Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
Living the dream. While I spent my weekend on the sofa steeped in self pity while fighting off a bout of food poisoning, Matthew Barnett spent his time a bit more nobly. Between 2:00 PM Saturday and 2:00 PM Sunday, the pastor of LA’s Dream Center (and author the New York Times bestseller The Cause within You) participated in Serve 24. The event, a sort of Jerry Lewis telethon on steroids, saw Barnett participating in virtually non-stop acts of service to bring attention to the mission of (and good works performed by) those who work and volunteer for the LA Dream Center, the 24/7 church he founded 19 years ago. Many of them, along with some other churches, also staged their own Serve 24 events.
The Dream Center, which began as a small Los Angeles-based church, today operates out of the old historic Queen of Angels Hospital and serves over 50,000 people each week via multiple services and 273 ministries and outreaches. The Center houses over 700 people who are undergoing rehabilitation. Nearly 200 Dream Centers have been launched across America.
All of them stemming from the heart and mind of a preacher’s son who dreamed of starting a church that would keep its doors open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Following his weekend feat of endurance Matthew, who is married with two children, even had the energy to tweet about the experience.
I had the opportunity to speak with Pastor Barnett last week while he was in preparation for Serve 24. His new book God’s Dream for You
goes on sale today (9/10).
JWK: How did the Dream Center move from dream to reality?
MATTHEW BARNETT: My journey is very interesting. I’ve been pastoring for 19 years. I started at 20 years of age and the interesting thing is that I inherited a little church building that nobody could find in a gang-ravaged community here in Los Angeles next to a liquor store, almost by an alley really. My dad needed a pastor to come and take over a church and he couldn’t find anyone that wanted to go to that building so he asked me at 20 and I inherited about 18 people and that’s where I started. I managed to drive the crowd from 18 down to 2, being so young. One day I just realized that I thought I was coming to LA to be a pastor of a church and very quickly I realized that God called us here to really help serve this city.
Our first house, someone donated to us. We started to take in people that had drug and alcohol addictions. We started giving as much food as we could. We rounded up a little bit of money that we had left over and kinda started basically with a little old apartment where we started taking in people with drug and alcohol problems. Then it turned into 14 homes in that neighborhood…We received a miracle. We bought the Queen of Angels Hospital in 1996. It’s 400,000 square feet. There are 750 people that live here.
What the Dream Center really is is a 24/7 church based in a hospital that takes in every hurting person you could imagine. From victims of human trafficking that the police would bring to this building to help them to homeless families to people that have life-long drug addictions. So, if you could imagine a big-old hospital building that’s open 24 hours, seven days a week with 750 people that live here and that’s home to 200 outreach programs in the community that are feeding 30,000 people every single week. It’s like a city within a city that’s serving right here in the heart of Los Angeles.
I came to LA thinking that I was just going to build a Sunday morning church and that dream died. God said “I want you to build a 24/7 church, Monday through Saturday — as well as Sunday.
JWK: When did you arrive in LA?
MB: 1994, I came to Los Angeles and we moved into this hospital in 1996.
JWK: Tell me about this weekend.
MB: On our 19th anniversary I’m doing a program called Serve 24. For 24 straight hours I’m going to do as many outreaches as I possibly can (to represent what) the Dream Center does over the course of an entire year. So, I’m gonna start at one o’clock in the afternoon and I’m going to go to one o’clock the next day on Sunday. I’m gonna bounce around the city of Los Angeles. I’m gonna be in police cars when they go into certain neighborhoods to do raids and things like that, gonna be doing basketball tournaments in the middle of the night, take a little hotdog cart out and bless people. I just want my heart to continue to be broken for the City of Los Angeles. And Serve 24…is just a reminder to us as we…just do as many outreaches as we can in 24 hours. It brings awareness back to the 24/7 campus and it reminds us need never sleeps, that hurt always needs (someone) to heal it and…(our mission is) to find a hurt and heal it. It’s really just kind of something fun to really bring us back and, hopefully, breaks our heart to continue to do more in the community.
JWK: Are you filming this? It sounds like a good movie.
MB: We are, yeah! We look forward to a documentary…The beauty of this thing is the more your serve, it opens up your eyes to more vision…I don’t know what’s going to happen but I hope something radical is going to happen and, hopefully, it’ll put a new fire (of) inspiration into all of us — to reach higher, to do more. And that’s the purpose of big events…What they do is they draw us back to the day-to-day simplicity that we continue to maintain.
JWK: You also have a new book out.
MB: Yeah! The book is called God’s Dream for You. Really what the book is about is people asking “What is the dream that God has for my life? People ask me that question and I tell (them) just to get busy doing something. Start using what’s in your hand and all the time you’ll find that God’s dream for you is different than anything you put on paper. It’s 24-hour rehab and helping homeless people, families and women and children, kids that are down at Juvenile Hall…You know, reaching all this kind of crowd that we’re reaching was not in my five-year plan…As I began to serve out of having nothing left, what happened was in that process of serving with nothing left I found a dream in my heart that I didn’t know was there. The purpose of the book is for people to find dreams in their hearts they didn’t even know existed. It’s the layers of ourselves that block (them). Sometimes the dreams that we were meant to dream were not our dream. His dream comes about through serving. If you look at Jesus, when he was out there serving (and) making a difference, He was able to fulfill a great mission as He went out there and continued to respond to the need. And so the goal is for people to realize (that) there is something in the midst of your life that God has for you that maybe you have never discovered. And, if you get busy serving and taking a step of inconvenience, beneath the layers of our self you’ll find God’s dream in there.
JWK: So you book is about how people can discover God’s mission for them.
MB: Exactly. It’s more along the lines of evaluating what they have, using what they have and also what we have in the book are a lot of the principles that we’ve used in 19 years (of ministering to people) in their recovery, of helping people get off drugs and alcohol and homelessness. (We ask) how does that apply to everyone? You begin to realize some of the principles in this book are in line with taking people from surviving to thriving and that’s what we’ve seen. That’s a big portion of this book as well. It’s taking people on the journey of what happens at the Dream Center. How have these people lost it all and how are these people gaining everything back? How are they going from nothing to an entire destiny. Some of the principles we found within that journey (of the people we see every day) and (by asking) how do they apply to the everyday areas of our own lives.
For example, forgiveness. We deal with forgiveness. We deal with radical service in there and different things that we do in our life in order to find God’s dream in our life. It’s often times trapped beneath our own will and our desires. As we begin to serve out of our own need and have our own burdens and have our own pain, we begin to find that.
JWK: What do you see the Dream Center doing five years from now? It’s hard to imagine how you could do much more but I would imagine that you’re imagining bigger. Are you?
MB: Oh, absolutely! We’re looking at more property in the community to expand (for) our families that need help. We have (over) 200 families on our waiting list to get in to get help. Families have become the new frontier of homelessness…Of course now, (there’s) our internship. We have 100 interns from all over America. They give a year of their life to serve. We’re looking at trying to buy an apartment complex to have an army of 300 more interns who give a year of their lives to…have this army here to serve this city, love this city and really change the atmosphere of our communities by serving and being consistent in the community.
JWK: How can people help?
They can go to DreamCenter.org and on the website there are all kinds of ways they can (offer) support. If they want to come for a week to volunteer — to live on this campus and actually serve with us. If they want to come for a day (they can) help someone who needs help in recovery. If they want to give support to our ministry financially , they can go to DreamCenter.org
and get a wonderful tour and get a great picture of what we do.
JWK: Has the Dream Center gotten support from the media?
MB: We deal in Los Angeles with a lot of people that didn’t receive the California dream — you know, the ones that got off the bus and didn’t become stars in Hollywood, who end up in hotels with a needle in their arm or that ended up maybe as a runaway minor and ended up on the streets. We’re hoping that the media will capture a different side of the City of Angels. Instead of just being a self-serving place where people come to become famous, I’d love for Los Angeles to be a place that people look at because of the army that’s being raised up in the community and look at it as a city that’s truly come to love and serve others. That’s a big task…but we’re seeing some amazing things happen with people coming out to serve…There’s another generation that’s rising up in Los Angeles, that finds that the biggest dream that’s ever to be lived is the dream of serving one another because there’s no joy that can ever be taken away from making life better for someone else. They have seen that journey. They have spotlighted that journey. They’ve been here. They’ve been supportive of this work and, hopefully, Los Angeles could have another message that’s coming out of this city — one of restoration, of hope and of helping the kids that fall through the cracks of this city.
JWK: How many Dream Centers are there?
Actually, we have 180 Dream Centers all over America. We…have Dream Centers popping up all over the country. It’s been exciting to see what they’re doing and the different types of works they’re doing. (We have one in) St. Louis. We have one in Chicago which was just featured in Time Magazine
. Pastor Wilfredo De Jesus
is one of the new upcoming leaders. Phoenix has got an Embassy Suites Hotel
they purchased and turned into a Dream Center. New York City, one just started there. If you checkout NewYorkDreamCenter.org
, they’re doing wonderful things. The reason we’re expanding so much is because of the 7,000 people a year that visit this place and live on the campus for a week or two in the community. We just had one in Massachusetts — a town of 50,000 — they sent about 20 people for a week to serve here in LA to get re-inspired…So, it all takes on different forms but the thing that’s easy about it is, you know, not everyone can be on television and preach sermons and build a church that way but everybody can serve their community Monday through Saturday. So, we’re just trying to change the dynamics of a church – instead of Sunday morning being a destination spot, making it a launching spot.
The interesting thing about it is every dream that God has given us — from rehab to human trafficking to sex slavery and all these girls that we’re taking in — everyone of them were dreams that were revealed by God to step in faith and help one person at a time. That’s one of the purposes of the Dream Center and this book is get people to realize that the greatest dream that they have ever dreamed is yet to be known and it comes through the open door of one another.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11