Alan Briggs: The Paralysis of Perfection

Good ideas are everywhere. I hear them all the time. I don’t think churches or pastors are suffering from a lack of ideas. It’s something much simpler that can hold us back. 

Lately I’ve been noticing two competing ideas in organizations: creativity and excellence. Of course, we need innovative solutions to problems. Count me in for more creativity. It’s the excellence piece that can trip us up. 

Don’t get me wrong—I am all in favor of doing things with excellence. But this desire for excellence can morph into an obsession that can drive us toward a crippling fear. This fear can cause us to hold our ideas back or work ourselves to burnout because we are making sure the “product” is unbelievable. Excellence can subtly slide into an obsession for perfection. 

So, how do we keep the quest for excellence from spiraling into the paralysis of perfection? 

Think Definitions, Not Assumptions. 

If you don’t define what excellence means for you and your staff, it will stifle taking risks and snuff out innovating new ways of doing things. The definition of excellence I work with every day is doing the best I/we can with the resources I/we have at this moment.” Could things be greater if you had more resources? Perhaps. Will you or your church do things better two years from now? Absolutely. 

But now is the time to get started. Steward what’s in your hand instead of waiting for extra time or the next big check to arrive.

Ask yourself, What is my definition of excellence?    

Think Direction, Not Destination. 

If life and leadership parallel a journey, then we are heading somewhere. But do you know exactly where the dot on the map is? When we have clarified the direction we are going in, we can discern whether the steps we are taking move us the right way. 

Ask yourself, Do we as a church know what direction we’re heading in? Do our plans align with that direction? 

Think Progress, Not Perfection. 

Instead of crossing your arms and hoping the next big thing drops in your lap, you and your congregation can start taking proactive steps. Want your congregation to be bathed in Scripture? Invite a few folks into a Scripture reading group. Want to raise a chunk of money for a new building project? Start communicating vision and sketching up the plans. Steps produce purpose and faith; inaction produces apathy and doubt.   

Ask yourself, Does our next step make progress toward our goal?

Failing (or just making little mistakes) is the cost of creating. If you are taking risks, you can expect to misspell words, to doubt whether that small step you just took made any difference, to sit in a room for a planning meeting that no one comes to. But that’s what shapes honest communities where people can be themselves. Your church needs your ideas, your risks, your rough drafts and your visible faith. The best leaders will model what they want to see more of. 

Do the best you can with what’s in your hand and keep taking steps in that right direction.

Alan Briggs