Ministerial Musings

There is an old saying that “The perfect is the enemy of the good” or “of the good enough.” It applies particularly to groups of high achievers who expect a great deal of themselves and of others. Such people – and a lot of UUs fall into this category – are relentlessly critical of themselves, of each other and of those who work for them. Everyone and everything could be better and therefore should be.

Such people make great employees because they are constantly trying to improve their game. As co-workers they can be troublesome because they are also constantly trying to improve your game. No matter what you’ve done on a project, no matter how long you’ve sweated it out and produced something that represents your best effort, your deepest caring for the work you’ve accomplished, there will be those in your group who will be happy to tell you and anybody who will listen about the ways in which it could have been better. Next to grief work, helping parishioners deal with over achievers without succumbing to their siren calls to seek perfection has been a large part of my pastoral counseling over the years.

As an interim minister I coached the search committee in nearly every congregation I served.   Many search committee members start with the assumption that they are expected to find and can find a better minister than the one who has just left. They create a ministerial profile that is so perfectionist that any mature candidate would reject it. And following each interview the members of the committee would get together and discuss the many ways in which the candidate was disappointing. One search committee chair told me that they had become so awash in negativity they could not make a positive decision and had to go to another year of search.

Search committees and congregations that succeed find ways to cherish a candidate’s strengths while working around those areas where the candidate will need some help. It could also be said of such congregations that they treat one another with kindness while still seeking the best work that they can hope for in this imperfect world.