I started my church 11 years ago with big dreams for God.
Church planting networks want people with big dreams for God.
We create huge conferences to encourage people to dream big dreams for God.
At this point your “cynic radar” is already starting to go off as you read this. Bear with me a little longer before you cast me off.
Try to name one person in the New Testament who had “big dreams for God” in the way pastors and church planters are taught to. The first people who come to my mind were the Jewish crowd in Matthew 21:1-11 who laid their coats on the ground while waiving palm branches as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. This was “big thing” energy at its height as people shouted praises to Jesus and proclaimed him as their Messiah.
This frenetic crowd was made up of the same mob who shouted “Crucify him!” later in the week.
(My friend Godwin did a great sermon on this text recently at my church…)
Another “big thing for God” group that comes to mind were Jesus’s 12 disciples. It seems these guys were constantly dreaming big for God, which usually ended up with them arguing over which of them was the greatest. In Luke 9:46-48, Jesus responds to their arguing by pointing to a little child, how we are to welcome little children, and how the least is the greatest.
In a parallel text in Matthew 18:1-4, Jesus responds to the disciples’ question by saying that unless they became like a child themselves, they wouldn’t even enter the Kingdom, let alone be “greatest.” He goes on to command that we are to take the lowly position of that child. How many people do you know in lowly positions who have done “big things for God”? (See also Luke 22:24-27)
I really feel like the disciples’ mindset was the same as ours today when we dream big dreams for God. They had Jesus in their inner circle. Why would God not want to save the whole world right then and there? God could do anything! Remember when they wanted to call fire down from heaven to rebuke people who rejected Jesus (Luke 9:52-55)? Now that’s a big dream for God! Why would he not want to do this? When I planted my church, I knew this, I knew God could do anything. If God could do anything, I certainly wasn’t going to try to limit him. I was going to be bold for God and set out to have big dreams for God. Why have a church of 10 converts when you can have a church of 10,000 converts!? Dreaming big dreams for God.
Oh, and one last New Testament example to note. Let’s not forget Satan as the “big thing for God” guy in Jesus’s temptations in Matthew 4:1-11. Satan tells Jesus to turn stones into bread, to have angels rescue him, and to gain all the kingdoms of the world. Those are all pretty big things that I think every pastor and church planter would love to be able to pull off. For God, of course.
Why do we keep thinking God needs big things? He’s God! What could he possibly need that we could give him? (See Acts 17:25 if you don’t believe me)
Throughout Scripture, God constantly uses small metaphors to describe his activity (mustard seeds, a pearl, a manger, choosing Israel because they were small, et al.), so why is it we lust after the big stuff so fervently? The number one reason is because we are insecure and if we acquire or accomplish the big stuff, it will make us feel important and valuable. Not being cynical there, just giving my own testimony. If you have big dreams for God, ask yourself how you will feel if you don’t “succeed” at them?
You’ll feel like a failure.
So you’d better work your tail off to prove that you have value. Because what Jesus did on the cross wasn’t enough.
Honestly, the evangelical culture of church planting and megachurches is a cesspool for ego hit after ego hit, all in the name of Jesus of course.
I was recently struck by a teaching video from Bob Mulholland where he said our doing needs to come from our being, rather than our being coming from our doing.
It’s the total opposite for most church planters and for many pastors as well. If we do enough, then we’ll “be” validated in God’s eyes, and in the eyes of our contemporaries and followers.
Jesus tells us to seek the mustard seed Kingdom yet we can’t stop dreaming for God the crowd that shouted praises to Jesus during his Triumphal Entry, or dreaming about the ~20,000 people who all left Jesus in John 6 when he refused to be a vending machine for them. Not that any pastors of large churches today have ever presented Jesus as our personal vending machine. Or that that would even be a popular message.
God doesn’t need your dreams.
This shouldn’t surprise us. In fact, if we are dreaming it, and our hearts are deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9), there’s probably a good chance God’s dream is quite different than ours.
Here’s what can happen (and usually does once the adrenaline wears off) when you dream big dreams for God:
1. You get emotionally, spiritually, physically, & mentally exhausted because eventually you realize you aren’t God. You can’t make people accept Christ. You can’t solve poverty. You can’t end sex trafficking. You can’t save the world. What you can do is get super burnt out trying, especially when your identity and value is tied up in accomplishing these things. Like any other version of greed and lust, you will never accomplish enough and eventually, something has got to give.
2. You end up promoting yourself instead of Jesus. Man this has been a tough realization for me after seeking publishing for a book the past 3 years (and finally going indie with it). It feels like if we’re doing it for God, the end justifies the means. Of course it will benefit God’s Kingdom if you are super popular! More people will want to hear the gospel from you if you are famous. So seek fame at all costs! Too many of us get caught in this anti-Jesus trap without even realizing it, and the people around us only applaud us as we go.
You and I aren’t in control, God is.
God does not need us (or our dreams); we need him. Desperately.
Never adopt the world’s definition of success, slap a Jesus sticker on it, and call it God’s version. Jesus never ever ever ever ever ever ever did this.
In order to let your doing come from your being, you have to first know your being at the deepest level. Meditate on these truths from Scripture every single day and let them soak into the core of your being.
I’m not knocking big churches and I’m not knocking big conferences…ok, I’m kind of knocking big conferences. And yes, I know 3000 people accepted Christ after Peter preached in Acts 2:41…shortly before they were persecuted, many killed for their faith, and scattered all over the region like tiny specks of salt (Acts 8:1).
The next time you see an ad for a big Christian conference, ask yourself how many of the speakers are speaking because they are experts in Scripture or because they or their staff figured out a way to get a huge church and they are going to teach you how to do the same (or at least get you to lust over their church’s bells and whistles).
What we need to realize is that big churches aren’t better or worse than small ones. In fact, big churches have huge gaps and weaknesses that small churches do not have, so it should be asked if they should be the barometer for what successful ministry looks like or not. And they are. All of us insecure church planters want to be the guy who plants the next huge church, gets all the speaking gigs, and lands the big book deal. All for Jesus of course.
The speaking gigs and book deals and full stadiums of people are not sinful, but they are not the point.
Our big dreams for God should not be the point. Rather than get everyone frantic and frothy over doing big things for God, we need to call our ministry leaders to lives of humble, faithful surrender, seeking God’s will, not our own.
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Who ever thought that reading a post about being crushed could be so encouraging? I remember William Carey’s “Attempt great things for God, Expect great things from God.” I get the point and it’s not wrong, but I’m reading 2 Corinthians 4 talking about jars of clay so that God’s power would be known and it talks about that being in troubles and perplexed and persecuted and struck down and that it’s in bearing the dying of Jesus that the life of Jesus is made known and I’m wondering how many people are signing up for that. As much as we try to avoid it, the only option Jesus gave to follow him and be a disciple is to take up a cross, and that means something hard and real but good that will mean having something genuine from God for others. I think Jesus’ heart is with the blind and the lame and the sick and the poor, moreso than with guys like me who can afford a weekend away to talk about Jesus but don’t come out of it having taken up my cross. That probably sounds harsh but hopefully you get the point. For all the setbacks God’s taken you thru, aren’t you in a better place now, closer to the heart of God?
Noah Filipiak says
And I think it’s important to note that there are some who did “big things” in the world’s eyes who knew that in comparison to who God was, what they were doing wasn’t that “big.” They had/have perspective. God was genuinely doing things through them and they just let him, God was takign the initiative, not them. Versus most of us who go to God with our agenda and try to wrestle God to make it happen for us.
Whereas the problem in today’s Christian culture is we have no perspective. We think the “big thing” is not only a notch on our belts, but that God actually needs it. Then you have tens of thousands of young pastors hoping to replicate the “big thing” their favorite celebrity did. It’s a recipe for soul disaster.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t desire to preach, write, share the gospel, etc. By all means, do these things! But let the thing itself be the thing. You don’t need a big publisher to tell you what you wrote is good in order to write things for the Kingdom. Just write them. You don’t need a popular conference to book you to speak about the gospel or to help people in ministry, just speak about the gospel and help people in ministry. Just do those things because you have the gift, or are called, or want to be obedient, without thirsting for the celebrity circuit to pick you up. You don’t need this weird validation from man to affirm you are really doing things.
And to your question Alan, yes by God’s grace he has broken me over these 11 years and I am much closer to him than I ever would have been had he allowed my ego to get everything it ever wanted. Oh Lord, thank you so much for sparing me from that disaster.
Mark Schonfeld says
I think these two comments fill in some of the holes you had in the main article. While I liked the article and agree with it, when you asked for bible accounts of people who dreamed big things for God I thought of Joshua, David, Johnathon, and Nehemiah. They knew God was mighty, worthy to be praised, and when he was for Israel they were unstoppable. They had big dreams for what God would do for their nation but, like you said in your comment, they did it in his will, timing, and power, not their own.
Your post came to mind this morning after reading today’s email devotional I get. It’s from 1933 but could have been written today. The stories that encourage my faith most are the ones that God is the only reason things happen. Remember George Mueller, guy started an orphanage in the 1800’s giving a home to hundreds of kids and it was by faith; he never asked for finances but all needs were always met, somedays food arriving at his door when there was nothing. What about Lillias Trotter? She was young, wealthy and a gifted artist who left all that and more behind to minister to go to Algiers in the late 1800’s and spent 40+ years living with and being Jesus to women and children. She kept unpublished journals of nature drawings and thoughts, finding lessons there to the Christ life and the Cross. Someone fund them and put them online. What about when missionaries were kicked out of China and Ethiopia and there were few converts, and when missionaries got back in found tens of 1000s? What about today, the 80+% of Muslims in Muslim countries coming to Jesus because he appears to them in a dream or vision? Those kind of stories mean so much more. I don’t know Noah what it is about the American church as it is now that drives people to want to be somebody. Why isn’t it enough that you’re in Christ, known by him, and you’re somebody to the people in your life? Why is it that the presssure/temptation is always to be somebody in this world? In Christ, we should be free to be ok to be nobody in this world.
Here’s the devo:
It pleased God… to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him. (Galatians 1:15,16)
Since Paul’s day so very much of Christian activity has been the furthering of a movement, the propagating of a teaching, and the furthering of the interests of an institution. It is not a movement, nor to establish a movement in the Earth and to get followers, adherents, members, support. It is not an institution, even though we might call that institution the church. The church has no existence in the thought of God apart from the revelation of Jesus Christ, and it is judged according to the measure in which Christ the Son of God’s love is in evidence by its existence. It is not a testimony, if by that you mean a specific form of teaching, a systematized doctrine. No, it is not a testimony. Let us be careful what we mean when we speak about “the testimony.” We may have in our minds some arrangement of truth, and that truth couched in certain phraseology, form of words, and thus speak about “the testimony”; it is not the testimony in that sense. It is not a denomination, and it is not a “non-denomination,” and it is not an “inter-denomination.” It is not Christianity. It is not “the work” – oh, we are always talking about “the work”: “How is the work getting on?” – we are giving ourselves to the work, we are interested in the work, we are out in the work. It is not a mission. It is Christ! “…That I might preach Him.”
If that had remained central and preeminent all these horrible disintegrating jealousies would never have had a chance. All the wretched mess that exists in the organization of Christianity today would never have come about. It is because something specific in itself, a movement, a mission, a teaching, a testimony, a fellowship, has taken the place of Christ. People have gone out to further that, to project that, to establish that. It would not be confessed; nevertheless it is true, that today it is not so much Christ that is our work. Now beloved, an inward revelation is the cure of all that. Am I saying too hard a thing, too sweeping a thing? The existence of all that represents the absence of an adequate inward revelation of Christ.
Left out one of the best part of Lillias’ story. in the early 1900’s she was invited into councils of Algierian Sufi Muslim men to tell them about Jesus. Meeting them, she wrote for them something about Jesus based on the 7 I am’s found in John, i.e. Jesus being Satisfaction based on I am the bread from heaven.