The Curse of Perfectionism
Sometimes people think leaders are perfect. Guess what? Leaders aren’t perfect. Leaders have faults, make mistakes, and aren’t little gods. I have often seen a phenomenon in the church where there are unrealistic expectations placed on leaders. Often leaders become “popular,” and they seem to ascend beyond those who they serve. Why is this? What makes us have these unrealistic expectations? The problem is that most of these expectations and issues of popularity and fame don’t really come from a Christ-centered life. As leaders, we need to be Christ-centered in all of our behaviors and actions. We need to live the life we profess with our words.
Where does this perfection myth come from? I think the myth partly comes from media culture. Movies, magazines, and television sitcoms center around heroes. We pay people to be famous. We pay people to be our little gods. We pay people to be and do what we don’t want to be and do. It’s unfortunate, but this culture seems to be slipping into the church. We can see it in large mega churches, where we pay someone to be our spiritual hero. The only spiritual hero we need or should have is Jesus Christ.
I’ve been guilty of this mentality. For years, I struggled with my identity and calling. I struggled, because being a female in leadership isn’t easy. I struggled, because it seemed like there were certain groups and clicks in the church. A lot of times these groups were filled with people who seemed to resemble Christianity, but often did not have a spiritual depth or even a relationship with Christ. It was more about a show, a certain type of dress, or a style of what was called “worship.” Certain callings seem to be privileged over others. I guess I finally ended up seeing that it was all ridiculous, and I didn’t want to be part of a Pentecostal Parade. I don’t want to be a part of a movement or group which professes a type of outward “holiness” but has no depth and inside holiness. I don’t care how many standards you think you are fulfilling. If you don’t know Jesus Christ, it doesn’t mean a thing.
As a teenager I saw the pinnacle calling for a woman as one who is a preacher’s wife. I never saw any female preachers, so I never knew I could be called to be a preacher. Most of my prayers as a teenager focused on my calling of which I thought was to be a preacher’s wife. I felt like if I did not achieve this calling, in some way I would not be successful. I wanted to be a part of the “in crowd.” I thought the preacher “in crowd” was where I was supposed to be. I always looked up to these people, and because I had such great mentors I thought they were perfect. The problem with the calling of being a preacher’s wife for me, is that God was calling me to be a preacher, but because of the voices around me I thought I could only be the preacher’s wife. I thought I had to sing, play the piano, be a good hostess, and thought I would organize fundraisers. These seemed to be the expectations I was surrounded by. I thought I was supposed to be perfect, and rather than allowing conviction to stir within me, I often felt condemnation (which was not from Christ, Romans 8:1). Not everyone is called to leadership, and sometimes the expectations which are placed on people either by self, society, or church culture are just wrong. You don’t have to be anyone other than who God has called you to be, and God’s voice should take priority over and against any other voice.
Perfectionism is scary. Perfectionism can destroy a person’s life and make them feel miserable. As a leader, we are called to be holy, but this is different than “perfection.” I have often seen leaders work and work and work themselves right into the ground and sickness. I wonder why this is? I wonder if it is in part due to perfectionism, and also because of people pleasing. Those who constantly spend their time trying to please others, often are confused, alone, and bitter. We need to be pleasing to God, and realize that chasing after the happiness of others is a lost cause. If we shouldn’t strive for perfectionism, does this mean we can be lazy and sin around all day? No way! Paul asked this same question, and answered it with an emphatic NO. Jesus Christ calls us to live a holy life, but we will never be perfect, or at least until we get to heaven. I guess the point is that we should live authentic, transparent, and real lives. When we have sin, we should repent. When we need help, we should ask our sisters and brothers in the church for help. We should strive to be like Christ, but need to be realistic within our humanity. We aren’t perfect, so we need to stop pretending like we are.
If you are a leader, refuse to be a little god. Refuse to be put up on a platform. Refuse to be elevated past the status of a servant. We are called to be servants. We are called to serve people and serve God.
If you struggle with perfectionism and people pleasing as a leader, know that you are not alone. Many great leaders struggle with these issues. The point is to become aware of these issues, and notice whether or not they are controlling our behavior and thoughts. Find comfort in knowing that God did not make humans perfect, and perfection has never been the expectation. The expectation has been relationship. God wants to be in relationship with us, and loves us. Inspect your heart today…Are you struggling with the myth of perfection?