Resisting the urge for perfection

October 6th, 2014

If you are a part of a congregation, faith community, or serve or volunteer with a nonprofit, you know that it is important to cultivate volunteers or “lay leaders.” You probably also know that when you are building capacity of these volunteers and leaders there will likely be challenges, growth opportunities and growing pains along the way. Perfection won’t always be possible. Perhaps it shouldn’t even be the goal?

A friend of mine recently asked, "In what ways can leaders creatively resist our cultural need for perfection and performance in worship?" This question struck me. 

There is something to be said about resisting an urge for perfection and performance. The larger world and culture demand perfection and demand performance now. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. The challenge when it comes to worship though is that it seemingly creates a group of people who are the “performers” rather than an idea that all people are important parts of the worship experience, worshiping together.

From what I have seen, the cultural focus on perfection and performance has taken a serious toll on congregations and faith communities. Fewer people, perhaps, sing in worship because they don’t feel they have a gift to sing and join the song. This creates more passivity in worship, and even a sense of consumerism. “They will sing to me and I will listen,” rather than, “we will sing and praise God together.”

Less people are willing to participate in a Bible Study, or help lead education or faith formation in a congregation because they believe that both should be pastor (or at least well-trained staff) led. There is also a fear. They believe they don’t know much about the Bible, the Word of God, and are afraid of talking about it with others and being seen as if they don’t know about it, or that they themselves aren’t perfect.

A new mission start, like Tapestry, pictured above, is only possible if people openly wonder “what if” and are honest about wanting to experiment about new ways and possibilities. In such wondering, perfection isn’t the focus, rather, wondering how do we gather and worship God is.

These are just two examples in the congregation. But if you think about it more, think of all the areas that have implications like this. If you don’t think you are that good with money or are afraid you might make a mistake, you are less apt to be willing to help in stewardship.

If you are afraid that you aren’t a very good leader, you are less likely to serve on the church council. These fears of imperfection, or the focus on perfection are hindering communities, they are stunting growth and they don’t allow people to really be who they are becoming, to develop and to grow.

Its time to get a little messy! Even though popular culture strives to focus on perfection, it’s time to realize that’s not reality and its not how the world works. The world is far from perfect. We proclaim this every week in worship, recognizing that the world is both beautifully created and loved, but also broken. We are to be a part of the healing work of God, doing God’s work in the world in different capacities. The problem is, if we believe we have to be perfectionists in doing it, it’s quite likely nothing will ever get done. Do you see my point?

If we are so focused on being perfect, then we will never experiment. New things will be few and far between. New ideas will struggle even more than they do now to take hold. And fewer and fewer people will feel comfortable wondering and imagining “what if…”

I had a junior high teacher who was adamant about hating the question and statement, “What if…” He wanted to focus on the facts. But today, I openly disagree with that teacher. We need more people in this world wondering, “What if…” Because it’s really with that question where we can start to turn the page and work for something better.

Yes, the “what if” starts with a recognition that the way things are now isn’t perfect, or at least not ideal and there needs to be a change. If we as leaders in communities, congregations, etc., help people wonder “what if” well, then hopefully we will also help people overcome the repeated notion of needing the answer to be perfect. We need to create space where someone feels safe to try, experiment, see, imagine and witness what a better way or alternative might be. This can only happen though if we can work through our fears of imperfection.

Returning specifically to worship, what if instead of focusing on everyone performing in their role — whether it be related to music, sacraments, offering, etc., we focus more on allowing space for people to serve? After all, if worship is about praising God, then who is to decide if our worship is good enough? Is it perfect? I don’t really think that’s up to us at all. It’s really up to God. How’s that for a countercultural idea? The focus doesn’t rest on us at all.

What do you think? Are you ready? Its time to get a little messy! 

This post was adpated from one that originally appeared on Timothy Siburg's blog. Follow Timothy on his blog and on Twitter

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