On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. These words echoed from the podium that summer day as soundwaves of hope.
Dr. King understood the reality of the world. But he refused to accept it. He envisioned a day when blacks and whites were treated equally. Dr. King could see the day as clearly as he could see the thousands in front of him. He was a visionary. A dreamer. The epitome of hope.
I am not the man or leader Dr. King was, but I understand the angst he felt. It’s a feeling in the pit of your stomach. A thought circulating in your head. As much as you try to shake the thought, it won’t go away. “There must be more. This can’t be all there is.”
You see, two thousand years ago, Jesus breathed his final breath. Three days later, he arose from the dead. The scars were visible. They were tangible proof that death couldn’t hold him in the grave. As Jesus walked out, something new was born. Something the world had never seen. Something Jesus said the gates of hell would not contain. That something was the church.
The church would be the vehicle to transport light to a dark world. Hope would be restored to a hopeless world. The blind would have sight. The lost would have a home. People from all nations would be united under one name.
Two thousand years later, the church is struggling to be what God created her to be. The world often sees the church as narrow-minded, shallow, and judgmental. Two thousand years later, the church is moving to the margins of culture. God’s people are supposed to shine the light of God’s love, mercy, and grace into the world, paralyzing the darkness. But, two thousand years later, the light appears to be growing dim.
In the words of Dr. King, “It would be fatal for us to overlook the urgency of the moment.” We can’t return to business as usual. Status quo is not an acceptable posture. The church can’t be satisfied until every person has food and water. The church can’t be satisfied until every man and woman experience freedom from the chains of sexual slavery and forced labor. The church can’t be satisfied until every man and woman hear the gospel.
There is work to do. We must stop with the “woe is me” attitude. Shame isn’t in the vocabulary of God’s people. Yes, the church has a tainted past. Yes, the church will continue to face problems in the future.
But, I have hope. I believe in the church. I believe that Jesus still reigns. And I believe the same power that breathed into a dead Jesus, bringing him back to life, resides in his people today.
I have a dream for the church.
I have a dream that one day the church will be a place where older generations don’t bury years of wisdom in the grave.
I see the day when older generations will pour wisdom into younger generations, empowering and equipping them to lead the church with confidence and hope. And, as this happens, the older generation will cheer on the younger, serving Jesus until their final breath on earth.
I have a dream that one day the church will be more than an hour of worship on Sundays.
I see a day when faith is more than a couple of hours on Sunday. Taking the gospel into the workplace, the ballfields, and the schools is equally as important as preaching the gospel from a pulpit. The church spends too much energy arguing and dividing over worship styles. How much longer will our conversations be dominated by what happens for an hour on Sunday morning?
I see a day when the greatest sermons are the ones preached in the inner cities as Christians sacrifice their safety to have conversations with the homeless. I see a day when the most powerful stories of faith are the ones experienced in homes, where Christians are on their knees praying over a broken marriage or a cancer-stricken child.
I have a dream!
I have a dream that one day churches in every city will unite under the one name that holds us together instead of the many issues that pull us apart.
I see glimpses of the day when people decide the only way to restore a broken world to Jesus is to unite under that name. The church has thousands of ways to express faith. Praise God for that. I see the day when conservatives and liberals celebrate one another for the work Christ is doing through them. I see the day when Baptists celebrate Methodists for bringing a lost person to Christ. I see the day when blacks, whites, yellows, and reds elevate Christ above their personal preferences.
I have a dream that one day the church will be known as the center of creativity and excellence.
I see the day when universities, Fortune 500 companies, and Hollywood producers pile into church offices seeking wisdom and guidance. I see the day when the church produces art that reflects the infinite beauty of an infinite God. I see the day when the church isn’t a laughing stock because of poorly written and produced movies. Instead, the best writers and actors in the world flock to the church because God’s people are the center of creativity and excellence.
I have a dream that one day the church will show the scandalous grace of Christ, accepting pedophiles, prostitutes, and the marginalized.
I see the day when the bars, whether physical or metaphorical, are removed from the church. Everyone, regardless of past sin, is welcomed. Just a few days ago, I had a conversation with several college students about a man struggling with pedophilia. This man was convicted of this heinous, evil crime years ago. He served jail time, but has been free for three years now. This man wanted to join a local church, and its members were very reluctant to accept him.
I see a day when this isn’t the church’s default posture. When society’s outcasts walk into the church, they aren’t met with cautious distrust. They are instead met with hopeful optimism, trusting God’s power to take any heart and make it new.
I have a dream that one day the church will cast a vision as large the God we serve.
Your vision reflects your God. How big is your God? I see a day when churches cast a vision that stretches to the ends of the earth. The gospel is fearlessly spread to remote countries. Justice is relentlessly shown to the oppressed and the marginalized. And Christians are open-handed with their resources, refusing to allow people to die of starvation or treatable sickness, like the stomach virus and the common cold.
I have a dream that one day the church will be so overcome with passion that it spills into every workplace, school campus, and neighborhood.
I see the day when “half-way, lukewarm, and mediocre” aren’t words describing Christians. I see it so clearly. Led by the power of the Holy Spirit, every Christian will be so compelled by hope and love that Christ spreads into every business, school, and neighborhood like a holy cancer.
I have a dream that one day the church will be known for faith, hope, and love but above all for love.
1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “Now, these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I see the day when the church isn’t a place where prideful leaders feel compelled to speak in a foreign language. I see the day when the most hardcore atheists might deny the existence of God. But it will be impossible for them to deny the existence of radical love. The church will not be a place where broken people are fixed. It will be a place for hurting people to be loved.
The church won’t be taken back by different stances on marriage, views on politics, or opinions about tattoos. The church won’t feel the need to drive salvation into the hearts of evil sinners. Instead, Christians will be compelled to love people, pointing them to the only one powerful enough to transform hearts, God.
This is my hope. I pray this is your hope as well. I see the day, church. I don’t write this as a cynic. I write this as a hopeful realist. I write this as a church leader in the trenches.
When this day becomes a reality, when every voice in every city sees hope restored and the gospel proclaimed, with one collective voice, the church will sing the words of the classic hymn:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!