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Topic: Women in Ministry

The Fall of the Ministry Perfectionist

October 22, 2013

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By Lindsey Carlson

One week before school started our church held a parent meeting to introduce their new midweek children’s program. I’d gone for information but ended up volunteering to lead a class. In the car on the way home I explained my impulsive decision to my husband: “They needed help teaching, I love to teach. Seemed like a no-brainer. Are you alright with it?” He gave me the green-light, so now each week I’m in charge of teaching a group of third and fourth grade girls.


She’s Got High Hopes

The director gave me license to do as much as I wanted with the weekly lesson plans. As a creative control-freak this was music to my ears. Visions of writing curriculum began to dance in my head. I sketched out pages and pages of notes, ideas for fun projects, church members to call on for testimonies, and service projects I could get the girls involved in. My visionary juices were flowing.

As week one rolled around I began to panic about whether my plans were good enough. Will they like this game? Will they think it’s dumb? What if they think I’m dumb?!  I planned, planned, and re-planned. I wanted everything to go perfectly.

The first week was Crazy with a capital C. My group was more than twice the size of the other two groups. I wasted half my time on giddy-girl-control alone! The forty-five minutes of lesson time had seemed like plenty while planning at home, but now the minutes flew by at warp speed. Trying to cram get-to-know-you activities, fun games, scripture application, and prayer into such a small space proved impossible. My high hopes dashed, I went home feeling defeated and disappointed, and determined to do better the next week.


Still Not Perfect

I spent the next week procrastinating, each time I picked up the pre-written curriculum I felt the urge to add more. I wanted to dream up unique games, add Bible stories and different scripture, and find some creative Pinterest craft we could make to tie it all together, but time eluded me. So instead, we played a goofy game, I read some scripture and talked, the girls colored, and (some of them) listened. I kept thinking to myself, “I can do so much better. I didn’t try hard enough this week. Next week I have to carve out time to plan something great.”

My desire to do everything perfectly became all-consuming. Perfect planning and perfect teaching, I wanted to be perfectly impressive, not perfectly mediocre. My own failure felt perfectly awful.

Three weeks into teaching, my performance-anxiety peeked. Unable to find time to make the lessons as wonderful as I wanted them to be, I realized how unrealistic my goals were. Pulling off the kind of lessons I hoped for would have taken the time equivalent of a part-time job. I didn’t have unlimited free time to pour into crafting curriculum. Something had to give.

I wanted to teach these girls to love the Bible and Christ, but my desire for perfectionism was partially fueled by a desire for them to love me and all the wonderful ways I was doing things. Like me or not, I didn’t have time for perfectionism. If I was going to survive the year and still have time for my home life and my other ministry commitments, I would need to give up on my own pie-in-the-sky plans and teach my class from the bare bones, pre-written, Plain Jane lesson plans – and this made me want to quit.

If I couldn’t do it my way, I didn’t want to do it at all. I cared more about being amazing than I did about showing up (average teaching and all), serving, and loving these girls.


A Heart Recalibration

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

After spending some time in prayer and confessing my sin to the Lord, I realized quitting wasn’t the answer. God wanted me to “stay put” and “be still” as He re-calibrated my heart. As I have endured, He has been faithfully destroying my sinful desire for perfection. He’s using this season of ministry – where I am painfully aware of my own mediocrity – to humble me and teach me his grace is sufficient.

I’m hoping, by His grace, I’ll be less self-reliant and more God-dependent; instead of relying on my own plans, I’ll rely on someone else’s pre-written lesson plans and Christ’s power in my weakness. Instead of trusting in my skill and creativity, I’ll trust the Holy Spirit to open eyes and convict hearts. Instead of depending on my own strength, I will depend on the Lord’s. And instead of boasting in my perfection, I’ll boast in Christ’s.


Lindsey Carlson lives in Houston with her worship-pastor husband and their four active kids (all under age 9). Her home is filled with the sounds of childhood (galloping horses, swashbuckling heroes, and the occasional sibling brawl), the near-constant presence of music in some form, and volumes of great literature, old and new. You can catch her regular reflections on faith and worship at Worship Rejoices or follow her on twitter.

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