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Discovering the Power of an Ennobling Dream

Posted: January 20, 2014 by Rob Voyle

As many commentators have pointed out Dr. King didn't start his speech with "I have a plan," instead he began with "I have a Dream." He then went on to describe the dream in a way that lifted people's spirits and opened the possibility of making the dream reality.

I rediscovered the power of "I have a dream, not a plan," last year when I was working with the people of St. Francis Community Services in Kansas.

St. Francis began in Kansas as an Episcopal home for boys in 1945. It has subsequently grown to provide a wide range of family and child services in Kansas, Nebraska, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. This past year it was awarded a multi-million dollar state contract to provide child welfare services for the western part of the state Kansas. See for more information about their incredible work.

I was working with a group of about 80 of St. Francis' leaders conducting a day-long appreciative inquiry summit. During the afternoon the energy seemed to leave the room as the participants were working on their plans to increase foster-care services for the children in their care.

As I was meditatively pondering what to do about the low energy, the word's "I have a dream not a plan" came into my mind. I invited the groups of people to restate their work, beginning with; "We have a dream," and then "We have a plan to make the dream a reality."

As the groups of people shared their dreams the energy in the room became palpable and moved me to tears. Imagine being in a room with 80 people who shared the dream: "That every child in Western Kansas would have its own safe, secure, permanent bed." It was truly amazing. They were ordinary people called into this place of extra-ordinary compassion through the sharing of an incredible, simple yet profound, and imaginable dream that every child should have its own safe, secure, permanent bed.

Now the plan for increasing the number of foster-care beds focussed on discovering and inviting others to share in that dream, and to share tangibly that dream by becoming foster parents.

I have subsequently incorporated "What is the dream?" into all of my planning processes.
Often discovering the compelling dream may take several steps. For example many people may dream of a large Sunday School of children and will be working on recruiting teachers, or painting classrooms. Asking iteratively, "What's the dream?" "Why do you want a large Sunday School?" may lead you through, "because that's what we had years ago," to "because they are the future of the church," (bad theology and self-serving in my opinion) to eventually a dream: "We want every child to know they are loved by and have a friend in Jesus."

Now recruiting Sunday School teachers isn't looking for well intentioned people who should teach Sunday School it is about finding the people who know they are loved and have a friend in Jesus and long for every child to know that in their lives.

The next time you are at a Board meeting or with a group working on a plan to achieve some goal, step back and ask "What is our dream?" Clarifying the dream will not only increase energy but it provides a vision based way to decide on specific plan alternatives rather than defaulting to fear and the power of personalities to make decisions.

And in the meantime I wish you my personal dream that you be free to:
love, laugh, and live from the depth of your being.


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About the Author

Rob Voyle

Rob Voyle

The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings.

Rob's Approach to Training

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