In the classic children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could,” a long train needs help being pulled up and over a steep grade. All the other engines, including a heavy-duty freight engine say no. They’ve all got excuses. But one little engine, against all odds, says yes. It’s mantra? “I think I can, I think I can.” It does. On the way down the other side of the grade, the little engine rejoices, “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could!”
Perspective shapes reality. Truth is, perspective IS really. If you think you can, you will. If you think you can’t, you won’t even try. Or as Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t–you’re right.”
In John 14:12, Jesus tells his disciples that belief in him will enable them to do just the kinds of things he is doing. Not only that, they’ll be able to do even greater things! Seems like a tall order. But after all, we’ve seen it. Health practitioners of every sort heal, revive and bring people back from the dead. Educators and therapists restore hope and dignity. Governments, NGO’s and active communities of faith feed, support and love people by the thousands.
So why do so many churches put more stock in their apparent limitations than in Jesus Christ? Why is their mantra “I think I can’t, I think I can’t?” It’s unnecessary, unfaithful, and unattractive. That’s why I’m eager to share 5 things you can do to begin to turn that mantra into “I think I can, I think can, I think I can!”
- Stop rehearsing complaints. Every church specializes in its own kind of complaint, for example: the pastor never comes to visit or young people don’t want to get involved or we never play any of the new music here. Complaints feel empowering, but they keep a church in victim stance. Rehearsing them paralyzes a church and drives people away. Instead of focusing on what you don’t like, shift your focus to what you do like. Hold a round robin meeting in which each person takes a turn stating what they like about the church. Go around the circle 5 times. This forces each person to dig deep and get playful with their responses.
- Substitute we can for we can’t. Here’s how. Listen for statements that sound like: We can’t _______ because we don’t have enough ______. For example: We can’t start a youth group because we don’t have enough youth. Or, We can’t start a community garden because we don’t have enough space. Or, We can’t do an outreach to the poor because we don’t have enough money. Just for fun, step out in faith. Practice saying, We can ______ because we have just enough ______. See if, in fact, your new statement is true!
- Play with perception. The wind blows almost nonstop in Rawlins Wyoming where I once pastored. It makes almost everything tougher there. People hate it. But Dave Throgmorton, Director of Higher Education, saw this perceived limitation as an opportunity. Some years ago, he created the annual “Festival of Wind.” Now kite construction and kite flying, panels on wind energy, and fun contests are an annual occurrence. What can you do with a congregation of 80-somethings, a Sunday School of 4, or a shrinking town of 62?
- Build your belief. Read the New Testament with an eye toward the great things the disciples did. Notice where they stepped out in faith, walked on water, healed the sick, did miracles, fed and cared for each other, welcomed strangers, shared good news, baptized others, and formed new ways of being community. Talk about these things…not the ways they missed the mark. An excessive focus on disciple goof-ups reinforces an “I think I can’t, I think I can’t” mentality.
- Above all, be playful. Playfulness cultivates creativity. Creativity leads to positivity. Positivity generates hope. And, hope, as the scriptures remind us, does not disappoint.
There is SO MUCH that churches can do. Even those that seem to have insurmountable limitations. It starts with belief. In Jesus. In yourself. What is there to lose?