Out-dreaming Those You Lead

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Leaders should dream, because without dreaming there’s no forward momentum.

But dreaming without leading can leave you out-dreaming your team.

Photo Credit: Creation Swap User Rob Gros

A good friend of mine has a boss that lives in her dream world. Her boss is living out her dream of owning her own small business…this is what she’s wanted to do her whole life. And she gets frustrated when those she’s hired don’t have hearts that beat for the business like hers does, and when her employees aren’t as personally invested in her dream as she is. Though she has great employees (case-in-point, my friend), they feel like they can never measure up to the standard that their boss sets as a pace for the organization, even when they’ve accomplished their job well.

I’d love to say that this only happens in the secular world, but I’d venture to reason that you’ve seen this dynamic on Sunday mornings at church. Maybe you’ve even fallen into this trap.

Ever have a volunteer you’re responsible for not show up? Ever been frustrated by that?

When church leaders grow frustrated because they’re out-dreaming those they’re leading, they often heap guilt on others. Here’s a scenario for you:

Sorry, I can’t make it this Sunday…it’s been a crazy week…I’m tired, my kids are tired, and I’m just not going to be able to make it to volunteer in the parking ministry…

Sorry I can’t make it this Sunday, we’re going out of town next week and I need to get things ready…

Sorry I can’t make it this Sunday, I’m going to the _____ game Sunday afternoon…

To which every church staffer thinks

I’ve had a hard week too…I’m tired…and I want to go to that game!!

And the follow-up thought, if you’ll be honest with yourself right now, is this:

Do they really love Jesus? Because if they did…

Confession Time

I’ve fallen into the trap of out-dreaming those on my team. See, I’m living my dream right now. I absolutely love what I do. I love my church, the team I get to work with, and what I get to do within it. And sometimes…*shocker*…I have some volunteers that aren’t as committed to leading their small group as I am to leading this ministry.

I find a part of me growing frustrated that they’re not as invested in this as I am. Frustrated that I put long, hard hours into leading the ministry, while they have other dreams they’re pursuing (which, in the moment, I’d call less important). I’ve even thought, “If it were me, I’d give up _____ so I could lead my small group.” Or, “If I were them, I’d not let my kids do _____ so that I could love people and lead my small group well…” Those are some low moments for me.

In those moments, I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that this is my dream, not theirs.

Leaders: your dream is your dream. Don’t expect that everybody is going to be invested in it like you are.

Sure, you cast vision well. Sure, you recruit leaders well. Sure, you sell the mission well. But at the end of the day

  • It’s your vision, not theirs.
  • It’s your job, not theirs.
  • It’s your passion, not (necessarily) theirs.
  • You live for this, they don’t.
  • They have other dreams, you don’t.

This shouldn’t discourage you from dreaming. But if you’re going to dream, dream well.

Leaders that Dream Well

  • Allow people to dream with them. Maybe you’re dreaming too small. If you’re going to accomplish your dream, you’ve got to have other people on board. More people = more laborers = more ideas = more solutions = bigger, more effective dreams.
  • Allow flexibility in their dream. In this, you may have to actually give up part of your dream, but in the process, your give your dream the chance to go further. Allowing flexibility means you work from a modified, but unified dream. More flexibility = more buy-in = more unified vision = bigger, more effective dreams.
  • Equip people, but don’t leave them hanging. It’s not their job, after all, to make sure your dream is accomplished. Equip them to work well, but don’t send them out to do a job because you don’t want to do it. Help them accomplish the vision you’ve given them, don’t simply heap a burden on them. More support = more effective work = less burnout = bigger, more effective dreams.
  • Lead well. Lead people to adopt your vision. Don’t look at this from the “You’re either all-in or all-out” vantage point. Lead people to buy in to your vision. Cast vision well, love well, and be patient. After all, how long did it take before you fully followed what God was calling you to do? More leadership = more leaders involved (leaders attract leaders) = more followers involved (leaders also attract followers) = bigger, more effective dreams. 

Have you ever out-dreamed your team?

Have you ever been expected to adopt someone else’s dream that wasn’t your own?


Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://www.robshep.com Rob Shepherd

    I’m guilty of dreaming too small. I wrestle with this. Thanks!

  • http://www.jasonvana.com Jason Vana

    Honestly, I just realized this week that I’ve been outdreaming my team. Some are stepping down to pursue other dreams (it happens), others don’t seem to be as motivated. I’ve been challenged to be more focused on leading and finding more people to bring to the table.

    Great challenge today Ben!

  • http://www.churchthought.com Matt Steen

    Seriously good stuff, Ben.  

    I often forget that my relationship to the church is far different than that of the people I lead.  They have jobs, family, church, and friends.  Church staffers have church, family, and friends (though they mostly intersect with the church) and the different load makes for some interesting challenges, but it also makes it far easier to be highly connected in the life of the church to the point that we forget that other people have jobs as well…

    Thanks for this.

  • Claire

    very good ben!  i think one thing i’ve learned (and shared in mentoring younger leaders) is that YOU will have the most enthusiasm and energy for the vision and group.   and in saying that you can GROW other peoples investment and ownership… which is a beautiful thing!