Turning a dream into reality

"When I speak of creativity I am referring to 'dreamers who do' - that is those rather rare people who are gifted at both dreaming up the new and doing."

Gerald Arbuckle

This article is written by Jonny Baker, Director of Mission for CMS. As an advocate for pioneers, lover of all things creative and an explorer of faith in relation to contemporary culture, Jonny has started his own Fresh Expression; Grace in Ealing. He also blogs and published a number of books about mission and pioneering. Check out his blog here.

At its simplest pioneering is a combination of seeing and building. The seeing is a gift of imagining possibilities and dreaming up ideas. The building is the work to make something happen out of that seeing. I really love Gerald Arbuckle’s term ‘dreamers who do’ which pulls the two together.

SEE......

Sometimes an idea or a dream is God given in a dramatic way. But more commonly it comes from exercising our imagination and creativity that God has given us as we prayerfully seek to follow in the way of Christ and chat and bounce ideas around with others. It can actually be disabling if we think it has to be dramatic rather than something quite normal.

It’s sometimes a challenge knowing where to start, where to dive in. If you are unsure here’s three questions that are good for a start. Gather a group of friends together over a coffee, a beer or a meal and see where the conversation takes you. After each question I give an example taken from one of the stories in Pioneer Practice.

At its simplest pioneering is a combination of seeing and building. The seeing is a gift of imagining possibilities and dreaming up ideas. The building is the work to make something happen out of that seeing. I really love Gerald Arbuckle’s term ‘dreamers who do’ which pulls the two together.

What is bugging you?

Dissatisfaction, restlessness or even downright anger are good places to look, to notice, to pay attention. Our passion is often about overcoming something we have noticed that bugs us.

For me I get so frustrated with the disconnect between the way church is done and the people I know outside it. It feels like they are on other planets to each other. It is that gap that drives me to want to imagine it can be done differently in a way that makes sense and connects with those outside. What are you frustrated with? What are you dissatisfied with? What can you see that is broken? What is the gap between reality and what you hope for? What or who is being overlooked? What are you angry about? What is bugging you?

We can notice lots of things like that. But is there something you come back to again and again like a splinter that you can’t seem to get rid of. Not a surface thing or a selfish thing but a deep thing. You keep seeing it. It’s likely it cropped up before. That’s a big clue that you should give that some more attention. Look at it, notice it, see it, pray about it, reflect on it, chew over it.

Kim Brown and a few friends prayed together about those at the edges in Cirencester. Although it was a well to do market town they were bugged by the number of people on the streets visibly struggling and the local parish church simply did not know how to respond. Over a number of years this eventually led to the Upper Room, a drop in centre in the town which became a home for these guys and out of which a community of disciples has grown.

What are you longing for?

Another way of coming at this is to notice your deep desires, your longings. They too will give you a clue as to where to pay some more attention. I am not talking about selfish desires or appetite that can easily be distractions or distortions but a deep yearning, an ache. Name it, see it, allow it to materialise.

Ann Marie Wilson’s longing was for a world free from FGM. Her pioneering has been to set up a charity 28toomany which works alongside others to that end. She has done an incredible job. But that longing has been an incredible driver for her.

What is possible?

Then a third question to ask is what you can imagine that can be done about your frustration, and about your longing. What is possible? There are likely many things. But is there a particular thing you can do with the resources and skills you have. Is there an idea? An inkling? A hunch you have? If you are not used to thinking about ideas and possibilities it’s like a muscle. If you exercise it it grows so practice, be playful, and invite people to be with you who love ideas and don’t invite people who always see why things can’t be done! And in an ideas phase the more ideas the better.

Clean For Good is an ethical cleaning company in London set up out of a local church. Some research showed them that in their parish lots of migrant workers were on zero hours contracts and being treated poorly. They began to imagine that good news might look like a new kind of cleaning company. That was the possibility they saw. That company now employs around 40 cleaners who were able to be furloughed in lockdown because they had a contract with decent and fair terms and conditions.

Once you have some sense of possible ideas it is time to test and distill them down. There is no one way of doing this. I think it’s really helpful to talk about your ideas with lots off others and gauge reactions and gather questions so you can work on them until perhaps you get to a sense of what might be the thing to go for.

BUILD....

New things start in all sorts of ways. Some are meticulously planned. Some take a model of what has worked in one place and reproduce it. Some just seem to emerge. In some cases, people try and start one thing and something else gets catalysed. But if stuff is going to happen ideas and dreams have to be given legs. There is work to be done. At times pioneering is really exciting but it is also work, daily grind, chipping away, determination, dealing with unexpected roadblocks to realise and build the vision.

George Lois, a creative who designed an amazing array of big advertising campaigns says in his book Damn Good Advice that to create great work you must spend your time as follows:1% inspiration 9% perspiration 90% justification. Seeing is what Lois calls inspiration. In some ways that is the easy part. Equally as important is the process of building which takes effort, discipline, putting in the hours – perspiration. And then the effort required to justify your pioneering to others for backing or permission or whatever is also a huge part of the work. I surveyed pioneers and the areas they identified as needing most help with were admin, managerial and other practical skills, money, and time. There was only one response where someone identified creativity as the area they needed help in. So don’t be super spiritual about building – it is practical work albeit done prayerfully.

Here’s a few very brief pointers for the build part:

1. Take some time

Once you have your idea take some time to reflect on it, refine it and get input from others. I have noticed quite a few projects take about 3 years from idea to becoming tangible so it takes time. In Pioneer Practice we have down timelines of projects so you can see how they develop over time.

2. Pray

Pray all the way through.

3. Be Practical

How much time have you and the team got to work on it? Work with that. I say team – they may not exist yet so part of the plan may be finding some others to join you. How do you imagine you will resource it – do the maths and get someone on your team who can do a spreadsheet. Write a list of what you think you need to do and when.

4. Research

Find out as much as you can about other things similar to your idea, go and visit, ask questions, learn from them to save you repeating their mistakes.

5. Communicate

Sometimes when we are working on an idea we forgot that others are not thinking about it all the time. So work out who you need to get on board and communicate with – keep talking to them. Find out what they need from you and send it or present it in the way that understand.

6. Try Something Out

Can you get a prototype version of whatever you are planning and try it out? That way you will learn and get feedback and can then adapt and change it. Keep doing that to develop and refine the idea and plan. Think of it as an experimental phase where you are feeling your way forwards but gradually getting clearer about what you are doing.

7. Be prepared for difficulty

Every new project I know of had a time of struggle. You find yourself in the desert. When you reach that place try not to run from it too quickly. It can be a place of learning and creativity and dependence on God. In the research I did the area named as most likely to derail pioneering is the powers that be, so do the work of building trust with those you need to be on board and to give permission.

8. Write out a plan

It may change but write down your plan including what the vision is, what good it will do, how it will be resourced, what the timeline is and so on. When I set up the CMS pioneer training I had to do a plan and contacted a friend for advice on how to write a business plan as I had no idea! But having a written plan was really important in persuading others and having confidence ourselves in what we were doing.

9. Keep it moving

Someone will need to keep it moving forwards and bring the drive and energy to get the work done – it will probably be you so don’t sit and wait for someone else.

10. Start

How are you going to start? Have the courage to take the first step. You can adapt and change but a big part of success is getting started so go for it.

If you want to read more about pioneering and the steps to turning a dream or vision from God into a reality, then grab a copy Jonny’s book, Pioneer Practice.

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