“The maxim ‘nothing avails but perfection’ can be spelled shorter: paralysis.”
Winston Churchill wrote these words to one of his generals as they discussed making improvements to a military transport in the middle of World War II. His point was simple: if you only are willing to act when you are sure you have gotten everything right, you will never act at all. It’s much better to try something good, albeit imperfect, and progress from there.
What is true in war is no less true when it comes to mission. Precisely because we are so aware of how important sharing the gospel is, we desperately don’t want to “get it wrong.” We don’t want to offend or make things awkward. We don’t want to say something that is biblically untrue. And we certainly don’t want to lose a friend. And with this desire for mission “perfection,” we remain stuck in mission paralysis.
I’m reminded of a quote attributed to evangelist D. L. Moody. When someone criticized his way of sharing the gospel, it is said that he replied, “You raise some good points. Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
With mission paralysis, we forget at least two important truths. The first and most important is that God always uses imperfect efforts to build his church. Except for Jesus’ disciples, everyone who has ever become a Christian has done so through imperfect people sharing the gospel in imperfect ways. God is remarkably able to work through our flawed attempts. Like the boy who saw 5 loaves and 2 fish feed a virtual army, so also as we offer up our rather feeble efforts to God, we can see God do amazing things.
The second truth we forget is that we only get better at something when we try at it. Whether it’s our work, or a hobby, or parenting, we only become better through experience—through trying something, evaluating, and then improving. In the same way, the only way we can become more effective in mission is by trying something (obviously imperfectly), learning, and growing.
So I want to invite you to set your sites on simply being “good enough” for mission. If you have an idea for reaching out to people—maybe it’s to organize a party at your home so that you can know your neighbors better or maybe it’s inviting someone to church—if you have an idea, don’t wait for perfection. Pray, maybe talk to a couple of friends about it, and if the idea seems good enough, do it! You never know what God will do, and the only way you can get better is through trying.
And you can know that you’re part of a larger family of believers who are trying (and sometimes failing) with you.