If you could change one thing about the ministry you’re working in, what would it be? Yourself? Your job description? Your church building? If something popped into your mind in response to any of these questions, congratulations! You are now dreaming! Why go through this little exercise? It’s because I think it’s far too easy for us in church work to stop dreaming and instead suffer from what I like to call the “I Dreamed a Dream” Syndrome.
“I Dreamed a Dream” is a famous song from the popular musical “Les Miserables.” It chronicles the journey of a young woman from being optimistic about her dreams to having them all be crushed by the circumstances of life. The powerful closing line of the song is “now life has killed the dream I dreamed.” It’s easy to see how this can happen out in the ministry. We come out from the university, seminary or previous call full of ideas, plans, programs and theories (known collectively as “dreams”)
about what ministry will look like in our new setting. But then we get wherever we’re going and those dreams meet reality, where they are bogged down by tradition, church politics, busyness, budgets, lack of volunteers, facilities, participation levels, meetings and even our own laziness. Our great ideas get stuck in the planning stage, our “life-changing” programs become just one more event on the calendar, and what looks perfect on paper never pans out. At this point when our dreams have been stopped, put on hold or questioned, it’s natural to play the victim and just give up. It becomes easier to simply stick with the status quo and make it through, so we stop dreaming. Just like Fantine in Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, we lose the ability and desire to dream and instead, we switch into survival mode. In the process, our fire for ministry begins to flicker. We wonder if we can make a difference and if it’s even worth trying.
So what’s the solution? How do we become dreamers again? Well, the solution doesn’t lie in a stirring Broadway number, getting more sleep or finding the Rainbow Connection. Nor is it found in the latest and greatest church program, ministry model or conference. It lies in building a foundation for our dreams.
This foundation needs to be laid on 3 levels. First, dreams need to be rooted not only in theory but also in reality. Oftentimes, we take the best theories in philosophy, psychology, development, etc. and put those concepts together into a program and expect it to work anywhere. Any dreams that we have going into the congregation need to be first molded to fit the congregation before attempted. Do the scheduling, timeline, location, subject, volunteer requirement, etc. of your dream actually fit the reality of your context? Just because something works in a book doesn’t mean it will immediately work in your youth group or congregation, but that doesn’t mean
that it’s not a dream worth dreaming. Don’t begin with a program and try to force your congregation to fit into it. Instead, look at your setting and modify a program, event or idea in order to best serve the people you’re with.
The second foundation for your dreams is found in those people you’re serving among. Are they dreaming the same dream as you? If not, then the foundation has not been laid yet to go forward with the plan. “I think this is a good idea, so I’m going to do it” is not an effective leadership tactic. Educating others on an idea, getting them on board with it and helping them shape the dream is a much better way to go. As a leader, you are not the only one with dreams about ministry. Talk to your youth and adults about their ideas and then work together to help activate them in the mission fields where God has called them to.
The final, and most important, foundation for our dreams has to be Scripture. Everything in our lives should flow out of the truth that God reveals to us in His Word. His Word is a “light to our path” (Psalm 119:105), what we as Christians devote our lives to reading and studying (1 Timothy 4:13, and is what sustains our lives (Matthew 4:4). As you look throughout the Bible, you’ll see countless instances of God’s plan for His people. His plan is to be with us always (Joshua 1:9, Matthew 28:20, Deuteronomy 31:6), call us by name as His children (Galatians 4:4-7, Isaiah 43:1) and for us to be saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus
3:5-7, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21). This doesn’t come in the form of programs to be built or events to have, but encounters with a loving, jealous God and His life-changing Word. All of our dreams in ministry, whether they be programs, services, events, committees or anything else need to all come out of the foundation of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. God wants to use us to share the message of grace with a world that desperately needs to hear it. Within that context, we have tremendous freedom to dream about how to carry out that mission through the power of the Holy Spirit.
All of us have had setbacks, disappointments and events that have led us to doubt our vocation. But instead of using those moments as an excuse to stop trying, let’s use them as a chance to reconnect. Reconnect with the situation that you are in. Look at the gifts that God has given in the people around you. Reconnect with them and bring them along with you on the mission. Reconnect with God and His all-encompassing dream for our lives, which is to be in heaven with Him forever and to work through us to bring as many people with us as possible. And then dream on, and be amazed at what God can accomplish through the broken dreams and goals of sinners like you and me.