned her, really.

A friend of mine has just published her first book, and she is understandably quite excited. A parcel of copies arrived from her publisher, and she’s checked that it’s there on Amazon too. She’s nervous, but excited.

But then she said, “Actually, I’m a bit disappointed too, because I opened the book and on the first page I looked at there was a mistake.”

It’s a little rite of passage that every writer experiences – our fingers, like heat seeking missiles, seem to be able to find the mistake in a book they’ve never held before.

And it contains important lessons for ministry.

One, perfection is very, very hard to attain. Ultimately it’s impossible, of course, but even on the small scale of a project with clear boundaries, and multiple opportunities to check, mistakes happen.

Two, I should therefore be realistic about the standards we expect in church. If I express mild disappointment at anything other than a flawless result, I’m going to be tutting my disapproval all through the service. That’s not good for me, or for other people’s ministries.

Three, that doesn’t mean we have to accept low standards. A spelling mistake on the projector screen is occasionally going to happen – but it’s good to have a system to make sure it doesn’t happen twice. Is there someone at church noticing those things? Do they know how to get it corrected without putting someone’s back up?

Fourth, perfectionism can place a crippling limitation on creativity. Sometimes we have to let something fly even though we are sure we’ll see a million ways to improve it the moment it begins.

Fifth, every new venture feels frail to the point of worthlessness even at a very late stage. Any creative person will tell you of the inner urge to chuck the project away, no matter how much work has gone into it, rather than take the risk of putting it out there. But we need to take the risk.

And me? Well, I’m preaching this week, and the only way I’ll allow myself to stop working on it and go to bed is knowing that it’s not perfect, but it’s probably as good as I’m going to be able to make it in the time. The cost of further improvement means other important things not getting done. And that’s too high a cost. Work hard, and pray, and then go to bed.

Process questions

If idleness is a sin, and perfectionism is idolatry, where is the place for a forgiven Christian to stand?

Do you know what that desire to chuck away a major project feels like? What sins contribute to that feeling?

5 comments on “Doh!”

  1. Hi Chris,

    I really appreciated reading this post and wanted to tweet it, but for some reason it’s not there anymore. If it wasn’t intentionally removed, would you be able to repost it?

    Thanks, Grace.

      1. Thanks Chris! When I started out in ministry this year, someone said something very similar to me and it’s one of the things I keep having to come back to. It’s right to strive for excellence but we need to know that we’ll never do things perfectly – that’s God’s job and remembering this is both humbling and freeing.

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