Crucify Perfectionism

My first two weeks of work as an ordained pastor have been exhilarating and exhausting. Learning a new church, navigating a foreign town, trying to engrain hundreds of names in my mind, combined with living 500 miles away from my family and beginning an entirely new career is a challenge, to say the least. All of this has happened in the two weeks before Easter, adding to the pressure of Holy Week. In the midst of this, I am discovering strength and weakness, fear and confidence that I haven't had to face in awhile.

The Maundy Thursday service was meaningful for many in our community, but it left me frustrated. I only remembered to say half of what I had planned for a short reflection on foot washing. I asked people to take off their feet instead of their shoes. My instructions for washing feet felt incomplete. And so instead of a more reflective tone to begin this significant evening, we laughed our way into it. Not the beautiful and solemn entrance I had imagined.

The suffocating darkness of perfectionism surrounded me as the evening went on. My fear grew that if I couldn't do this job perfectly, I couldn't do it at all. In the midst of the downward spiral, a colleague stopped me with, "Okay, that's enough crucifixion." As I reflected the rest of Thursday and throughout Good Friday, I realized what I was crucifying was my identity as one loved and called by God, when what needed to be put on the cross was my perfectionism and the idea that a good performance gives me worth.

Rosalind Carter once said, "Once you realize you're not perfect, then you develop some confidence." Or as Mark Labberton said in my interview with him, "Effective preaching is so clearly not about the preacher." Unfortunately, this wisdom can't be taught. I know perfectionism is a dead end. I know authentic ministry is not at all about flawless performance. In my past ministry, I have had to walk this journey, but here in this new place, once again I am learning to let go of the default mindset that tells me all must be perfect to be good.

I have received a lot of advice these past few weeks. The most common is the prudent but impossible task to not change anything in the first year. While I understand the heart of this and intend to do my best not to cause too many waves, I am quickly realizing that the fact is I am here. So unless I remain motionless and voiceless, then something will change. And I am thinking perhaps for a perfectionist like me, who has carefully honed people-pleasing skills, a few earnest mistakes may be a good start as I journey through the timidity of perfection to bold authenticity.

4/26/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Jenny Warner
    About Jenny Warner
    Jenny Warner is the Pastor for Justice, Spirituality, and Community at First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. She graduated from Biola University with a B.A. in Intercultural Studies and Psychology in 1992, and in 2010, received a Masters of Divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is a trained spiritual director, certified by Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle.