Rick Warren: Ordinary Leaders, Extraordinary Dreams

Saddleback Church
Saddleback Church (Facebook)

Have you ever stopped to think that our 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 happened because somebody dared to dream. I firmly believe that nothing starts happening until somebody starts dreaming.

In church leadership you often start off with big dreams, but as you get into the hard work of ministering, 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. Our vision was crafted from the very first message I preached at Saddleback on March 30, 1980. We had 60 people in a trial-run service, at which I described our church vision as being a dream that included:

  • Sharing the gospel with hundreds of thousands of residents in South Orange County
  • Twenty thousand members growing together in spiritual maturity through Bible studies, seminars, retreats and fellowships
  • Sending out hundreds of career missionaries and church workers all around the world 
  • Sending out our members by the thousands on short-term projects to every continent
  • Starting at least one new daughter church a year
  • Fifty acres of land on which we’d build a regional church for our community with beautiful yet efficient facilities

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When I shared that with approximately 60 people whom I’d never seen before in my life at the very first service, some of them 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 costs?” and so on. 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 lead a church, you must 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. It is “perceiving as real what is not revealed to the senses” (Heb. 11:1, AMP).

William Carey was the first modern missionary. When no one else was going around the world, Carey felt called to leave his home in England and go to Burma. Everybody who knew him told him he was crazy. But Carey boarded a boat and left for Southeast Asia, and the rest is history. His words have guided me through life: “Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.” 

Everybody needs a dream for life, and every pastor needs a dream for the flock. 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 extraordinary dreams. When an ordinary person is committed to a great, God-inspired 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 leader, 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!

Rick Warren founded Saddleback Church, one of America’s most influential congregations, and the PEACE Plan, which networks more than 400,000 churches globally to solve the world’s biggest problems. He is the author of several books, including his most recent title, What On Earth Am I Here For?

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