SIDEBAR: How Do I Know When I'm Stuck in a Culture of Can't


by Michael Clarensau


Often a leader can be one of the last to realize that a Culture of Can’t has taken hold of his or her thoughts. Having worked with a lot of pastors and leaders, many of them highly frustrated, I have seen the following traits begin to cripple creativity and hope.

Five Signs of a Culture of Can’t

1. When you greet new ideas with criticism. Frustrated leaders often react to suggestions with negative initial thoughts. Even if they later choose to pursue the idea, the initial negative reaction reveals higher levels of doubt than hope.

2. When you distrust the success of others. Frustrated leaders can begin believing that the successes of others underscore their own failings. So someone else winning makes me a loser. Often these feelings leak out in criticism of the successful, perhaps accusing them of compromising fundamental values or “cheating” in some other form.

3. When you have tried everything and nothing works. Occasionally I will speak to a leader who insists that he has tried everything. In most cases, he could not possibly have the resources to have actually tried it all, but his weariness with failure leads him to reject every idea or imagine that he has tried things he has never attempted.

4. When you have withdrawn from other leaders and opportunities for encouragement. Sadly, many leaders trapped in a “culture of can’t” pull away from ministry friends or stop attending denominational gatherings where they might hear about others’ successes or encounter more helpful ideas. Commonly they will insist, “There’s nothing there for me” or find a way to criticize the gathering that will justify their absence.

5. When your congregation begins to echo the frustration. Unfortunately, many frustrated leaders spread the virus that has stolen their hope. In such settings, volunteers are quick to resign, and staff members develop the pastor’s same frustration and look for new ministry, insisting they “can’t stand the way these people are anymore.”

MICHAEL CLARENSAU, Springfield, Missouri