One of the most important contributions a leader can make is to believe that things can happen. When we do not, they will not. It is that simple. I learned this lesson when my congregation needed to raise three to five million dollars to buy a plot of land for a larger facility. I found this financial challenge intimidating. When I had to talk to the congregation, I would mumble the amount of money in a low tone.
After one such lackluster performance at a church-wide meeting, the chair of the building committee pulled me aside and said, “It doesn’t matter how good the plans look or how much work we do; if you can’t say three to five million dollars plainly and with enthusiasm, it’s just not going to happen.” I will never forget what he asked next: “Do you believe this can happen? Because if you don’t believe it can happen, then it simply can’t.” I had to learn not only to pronounce the words “three to five million dollars,” but also to say them as though we faced a mild challenge, a shallow stream to cross, a low hurdle to jump. And before I could say the words, I had to believe them myself.
There is a fine line for Christian leaders between marching people to certain failure and playing it so safe that it is evident to everyone that God need not bother to get involved.
In the years since that conversation, I have been amazed at what can happen when you believe things are possible. Believing that it could happen, and celebrating when it did, led to other opportunities to exercise our faith. We have undertaken mission projects that seemed impossible, entered into community partnerships that seemed unlikely, started a nonprofit center that felt implausible, and embarked on many other adventures that started with a simple belief that they could happen.
It is not all bad when you struggle with your own lack of confidence. It will push you to assemble a solid team and ask others to share their time, expertise, and money. If you can get the right people together, you will figure it out, even if the issues are complex.
It is also essential that you believe God can make things happen. There is a fine line for Christian leaders between marching people to certain failure saying, “All things are possible with God,” and playing it so safe that it is evident to everyone that God need not bother to get involved. Leaders live in and with that tension.
If you do not lie awake every so often wondering how you got into this mess, much less how you got other people to follow you, then you probably have not entered the deepest zone of trust in God’s ability to bless your efforts. It may be that the Bible’s regular admonition not to worry is a response to the consistent apprehension that the people experienced while pursuing God’s call. There are few, if any, biblical characters who did not fear their circumstances before they learned to stand in awe of God’s power.
I have learned a great deal about trusting God from my friend Bishop John Yambasu, who leads The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone, Africa. Although Sierra Leone is a country where human and financial resources are scarce, he always takes things in stride. He reminds me, “God is good, all the time.” He speaks of God’s ability to bring good out of bad and the ways that grace often is running ahead, preparing blessings we cannot yet see but will experience soon. These are not clichés to Bishop Yambasu. They arise out of a deep trust that God is able to make things happen, even when it appears that all may be lost. His faith and confidence inspire those he leads.
Sometimes it is easier to believe that things can happen because they simply must happen. Judy, the principal of a local school near Floris United Methodist Church, challenged us to start a four-week summer school program to replace one lost to funding cuts. The school’s test scores were low. Kids lost ground in reading and math over the summer. They often did not eat as regularly without school breakfast and lunch. Worst of all, gangs recruited kids unsupervised in the summer because their parents were working multiple lower-income jobs to make ends meet.
Key leaders met to discuss the proposal. Everyone had many questions. Where would we find enough certified teachers or the money to pay for the buses and necessary school personnel? Could we generate enough volunteers? It would have been easy simply to reject the proposal based on these concerns. But the fact remained that summer school was something that the principal felt the kids needed. It was a need too great to ignore, and so Camp Hutchinson was born.
Once you believe God is able, the people around you can do great things if they do them together. And when a need is crying out for attention, you start to understand that anything is possible.
Editor’s note: Bishop Yambasu, who has long been an inspiration to Tom, now faces a new and critical challenge as the Ebola virus spreads in Sierra Leone. The bishop sees the church’s role as not only a healthcare provider, but a loudspeaker. “As religious leaders,” he writes, “our followers listen to us more than they do politicians, especially on matters relating to faith and health.” Bishop Yambasu chairs an interfaith group known as Religious Leaders’ Task Force on Ebola. Bishop Yambasu still maintains the hope about which Tom has written and recently added, “Our goal is to … work with the government and other nongovernmental organizations to give hope to those communities and persons who are going through pain, fear and denial. Ebola is real. In spite of the threat it poses to life, all is not lost. There is hope for intervention if people seek early medical help.”
Tom is coauthor with Lovett H. Weems, Jr., of High Yield: Seven Disciplines of the Fruitful Leader recently published by Abingdon Press from which this article is adapted and used with permission of the publisher. High Yield is the third in a series of books on fruitful leadership by the authors and is available from Cokesbury and Amazon.
- High Yield: Seven Disciplines of the Fruitful Leader by Tom Berlin and Lovett H. Weems Jr.
- Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results by Lovett H. Weems, Jr., and Tom Berlin
- Overflow: Increase Worship Attendance and Bear More Fruit by Lovett H. Weems, Jr., and Tom Berlin