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In his “The Intangibles of Leadership” talk at The Global Leadership Summit 2015, Bill Hybels (the founder and senior pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church) retold with passion the story about the “The Little Engine That Could.” It’s from a 1930 children’s book named by the National Education Association, based on “an online survey in 2007,” as one of the “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” [1] One version of the story goes like this:
One morning [the little train] was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill. “I can’t; that is too much a pull for me,” said the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused. … “I think I can,” puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. … As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, “I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can.” It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, “I thought I could, I thought I could.” [2]
That little train has grit. Hybels defined “grit” as “passion and perseverance over the long haul.” With grit, we could go from “I think I can!” to “I thought I could!” It’s hanging tough in crisis after crisis. It’s simply not giving up until the work is done.

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Hybels added that, “The enemy of grit is ease.” Of course, we need to relax time and again. But when we get too comfortable on the couch that we don’t want to do anything hard—or, anything at all—anymore, then we have lost grit. It is because, as Hybels explained, “Grit development demands difficulty.”

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There are times when the going gets tough, we find it too tough to get going. We wave the white flag. We give up and excuse ourselves, saying, “I think I can’t.” That’s when we become failures. It’s not because we failed. But because we chose not to toughen up. We refused to give up our comfort. We decide not to commit. We simply don’t have grit. 

There are times we give up too early. Yet, we were that close to success. Image credit

Yet, in life and ministry we need grit. It’s intangible but valuable. The good news is that the victorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ made it possible for us to have grit.
But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God! With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58, The Message)
Brothers and sisters, with grit, we will go from “I think I can!” to “I think I could!”

[1] National Education Association (2007), “Teachers'Top 100 Books for Children,” National Education Association, retrieved from

[2] “The Little Engine That Could,”, accessed November 7, 2015.


  1. I just LOVED that little story! I actually googled it last night right when I got home. Indeed, grit is needed in life and ministry!


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