Bonhoeffer Convinced Me to Abandon My Dream

His words challenged everything I had learned about pastoral vision.

In a seminary class on leadership, the professor gave us each the assignment of designing a church. We had to write out a mission statement, vision statement, values, and beliefs. I worked hard on it but received a B. Apparently, I overused the word gospel. The professor’s note explained that the word was not contextualized enough for the post-Christian city I had identified as the location for this imaginary church plant.

It bothered me because I had poured myself into that project. Sure, the church I had described was only theoretical, but the vision was real. Though it was just an assignment, it represented my highest pastoral aspirations, and it became the goal of my post-seminary imagination.

I thought my vision for that future church was genuinely innovative. We would meet in some industrial space with lots of wood beams, single-origin coffee, and a massive rear projector at the back of the stage. If that sounds to you like a Redeemer Presbyterian–Mars Hill mashup, minus a few pet peeves I had picked up from past church experiences, you’re not wrong. Our church visions are rarely as original as we think they are.

I didn’t get very far with that vision. After seminary, I spent two years leading a church’s college ministry. The results were disappointing. The church had plenty of college students, but few attended our college ministry events. I tried everything: “relevant” topical discussions, free donuts, V-neck T-shirts. Discouraged, I quit and took a marketing job at a local Christian university.

I didn’t completely abandon ministry though. I started hosting a Bible study on Sunday evenings in my in-laws’ basement. I needed some justification for the student loan payments …

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