Pursuing A God-Sized Dream

Over the last few months, my mind has been turning again and again to the frenetic pace at which I lived for so many years. As I talk to other women, I realize that this is a widely shared problem, because too many of us simply do not have good boundaries. As a result, we have become plugged in, wired, over-functioning, multi-tasking creatures who often drive ourselves into the ground and (sometimes) drive the people around us crazy.

Because of my concern for the way in which too many of us live, I’ve periodically had an idea to create a place where women could come for rest and renewal. Where women can unplug, relax, experience beauty and serenity, and draw closer to God. But this idea never took on any concrete form. It just continued to be a vague, unformed concept that I might pursue someday.

Then, last December, Bruce wrote a blog entitled, “My dreams for Julie” [see December 12, 2009 post]. I’m sure that at least some his thoughts were sparked by the comments I would make from time-to-time, because his dreams for me included this idea of a gathering place: a room of quietness and beauty, where I could meet with women individually and in groups to encourage them to have meaningful times of personal reflection and prayer. His dreams also included a place where I could write devotional articles that would address the deepest needs of women; a way to share my heart for ministry through the written word.

Needless to say, it meant a great deal to have my husband articulate this prayer of dreams that were important to me.

The months passed and these dreams simmered. They were ever present, but there was little change or activity. And then, one day in April while I was exercising at the gym, our loving Father in Heaven began just pouring plans – specific and concrete plans – into my mind. For the first time, the dreams started to become real as God gave me a clear vision…of rooms, gardens, and colors. A vision of ministry programs that would touch the hearts and souls of women. A vision for a quarterly spiritual journal that could help women read, reflect, and feel God’s touch.

Since that day last spring, the Lord has continued to feed me details about how to bring this vision to life. And – as Bruce has prayed with me about these details - he has agreed with me that this is a vision from God. So we are embarking on a journey of faith (another one!) by writing a ministry plan and a business plan. And as we write, we receive more and more specifics from the Lord. We find that we’re doing very little “planning”…we’re mostly “listening” to capture what God is revealing to us.

At this point, the dream has become large; so large that it is truly beyond our puny ability to implement. We’re not sure at all of the “how” and the “when”, but we feel compelled by the Spirit to keep moving forward.

It’s interesting that as the vision becomes more clear, the steps involved become more complex. I find this overwhelming at times, but Bruce reminded me the other day that we do not need to see all of the steps: we just need to have clear direction about the next step. So as we take each step, in faith, we simply trust that God will reveal the step after that…and the step after that.

At this point, our best guess is that the full implementation of the dream still is a couple of years away. We will have to form a new non-profit organization, raise funds, purchase a site, develop it, recruit staff and volunteers…the “to do” list is a long one.

It is easy for me to be fearful, or to wonder what God is up to. Fear can paralyze me, and make me believe that a God-sized dream cannot happen through me. But I realize that this is false; it is a lie that the enemy wants me to believe. So moving forward to capture this dream is teaching me to stand with God and to stand against my fears.

I can see this dream so clearly in my mind…and I now look forward to the day when this dream will be a reality.

- Julie

What Does A Spiritually Healthy Church Look Like? [Postscript]

My last three posts on the issue of a “Healthy Church” have generated more response than anything I’ve written so far on this blog. I’ve received numerous e-mails and comments from friends and ministry colleagues, all indicating – sadly – general agreement with my observations.

I also received some questions, so I want to clarify a couple of points:

1. In Part 1 of the series (posted on Jun 10), I provided numerous quotes or specific examples to illustrate the points I was making. Except where I specifically quote another person by name, these quotes all are comments that were personally made to me or were overheard by me. And all of the examples come from my own personal observations. I did not pull these illustrations from websites or other sources.

2. Despite increasingly feeling like a fish out of water in the current evangelical world, I am not planning on venturing into some other expression of the Christian faith.

In response to these posts, I’ve received some heart-wrenching comments from ministry colleagues. Here are just a few:

• A pastor who was terminated from his associate position said, “The senior pastor never asked if I was producing disciples, or if people’s lives were being changed. He simply fired me because my program was not growing fast enough. I was told, ‘You’re not making your numbers, so you have to go.’”

• Another colleague is in fear of his job. He was told to double the number of people in his ministry in a year. He managed to accomplish that (at great personal cost) and now finds that he is expected to continue doubling his ministry every year for the foreseeable future. He does not see any way he can keep up the kind of pace necessary to accomplish this goal.

 • One of my friends is having a crisis of conscience, because he feels he is sacrificing the essence of pastoral ministry to produce the numbers his superiors demand. He told me, “I had to make a hospital call the other day. An elderly man was undergoing a risky operation, and his wife had no one to sit with her at the hospital while her husband was in the OR. I chose to stay with her for several hours…but I knew that I would be criticized for not using my time ‘productively’. My superiors would have preferred me to spend this time making evangelistic calls on potential new members. I’m all for evangelism…but we need to balance that against the care of our members. However, under the current leadership, there is no balance. It’s all ‘grow, grow, grow.’ And everything I do must be ‘measurable’ and ‘scalable’ and ‘reproducible’ to keep the numbers going up. I regularly ask myself, ‘Are we a church or a business?’”

• A young pastor I know is two levels down from the senior pastor in his church’s organizational structure. He told me, “Our pastor has been at the church for four years and I’ve never had a one-on-one conversation with him. He doesn’t know me, he doesn’t know anything about my family. I’ve requested meetings with him, and I’ve been told that the issues I want to address are not important enough to warrant his time and attention, so he refers me to the Executive Pastor or another member of the senior staff. It seems to me that the ministry staff is a key part of the senior pastor’s flock…but there is absolutely no shepherding, or discipleship, or development taking place within our staff. In fact, very little of a spiritual nature ever takes place within our staff. How will the church raise up the next generation of leaders if the senior staff does not invest in those of us who need to be groomed?” 

• Another pastor who was leaving his staff position under duress told me, “Outwardly, our church staff appears happy and healthy. But underneath the surface, it’s a different story. The staff pretends to be enthusiastic and supportive of the senior pastor…but it’s a sham. There really is no unity; there simply is an environment of conformity, and it’s driven by the fear of being fired.”

Needless to say, stories like this break my heart, and I find myself wondering, “What must the Lord Jesus think of all this?”

So I find myself responding in several ways. First, I pray for those senior pastors who have lost sight of God’s purpose for the church: Lord, help them to stop focusing on church growth at the expense of church health. Second, I pray for my friends and colleagues in these churches: Lord, please protect them and keep them spiritually healthy (and, if necessary, move them on to a healthier faith community). And I pray for myself and my wife: Lord, please lead us to a church family that shares our desire to become a healthy, transformative community in Christ.

[By the way - if there are others within your circle of friends or acquaintances who would benefit by reading these posts on church health, please encourage them to visit the blog.  Or you can e-mail a specific post directly to a friend simply by clicking on the e-mail icon beneath the post.]

 - Bruce