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December 30, 2017

Three Antidotes to Pastoral Perfectionism

By Mark Dance

Pastors and planters know full well the pressure of perfectionism. I have lived and served in the public eye for three decades – fully cognizant of the fact that I am expected to win both at home and church.

I don’t always win.

Pastors also live privately under the gaze of our Lord. How then can we escape the paralysis of perfectionism? I want to suggest three antidotes:

Recognize Perfectionism as Fool’s Gold

I started pastoring in 1987 and have wasted a lot of energy trying to please people, especially myself. In addition to pastoring a church, I serve pastors through LifeWay. Sometimes I feel like I am failing to do both ministries well because of my self-imposed, unrealistic expectations.

Sometimes my identity is too rooted in my ministry. Peace replaces perfectionism when I remember that my identity is found in Christ, not his Church.

If you reach your attendance, giving or baptism goals this year, celebrate those achievements with humility. Be careful not to embrace those victories too tightly because they are temporary.

I remember in 2014 when Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian in history, only to become depressed to the point of considering suicide. Nobody in history has won 22 Olympic medals, 18 of which were gold. What more could a person want in life? Phelps found out that even his gold medals became fool’s gold when they defined who he was instead of what he did.

Embrace Your Own Imperfections

Imperfections are not excuses for our sin, but neither are they inherently sin. I have a legitimate problem remembering numbers which makes me bad at math, not a bad person or a bad pastor.

Will Rogers said “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.”

I often have to remind myself that I am called to equip people to do ministry. If I am not equipping my members for ministry, I am stealing it from them. So many are gifted in areas where I am not, which is by divine design.

Save Some Grace for Yourself

Perfectionists are hard on everybody – especially themselves. Pastors should not only share the gospel of saving grace, we should also save some of that grace for ourselves. You will make some mistakes, and you will commit some secret sins throughout your ministry. To think otherwise is naive at best and arrogant at worst.

Leading your home and yourself “beyond reproach” does not mean leading perfectly. It means you will have to lead your ministry and family in humility and utter dependence on God.

When Michael Phelps traded his old life of perfectionism for a new life of purpose, he found a lane called grace. We all need to find that lane if we are going to finish strong.



Mark Dance

Mark Dance (@markdance) has decades of pastoral experience. He speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats–often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers encouragement at MarkDance.net.


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