Director, The Ockenga Institute
Monday, April 4, 2011
By David Horn, ThD
Director, The Ockenga Institute
Director, The Ockenga Institute
A big God requires that we think big. Perhaps the reason our churches aren’t thriving is because we haven’t thought big enough? Right?
So, we set big goals for ourselves and our places of ministry, our churches. BHAG—Big Hairy Audacious Goals—is the current battle cry from a couple of years ago. Big Hairy Audacious Goals for prayer: (“It’s not enough for a few people to pray. Imagine what God could do if thousands of people prayed for the same thing at the same time, preferably at the same place?”). Big Hairy Audacious Goals for evangelism: (“Pick a number, any number; how many dare we save for Christ?”) Big Audacious Hairy Goals for missions: (“Dare we strategize campaigns that would encompass whole countries, even entire continents?”). Big Hairy Audacious Goals for churches: (“Big churches require big programs and big budgets designed to bulge our imaginations”). “We receive not because we ask not.”
To drive these goals, we, of course, need a vision. A neighborhood corner store kind of vision will not do. We need a mega-store, Wal Mart-Home-Depot kind of vision. We need an expansive vision, a great vision that matches the bigness of God. Dare I say, to truly honor God, we need a vision that explores the very frontiers of God’s providence in our lives? “If there is no vision, the people perish.”
And, of course, a big vision requires a certain type of leader. Big, thick, deep voices are required to not only think and articulate big, deep, expansive thoughts, but also provide the will to see these mega-visions through to their end. Leaders need to be out front—way out in front--of their organizations, calling their people to the kind of obedience required to fulfill these big visions. We need more big daydreamers, daydreamers for God’s glory.
In the midst of all of this mega-vision casting we hear a thin small voice: “God hates visionary dreaming.” Come again? A wisp of a voice it is, indeed, almost in auditable. Have we heard him right? The logic of the words run so counter to the current orthodoxy of obedience. There it is again: “God hates visionary dreaming.”
Allow me to put the words into context. Quoting from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, Life Together,
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
Bonhoeffer's creaky, sixty-plus year old words about Christian community fall like a thud on the current evangelical landscape. They just do not add up in our current economics of obedience. The words sound downright counter-intuitive to what we know of the way God works in our lives and expects of us. But are they wrong?
Perhaps Bonhoeffer's words expose a growing theological presumption on our part, a presumption driven by a deficient understanding of who God is in the economy of His design for His world. As well intended as our big designs are on behalf of God and His Kingdom, are they not sometimes tainted ever so lightly with our own hubris? Does God need us to fulfill His Kingdom here on earth? Certainly. By an act of His grace, He has providentially written us into His grand redemptive story. But, does He really need us in the ways we often design for Him? I sometime think if God were somehow written out of the big plans we have for Him in fulfilling His Kingdom, it would take an uncomfortable amount of time for us to realize His absence. At the end of the day, our grand designs for God are wonderfully expendable.
Perhaps the net effect of our well-intended pandering for doing great things for God is that our big goals and big visions and big plans sometime overshadow the hard work of obedience. Cast our eyes back to the narrative of Scripture and Church History. What is the pattern we see? Do we really see the great imprint of God’s work in redemptive history as the product of well conceived, humanly orchestrated, BHAG plans? Not really. More times than not, God’s story is one of steadfast, obedient people being caught up and transformed by a divine plan that extends far beyond their own best intensions. It may be that God’s work is periodically manifest in dramatic fashion. More often than not, however, the work of God is an exercise in plain, hard obedience.
It is easy enough to throw out big numbers, make big promises, set a big strategy that get our juices flowing. And, we would think these are harmless. But are they? Doug Birdsall—Executive Director of Lausanne and our own Director of the J Christy Wilson Center for World Missions—has made the observation that one of the dangerous trends in the mission’s movement today involves many of the current mega-strategies going on in missions. On the surface, setting big goals for winning millions of souls for Christ appears to be the very thing that will excite our imaginations and incite our prayers. In reality, they have had the effect of diverting much needed attention and resources from the really hard work of life long missions efforts by so many faithful missions agencies.
But, finally, Bonhoeffer's words are mostly directed toward church leaders. Leadership is a delicate thing, isn’t it? Looking across the landscape of the church today, don’t we see enough examples of leadership blinded by ambition, but falsely camouflaged as faithfulness? This is not to say that Christian leaders with big, deep visions aren’t sincere, but, isn’t this the point? Sincerity is a dangerous gatekeeper to what is truthful and right. Our hearts are so vulnerable to our own self-deceptive ways.
What is the antidote to this self-deception for those of us in leadership roles in the Church? Contrary to what we would guess looking at the row upon rows of books on leadership located at not only Border’s but also our neighborhood Christian bookstore, the New Testament really speaks very little about being a good leader. There really is so little biblical evidence for the need for big visionary dreamers. The clarion call of the Gospels is all about being good followers. This is what Jesus asks of us, to be humble dreamers with enough sense to follow Him.