Punishing perfectionism: Why we should make more mistakes, not fewer

At present I am wading through Leviticus and Exodus as part of reading the Bible in One Year. I can't help but notice the precise and exacting standards God asked for in setting up his worship space.

It makes me a bit nervous. But then, perfection always does. Thinking about our beautiful but humble church here in North Wembley we seem a world away from the exactitude of the Old Testament.

Last Sunday I invited one of our congregation to preach. I gave her the big build up as she came up and then we sat and waited for her to start. Before she uttered a word her mobile went off with the Benny Hill theme ring tone. She took an inordinate amount of time to locate the phone and so we were treated to a few verses of Yakety Sax, as I now know the tune is called.

In some churches this kind of thing would be near-fatal. In some the vicar would blow a gasket. But I can't find it in myself to be annoyed. Perhaps as someone who suffers from dyslexia I know what it is to get all jumbled up at inconvenient moments.

After the ring-tone incident something interesting happened in church. There was a moments silence and then the congregation applauded...to try to give our speaker a bit of confidence and let her know we were with her in her discomfort. It was really touching.

I have been reflecting ever since on the value of mistakes and the power of imperfection.

This week at our church prayer meeting I began to feel a bit better about the Sunday 'incident'. Thelma, one of our congregation, prayed: 'Dear Father, thank you for the mistakes we make, because we are not perfect and that's all right because You love us as we are. You accept us warts and all, although you want us to grow and mature. Thank you that we are not putting on a glossy performance but we are worshipping you.'

It was such a marvellous prayer that I asked her to write it down. I think she was onto something very deep.

In my life I have often wanted to be glossy – or as REM put it 'a shiny happy person.' But I have a propensity to clumsiness and scruffiness and to fluffing my lines.


But I now realise that mistakes are actually liberating if they are looked at and treated in the right way. A good mistake can help people to relax and feel that they can be themselves. A mistake forgiven speaks of the grace we all crave. I think often of that great unintentional slapstick merchant St Peter who comes across as very real and very inspiring. Jesus seemed eminently able to forgive his mistakes and indeed promoted him, mistakes and all.

The more I think about it mistakes can be nourishing. Almost all the leesons I have learned have been from making mistakes. Sometimes I make the same mistake more than once, but that's part of being a human being.

I have always felt more comfortable around those who don't try or pretend to be perfect. I suppose I prefer a church that acts and feels the same way – although high standards are not to be sniffed at. There are mistakes and there is apathy, scruffiness and a lack of care – which no one is inspired by.

I was much influenced by the late Mike Yaconelli's wonderful book Messy Spirituality where he describes the odd but beautiful church he pastored – a true messy church. I am inspired when he says: 'The Church is the place where the incompetent, the unfinished, and even the unhealthy are welcome. I believe Jesus agrees.'

I agree too. I wonder if we should pray that we make more mistakes, rather than fewer.

Rev Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214