[The following is the full raw transcript for a LEADx Podcast interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.]
Kevin Kruse: How can you receive a life changing vision greater than yourself? Hello everyone, Kevin Kruse here. Welcome to the LEADx Show, where I'm going to help you once again, to stand out, and to get ahead. How you can get a little bit better, every single day. Before we begin, I gotta say. There's about 5,000, 6,000, maybe 7,000 of you out there listening to the show today. And I need all of you to visit LEADx.Org to check out our free training video of the day. It's like a daily surprise for self improvement. Am I going to be teaching you through video all about inbox zero, or how to run better meetings, or how to lead authentically? Or, maybe even how to fire someone. Hopefully you never have to, but if you do, you want to do it right. You won't know what I'm teaching today unless you go to LEADx.org.
Friends, I interview all kinds of leaders on the LEADx Show. From business, non profits, military, and today I interview a pastor of a huge, multi campus church out in Arizona. Actually not far from where my parents live. You're going to hear a hilarious story of when this pastor snuck into Disneyland in the middle of the night, not a typical pastor story, and he wasn't the pastor of the church at the time. And we dig deep into how we all need a vision, a dream, a big hairy audacious goal, in the words of Jim Collins, in order to motivate ourselves and to build a following.
Our challenge of the day inspired by this conversation is, take a break today. Go out on your lunch hour and just sit alone in your car, stop at a park on the way home from work, and sit quietly and reflect on your vision, your dream, your goals. Are you slowly dying a little inside the way our guest was? Or, are you jumping out of bed each morning, pursuing a massive dream? Where are you in your life?
Our quote of the day, “You can waste your lives drawing lines, or you can live your life cross them,” Shonda Rhimes. Who's the showrunner and producer of Grey’s Anatomy. Our guest today is the pastor of Dream City Church, with 25,000 members and multi campuses in and around Phoenix Arizona. He leads the Phoenix Dream Center, which offers hunger relief, medical programs, a shelter for victims of human trafficking, transitional housing for homeless families, and other community services. His brand new book is, “The Dream Centered Life: Discovering what drives you.” Our guest is Luke Barnett. Luke, welcome to the show.
Luke Barnett: It's great to be with you today.
Kruse: I'm really looking forward to this conversation, and diving into your book, but I have a ritual. I always ask our guest the same first question, because I love failure stories. I want to learn from your failures. I'm hoping that, that's where we can start. Tell me a story about one of your best failures, and what did you learn from it?
Barnett: Well this story's encouraged so many moms and dads at our church, who their kids are far from God, or making a mess of their lives. But, when I was 18 years old, I moved from my little sheltered life here in Phoenix within my dads home, and went to Costa Mesa California, to Southern California College. I played in the baseball team there, and so I kind of got around the wrong crowd for a little season of my life. One night, about 2:00 o'clock in the morning, three to four guys in the baseball team said, “Hey, let's sneak into Disneyland and see what it's like after hours, when it's all closed up.” I'm thinking, “I'm not going to sneak into Disneyland, this is crazy. I've never been in trouble in my entire life.”
I've been out of my dads home for one week now. About an hour later I found myself scaling that ivy wall, and we get into Disneyland. I think there were four of us, and we're walking around there, and all the lights were on but nobody was there. We walk through the Haunted Mansion, and it was pretty cool. Walk through Pirates of the Caribbean, where all the gold is, and all the treasure chests are. We're thinking there's nobody here on this entire campus, so we start walking on the main streets. Then all of a sudden a security guard on a bicycle said, “Guys, stop right where you are.” And we just take off running in different directions.
Well I found myself on the Safari Jungle Ride area, you know? I'm hiding, I'm in all this brush, and there's a hippopotamus' head right there. Long story short, within five minutes there were 100 security guards around us, and they took us to a little trailer shed there. And, a policy lady shows up, and she interrogates us for a little while and she says to me, “Well I'm going to write you a citation for trespassing, then send you home.” Well I reach in my back pocket, I didn't bring my wallet with me.
Barnett: She says, “You don't have any identification?” I said, “No.” She said, “That's bad news, I gotta take you Downtown to jail for the night.” I've been out of my dads house for one week, and now I'm going to jail in Anaheim. So I walk in, they book me, they fingerprint me, it was awful. I'm just an 18 year old kid, and I walk into this jail cell, and there were three guys in the jail cell. And they were the biggest, meanest, looking guys you've ever seen.
One guy was a big Native American man. He looked like he was roughed up. There was an African American guy, then a white guy. They were all talking about why they're in jail that night. I'm just sitting there listening in the corner. Then they turn to me and say, “Why are you here?” I wanted to say arson, or murder, something like that. But I had to be honest. I had to say, “I just wanted to say Mickey.” No, I didn't say that. But, I spent the whole night in jail that night, and went to court the next day.
The lesson I learned from all that—I almost got expelled from school. But the lesson I learned from that is stuff rubs, and you really do become a product of the people that you hang around with. That goes for the positive side, and the negative side. I'd always been around positive people, and for just a week of my life I hung out with the wrong crowd, and I did something crazy. I learned to kind of gather big thinkers around myself, and dreamers, and people who aspire to do great things for God.
Kruse: That's an amazing and funny story, on a lot of different levels. What's interesting is, you were hanging out with the wrong few guys that night, but you were the one that ended up going to jail. They just got the ticket and went home, right?
Barnett: Yeah, yeah. Well, they actually… I didn't tell the whole story. They actually got away, and they escaped, and I was the only one who was sane enough not to run when the cops came. I just sat there. Yeah, they were the rebels and they got away, and I was a good kid and I got caught.
Kruse: Isn't that funny how that works out? That's amazing. Before we dive into your new book, many of our listeners are first time managers, they're younger leaders. What advice would you give to someone younger, maybe earlier in their career who wants to become a great leader?
Barnett: Mm-hmm. You know, the most practical thing I could tell them is to live your life by schedule. I have a little routine I go through every morning. I'm an early riser, so I get into the office maybe 7:00, 7:30. First thing I do is I write my to-do list. It sounds so practical, but I just write the eight or 10 things I need to accomplish that day. Then right away I attack those things. As I attack them, I just begin to scratch those things right off the list as I go along. When I get in my car at the end of the day, when I drive home, I have a little prayer, I pray. I say, “God, if anyone can do my job better than I did today, they can have it because I gave my absolute best for you today. I gave it my all.”
What happens so many times I think, with staffers, or young leaders is, the office opens at 9:00 o'clock, they roll around 9:05. Then they make their way into the break room, get a cup of coffee and a doughnut, and have a few conversations. Before you know it, it's 10:00 AM, you know? You finally get settled in your office and do a few tasks, and then 11:15 rolls around, 11:30, it's time for lunch. If you're not careful, you can lose a whole morning just by not living by schedule.
We really try to teach that to our young leaders that, live a life of schedule. My wife can call me any time of the day, and she'll pretty much know right where I am, 'cause I live my life by that kind of schedule. I think you can get a lot more accomplished for your purpose in life when you live by schedule.
Kruse: LEADx listeners, a lot of you know that I'm a big believer also in living life by schedule. And in fact, rather than even having a to-do list, I like putting it right on the calendar so I know exactly what to do each hour. Luke, you're even kind in all those distractions at work. You didn't even mention all the social media, and email that people will use as a form of procrastination.
Kruse: A lot of people who feel so busy these days really aren't even working an eight hour day.
Barnett: That's true.
Kruse: Yet, they could really focus a little bit more.
Barnett: I had a friend who pastors in Albuquerque, a big church, and a lot of his staffers were complaining that they were working 50 and 60 hours a week. They called a company in there to measure how many hours the employees were actually working, from a scientific standpoint. They found that not one employee, when they take away all those distractions, was even working 40 hours a week. A lot of times … Because, the church world, you know, we're here a lot. We worship here, and we think that we're putting in a lot of time. But when we actually get down to the nuts and bolts, I think we'd be amazed. When he made that report to his staff they were like, “Oh man, we're not even working 40 hours.”
Kruse: It's not what they expected the report to come back with.
Kruse: Luke, I mentioned in the pre-show introduction, but again, your new book is, “The Dream Centered Life: Discovering What Drives You.” Tell us, what's the big idea of your book?
Barnett: The big idea is, life gets really fun and exciting when you live your life by a first hand revelation from God, or a dream. A God given dream, as I like to call it. For the first, man, 20 years of my ministry life, I'm convinced I was living on a second hand revelation from God. That is, I love the Lord, I was raised in a great family, I love the church, I believe in the work of the church. But, I operated according to the way my dad did things, and the way that his dad did things. Things that worked for them. We saw, from that, we saw addition. But I was wondering why we never saw that multiplication, that surge of God's presence and power in the churches that I was leading.
Well in 2013, I was given the baton of leadership here at Dream City Church, the church my dad pastored for 35 years. And, I had been the lead pastor for two years, and things were going great. The church was growing, and I just felt a great peace in my heart. But the moment I got that baton, something happened. I went through a season of depression, or oppression, I can't really figure out what it was exactly. But, when I began to analyze my heart, I really believe it was because I didn't have a God-sized dream for the future of our church. I knew that this church had always been led by a man with great vision, a man with a great dream. And I didn't have that. I could teach it a little bit, I could preach, I could lead it a little bit, but I didn't have that compelling dream.
So, I did the only thing I knew how to do. There's a mountain right behind our church, and when I was a little boy I'd watch my dad go up on that mountain every day. He would pray, and seek God. He would take a cup of coffee, a newspaper, and his bible. He'd read the newspaper with the Lord in the morning, and look over the city, and just get vision from God.
I decided for 40 days, I'd go on a Daniel Fast. Eat nothing but bird seeds, and twigs, and fruit for 40 days, and go on that mountain every single day. On that mountain side during those 40 days, I learned a few things. I learned that number one, that our church… This was back in 2013. I learned that our church was going to be 100 years old in the year 2023. I began to ask God, “What do you see for our church in the year of 2023, what will we look like? What kind of ministry will we be doing?” Supernaturally on the side of that mountain, God began to show me a picture of our future that produced passion inside of me. That's what vision really is. It's a picture of God's preferred future, that produces passion inside of you.
After 40 days I came down from that mountain, and I shared with our church what I really felt our church was going to look like in the year 2023. There were five things that I really saw. Number one, I saw that we were going to be the art's hub of Arizona. In other words, most of the arts began in the church world hundreds of years ago. We were already good at the arts. We would draw my sketches, we have a Christmas production that starts tomorrow night, on Wednesday night. And we'll have about 50 to 60,000 people who attend this production over 16 performances.
We're already really good at the arts, but I want to make the arts a focal point of our church. Tonight, see the big Broadway shows taking place at ASU or U of A, but coming to Dream City Church in this place. That was number one. Number two, that we would reach 50,000 people with the gospel of Jesus Christ by the year of 2023. Now, at the time we only had the one campus. We were a large campus, we see 5,000 people. But, I didn't know how that was going to happen, you know? I couldn't figure that out in my mind, because that's 10 weekend services, right? How are you going to do that? I didn't fight that dream, I just received it by faith. I just didn't know how it was going to happen, but I didn't push it away.
The third thing that I saw on that mountain side was, that we were going to train 100,000 leaders at our Dream Conference by the year 2023. We have an annual pastor school, Dream Conference every year, and we were going to put that on steroids, and train worldwide leaders out of that conference. Fourth thing I saw, was that we were going to be debt free by the year of 2023. Our church had not been debt free in 25 years, but we were going to make plans to be debt free. Then the last thing was, that we were going to be a multi-site campus. That we were going to stretch our web of love all across the state of Arizona. And our dream, we've been saying, is that one day Arizona would be known as a Christian state.
Now, people would say, “Well that's kind of a pipe dream. That's not going to happen.” But it's happened before, there is precedence for this. Utah is known as a Mormon state, and California's known for their entertainment, and Texas is known for their oil, their millionaires, and New York is known for their commerce, and Nevada's known for Las Vegas. We said, “Why can't there be one state that's known for those people who love Jesus?” That's what we've been saying. We've been speaking that dream out there, and it's really kind of encouraged, and gather a lot of big thinkers around us who say, “How can we realistically make that happen?”
That's what we've been dreaming of over the past couple of years. Those are the five things that I saw. Now, here we are three and a half years later. Not with one campus, we have six physical campuses now. We've totally rebuilt the whole front of our church to accommodate the arch. The year that I laid that vision out, our drama team came to us and said, “We want to start doing a summer Broadway musical on campus.” I think that last year we sold about 7,000 tickets to our summer musical, The Little Mermaid, here on campus. Just a full Broadway, better than Broadway production right here on the campus. That's happened now for four straight years. We are becoming that arts hub of Arizona.
Our Dream Conference has had a resurgence over the last couple of years, and we're training leaders all across the planet. Like I said, we now have multi-site campuses all over Arizona, even up into Utah now, Colorado City. The things that God has done in just three and a half years, literally blows our mind. Going back to my statement where I said ministry gets more fun when it's a first hand revelation, ministry was kind of a drudgery for so many years. It was just very hard work, and staying in the game, and fighting quitting all the time 'cause we're just not seeing it.
But over the past three and a half years, we have seen things that only God could do. No person could ever do this. In fact, what God is doing, everyone gives glory to God because they all know there's no way that Barnett or anybody else, could pull this off. We are having the most fun, these are the most exciting days of the ministry, because we're now living in that first hand revelation.
Kruse: This is really powerful stuff, and again I want to sort of underscore some things for our listeners. I mean I think, so many of us, unfortunately, are taught, especially in the business world, about goals, and the classic acronym that I hate is to make them SMART, and the A is Achievable. I feel like most people will set goals, whether in their personal lives, or in whatever organization they work in, already thinking, “How can I achieve this goal? I'm not going to set this goal unless I know it is achievable.”
But you're saying, the real power is to come up with a vision that is so fabulously big, that there's no way you can alone achieve it, and you don't even know how it can be done without divine help, or certainly help of a lot of people coming up with solutions.
Barnett: That's right.
Kruse: Right? I mean, you can't-
Barnett: That's right.
Kruse: … You can't come up with a vision that you already know you can succeed at.
Barnett: Yeah, well again, this is a line that I didn't originate, I heard it somewhere. But, I believe you have to let the size of your God, determine the size of your goals. With the size of God… From the size of your dream. If there's a goal or dream that you can make happen yourself, it's not a God dream. You don't need God. But, so many times here, we not only ask God to help us, we are sunk unless God does help us. We put ourselves out there. I've made statements to our church, where I literally put God on the line and said, “You know what? I Believe that God wants us to do this. And unless God comes through, this whole thing is bound to fail.”
I think that's really what faith is. Faith is sharing… I'm talking from a pastor’s perspective now.
Barnett: I'm sure there's other folks who are listening who are not pastors. But, I believe that secret faith is shallow faith. You have to, once it's in your heart, you have to get it out there. Once you get it out there, people start networking, they get excited about it, it mobilizes people, and they start working on your behalf. There's this crazy pastor who believes that Arizona is going to be a Christian state, and then business people who have affluence and means, they say, “Hey, what do we need to do to make this happen? What kind of resources do we need to inject into this?” Then other churches hear about this and they say, “Can we be a part of that? Can we give you our facility? We love that dream. We believe that can happen.”
So many times I think that we hold the dream inside of us, and it never gets out there, or it becomes active, and working. Let me just say one more thing before we move on, on this point. The problem is, we confuse the dream phase, with the problem solving phase. So many times when we get the dream in our heart, we try it figure it all out right there. And that's a dream killer right away. When you're trying to figure out how you're going to make it happen, that's the worst enemy of the dreaming phase. I think if you believe it's from God, you receive it by faith, you get it out there, and then slowly but surely God begins to reveal how it's going to happen.
It may not happen in one year or two years. The multi site dream didn't happen for three years into that process. That was the last thing that happened, but all of a sudden when God was ready, suddenly it just took off.
Kruse: I do want to get a little bit deeper into this, you know? The subtitle of your book, “The Dream Centered Life,” is, “Discovering what drives you.” It's interesting that we're discovering. You shared, in your example, you have this beautiful mountain behind you, you're able to climb up, and did this fast. What advice do you have for others who are trying discover what truly drives them, what is a vision that's going to motivate them? Are there more, “Hey, for all the listeners out there, if you're struggling with this you should go out in nature for a while. You should try some fasting.” Do you actually suggest some practical things like that?
Barnett: The bible says, “Without a vision, the people perish.” I think a lot of, perhaps listeners, they kind of feel that slow perishing taking place on the inside year, after year, after year. It doesn't mean you keel over and die, it just means that over time your shoulders start to slump a little bit, you want to sleep in a little more, and the problem is, you just need fresh vision. One translation says, “Without revelation, the people cast off restraint.” Now, the Old Testament, the profit's, got the revelation to give it to the people. But in the New Testament, we're the ones responsible for getting the revelation from God about our future, and then living it out.
I believe that God withholds that revelation from people, who really can take it or leave it, or don't really want it. I came to a place in my life where I just got fed up with that slow perishing feeling on the inside, that season I went through, and so I took extreme measures. I said, “I don't want this feeling anymore.” And God gave me a vision that wasn't an easy vision. In fact in my case, it was a lot harder. I didn't know how to raise eight million dollars for a new facility, I didn't know how to do multi site. This is going to add a lot to my plate.
But what happened was, that perishing feeling went away. And it got replaced by a sense of a spiritual adrenaline that gets me up every single day, fired up now about what God is doing. If any listeners feel that slow dying on the inside taking place, I would encourage you to take two or three days, and go to the mountains, or go to the hill somewhere. Sit under a tree and just say, “God, I'm not going to leave this place until I get a fresh revelation from you.” When your friends and loved ones ask, “Why are you doing this?” Just say, “‘Cause I want to know God's direction for the next five years of my life. I'm fed up, and I want to be fired up, you know? About God's plan for my future.”
Yes, by all means, I would suggest getting away, and seeking God, and withholding food from your body. Every time that pain comes up, remind yourself that, “I want God's dream for my life.”
Kruse: That's fantastic. Luke, what's the best way for people to find out about you, your book, and of course Dream City Church?
Barnett: Well, they can go online, DreamCityChurch.Us, and you can follow us on all the social media platforms from there. If you want to pick up the book, you can go on Amazon and the book is available there. It's also in Barnes & Noble stores all across America as well. Yeah, that's the best way to connect.