Tag Archives: dreams

3 Steps to Get From Here to There

When I was still serving as a children’s pastor, one of the churches I was on staff at had never hosted a summer Vacation Bible School. This is typically a week-long event for elementary age children that is high energy and filled with games, crafts teachings, music, etc. The whole purpose of the week is to help kids know and follow Jesus better. Unfortunately, at that time, the typical week was very focused on the kids already coming to the church. My heart was to create an event that focused more on kids in the community who had never been to church before.

The church staff heard my dream and supported my vision. After six months of planning, the big day hit and I was overwhelmed to see 300 kids attend our first ever night. We did things very differently than a typical church event and it was a huge success. While I acknowledge that it was truly a God-led moment, there were also many things that I needed to do as the leader to see the vision come to pass. Upon reflection, there are three basic steps that will help us as leaders move our vision from here to there…from a dream to a reality.

Vision – throughout the Bible, we see stories of people with amazing vision that God brings to fruition (Daniel, Abraham, and Mary to name a few) and those who lacked vision and ended in defeat (Samson, King Saul and Judas). Without vision, we have no direction, no purpose and nowhere to see our passion manifest. Vision provides the answers to so many questions. Vision keeps us focused on the big picture when the little details seem overwhelming. Vision rallies others when they see our enthusiasm and it matches up with passion of their own. 

My vision was to create an event that would attract kids to attend church and learn about God in a fun and high-energy environment. This was compelling enough to draw support from church staff and volunteers because I was so fired up about it that the excitement became contagious. A vision is not truly compelling until it keeps the leader up at night! What is that dream you have been holding on to that God might be surfacing right now? Write it down and keep it in sight!

Strategy – while it is a blast to dream and reach for the sky, it can quickly become an exercise of frustration if there is not a framework for accomplishment. This is what strategy provides. How many different components does your vision entail? How many people do you need to join the team in order to see success? What are the big rocks you must have in order to make progress towards achievement? Strategy is your game plan, your map, your flow chart. Strategy shows the basic route to get from here to there. Strategy does not require a lot of details, but it definitely requires a sense of direction and needs to get to your vision. And the best strategy is often created within the context of a team instead of one individual attempting to see all of the angles and possibilities. 

My strategy was to split up the Vacation Bible School into as many different areas as possible and give away as much authority as possible to key volunteers. We had snacks and games and teachings and music. Multiple generations of volunteers were serving and one person was even in charge of gathering prizes (for free!!) from local businesses. Meetings were planned, checkpoints of accomplishment were determined and the strategy kept everybody moving the same direction at the same time to the culmination of our vision. What an incredible demonstration of the power of team! Without strategy we would have been a bunch of chickens running around, but with strategy we were a team of cyclists planning to win the Tour de France.

Tactics – here is where the rubber meets the road. All of the dreams and strategies must eventually land in basic, daily tasks. These are the practical steps needed to accomplish the vision. A journey of a thousand miles is completed one step at a time. It might seem counterintuitive, but the dream is actually in the details. Without the details, the dream remains a dream. With the details, the dream becomes a reality that often far exceeds our wildest hopes. 

Checklists might not seem exciting but they prevent us from forgetting key components for our vision. Deadlines are essential and somebody has to be in charge of making copies, right? Practical tactics allowed me to see over 300 kids and almost 100 volunteers come together for a week that truly transformed hundreds of lives. And this event has continued to this day making a difference for hundreds of kids every summer for almost fifteen years.

So, how do we get from here to there? My suggestion is to start backwards. Determine the “there”, otherwise known as your vision. Write it down, let it sink deep into your heart and then, when it’s time to share, your passion will be contagious. Develop a team to help create the framework of strategy and then work out the details that will lead to accomplishment. And write it all down as you go. My greatest blessing is to see something that God had me start years ago continue to this day under the leadership of other people because if the vision is the right one, it will outlast the leader.

~ Mike


Tension Produces Dreams

I have often wondered if life would truly be better if it was simpler. What if I didn’t have to strive quite so much? What if relationships just happened naturally? Wouldn’t everybody be better off if we removed the struggle and pain and work? I mean don’t most people just live for the weekend so that they can kick off their shoes and relax? 

I think that this idea is actually fairly hollow and will not actually lead us where we want to go. An oft repeated story is told of butterflies that must wrestle with their cocoon in order to strengthen their wings so that they can survive once they are loose. Witnessing the birth of my children not only confirmed that I was grateful to not be in the hospital bed, but helped me to realize that the birth of a dream comes on the other side of great tension. 

Tension provides a sense of gratitude for an accomplished work

Tension makes the thrill of jumping that much bigger

Tension helps me know what is worth fighting for

Tension provides the perspective and momentum necessary to take a risk

I have shared before how it took seven months of unemployment before I landed at the job that I currently hold. Talk about tension! The team that I am privileged to lead is in the middle of a 2-year project to create resources for local churches to better serve families affected by disability. These resources are the result of years of tension – conversations, debates and discussions about the best way to serve the church. 

So, how can you make tension work for you?

1) Keep your eye on the prize, on your vision, on the dream. If tension causes you to walk away from this, then it wasn’t that compelling to begin with. Take this as a great opportunity to revisit the vision and make sure that it is truly large enough to be compelling.

2) Remember that life is a journey and tension is simply one of the steps you must take on your way to success. Tension is a well-oiled bike chain, a rubber band ready to launch, or the nervous feeling you get right before you make a leap of faith. 

3) Although it might be clich√®, there is a reason that it works – “what doesn’t break you only makes you stronger”. Tension is necessary for world class athletes to become stronger. And without tension you will never learn just what you can truly handle. 

4) Tension brings you to the feet of Jesus. Tension reminds me constantly that He is God and I am not. I cannot, nor am I meant to, proceed through life on my own strength. Tension keeps me humble which is always the best way to be.

I don’t know what you are walking through this week, but I would imagine it includes some tension. Be encouraged to not run from it, but rather to embrace it, to bring it to God and to anticipate the dreams that will be birthed because of it. 

~ Mike

Making an Ishmael

Have you ever had a dream that was moving too slowly? Have you ever had plans that were not turning out? Have you ever found yourself going a direction in life that you never imagined and you “know” it must be the wrong direction?

If you are anything like me, these are the moments that the temptation to cut corners, cheat the system or just take matters into my own hands is the greatest! If I was to be completely transparent, my first marriage was the result of this mindset. I decided that it was taking too long for marriage to happen, so I stopped waiting and moved forward in a reckless manner. It is so very dangerous to not slow down, wait on the Lord and allow His plans to play out.

In the book of Genesis, Abraham is given a promise that he will be the father of nations and that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky. This was a powerful promise filled with hope and joy and expectation. However, there was one major hitch – Abraham was approaching ninety years old and had no children. So, he took matters into his own hands, slept with the maidservant of his wife, and had a son, Ishmael. You can read the story in chapters 15-20, but the summary is that Ishmael was not the child of God’s promise, that conflict arose between him and Isaac (the intended child of God’s promise), and that conflict not only fractured Abraham’s family, but the descendants of the two boys continue to be at war today.

So, what is it that drives us to make our own “Ishmael” when life doesn’t go the way that we expect? Why am I unable to read about the life of Abraham and avoid the same traps of impatience and control?

Here are three things that I wrestle with when tempted to make an Ishmael:

First, I lack unwavering faith in God. It is so much easier to trust God and follow His plan when things are going my way. However, it is both the storms of life and the adversity of circumstances that reveal just how deeply rooted my faith is. Am I more like Abraham who changed the story, or like Jesus who slept in the middle of the storm? I need to live in such a way that the storms of life drive me to God instead of to my own means of avoiding the storms. 

Second, I am admittedly impatient. I often joke that God is always late in my life. Upon retrospect, I know that His timing is perfect and it is myself who is unable to wait for the right moment. Traffic drives me crazy because I am forced to wait. One person in front of me in line is too many and I even find myself refreshing my Twitter feed manually if I am feeling especially impatient. Please don’t leave me hanging that I am the only one who struggles with this! The problem is how often my impatience short circuits what God has planned for me. 

Third, I like things done my way and struggle to relinquish control. Deep down, I believe that I am right, that my way is the best way, and my timing is impeccable. I rarely say this, but my actions reveal that I like to be in charge. IF the ship is going to sink, I want it to at least sink on my terms! This is not only a poor way to live, but it is exhausting and exasperating. 

In spite of myself, God’s grace overcomes my inability to trust Him with all of my heart, my lack of patience and my control issues. While I spend a great deal of time making my own Ishmaels, God continues to love and bless and encourage me. And as I look at the story of Ishmael, in spite of Abraham’s shortcomings, Ishamael received the blessings and promises of God in his own life. 

So, how about you? Do you find yourself making Ishmaels and, if so, what drives you to this? Regardless of the reason, remember that God knows, God sees and God loves. He can even turn your Ishmael into the greatest blessing of your life. While I would never recommend pursuing the creation of an Ishamael, remember that He is the God of redemption and that your “Isaac” is just a step of faith away. My first marriage (one of my biggest Ishmaels) gave me the gift of my children and for that I am eternally grateful. 

Start small and see what happens

Bigger is better, right? I mean everybody is impressed by those who climb Mount Everest, but nobody seems to care about me climbing the hill by my house. Bigger phones, bigger dreams, Super Size drinks. There is no stopping the fascination that we typically have with big. We all know the expectation to “go big or go home”! We want to have bigger houses and bank accounts and dreams…just not waistlines ūüôā

As a leader, it is very tempting to become focused on the “big dreams” and this is an important part of leadership. Effective leaders know what the big picture is and are able to make decisions in the best interest of their team based upon this perspective.

But is it possible to become so focused on bigger that we can lose sight of the details? Can the desire to grow and achieve too quickly put our team and our projects in danger? I definitely believe so.

SO, what is a leader to do? How can I avoid the temptation to always focus on the next big mountain to climb but forget to take the small steps necessary to approach the base of the mountain?

I need to first remember that it is important to keep the big mountain in sight. As a leader, it is part of my job to keep my team, my family, my ministry heading in the right direction. People are counting on me to know where we are going. It is not a bad thing to even keep a picture of the goal or dream on my wall, my phone and in my head Рthis is essential!

Next, there needs to be an understanding of the steps that it will take to not only arrive at the mountain, but to slowly ascend to the summit. Whether this is a new set of expectations at home, or undertaking a huge work project, or just working to have a better routine of exercise and healthy eating, nothing will be accomplished well without a plan.

Finally, there is great wisdom in starting small and seeing what happens. Projects that are worth their while will not be accomplished overnight. Exercise plans and book reading disciplines take time to turn into habits. Culture change within an organization might take years to accomplish, if it ever happens. The key is to know where you are going, but to take one day at a time. I am currently part of a project at work that is just beginning to show some progress, but the initial discussions started over four years ago. The cliché is that you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

The great advantage to starting small is that if your idea works, now you have some momentum and experience to build upon. If it does not work out, then you only invested minimal resources and energy but you now have a learning experience that will allow you to adjust your mountain climbing plan before you even make it to the mountain. As great as big dreams and big aspirations are, don’t forget that the biggest of dreams is¬†accomplished one step at a time.

~ Mike