This month, we are celebrating the 27th anniversary of the Dream Center and the question I get asked the most is this, “How have you stayed in the fight for so long?” To answer that, I need to take you back to when I was 20 years old, arriving in the city of Los Angeles.
I began as a caretaker pastor for a small church in a rough community and the goal was for me to fill in for three months until my father could find a full-time pastor to lead the church. Simply put, I was basically there to tread water until a real pastor could take the helm.
Months went by and no one accepted my father’s offer. It was inevitable that my temporary assignment was now evolving into a much longer mission. I realized the only options were to cut and run or find a way to see a miracle unfold.
At that time, I remembered having this desire to be successful in everything I did for this tiny church–it radiated through everything I attempted. From my attempts at getting as many people into the church as possible to the amount of time I spent preparing sermon series, I was desperately trying to find ways to validate myself as more than a caretaker. Simply put, I wanted to be a success.
However, I couldn’t deny that this pursuit was tearing me apart, giving me ulcers, and playing with my self-worth. One day in prayer, God spoke the clearest impression I’ve ever felt from the Holy Spirit. What I heard that day has become the one line that has kept me going for nearly three decades: Die to the dream of being a success and live to the dream of being a blessing. The moment in which that revelation danced around my heart became the moment I committed my life to the city of Los Angeles.
Here’s what I realized: I can’t always control the factors of success, but I can control the desire of always wanting to be a blessing.
Immediately I tossed aside my five-year plan for the church and simply told God that whatever He put in my hands was what I’d use to serve others. And what I had left in my hands was my wish to connect with the community.
My “desk” was moved to the sidewalk outside the building and every day when mothers took their kids to school I would say, “Hola! Como Estas,” in imperfect Spanish–anything to connect with people. I created a food ministry that was basically three bags of food I bought at the store and placed it next to my makeshift pastoral office on the sidewalk. Never again did I think about the word success.
The truth is, I felt like a city janitor walking through the streets of Los Angeles, letting everyone know that through Christ they could dream again. The simplicity of that revelation drove everything and the impossible began to break loose. Revival in that old neighborhood broke out and people were returning to the church. The community became a bee-hive of service and community action. Today, the Dream Center serves 23 neighborhoods in LA and houses over 500 individuals and families at the old Queen of Angels hospital–it truly has become a shining city on a hill.
The Dream Center was born of the idea that lives can come to know Christ and communities can be changed for the better if we only asked the simple question, “How can I put my selfish dreams aside and work on being a blessing to others?” And the beautiful thing about dying to the dream of being a success and living to the Dream of being a blessing is that it keeps you going through life’s challenges.
I can tell you, after nearly 30 years of running a nonprofit organization, the moment we stop caring about our dream is the moment when God’s cause comes alive. God’s grand plan is always bigger than a man’s dream. My dream was to have five hundred people attend church in ten years. God’s dream was to give us a hospital where hundreds could be housed every single day.
Wherever you find yourself, seek ways to serve those around you. We are a success the moment we decide to serve.
Matthew Barnett is the co-founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center and senior pastor of Angelus Temple. The Los Angeles Dream Center is a faith-based non-profit dedicated to transforming the lives of individuals and families in Los Angeles through residential and outreach programs.