When dreams overshadow reality

Published 10:28 am Monday, June 6, 2016

by Andrew Book

I love those moments when God breaks in to my life to speak to me in powerful ways. Sometimes God speaks through something I see, through reading the words of Scripture or reflecting on life events in prayer, and other times, God speaks through books I am reading. One of my favorite authors (and one of my heroes) is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a pastor living in Germany at the time of the rise of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer refused to allow the communities of faith he led and the young pastors he trained to become pawns for the Nazis. Instead, he helped build the underground community known as the “Confessing Church” through his powerful understanding of community, discipleship (what it means to follow Jesus) and sacrifice. Bonhoeffer was killed in a concentration camp only moments before the camp was liberated, but his legacy lives through his writings.

A large part of God’s call on my life and ministry is to work to build meaningful community in the church — I love it when the church is a community of people who live life together, share their joys and sorrows, and rely on each other every day. So, when I discovered Bonhoeffer’s book “Life Together” a few years ago, I was delighted that one of my heroes had written down his thoughts on something so important to me!

It did not take long before God began speaking through Bonhoeffer’s words. Near the beginning of the book, Bonhoeffer offers this:

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”

As I read those words, my first thought was, “He’s right. Those people are really missing the opportunity to really build community.” Then God spoke. God’s message to me was simple, but it still shook me! God said: “This is you.”

I had to put the book down at that point and sit back and think. As I reflected on my desire for community I realized that I had read all the right books on community and learned all the different ways a church can work to build community. I had tried creating house churches, small groups, dinner groups and more, but they were never good enough. I also recognized that the result of never succeeding in creating the “dream community” (which only existed in my imagination) was that I was always looking for something else and had neglected the actual community around me. I had become a destroyer of community because my primary focus was on my dreams. The reality is my “dream community” has never existed, nor will it ever exist, because communities are all made up of people who are not perfect. In that moment I vowed to focus more on the imperfect communities that actually existed. I resolved to set aside living in my dreams and finding problems with the ways we were community so I could be fully present in the real community!

I have returned to this quote often since that first reading, and the more I have re-read it, the more I have realized that the conflict between living in a dream and living in the real world is a conflict that is present in every aspect of life. Dreaming is a wonderful thing. Dreaming of a beautiful, different future has the power to change your life. However, those dreams have to be rooted in the realities you face now. If you dream of being a doctor, you need to find out what you need to do to get to medical school and start working toward that dream. You will not get there if you focus on a dream that you are someone else. In the same way, if you dream of having a close-knit and loving family, you need to love and inspire love in your family rather than pretending your family is the one you saw at a restaurant who appeared perfect (As a pastor who talks with people about family struggles regularly, I can promise you that family has struggles too.).

The dream begins when you take what you have in your life and begin walking toward the dream. The situation you are in today is the only place you can start. I hope you will learn from my experience: our dreams don’t just appear. We start where we are, with all the imperfections and brokenness in our lives, and work to move toward our dreams — that is the only way we will ever get there!

Toward the end of “Life Together,” Bonhoeffer makes this statement: “The community of faith does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus. It does not lack the former but the latter.”

Be a faithful servant of the dreams God has laid on your heart. Make sure those dreams start where you (or your church) are today and then, one step at a time, live out God’s dreams!

If you need an imperfect community to journey with, come join us at Courtland United Methodist Church. If you are looking for a perfect community, please stop looking. Instead start where you are, and build something beautiful!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.