by Rev. Racquel Ray

Associate Minister of Congregational Life


Have you ever had a big idea?  I’m talking about a life changing, once in a blue moon, out of this world idea!  An idea so great that it would change the course of your life and the lives of your families and friends for future generations.  After thinking through all the scenarios and possible outcomes, you were ready to Go For It.  And as soon as you told one person, you began to doubt your ability to make your idea become a reality.  As soon as you shared your idea, liminal thinking begins to construct its viability.

Often, we not only doubt our own ability to succeed but we also seek and accept others’ opinions of whether or not we can succeed.  Even our most well-intentioned loved ones may offer defeatist viewpoints of our potential.  How many times have we heard things like, “You don’t have the time for that” or “You can’t do that”?  Our responses to these realities can cause us to quit before we even try.

Jesus himself faced many of the same limiting negative comments.  When Jesus’ public ministry first began, John first denied the need for Jesus’ baptism by saying John wasn’t worthy to do what Jesus asked him.  Jesus was then led to the desert by the devil according to Luke’s account where Jesus authority was questioned and tempted.  And, after Jesus first opened the scroll in the synagogue and read from the prophet Isaiah, the people questioned his upbringing and were filled with rage!

Often when we have a big idea we too face these questions and temptations.  Our supporters may not feel they have the skills to help.  We may be tempted with illusions of grandeur such as power, wealth, fame as Jesus’ was in the desert.  Or we may face doubt and anger from our closest loved ones.  A big idea needs to be nourished by a growth mindset, a positive attitude, and some strong boundaries (and thick skin) to keep the negative at bay.

When we approach our big idea potential with a growth mindset we are aware of those potential negative opinions and are prepared to deflect with possibility outcomes.  When we shift our mindset from defeated to possible, we begin to approach big ideas differently.  A new term for this is called liminal thinking.  Author Dave Gray defines liminal thinking as a “boundary, doorway, portal…not this or that, not the old way or the new ways, but neither and both.”[1] He says, liminal thinking is “A state of ambiguity or disorientation that precedes a breakthrough to a new kind of thinking.  The space between.  Liminal thinking is a kind of psychological agility that enables you to success- fully navigate these times of transition.  It involves the ability to read your own beliefs and needs; the ability to read others’ beliefs and needs; and the habit of continually evaluating, validating, and changing beliefs in order to better meet needs.”[2]

What does liminal thinking and a growth mindset have to do with church?  Church is changing.  And our church is no exception.  If we begin addressing the challenges we face with a defeated before we begin attitude, we’ve already lost – as many other churches are experiencing.  Many churches would rather close than change.  But, if we approach our challenges with a growth mindset and liminal thinking we can move ahead.

This requires a sense of humility as well because change and growth come with the risk of making mistakes – publicly.  We need to be willing to ‘fail forward’.  And this requires a willingness to be imperfect and vulnerable.

As we try new things in our church life we face many limiting comments which we’ve all heard and said.  The ‘way it’s always been done’ or ‘that’s so and so’s job’ no longer serve us.  When one of us is willing to try something new they are trying to Go For It and they are willing to Fail Forward publicly.  Whether it’s a new ministry, a new program, or a new structure we’re journeying with liminal thinking into growth and change.

So the next time one of us has a big idea (like building a garden in the sanctuary) lets couch our comments with the concept of liminal thinking.  Changing comments from “Dirt is going to get everywhere…” to “The kids are really experiencing a sense of wonder as their hands are grounded in soil.”  Or, “Water’s going to leak all over the pews…” to “Water plays in important role in our spiritual history and our current potential.” Or, “Who’s going to pay for this…” to “What resources can we shift toward the work we find valuable?” Then, we can approach growth and change with a liminal thinking mindset, a child-like sense of wonder, and a Go For It attitude!


[1] (Gray, 2016)
[2] (Gray, 2016)

Gray, D.  (2016).  Liminal Thinking, Create the change you want .  Rosenfeld Media