2 Corinthians 5: 17-20a,
Ephesians 3: 8b-9a, 10a,
Philippians 2: 5, 14-15
Last week I introduced the July-August worship theme: Former Glory, Future Promise.
For 2 months I’ll be focusing on some of what I believe to be the critical issues for the church in the 21st century.
Today, I want to look at Dreaming God-Sized Dreams.
Dreaming God-Sized Dreams
Some time ago, Harolyn and I, while on vacation, went to worship.
As the pastor was preaching my mind began to wander. Does that ever happen to you? Does your mind ever wander during the sermon? He was talking about the dreams of the congregation and my mind just…wandered off.
The preacher was talking about dreaming, and my mind wandered to one of Harolyn’s dreams…
She told me it was one of those dreams where you see everything clearly. She was at the pool. And, as she often is, she was on the high board. But when she left the diving board she kept going up. Gravity wasn’t working. She was unable to arch her back and go into one of her graceful dives. She kept going up.
Before I could respond she said, “I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say I’m doing too much and I’m out of control”.
That may have been what I was going to say, but I covered beautifully. I said, “No, I was just going to say, it looks like you’re going in the right direction.”
My wandering mind wasn’t completely off track because when the church dreams, it should dream of going in the right direction…up!
Meanwhile the preacher was saying, “It is not enough to have lofty goals. It is not enough to have a 3-year plan. It is not enough to have a vision. We need to biggie size our dreams. We need God-sized dreams.”
That struck a cord with me because this matches what we see in the Bible.
Paul’s Expectations Of The Church
The Apostle Paul challenged the churches to dream God-sized dreams. Perhaps, as a result of his own experience, Paul became the preacher of high expectations.
For our Scripture reading today we have 3 examples of what Paul envisioned for the church.
2 Corinthians 5:17, 20a
God has given to the church, the same ministry he gave to Christ. What God did through Christ, he will do through the church. We are ambassadors for Christ; diplomats of the highest rank; representatives in residence, and God is making his appeal to the world through us.
Paul must be kidding, right? Either that or he’s dreaming … dreaming God-sized dreams.
Ephesians 3:8b-9a, 10a
Here Paul identifies and makes clear the plan of God. Which is…that, through the church, the wisdom of God is made known.
That’s not so bad. The church is God’s plan for showing the world the will and way of God.
Now, I know you just can’t wait to take that on.
Surely Paul is exaggerating the scope of our assignment. Either that or he’s dreaming …dreaming God-sized dreams.
Have the same mind as Christ? Already we’re in trouble.
But let’s read on.
In your dreams, Paul. Precisely! In the God-sized dreams of Paul the churches will shine like stars in a crooked and perverse world.
And it gets worse. Paul sees the church doing all this without murmuring! Yes! (Fist Pump)
Murmuring. That’s a problem. Not at Riverside. You would never do that. But for most churches it’s a problem.
Here’s something churches need to do.
We need to take out a large ad in the paper, put it on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Buzznet, Twitter dee and Twitter dum.
We need to advertise to the world that the church is one place, maybe the only place, in the world where people are working together without murmuring.
Is THAT a God-sized dream or what?
The Church Today
The church today, lives, under the same grand expectations laid out by Paul some 2000 years ago:
- To reconcile the world to God;
- To make known the wisdom and the plan of God for humankind;
- To claim as our own the very mind of Christ; and
- To shine like stars in a crooked and perverse world.
But, of course, in this country, in our culture, the churches that shine are the big churches, or the churches we see on television, or the churches that are attended by presidents and celebrities.
I can’t tell you the number of times someone here at Riverside has said to me; “John Glenn worshipped here.”
I served the great Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA. They have an Eisenhower Pew; the pew where President Eisenhower sat when he visited Augusta for The Masters. The pew is usually vacant today, but when dignitaries or special guests come to worship, they are seated in the Eisenhower pew.
And to make matters even worse, Riverside doesn’t even have a pastor…not a real one anyway. You’ve heard that haven’t you?
It is not unusual to hear church folk sound almost apologetic when they talk about their church under these circumstances.
“We only have an interim pastor.”
I’ve often met people who are visiting the church who say,
“Oh, you’re not the real pastor?”
And I’ve been asked many times by lay people and by ministers,
“Are you ever going to get a real job?”
But, hey, I’m the real thing…with credentials, and a portfolio. I’m as real as the next guy…I’m double-parked.
And then, there are those who ask me:
“Will you ever go back to full-time ministry?
But my favorite is this…
“If he was any good, he would have his own church.”
But great people worshipping here, or having a real, installed pastor, is not our claim to fame. Our claim to fame is how well we live up to the great expectations that come with our calling.
What distinguishes one church from another is not the size of the membership but the size of its dreams.
Dreams and Dreamers
Too often our dreams are pint-size instead of God-size.
Too often our dreams are shaped by the probabilities of human experience rather than by the possibilities of God’s promise.
Too often our vision is set by the realities on the ground rather than by the potential of heaven.
And, most churches have too few dreamers.
We have the accountants, servants, and care providers. We have educators, communicators, and worship enthusiasts. We have doctors, and lawyers, and community leaders. We have readers, singers, and artists. We have every personality type on the Myers-Brigs scale. We have North, South, East, and West. We have technology geeks and great cooks.
But, for all the talent and commitment … we’re a little short on dreamers.
What do I mean by dreamers? Dreamers are the visionary types who have
grand ideas about what the church should do but no idea how to pull it off or pay for it.
They make us nervous because they want us to take on projects that are obviously beyond our reach. And they say things like: “All things are possible with God.” Or “We have to step out on faith.”
But, it’s the dreamers who push us out into the scary places; the places where God can truly be found.
It’s the dreamers who challenge us to try things we could never do without God’s help.
The nicest thing anyone has ever said to me was: “Pastor, you’re not being realistic.”
But look again at what is expected of the church: Reconcile the world to God; Make known the wisdom and the plan of God Have the mind of Christ; and Shine like stars in a crooked and perverse world.
Folks, we can’t do that by being practical and realistic.
The church consultant, Bill Easum, says, “The problem with most pastors is that they don’t dream big enough.” (Go Big, p. 1)
The same thing can be said about churches, by the way. The problem with most churches is that they don’t dream big enough.
Twenty years ago I was on a Presbytery staff in Louisville, KY. A colleague and I developed a long-range planning model for churches and church organizations. We took it on the road – traveled far and wide. Hey, I’m not exaggerating. There were several times when we were over 100 miles from home.
A key piece of that model was what we called, “The Transcendence Test”.
We insisted that:
- your vision must transcend your capabilities,
- your vision must require you to dream.
- your vision must be big enough that you need God’s help to pull it off,
We worked with several presbyteries, 2 synods, and 20 congregations. But we weren’t very successful. For most folks the plan fizzled. One synod executive explained why our model didn’t work. He said, “Pastors and churches don’t do well with dreams.”
Which is a curiosity given how common big dreams are in the Bible. The whole Biblical enterprise, the entire history of the church, is the story of the mighty acts of God trumping the reality and probability of men.
I’m not saying we should ignore the “realities”. We must use our heads, consider the obstacles, and count the costs.
But we also must embrace a few unlikely, impossible, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me ideas and ask God to do in us and through us what we could never pull off by ourselves.
We must dream big, and take risks, and step out on faith. That’s what you find in the Bible. There is not one instance in the scriptures where someone asked God to help them do what they were capable of doing on their own.
And, there will be times when there won’t be any solid ground to stand on. We’ll be standing on the promises of God. That’s an old favorite isn’t it? Standing on the Promises…you know what’s wrong with that old hymn?
It’s easier to sing it than it is to do it. Most of us can sing it with gusto but when the singing is done, we go back to standing on something a little more comfortable … like common sense or past experience or good judgment.
Bill Easum also said: “I’ve always found that God is seldom at the forefront of the possible. If it is possible we don’t need God. However, I’ve always found God in the impossible.” (Go Big, p. IX)
By the end of the 21st century there won’t be any conservative, common sense, practical churches. They will all be dead and gone. The only churches left will be those that didn’t have enough sense to be realistic. They will be the churches that dreamed God-sized dreams.