As a person who grew up in the evangelical world, I remember vividly one of the things that specifically inspired me about the ICOC. Men and women read the scriptures, internalized them, and allowed God’s truth to blossom into big dreams and goals! It was the commitment to bold spiritual dreams that inspired me almost 23 years ago to quit my lucrative job as an architect and become a ministry intern, which was anything at the time but lucrative!
Dreaming big is a beautiful part of our heritage together. We have planted churches all over the world and raised up leaders who have been able to make an impact very quickly. I know we have a lot of work yet to do, but I look at the cohesiveness of our missions societies, and the way we can work together for common goals, and it speaks loudly of that same collective desire to make sure we don’t waste our short time here, but stay devoted to not just having an impact, but having a BIG impact. I am proud of the men and women in our movement who have labored and sacrificed for the mission. Their big dreams and goals have allowed God to move in amazing ways.
Times change, culture shifts and paradigms evolve – but there is one thing inside all of us, no matter the generation, that is timeless and transcendent: we are spiritual dreamers (Psalm 126). As people made in the image of our Creator, it’s embedded in our DNA. God still holds the record for having the largest, craziest dream of all: enact a grand plan (that the majority of the world still scoffs at), rooted in selflessness, suffering, and ultimately the sacrifice of his Son, all with a goal of reconciling people back to an eternal relationship with Him. Wow!
When dreams subside, we’re not being true to who we are created to be. I’m sure you feel the same way I do – when I stop dreaming and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I struggle, and inspiration wanes. However, I find that my dreams may not be the ones to pave the way for another 30-40 years of big impact in the ICOC. Don’t get me wrong, I can still think big, but in some ways I’m a less important stakeholder in the future than I was 20 years ago. For our church to not only endure, but to thrive, the dreams have to belong to the generation behind us. They have to own them as theirs, and we have to let them have ownership.
A Necessary Part of the Process – Mistakes!
This idea brings up a tension I can feel as someone in senior leadership. The big goals and dreams that allowed us to be who we are today also came with some mistakes. It’s okay though, for it’s a part of growing and maturing. For instance, even though there were mistakes made, I will never lament the commitment to being a church that practices discipleship. Even though we may have planted some churches in haste, I will never regret acting on the desire to aggressively reach a lost world. The work for the next generation is to make sure they follow in our footsteps as spiritual dreamers and be willing to sacrifice all their worldly pursuits and potential for the sake of God’s dreams – yet too many of them are not. However, the work for me, and many of those in my generation, is to allow their dreams to exceed what I am currently comfortable with. For sure, I don’t want them to have to make some of the same mistakes we did, but I need to not be overly concerned about that, or too cautious in allowing them to lead boldly. It’s a tricky thing to navigate.
This hit home for me recently in Seattle, as I was sitting in on a class taught by two zealous, visionary young leaders. The first one talked about having big dreams and pushing yourself to think bigger and bigger about what God can do. I was inspired, but at the same time, I thought quietly to myself things like: “Just be sure to get your degree first young man, you need a backup plan; make sure that zeal is accompanied by balance and careful thought; just be sure to get a lot of advice before running off and doing something rash!” The next young man got up and spoke about imitation – picking someone in the fellowship who inspires you, then learning all you can from them, soaking it in and doing what they do! Again I was REALLY inspired, but also thought (quietly): “Be careful with that imitation thing, you can get hurt by being naïve; imitation seems cut and dry, but it’s loaded with nuance and layers; and again – just be careful with that.”
Look, all of these are good, necessary nuggets of wisdom, and I hope the next generation does avoid some of the mistakes we made. But what if they don’t? What if they repeat a lot of them? Is that really the worst thing that could happen? If we’re not careful, we can overly advise them, based on our own experiences, which can block them from having the faith God inherently put inside of them. Besides, you can make a good case that making dumb mistakes is a natural part of the maturation process anyway. I have two boys, and as much as I’ve advised them about not doing stupid things that might break a lot of bones, I also realize it’s a rite of passage that I can’t insist they skip.
Another Necessary Part – Scary Risks!
On a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, I begged my 18-year old son to stop standing so close to the edge of the 3,000+ foot drop-off! He scoffed and kept telling me to relax. I was terrified, but also remembered that I took the same risks at his age! I wouldn’t take that risk now, but I did when I was 18. Asking our kids to “skip” the stage where mistakes are made won’t allow them to mature in a natural way, and asking them to avoid, at all costs, the mistakes we made when we were full of ridiculous spiritual dreams is not only unfair but can get us in trouble with God.
There is a famous Old Testament example of this in Numbers 13-14: Caleb, Joshua and the 10 spies. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make the application that young people are faithful, while older people are lame. But there are some things to consider from this passage that will help us here. In it, God has his chosen people situated in the wilderness, and he’s ready for them to take the next step, into the promised land.
We know the context. God miraculously rescued his people from bondage and displayed his power and glory in ways designed to make them say, “Wow, God can literally do anything!” So Moses is instructed to send 12 leaders, one from each ancestral tribe, into the land of Canaan to scout it out. What is there? Who lives there? What is the land like? And by the way, do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land. They obey the Lord and diligently scout out the land. They return together full of information, with two of them carrying a big cluster of grapes, a pomegranate and some figs on a pole.
Their report? Yes, the land is fruitful and fertile, but the people are big, powerful and scary, and they live in powerful fortified towns. Let’s stay here and not mess with them, because we’ll lose! Just then, Caleb stepped forward and “silenced” them. He saw the same thing they did, but believed that through God victory could happen. Of the 12 spies, only Caleb and Joshua highlighted the potential, not the problems. They saw fruit; the other men saw difficulty.
Potential Problems – Not the Focus!
This is a natural human phenomenon. My guess is the other 10 spies had some good reason for being a bit hesitant about boldly crossing over. The problem is, instead of being a part of the conversation, they let it be the main message. Their lack of faith infected the whole group of Israelites, causing panic and fear to set in. People talked about it, wept over it, and basically freaked out so badly that they contemplated overthrowing Moses and finding a new leader to take them back into Egypt, the place God had just delivered them from! Here’s the thing, I don’t want to judge those people. They reacted the way a lot of us would, especially after having gone through so much. These were the chosen people of God, they just had trouble seeing God’s power as being bigger than the fears associated with following His bold plans.
Not all of these fears were founded, but I’m guessing some were based on experience. No matter where they came from, we have to be careful not to miss the main message – why was God ticked off enough at them to decide they wouldn’t enter the promised land? They didn’t believe God could continue to do the miraculous things he’d done before (14:11). That’s it. In fact, a failure to continue to see God’s power through any difficulty, or despite any of our experiences, is seen by God as treating him with “contempt” (14:23). Not good. The only two allowed to cross over were the ones that simply saw the fruit and trusted the power of God, Caleb and Joshua. Young and naïve? Yes, but boldly faithful.
Here is what I’m hoping we think about. Our movement is wonderful and was advanced by some young dreamers with crazy ideas. Really, some of those ideas worked, but they were crazy! As much as we’ve seen God accomplish, there is still so much more work he wants to do through us. My hope is that the younger generations use us for our wisdom, wealth of experiences, guidance, and lessons learned. I also hope and pray that senior leaders like myself can work through our own disappointments or process any negative fruit of “bold dreams” in a healthy way, working hard to not let them overly influence the faith and idealism of those dreaming behind us.
I’ll be attending a meeting of Northwest leaders next weekend, and one of the topics to discuss is a new church planting in a Central Washington college town. We’ve scouted it out, talked about it, and need to come up with a plan. I see so much potential, along with some really good things I’d consider potential “risks” for planting a church there next year. However, I think what I’ll do is get the young dreamers in the room, and start with asking the question: “What do YOU think can happen?” And then listen, and let them dream!