Dear Church Planter, Dream Bigger!

The ability to dream is a God-given gift. God has given us the power to be creative, to dream, to visualize, to plan. It is a powerful force that can be used for either good or evil. Napoleon said, “Imagination rules the world.” Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Every great achievement in ministry or any other area of life has happened because somebody dared to dream. Nothing starts happening until somebody starts dreaming.
God even realizes the importance of evil imagination verses good imagination. Remember, He destroyed the world once because of evil imaginations. He looked down and said their minds are only filled by negative dreams. And except for Noah and his family, He wiped out the entire earth and started over.

Everybody needs a dream. I have found that one of the big problems in church planting is that when you get started, you start off with big dreams. But as you get into the thick, hard work of planting, your dreams shrink to the size of the situation. Tragically, circumstances tend to shrink our dreams. So periodically, we need to be stretched. We need to learn how to dream bigger.

The history of Saddleback Church is a testimony to the power of a God-given dream. If you’ve seen The Saddleback Vision, you know it’s a quote that is actually from the very first message I preached at Saddleback on March 30, 1980. We had 60 people in a trial run service where I said:

The Saddleback Vision is a dream of a place where the hurting, the hopeless, the discouraged, the depressed, the frustrated and the confused can find love, acceptance, help, hope, forgiveness, guidance and encouragement. It is the dream of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with hundreds of thousands of residents in South Orange County.

It Is a dream of 20,000 members growing together in spiritual maturity through Bible studies, seminars, retreats and fellowships, loving, laughing and learning together, understanding God’s wonderful plan and living life to its greatest potential. It is a dream of sending out hundreds of career missionaries and church workers all around the world and sending out our members by the thousands on short-term projects to every continent. It is a dream of starting at least one new daughter church a year.

It is a dream of 50 acres of land on which will be built a regional church for Southern Orange County with beautiful yet efficient facilities, including a worship center seating thousands, counseling/prayer center, classrooms for Bible study and training lay ministers and a professional aerobics recreation center. All of this will be designed to minister to the total person, spiritually, emotionally, physically and socially and set in a peaceful, inspiring garden setting with beautiful flowers, beautiful trees, pools of still water, sparkling fountains and flowing streams. I stand before you today and state in confident assurance that these dreams will be realized. Why? Because they are inspired by God.

— Pastor Rick’s first sermon, March 30, 1980

When I shared that with approximately 60 people whom I’d never seen before in my life at the very first service, there were people who heard that and said, “Fat chance! How in the world will 60 people grow to be a church of that size? How are we ever going to get land in the Saddleback Valley at the price that it cost?” etc. Amazingly, we surpassed that initial God-sized dream a long time ago, and we’re still growing.

Great things can emerge from small, humble beginnings when God is in the middle of them. But you’ve got to start with a dream. If you’re going to plant a church, you’ve got to be a dreamer. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Faith begins with stretching your imagination. It begins with visualizing the invisible. We cannot accomplish the impossible until we first see the invisible. Faith begins with catching a dream, a vision. Heb.11:1 in the Amplified Bible says, “Faith is perceiving as real what is not revealed to the senses.”

William Carey was the first modern missionary. When nobody else was going around the world, Carey as a young cobbler in England felt called to leave his home and go to Burma. Everybody who knew him told him he was crazy. But Carey got on a boat and left for Southeast Asia, and the rest is history. Carey’s words have guided me through life: “Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.”

Everybody needs a dream for life, every pastor needs a dream for their flock, and every church planter needs a dream for the future of their yet-to-be-born church. It is a psychological necessity. If you’re not dreaming, if you don’t have a goal for life, if you don’t have a dream, if you don’t have a vision, you’re dying. We develop our dreams, and then our dreams develop us. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a great person or a great pastor. I believe there are only ordinary people and ordinary leaders committed to great dreams. When an ordinary person is committed to a great dream, it makes that person a great person.

If you want to be healthy, you’ve got to have a dream to live for and God expects you to use your imagination. Don’t simply borrow the dream of another leader, but don’t fail to let others inspire you as you seek the dream God has for your ministry.

Church planter, keep dreaming. Decide today that once you start, you’re going “all in” and you’re committing the very life you live to seeing the dream become reality!