“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”

What if this were our guiding principle in the new decade?  The quote comes from William Arthur Ward (1921-1994), one ofAmerica’s most cited authors of inspirational saying.  Ward was a United Methodist, having served as Assistant to the President of Texas Wesleyan University.  He was also the teacher of the 140 member Sigler Bible Class at Polytechnic United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, where he served as Sunday School Superintendent and Lay Leader as well.

Did you ever experience the original Journey into Imagination with Figment at Epcot Center in Orlando?  We were just starting our family when the attraction opened in 1983, and since Gary’s family lived in Florida, we visited Disney World fairly often.  Even as an adult, I was fascinated by the Dreamfinder, the pilot of a blimp of sorts.  He claimed to use the vehicle to collect dreams and ideas and conjured up Figment, a small purple dragon.  The Dreamfinder and Figment filled up the Dreamport with ideas, which are “never far away when you use your imagination.”

One of the most important gifts of a great leader is imagination, the ability to form mental images of what is not actually present.  Throughout history our world has been changed by people who imagined what could be and then found a way to make it happen.  We are all born with active imaginations.  One of the best things we can do for our children is to encourage their imagination rather than stifle it as mere “make believe.”  The motivational writer Harvey Mackay related how a mother once asked Albert Einstein how to raise a child to become a genius.  Einstein advised her to read fairy tales to the child.  “And after that?” the mother asked.  “Read the child more fairy tales,” Einstein replied, adding that what a scientist needs most is a curious imagination.

I am just learning about a concept of leadership called “positive deviance.”

Positive deviance is based on the idea that every group of people has a few individuals who function at a much higher level than their peers.  They work under the same conditions with the same resources, yet they are much more effective.  The Ross School of Business at theUniversityofMichiganhas a Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, whose purpose is “energizing and transforming organizations through research on the theory and practice of positive organizing and leadership.”

The very word “positive deviant” implies going against the grain, leading from a different perspective, and imagining things no one else can see.  What are characteristics of positive deviants?

  • Positive deviants build a positive personal identity that reflects how others see them at their best.
  • Positive deviants don’t impose change but give up power and create space for the community to find its own solutions and choose to change.
  • Positive deviants empower themselves to higher levels of leadership, which, in turn, inspires others to higher levels of performance.
  • Positive deviants move toward success rather than away from failure.  They are not afraid to stumble along the way.
  • Positive deviants are curious, imaginative, reflective, observant, and willing to live with ambiguity until the way becomes clear.  At the same time, they are willing to risk and move into unknown territory.
  • Positive deviants see possibilities that others don’t.  They have a passion to enroll others in a vision and are driven by their mission to make a positive difference in the world.

What if The United Methodist Church were to become the positive deviants of our world in the next decade?

  • What if we were not only to imagine but actually become servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ “according to the gift of God’s grace that was given us by the working of his power.” (Eph. 3:7, epistle for Epiphany, Jan. 6)
  • What if we were not only to imagine our dream of making disciples and transforming the world, but create specific goals and plans on the local church, district, conference and general church level and work to bring them to reality?

We have a dream on the Grand Rapids District to create a partnership with Africa University (AU) in Zimbabwe.  That partnership will involve developing a manufacturing incubator, creating sustainable energy projects, endowing student scholarships and professorships, and constructing a “Fellowship House” to host mission trips and educational exchanges.

Our first project in this vision is Fellowship House, which we will promote in conjunction with a 3 week tour of the Africa University Choir in West Michiganin June.  We have received the blessing of the Annual Conference Program Committee and the Conference Council on Finance and Administration to ask all churches in the conference to take an offering this winter or spring for Fellowship House.  Each local church lay member will then bring this offering to our West Michigan Annual Conference in June and present it at a time when the Africa University Choir is singing.  Watch for a schedule of when the AU choir will be singing in your area!

What an incredible opportunity for the West Michigan Conference to be a part of strengthening the premier educational institution on the continent of Africa!  Some people may think that our imagination has run wild to believe that we can raise $5 million for AU in 4 years.  In addition, we have to raise approximately $35,000 to bring the AU choir here this summer.  Our AU task force believes, however, that there are many “positive deviants” in our conference and in the business, non-profit, and educational community who will feel compelled to be a part of this vision.

After all, as Figment reminds us, a little spark of imagination is at the heart of creation.  Imagination is not only the province of child’s play.  Imagination belongs to all of us and is at the core of our Christian faith.

Imagine a world where “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6).  Imagine a world where no one goes to bed hungry, everyone has shelter over their heads at night, war, disease and oppression are a thing of the past, and every child receives a good education and has the opportunity to become who God created them to be.

“So I believe that dreams – daydreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing – are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to invent, and therefore to foster civilization.”

– L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

It only takes one spark to light up our world, and every sparkling idea can lead to more.  What will spark your imagination and ignite that fire in your heart in 2010? 

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”

Blessings, Laurie

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