On Perfectionism

D. A. Carson writes, “A couple of years ago I sat down for coffee, after prayer meeting, with one of the most able preachers I have ever heard. This man is extraordinary. I have never heard him preach without finding my mind informed and my heart challenged . On the relatively rare occasions when I can listen to him, his ministry invariably reshapes my thinking by the Word of God . Though only in his late forties, he serves in a strategic church. But that night, over coffee, he quietly began to speak words along these lines: “Don,” he said, “if the truth be told, I am getting tired. For the first time I understand why some able preachers end up in administration or teaching at the age of fifty . I cannot maintain this level of ministry, Sunday after Sunday, week after week, without burning out. I am tired. And I confess I am enough of a perfectionist that I do not want to go into the pulpit unless I am thoroughly prepared. Unless I feel the message is ready, I am not content to preach it.”

I responded with a few platitudes, and we prayed together. Some months later, I was preaching and lecturing in Australia, when someone passed on to me one of the sayings of Broughton Knox, formerly the principal of Moore Theological College. According to this report, Knox told his students, “God is not interested in one hundred percentism.” There is a sense, of course, in which that is the only thing God is interested in. He wants us to trust and obey him wholly; he wants us to serve him with 100 percent loyalty. But then the focus is on him. What Broughton Knox meant is that very often what we call “one hundred percentism” is not unrestrained allegiance to God and his gospel but merely a reflection of a perfectionist personality. For some people, unless they tackle whatever they are doing with 100 percent of their energy and competence, the task is not worth doing at all. They cannot live with themselves unless they work that way. Frequently they are the high achievers. But from a Christian perspective, this attitude may turn out to be nothing more than another form of self-worship— in short, a form of idolatry. So I wrote to my fellow preacher and cited Broughton Knox: “God is not interested in one hundred percentism.” The fact is, I told him, I would much rather listen to him preach for thirty or forty more years at 80 percent of his capacity, than for three or four more years at 100 percent of his capacity. If the choice is to be made on the basis of what is for the good of the church, of the number of people who would hear the gospel powerfully and intelligently presented, and therefore on the basis of what would bring most glory to Christ, the same decision would be called for. In all our pursuit of excellence, we must never worship excellence. That would simply be idolatrous.”

A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (bold mine)

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