Our circle of chairs fills the warm, highceilinged room, fragrant with coffee and biscuits and, as our heads turn towards the bishop, my heart rejoices. He’s asking us to dream.
I wasn’t sure what to expect that evening; well, I had expected dinner but I’d obviously misread the email and was regretting politely taking one biscuit rather than the whole plate. As a recently commissioned local missional leader (LML), this was my first evening with the Bishop of Liverpool and the 18 other LMLs in the diocese, and it was exciting. I almost forgot I hadn’t eaten.
I love to dream with God. I remember when it all started. I was 18, volunteering in Bolivian prisons and discovering how much God loved me, returning home with a God-given confidence and a holy expectancy. My 20s were filled with gap years, mission trips and new friends. Then one day, I met a guy who would later become my husband and we set up a coffee shop in Chester to connect with 1830s who weren’t interested in church. It worked, people came to faith, we served awesome coffee, fresh waffles, hosted live music and a community grew, but then we ran out of money and ten months after opening…the café closed. We were left bankrupt and burnt out.
After the very public loss of my first big dream with God, I struggled to reconcile my faith with my experience. The café’s closure told me dreaming was immature, naïve and embarrassing. I’d learned life didn’t always work as planned and faith wasn’t as straightforward as I’d first believed, and it was safer to not get my hopes up again, or my prayers. But the problem with this avoidance of pain is there’s no room for surprise either. You just feel kind of numb. As I slowly rebuilt my life, I began to realise how my faith had become distracted by success stories rather than scripture. The dreamers, prophets and missionaries fell, failed, were misunderstood and lonely, but they kept dreaming with God. They stumbled and doubted but rather than retreating to a smaller vision and a safer world, they persevered in the eternal work and vision of God’s kingdom. It was this cloud of witnesses past and present that challenged me to pick myself up and start running and dreaming again, carrying the scars of broken dreams with me. It’s why last week I picked up the keys for another empty shop unit. It’s why, with a team of God-followers, we’re scrubbing walls and toilets this weekend, because we believe God has more. Because we want the church to grow, because we long for people who wouldn’t walk into a church building to know Jesus and be transformed by his love and grace (and good coffee).
On that dark autumn night, 18 pioneers and a bishop shared their dreams. We left the room energised, inspired and longing for more, reminded that we’re all part of something much bigger and more beautiful.
Dreaming isn’t safe. I’ve learned that the hard way; my dream left me bankrupt and questioning if I’d heard God right. Dreaming, I’ve also learned, can hurt, making you vulnerable to attack by those who are driven by fear, not faith. But I don’t believe God wants his Church to aim for safety, I think he wants us to dream with him. These dreams won’t always promise success or stability but I know I’d much rather spend my time dreaming, living and working for God’s kingdom than ignoring the voice of God whispering to my soul, inviting me, just as I am, to join with him, turning my ordinary life into an eternal one.