I’m a perfectionist, I’ll come right out and say it. It frustrates me when things aren’t as good as they could be. Mind you, I’m saying ‘could be’ and not ‘should be’ and there’s a big difference between the two. Could be has to do with what is realistically possible, should be is about some ‘standard’ that may not be achievable at all.
In youth ministry, perfectionism can be both an advantage and a huge challenge. Perfectionism is an advantage because it makes you strive to grow, to get better, to come up with new and fresh stuff all the time, which can really benefit the ministry. But perfectionism can also be an enormous challenge, a disadvantage even because it can make you feel inadequate at times, frustrated because things obviously aren’t as perfect as you’d like and it can even make you feel like a complete failure. So what’s the secret to making your perfectionism work to your advantage?
The answer has everything to do with the answer to this question:
When is it good enough?
Just think about it and try to answer it for yourself: When is it good enough? When is a youth service good enough? A retreat? A small group study, an event, or a sermon? When do you know you’ve done enough?
This question often gets some quick and easy answers, like ‘if you’ve done your best’ or ‘just give it your best shot’. And then often comes this reassuring statement: ‘God doesn’t need something to be perfect in order to use it, He can use all our efforts for His glory’ or something along those lines.
And the problem for perfectionists is that this is in fact true. God doesn’t need perfection to be able to work. I’ve seen Him use the weakest of sermons to bring people to Christ. I’ve seen Him come down with His tangible presence in the midst of a mediocre worship service. I’ve seen Him use imperfect people all the time, with perfect results. God doesn’t need perfection.
Which leaves us with a very big problem, because where exactly is the point where it is good enough for God to use? If God can indeed use our every effort, why would we try to make it perfect? If He is indeed strong where we are weak, why would we strive to grow, to do the best we can?
It may seem like a theoretical dilemma, but it’s one I’ve been in repeatedly. You see, I’m a perfectionist. I’ve always been one. I’m what the Germans would call a ‘Streber’, someone who’s always going for the highest grades. I’ve never been satisfied with a B, because I knew I could do better (except in math, for which a B was reason for extensive celebrations). It’s just who I am.
But then in youth ministry there are these people who tell me I shouldn’t try so hard, do so much, set the bar so high…because God doesn’t need perfection. They mean well obviously, but it leaves me feeling frustrated and confused, because I want to do my best, I want others to do their best and I know we can do better as a ministry.
So again I ask the question: when it is good enough? Why raise the bar, why try your best if basically God doesn’t need it?
Here’s what I believe and how I answer the question of when you know it’s good enough. God deserves my very best efforts, because He is worthy of receiving the very best that I can bring. He has blessed me with certain gifts and talents and I want to use these for His glory and His kingdom by serving in youth ministry. As a matter of fact, it makes me happy to serve God this way because I know I’m doing what He has called me to do.
Using these gifts means striving for the best results possible, keeping in mind that God has created us all differently, so my best efforts may be a far cry off from your best efforts, because He has gifted us differently. Using my gifts also means that I put effort into improving my serve in these areas, for instance by reading, taking courses, or seeking a coach.
God doesn’t need me to be perfect in order to use me and he doesn’t need my work to be perfect either. That’s what gives me the reassurance to accept the result after I (and others) have done my best, even if the result is far from perfect. There’s an old Keith Green song that sums it up perfectly: ‘Just keep doing your best, pray that it’s blessed and Jesus take care of the rest’.
When is it good enough? When I know I have done my best according to the gifts God gave me. And even when I haven’t done my best because of circumstances or whatever, He can still use it and even better…He still loves me. His love does not depend on my performance. Amazing grace…
Are you a perfectionist or not? If you are, how do you use it to your advantage? Do you recognize the frustration? If you’re not, how do you handle people who are? Can you understand where they’re coming from?