by LUKE BARNETT
The biggest enemies of a God-given dream are what I call dream busters. These are the people around you who don’t see or appreciate the dream the way you do.
I have learned how to handle dream busters because they are an occupational hazard for any dream-centered leader. These principles are not just slogans for me. I’ve road tested each of them, sometimes at a greater cost than I would have liked. Here are the main facts and warnings about dream busters, as I see them.
Dream Busters Teach Us Who We Really Fear
If you are going to be a dream-centered person, you’re going to have to decide who you fear—God or people. For much of my early ministry, I was a people pleaser. I feared disapproval, so I sometimes made decisions based on that fear. That was poor leadership. This type of leadership harmed the places I was serving, it dimmed the dream, and it put me in a trap. There is no greater trap than fear. It is the opposite of a faith-filled dream.
By the time I came back to Phoenix, I had mostly overcome the habit of making people-pleasing decisions. I had learned to bite the bullet, accept potential rejection, and choose the best decision anyway.
Recently, at a community fund-raiser, a ministry colleague and I found ourselves sitting at a table with ten guys I didn’t know. The subject of churches came up, and one guy became particularly vocal about his disgust with a certain local church.
“That place has so much traffic during the Christmas season that it
shuts down the neighborhood. It’s chaotic,” he said. “Someone told me that the church is coltish. They have their own community, their own coffee shop, their own workout facility and gymnasium. I heard the leader is coltish too. People gather just to hear him talk about stuff. He’s kind of a cult leader.”
My ministry colleague ventured to ask, “Where is this church located?”
The man answered with the name of our street. Instead of chiming in, I just sat and listened. I was interested in what else he would blame us for. He ranted a few more minutes, making wildly unfair judgments about our church based on hearsay. At that point we had to leave to keep our schedule elsewhere, so I told the man in parting, “You might want to attend that church sometime so you can form an accurate opinion.”
“Not gonna happen,” he said instantly.
“I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid.”By then my friend couldn’t contain himself. He laughed and said, “Luke is the pastor of that church.”
This guy didn’t miss a beat. He put his hand out and said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. David Koresh.” He was referring to the cult leader of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. In 1993 Koresh led his followers in a standoff with federal agents, which ended when the compound burned down.
In an earlier season of my life, that conversation would have caused me a lot of angst. I might have gone back and wondered how we could improve our reputation in the community. I might have made practical decisions about parking and performances based on that one man’s criticism. But I had learned not to fear the disapproval of others.
You have the choice: you can live to please God or to please people. Which will it be? The answer will tell you a lot about where you are in life. Any time you fear someone more than God, you allow that person to disable you. Proverbs 29:25 calls fear of people a snare. A snare holds you and keeps you from going anywhere or doing anything. Fear is the greatest disabling condition on the planet, and millions of people have it. They live with disabled emotions, disabled dreams. They constantly ask, “What would my boyfriend think if I went all out for my God-given dream? What would my family think? What would my friends think?”
The book of Proverbs also assures us that trusting in God protects us from death (see 14:27). Here’s one of the greatest secrets I have learned: It’s no use caring what other people think about you because nobody’s really thinking about you. People are so self-centered that they are always thinking of themselves and how they are perceived. We would fear people’s opinions a whole lot less if we knew how infrequently they thought of us.
You Have Been a Dream Buster More Often Than You Think
Some guy told my dad, “You’re going to start a work in Los Angeles? Really? A Dream Center? What’s that? That’ll never work. You’re wasting your time flying out there so much.” Who was that horrible person? Ahem. That was me.
I recognize dream busters because I have been one so many times—and so have you.
One time my father-in-law, who loved the sea, bought an old sailboat. This thing had been so badly abused and neglected by its owner that it seemed hopeless. The wood was rotting, parts were missing, and all sorts of things were broken and looked irreparable. I was one of the several voices in our family who gently mocked him for buying it. “That thing belongs in a junkyard,” we said. “You’ll be paying someone to haul it away next summer.”
But he patiently worked on that boat over the winter. He sanded the wood, replaced broken parts, and lacquered and painted it. By the time we visited him again the next summer, I was amazed. The boat looked better than new. It had a new mast, a new foresail, new brass parts, and revitalized wood and interior—it was just plain awesome. I had to eat my words, and I realized I had been a dream buster.
Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in this joke, which unfortunately describes a lot of people: A woman took her husband to the doctor for a checkup, then came back later to pick him up. The receptionist said, “Ma’am, your husband is in critical condition.”
“What?” The woman asked.
“When I dropped him off, he was fine.”
“He’s in very critical condition,” the receptionist said again. “He’s critical of the doctors, critical of the nurses, critical of me, critical of the equipment, critical of the waiting room . . .”
Does that describe you? Are you going around busting people’s dreams? Maybe you don’t think so, but spend some time listening to your own words. You may be surprised.
One more example and then I’ll stop picking on myself. My dad used to say to the congregation, “I believe God is going to bless some of your businesses. Your motives are pure. You want to bless your family and the work of God’s kingdom. I believe someone here is going to give a million dollars to this church someday.”
I was a little kid at the time and thought, You’re crazy, Dad. No one’s going to give a million dollars. I didn’t realize there were people in the congregation at that time who wanted to give that much and were financially able to do it. I’m here to tell you that on eighteen different occasions someone gave a million dollars to the church for God’s work. Dad was right.
Now Dad stands before people and says, “I believe someone here is going to give a billion dollars to God’s work someday.” I was actually embarrassed for him the first time he said it because it seemed so preposterous. But I had to look back on his track record! Now I think God will grant him that dream. There are certainly business people in our church who want to build Dream Centers all across the earth. I hear them talk about trying to be successful so they can fulfill the dream of giving a billion dollars for the work of God. They are actually trying to do it! Maybe we all need to get bolder about asking.
Each of us can point to examples of busting someone’s dream. I squirm to think about it, but it’s an automatic reaction for some of us, and we must train ourselves out of it. The good news is that people can change. Back when Dad was starting the Dream Center in LA and the whole concept was new, everyone was telling him not to go. One man, a close friend of Dad’s, said, “You don’t need to go to LA, Tommy. It’s just going to wear you out and take away from the work here in Phoenix. I’m concerned about you.”
Within two years that very man and his son gave $2 million to save the Dream Center from being closed down because of needed structural upgrades. He went from being a dream buster to a dream lifter. We can all do the same.
Your Family and Closest Friends Will Often Be Your Most Challenging Dream Busters
When I fasted and got the dream of God for our church, not everyone was as excited as I was. Nobody came right out and challenged me, but a few leaders and close associates were obviously unenthusiastic. Sometimes they patted me on the back and said things like, “I’m glad you have something you’re excited about.”
That hurt my feelings more than a direct challenge! How could they not be as excited about this God-given dream as I was? Couldn’t they see the future of our church?
I came to believe that sometimes God allows dream busters to be our own close friends and family for a season. He does it to test us. When I first became senior pastor at Phoenix First, I often sought wise counsel from older mentors I trusted. Their wisdom had kept me on track for many years. But as I grew as a leader, I began to feel that often their voices conflicted with my dream.
For example, when I laid out the idea for a multi-site church, one men¬tor in particular tried to discourage me out of genuine concern for me.
“Do you really want to do this?” he asked. “Phoenix First is a huge campus with so many ministries impacting so many people. If you try to have other campuses, it means so many more headaches. It might steal your overall impact.”
I had to wrestle with that, especially when the multi-site idea seemed dead in the water. I also respected this man a great deal. Then one day it dawned on me: God had given the vision to me, not to my mentor. It didn’t make this man my enemy, but it tested my faith in the dream. He was not called to lead the church toward this dream in this season. He hadn’t prayed and fasted about it. He hadn’t seen the vision so strongly in his mind’s eye. I had. It was ultimately my responsibility.
So I chose to follow God’s leading against the advice of people I greatly respected and let the chips fall where they may. I did it very respectfully, and I didn’t stop seeking their advice. I just had to learn to distinguish between what they said and what God said. In that way, having dream busters so close sharpened me spiritually.
When the dream in your heart is stronger than even the voices of those you trust most, that’s when you know it’s from God. When the vision captivates you more than anyone’s respect or approval, you know you’ve discovered your life purpose.
One of the best dream stories you will ever encounter is not on the Internet or television; it’s the story of Joseph found in the first book of the Bible. Joseph was kind of a daddy’s boy. It was obvious to his brothers that he was Daddy’s favorite, and his brothers resented him for it. One night while Joseph was sleeping, God dropped a dream in his heart. Joseph dreamed of one day being a great leader. This dream in the night began to stir his heart during the day, and he told his brothers about it. What was their response? Genesis 37:5 tells us, “They hated him even more.”
You have probably seen in your own life that natural negative reaction people have when you share your dream. There will always be haters. There will always be people who do not believe in your dream. They’ll be negative and cynical about it, and if you let them, they will rip the dream right out of your heart. That is why you have to hold on to your dream. Your dream is too important to God, to you, and to the world to let them rip it from you.
Luke Barnett is the pastor of the 25,000-member, multi-site Dream City Church in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. Luke also leads the Phoenix Dream Center, an organization that offers hunger relief, medical programs, residential rehabilitation programs for adults, a shelter for victims of human trafficking, transitional housing for homeless families, foster care intervention programs, job-skills training, life skills, counseling, basic education, Bible studies, and more. The oldest son of esteemed pastor Tommy Barnett, Luke has spent his life building, growing, and leading innovative churches.