Better versus perfect

Recently, I heard a radio sportscaster comment on the possibility of a college football playoff system.  He said a four-team playoff might be in place in the near future.  His broadcast partner immediately complained such an arrangement fell far short of a true playoff.  The first speaker listened for a moment, only to cut his colleague off with the following statement:  “Never let perfect get in the way of better.”

That’s good advice, whether we’re dealing with college football, personal development as a Christian or the work of the church.  Apathy may be the leading cause of spiritual stagnation, but perfectionism runs a close second.

A good friend and church member yearned to get her financial house in order and to practice tithing as an act of worship.  She made several attempts, but found it impossible to tithe while dealing with student loans and house payments.  My friend gave up because her home church had taught her to think only in terms of success or failure.

Her worldview conditioned to her give up, or not even attempt, any endeavor she could not accomplish fully.  She felt frustrated not only with the connection between her faith and finances but in other arenas, too:  relationships, prayer, Bible study, ministering to the least of these.  It seemed to me she was like a school student, who despaired over any test grade of less than 100 percent.

Slowly, she began to examine the way Jesus worked with his disciples.  I still remember the day when she said, “You know what?  The disciples never got it all right, did they?  But they got a little better.”  That day marked the start of a fruitful walk with Christ, as she learned to seek not perfection but improvement.

“Never let perfect get in the way of better.”  What if church members in a changing neighborhood said, “We may never become fully at ease with our new context, but let’s develop a way of meeting some of our neighbors face to face.”  Imagine overworked spouses admitting they may or may not ever be able to spend three hours a day in conversation with one another but setting aside 15 minutes per day to do so.  Suppose a person who found it impossible to find time and energy for nightly prayer began to pray for one minute each morning while his or her coffee cooled?  Add a scenario or two of your own to the list.

Spiritually healthy persons and churches, more often than not, grow in Christ through incremental change.  Small improvements add up over the course of a decade or a lifetime, transforming not only us but the world around us as well.

I doubt radio sports talk will ever become a consistent source of wisdom, but in this case the medium gave us the gift of a trustworthy proverb:  “Never let perfect get in the way of better.”


Mike Smith

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Mike Smith serves as Senior Pastor of Central Baptist Church of Fountain City, Knoxville, Tenn. He is co-author of "Mount and Mountain: A Reverend and a Rabbi Talk About the Ten Commandments."

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  • Cathy Hall Bean

    Wise words Mike.  This really came home to me during my time in Haiti.  The first couple of days I was kind of shell shocked – confronted by the desperate poverty around me.  It was overwhelming.  Then I began to focus on what we were able to accomplish.  30 families have a female goat and before too long every family in Boukeron will have at least one goat to start a herd so they can sell a goat when they need tuition, etc.  They have a church with a latrine – the only one in the village.   By next week they will have a well.  With the money that will hopefully be raised in the remainder of 2012  more latrines will be built.  Then hopefully a self sustaining school can be established in 2013.  A better life for the folks in Boukeron, Haiti.

  • bjonestuba

    Title is a little misleading.  As I read the article, I would say “Never Let Your Pursuit of Perfection Get in the Way of Seeking to be Better Today.”  That is what we might’ve said before we got into new paradigms and the like.

    Upon first look at the title, I thought it was gonna be another one of those “if it’s not broke, BREAK IT kind of things.”