Dreams That Change the World Pt II
Okay a quick recap on last weeks message before we dive into today’s.
What are dreams in the context of this series?
Dreams are the things that capture our hearts and are so far outside our experience of life that we have no idea how we’re ever going to bring them to pass. They are a product of our imagination and can be triggered both internally and externally.
Dreams are different to vision. Vision is a picture of the future that you can imagine, along with steps that need to be taken to see that picture come to pass. We often talk about vision in the context of leadership and the growth of an organisation. Dreams however are a whole nuther level above vision.
They are creative pictures of a future that given the state of our current situation, appear completely out of reach. They are the birthplace of all human creativity, a creativity that’s birthed and grows in our imagination.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The very first thing we learn about God from the Bible is that He is extraordinarily creative.
Before anything came into existence the thought of it was present in God’s mind. The universe remains the single greatest demonstration of creativity that you and I and all of humankind have ever witnessed. And it all started in the imagination of God. He had a dream which became reality. It moved from His imagination to the physical reality that you and I experience every day of our lives. As He spoke it out, it came into existence.
When God created humankind, what did He do? What was His goal?
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”
We’ve just had God create everything there is from nothing other than a picture He had in His imagination and then He creates human beings in His image stating His intention is that we would be just like Him. Wow!
What does that tell us about every single person ever born on planet earth?
It means that every one of us has the God given creative ability to dream of things that have yet to happen and then see those dreams come to pass.
Miles Munroe had this to say about dreams,
“The wealthiest spot on earth isn’t the greatest gold mine but a cemetery, because many people take their wealth/their purpose to the grave. Buried there are great books & music never written, businesses never started, visions that never became reality. The grave yard should never get a dream that you were born to give to your generation.”
We finished with the question, “What is the God dream that you’re meant to bring to your generation?” And I challenged all of us to spend time sitting with the Master of dreams, the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) of seeing them become reality, clarifying the dream that only you can give to your generation.
Today we’re continuing with the topic because I believe that the Spirit of God is wanting us to dream again, both individually and corporately. To take the dreams of our childhood, of our earlier Christian years, and use them to paint a clear picture in our minds of something that’s never seen the light of day and then put that picture into words. To give it breath and release it into the world.
Dreams by their very nature present us with an impossibility, how do we bring them to pass? After every dream has been birthed and fulfilled the process appears obvious. But that’s the conundrum we face with dreams, because at first they appear impossible given our past experience and our current environment. The fact that it appears impossible doesn’t disqualify your dream, it just means it’s a real dream.
The first time I met Brian Houston, lead pastor of the Hillsong movement, it was at a youth group meeting in Townsville 31 years ago. He’d flown up from Sydney to speak at the Bible College I was attending and also at our church over the weekend. He was this tall, gangly preacher with a handle bar moustache and a real zeal for life. He genuinely liked people and was full of enthusiasm. He definitely wasn’t one of the deepest teachers we’d had at college but he had lots of stories and on the last day he prophesied over every student in the class which we all really appreciated. I thought he was a great bloke but I had no idea what the future would hold for him and the church he was pastoring.
In 1993 Brian published a piece of writing that was extraordinary in it’s audaciousness and prophetic in its description of the type of church that Hillsong would grow into. The church wasn’t even called Hillsong back in those days, it was called Hills Christian Life Centre.
Brian took a dream that God had birthed in his heart and gave it breath. He went public and took a huge punt. People look at the Hillsong phenomenon today and come up with all sorts of explanations for its incredible growth and influence across the world. But I remember back to the start and there was nothing in the natural that pointed to the future that they’re experiencing now.
This is what Brian published back in 1993
The Church I See
The Church that I see is a Church of influence. A Church so large in size that the city and nation cannot ignore it. A Church growing so quickly that buildings struggle to contain the increase.
I see a Church whose heartfelt praise and worship touches Heaven and changes earth; worship which influences the praises of people throughout the earth, exalting Christ with powerful songs of faith and hope.
I see a Church whose altars are constantly filled with repentant sinners responding to Christ’s call to salvation.
Yes, the Church that I see is so dependent on the Holy Spirit that nothing will stop it nor stand against it; a Church whose people are unified, praying and full of God’s Spirit.
The Church that I see has a message so clear that lives are changed forever and potential is fulfilled through the power of His Word; a message beamed to the peoples of the earth through their television screens.
I see a Church so compassionate that people are drawn from impossible situations into a loving and friendly circle of hope, where answers are found and acceptance is given.
I see a people so Kingdom-minded that they will count whatever the cost and pay whatever the price to see revival sweep this land.
The Church that I see is a Church so committed to raising, training and empowering a leadership generation to reap the end-time harvest that all its ministries are consumed with this goal.
I see a Church whose head is Jesus, whose help is the Holy Spirit and whose focus is the Great Commission.
YES, THE CHURCH THAT I SEE COULD WELL BE OUR CHURCH – HILLSONG CHURCH.
– Brian Houston 1993
How crazy is that? We can look at Hillsong today and say yeah well its obvious – they were destined for success but that wasn’t the case back in 1988 when I first met Brian.
Now you might be thinking that’s fine for Brian and Hillsong, because they started in Sydney. Of course he was going to grow a large church, look at the population! That brush off flies in the face of 98% of the churches in Sydney which are way under 200 in size.
But I want to bring it closer to home, I want us to look at our story.
Back in 2004 Deb and I took on the role of senior pastors here at Grace. I’d worked for 2 years previously as Ron’s associate pastor before the handover. We were an ageing congregation which had enjoyed some great days in the past but were on a slow decline to obscurity if we couldn’t lower the average age. Which over the next few years we did, aided by the simple fact that both the senior pastor and the executive pastor had young kids and like attracts like.
When I became the senior pastor, one of the first things we did right from the start was we began to look at alternative venues for our future church home. At the time (remember this was 15 years ago) I created a document titled “The Grace Centre” in which I put down a whole series of thoughts about a multi-purpose centre that we believed would be part of our church’s future. We were convinced that church needed to be far more than a weekly Sunday service and a bunch of mid-week connect groups. It had to be an integral part of the the community or else we were missing the heart of God for His people and those we were called to reach with His love.
Fast forward to the start of 2015 and we were coming up to 5 years at Mornington where we’d been renting the Baptist church for afternoon services as it was the only place we could find that would fit us in. We’d moved over the river in 2010 with high hopes of establishing our Centre down at the Cambridge Park shopping precinct but due to Harvey Norman’s inability to get their act together and release the title on the land we were trying to buy, which in hindsight; was God holding it up, we found ourselves in a no-mans land where the dream we once had seemed to be slowly dying.
During those years we did a lot of soul searching and asked ourselves a lot of questions about our purpose and the things that Jesus considered important. It was a tough and very humbling experience. One that left me hanging on by a thread more times than I want to remember. We’d left the city for the Eastern Shore on a high with our church approaching 600 people and our future seemingly at our feet. We then hit a brick wall that we hadn’t figured into our plans and over the next 5 years saw our church halve in size. During that time I stepped down as the State President of our denomination because I felt that I barely had enough passion to hold our church together, let alone lead our state. All the dreams that I’d had of leading our church into a wonderful future were slowly drying up and slipping through my fingers and the only thing keeping me going was the fear of letting God down as He’d very clearly pointed us across the river and since He wasn’t saying anything different I had no other option than to keep on holding the line.
In retrospect it was the perfect preparation for the unfolding of God’s dream that lay just up ahead. But I would never, in my wildest fit of imagination, have chosen the path that God had us walk. We saw people leave, we saw obstacles that refused to shift, we had doors slam closed in our face, I experienced depression for so long that I finally went to a doctor hoping that he’d tell me I had cancer so that I could make sense out of how I was feeling. I felt like a failure but each week I had to stand in front of our church and give out a message of hope. You don’t go through times like that without it changing you at a fundamental level. And I’m so glad now that we did. I know that for me personally its taken me longer to recover than I expected. But I’d rather be the person that I am now than the person I was when we first crossed that bridge.
When we finally settled on our city property in early 2014 we moved our church office into a house we bought in Oakdowns as an investment not realising that God had a property for us just a few streets over.
Without going into all the details, in November 2015 we purchased the old Rokeby Tavern and started calling it the Grace Centre. It’s funny looking back on it now because the original building definitely wasn’t a place of grace. It was a smelly dirty rundown old pub that had a reputation in our community that would make your grandmother blush.
The dream we’d had years before was finally more than just a bunch of words on a document that I’d prepared for our board, it was a physical reality that’s slowly becoming a place of hope to our entire community.
Remember what I said earlier? Dreams may look impossible when we first launch out after them, but in hindsight the path to them always seems obvious. Don’t forget that. Write it down, burn it onto the tablet of your heart. It will help you to stay the course when things are looking really grim.
So what is the dream we’re now pursuing? What will our future look like in 10 years from now?
To answer those questions and to direct my heart in the right direction I find it’s helpful to answer a few other questions.
- What does Jesus want for our community?
- What does Jesus want for our church?
- What does Jesus want for each of us?
These are questions that I’ve been asking for years now.
Here are some of my thoughts
Jesus wants to be at the very centre of our community not on the edge.
How can the truth about Jesus change a community if no-one knows anything about him? How does a community come to know Jesus? Through the witness of His local church, His people. Like it or not, the type of people we are and the things we do in our community are the only demonstration of God’s character and heart toward them, that our community will most likely ever see.
If our community doesn’t know our church even exists then how do we think they’ll come to know Jesus? Which then begs the question, what is it about our church that we want them to know? Do we want them to know about our Sunday service? Well we do want them to know we have a service that they can come to and the time that it’s on. But is that all?
Unfortunately way too many churches focus on their Sunday service as their only means of reaching their community. What kind of message do you think that sends to unchurched people living here in Australia? What does that tell them about Jesus, about God, and about His heart toward them?
In an increasingly secular society church becomes an add on, one of 100’s of different activities that our overwhelmed mums, dads, singles, teenagers, young people can engage in. It then has to compete with soccer clubs, beach trips, the movies, weekend getaways, high teas, late night parties, the list goes on. The pressure is then to come up with a more entertaining “show” each weekend to convince people that coming to church is better than anything else they might have planned for the weekend and the reality is, it’s not and was never intended to be. The game of life’s played out there, not in here. These are the change sheds. This is where the team gathers during an interval to recover, reassess, hear some good strategy, talk about what’s working and what isn’t and then get back out onto the paddock to go for gold. Now I can make a really good argument for the need to gather regularly. That isn’t the issue. The issue is when we make Sundays the main event and then have to come up with ways to justify our fixation on “The House” failing to realise that when our focus is on a meeting we can end up neglecting the heart of Jesus for our community. And the biggest perpetrators of this are Pastors, not you.
You see when I read my bible I don’t see Jesus sitting around in a synagogue all week waiting for the Sabbath so that he could talk to the folk who turned up. He attended the Synagogue on the Sabbath but then all throughout the week he was out in his community showing everyone what God was like. Showing them that He cared. Showing them that He was interested in their lives, in their struggles, their challenges. Feeding them, healing them, counselling them, encouraging them, guiding them, laughing with them, experiencing life together. And in the process they got to see what God was like and what He thought about them.
You see back in Jesus’ day, just like ours, they had strange ideas about God which actually were quite understandable when you put yourself in their shoes. The threat of God’s eternal judgement was used by their leaders to keep them toeing the party line and the concept that God was interested in their lives was completely foreign. Because Yahweh was the King of kings and kings and commoners didn’t mix. In fact you did everything you could to avoid the attention of the king and the authorities.
When Jesus turned up in their homes, in their marketplaces, beside their wells and down at the docks where they were working, they realised that they were actually important to God, so much so that he’d left heaven to come and live with them! They were so important to God that he came and lived amongst them, with them, beside them. He didn’t expect them to come to Him, He went to them. How did we ever get to a place where it was all about Sundays when talking about church?
Ray and I have recently taken on the Police Chaplaincy role from Vic Panne because Vic has way too much stuff on with the multiple school chaplaincies that he does. The Police Chaplaincy role revolves around police functions, ceremonies, graduations, induction of new cadets etc. dressing up in a nice spiffy uniform and looking all official along with all the other big brass. But Ray and I decided that we’d do something a little bit different. We’ve joined in with the latest class of cadets for their early morning PT. So each week on Monday and Thursday we head to the academy as the sun’s rising to suffer along with the cadets. We are by far the oldest people there. Ray is substantially older than me though, and let me tell you, PT in the morning with the cadets is a young man’s gig. But you see hanging out with the cadets when they’re suffering through PT is the quickest way for us to form a relationship with them and in doing so we’re demonstrating something about Jesus that many of them probably have never seen before. That he’s not really good at balancing on one leg and leaning forward toward the mat.
When all you see of church people, when all you see of pastors and church leaders is them performing duties at offical services it paints a picture of God that is so much less than what He’s really like. How do we change that perception? You can only do it through relationship. You have to get to know the people you’re wanting to reach. You have to spend time with them. It was the modus operandi that God used 2000 years ago so why do we think that mass marketing on TV is the key in 2019? Why do we think that winning debates online is the key? Why do we think that writing books is the key? Why do we think that performing on stage at a gospel rally is the key? Why do we think that having a Christian Prime Minister is the key? All of them have their place and I’m not saying they’re not valuable, but don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking that they’re the most effective way to bring people closer to Jesus in a real and authentic way. They’re not. Neither is our Sunday service.
There’s a huge difference between fame and being known so well by your community that you’re considered an integral part of it. If Jesus was here today which one would he pursue? He’d want to be right at the heart of our community.
That will look different to our understanding of fame. Brad Pitt is famous but how many people actually know him? Jesus doesn’t want to be a celebrity known by everyone – he wants to be a friend and family member known by everyone. There’s a huge difference, because one implies personal relationship.
If we’re the hands and feet of Jesus how does that determine our priorities? What does that mean the church should look like? If you and I are the church that people see, what do we want them to see, what should we be doing?
How should we be building relationships?
If the only expression that the church has in our community are our Sunday services and any events we put on, what message does that send? How does that help us to get to know people?
The old street evangelist model was a direct attempt to be like Jesus in taking the gospel to the world but it fell far short of the expectations of those who engaged in it. To justify our lack of success we used scripture and quoted things like, “Many are called but few are chosen,” and “Narrow is the road that leads to salvation and few travel it,” all the while not realising that the reason things weren’t working for us was because we were being foolish. Yes we were well intentioned fools, but fools nonetheless. We never stopped and asked the question, “Is this really the best way to reach people?” The reality was we were reinforcing a weird stereotype of Christianity that was light years removed from what Jesus did.
What makes it worse is that Jesus made it really clear how we were to reach our community when he said, “The son of man didn’t come to be served but to serve.” And if He came to serve, I’m sure his expectation is that you and I would as well. Would what? Serve!
Why is serving so incredibly powerful as a bridge to the heart of our community?
At Grace, we have a whole heap of serving teams and we encourage people to join a team when they join our church. The most important reason for why we want people to join a team is that serving on a team is the very best way to get to know people here at our church.
Unless you’re part of the 1 or 2 per cent of people who have no fear at all of going up to strangers and introducing yourself, you’ll find that in most social settings when you’re new, you’ll keep to yourself which makes getting to know people extremely challenging. The easiest way to strike up a conversation with another person is when you’re both engaged in a task that requires you to cooperate together. Serving teams are the perfect starting point.
Have you ever wondered why some of your best friends in life were the ones you made whilst at school and that for the majority of people school was the place that they had the most friends? The reason? You were forced to spend time with the same 25 people day in and day out and during that time you got to know them. You had to talk to them. You were engaged in a common task and didn’t have an option to bail.
How do we reach our community. It’s so easy. We just look for ways to serve them. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the last 3 and half years and guess what? It’s working. Relationships are being formed and people are starting to realise that Grace Church really does care.
And what get’s me super excited about that is that when people start to think that the church really does care about them, they make a jump in their understanding of God’s heart toward them as well. They tie the two together.
There’s so much we could talk about here but time’s getting away from us. I’ll be extending this series when I get back from taking Deb on her first ever overseas trip in just over a week’s time. We’re heading off to Bali for two weeks. I was going to take her to Australia but she doesn’t think that’s funny anymore.
As the team joins me I want to close by beginning to paint a picture of the church I see so that you can begin to colour it in with the dreams that God has placed in your heart. Because what you’ll find is that you’re not here by accident. You’re here because God needs you to bring your dream to pass so that the dream he has for Clarence Plains, HOBART, Tasmania, Australia, the world, is fulfilled.
The Church I See
I see a church that is so enmeshed in the life of our community, that if we were to ever shut our doors the whole community would feel the loss.
I see a church that demonstrates the love of Jesus through service in such an extravagant way that people are compelled to find out more about Him.
I see a church that is full of people who understand that the greatest proof of their love for God is seen in how they treat others, who put feet to their love each day wherever their day takes them.
I see a church that is excellent in all that it does but walks humbly with the least of these.
I see a church that is mature, strong and vibrant; that speaks with a relevant voice to today’s generation and doesn’t shy away from hard questions and polarising social issues.
I see a church that is growing in size and in service to its community in such a way that it inspires others with the knowledge that it’s possible for them as well.
I see a church that leads the way regionally and statewide with a new paradigm of church that answers the heartfelt cry of God’s people to make a difference in their communities and see the lost restored.
I see a church where everyone feels at home, regardless of their past or even their present. A church that is all about mercy, justice and the rights of others, not their own.
I see a church that Jesus loves because it’s not puffed up with its own importance but rather goes out of its way to make others feel important.
I see a church that continues to surprise people with its reach and influence both here in Australia and across the globe but does it quietly without any fanfare.
I see a church that prepares people for effective real life ministry and encourages them to follow their God given dream.
What do I see?
I see a church that is known and loved by its entire community, a blazing light on a hill that can’t be ignored because of its good deeds and extravagant love, faithfully serving the Master and bringing joy to His heart.