Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

Ordinary to Extraordinary?

  • Cynthia Woolever & Deborah Bruce
  • 2004 6 Mar
Ordinary to Extraordinary?

A farm, a tornado, a girl, her dog, and three friends following a yellow brick road:  Frank Baum builds on common, familiar images to tell his fairy-tale adventure, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum’s morality tale about the qualities needed to make it in the world says the trip requires brains, heart and courage.


Baum’s characters—the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion—were fanciful but intentional ways of framing his message. These three characters symbolize the universal human qualities of mind, heart, and courage. Congregations possess these same three qualities:

  • Every congregation has a mind.  What do we see inside our congregation and from our doors?
  • Every congregation has a heart.  What do we feel about what we see?
  • Every congregation has courage.  What will we do with what we see, feel, and imagine?


Using Our Brains


Evaluating a congregation’s strengths should reflect how well it accomplished those universals for which congregations exist.  How is it doing at “being” a congregation?  Strong congregations consistently and effectively achieve the goals for which congregations exist. Are they teaching others—especially the young—about their faith?  Do they provide places where people are emotionally and spiritually nurtured?


Evaluating congregations in this way is similar to evaluating any other type of voluntary organization.  It is a rational, analytical, and organizational approach. Congregations achieving the rigorous criteria of strong organizational life meet the same standard of performance as other voluntary organizations.


Getting to the Heart of It


The hearts of congregations respond on feeling, intuitive, or imaginative level rather than on a cognitive level. Imaginative congregations do not live solely on the level of rationality; they respond with an openness that transcends current realities. 


What are some characteristics of congregations with a strong heart?  They possess a clear, widely owned vision of the future, openness to new possibilities, and a consensus about their identity as future-directed.  They know Who is the real author of their story.


Seeking Courage


Congregations need courage to face both the present and the future.  Courage is the spirit to hold one’s own in spite of doubt, uncertainty, fear, or extreme difficulties.  Tenacity and determination mark the courageous congregation. 


Exclusive reliance on their congregational ego or perceived reality limits their capacity for a wider imagination and larger heart.  Exclusive reliance on the wealth of the mind prevents congregations from noticing how God is approaching them and what God is asking them to do.  Exclusive reliance on imagination or heart leads congregations toward a future that is out of touch with reality.  Integration of the heart and mind requires courageous conversations and learning the language of strengths.


Do We Have What It Takes?


The Wizard of Oz characters were not seeking wealth or fame but the life-altering qualities of wisdom, heart and courage.  At the end of the story, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Woodman learn that the Wizard is not a wizard at all but “a common man.”1 How will they find brains, heart and courage?  The Wizard informs them that they already possess what they desire.  He points out the many ways the Scarecrow has been a thoughtful problem-solver, the Tin Woodman a compassionate friend, and the Lion a brave leader.  He helps them see who they already are.


We contend that congregations already have or can obtain everything they need to transform their futures, because God has already given it.  Like Dorothy who discovered she already had all the good life had to offer including loving people around her, we often don’t see the obvious.  Can we move beyond our mental maps to see the possibilities for our congregations by building on its strengths?

An excerpt taken from Beyond the Ordinary: 10 Strengths of U.S. Congregations. written by Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce: Westminster John Knox Press.


[1] Baum, The Wizard of Oz , 154