When I played college baseball our coach had a saying: “Don’t ever let good enough be good enough.” No matter how good things were going he would always tell us to never be satisfied. Sometimes it got comical.
After a fall doubleheader, in which we split with a much better team, we came off the bus ecstatic. The previous year we had won a paltry four games (losing 29!), so one could understand our excitement. But Coach was not pleased. “Don’t be satisfied with just winning one game. We should've won them both.” He then proceeded to tell us that we shouldn't be satisfied until we won the conference, and then not until we won the College World Series, and then not until we won every single game, and then not until we won every single game by the 10-run rule. We couldn't help but laugh.
Coach never really lived down that moment, but his mantra to never let good enough be good enough stuck with us. In the sports world it’s not a bad mantra. It pushed us to be better today than we were yesterday, to be better tomorrow than we are today; in fact, that attitude led me to have what is without a doubt the best pitching season of my life. We didn’t win the conference that year, or the World Series for that matter, but we improved dramatically, and we were happy with that.
But in my two short years of ordained ministry I have wrestled with this concept. As a Christian, and especially as a Christian leader, I wonder exactly when I should be satisfied. When is good enough really good enough?
In his book The Grasshopper Myth Pastor Karl Vaters addresses this issue. A non-denominational pastor, he had been schooled by the Rick Warrens and Joel Osteens of the world who had said that the goal of every small church should be to transform itself into a mega church. The goal is more people in the pews, as many as you can get (and, subsequently, more money in the plate). Pastor Karl tried this approach; he developed newcomer ministries, increased his own hours at the church, and even built a new, giant auditorium for all the folks who would be coming through those doors. And it worked! For a while. Eventually Pastor Karl burned out. Attendance dwindled, and the pastor took a sabbatical and wrestled with that very concept of ‘good enough’ until he came back and realized, quite simply, he was a small church pastor. And that was good enough. It was good enough for him, for his congregation, and, most importantly, for God.
There is the old saying about things they don’t teach you in seminary. This is one of them. As one of my colleagues commented in a clergy gathering, “How do we know if we’re really doing our job?” That’s a great question! I've walked away from pastoral visits and wondered if I actually did enough for the person I just visited. I've worried whether or not a sermon that I had hoped would inspire anyone would actually have a lasting effect. How do I really know if I’m succeeding at my job, at my call?
What is our barometer of success? What does success look like? In sports it’s easy. Stats simply do not lie, and wins and losses make it pretty clear. In the Episcopal Church we have a necessary evil called the Parochial Report, which lists how many members we have, how many came to Christmas mass, and how many folks we baptized and confirmed in the last year. Are we meant to use that to measure success? But if that’s the case, do we count a year when we did not grow in numbers as a failure? Is that Christian way of measuring success?
Jesus said nothing about Parochial Reports. And none of us took vows at our ordination to “Fill them pews, people!” (as George Carlin’s Cardinal Glick says in Dogma). So when is good enough really good enough?
I wonder what would happen if we focused less on the quantity of our ministries and more on the quality. When one church says they grew by 30% last year maybe our response should be ,”That’s great! Thanks be to God!” rather than “That’s great! What can we do to be like them?” Instead of asking our colleagues, “What’s your ASA (average Sunday attendance)?” maybe we could ask them, “What’s one of the most life-giving ministries that y’all are offering?” What would happen if we knew that we were already good enough for God as we are?
It’s stewardship season, I know. And we all have the Great Commission to live into, to make disciples of all nations. So we can’t exactly escape the need to address issues of money and parish growth. But Jesus said nothing about growing OUR church, but rather THE Church. And there is a difference. The former often focuses more on quantity, while the latter focuses on quality. Remember what the prophet tells us, that God’s ways are not our ways. Perhaps that means God’s standards, God’s means of measuring success are not ours, either.
Maybe we too can focus more on quality than quantity. We might find, as we focus less on how much money we have and who isn't coming to church, that God is continually providing grace among those folks who are already with us. And that grace is all sufficient, after all.
We do not have to impress God. And whether we average 30 people on a Sunday or 300 God is still glorified. If we recognize that fact we may find that we don’t have to continually worry about being better tomorrow than we are today, that we who are ministers can sleep easy at night knowing that what we do matters, even if we don’t have a means by which of measuring success. We may find that God is already doing amazing things among us. We may find that, as far as God is concerned, we are already good enough. And that’s good enough.