The wonderfully-named Rebekah Simon-Peter looks around at mainline Protestantism, including The United Methodist Church of which she is a part, and sees some problems. It’s not just that the church is competing for attention in a post-Christian world with Sunday morning soccer practices. It’s not even the eight maladies she lists that include shrinking numbers, stagnant giving, listless worship, and “gutless” prayer. All of these are symptoms, she says, and you could pull in the greatest experts in each field to address each of them and you still wouldn’t get at the heart of the Church’s woes in the current age.
“The Church is in decline,” she says, “because we have stopped dreaming like Jesus.” (28) Let me just pause to say here—ouch.
If this sounds like the introduction to a toll-taking, well, it’s only partially that. As the title of her new book suggests, Simon-Peter is not one to dwell on the negative; she’s all about what’s possible. Dream Like Jesus: Deepen Your Faith and Bring the Impossible to Life sounds like a book you’d find on the spiritual self-help shelves, perhaps next to the latest Marianne Williamson offering. But there’s a practical wisdom and a transformative personal faith journey in Simon-Peter that undergirds her native positivity.
Rebekah Simon-Peter grew up in a family that “celebrated everything.” With a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, she claimed a Jewish identity through most of her early life. In the book’s preface she briefly chronicles her journey through spiritual wandering and the recovery community before having a vision of Jesus during a guided meditation focused on “re-birthing.” “It wasn’t until years later that it occurred to me that I had what people call “a born-again” experience in a re-birthing session.” (9)
Simon-Peter soon found herself in seminary and the church, though she was disappointed that the Jesus she discovered in most congregations was not the bold Jesus of her vision. “In my recovery circles, I had discovered a Higher Power that breaks up fixed realities,” she says. “The church’s Jesus, however, seemed to reinforce them.” (11) OK, once again—ouch.
What follows in this fast-paced book is a process that Simon-Peter has fleshed out in her years as an ordained United Methodist elder and as the founder of Creating a Culture of Renewal. She grounds her teachings in her strong conviction that “we all have spiritual capacities beyond our wildest dreams” (30) and these capacities are evidence of the continuing presence and power of God. We are heirs of Jesus’s promise to his disciples that they “will do greater things than these” (John 14:12). This is the Aimee Semple McPherson side of Simon-Peter. Like that Pentecostal firebrand, she believes in miracles! And although one might want a more developed account of sin and redemption in this book, her emphasis is one that mainline churches desperately need.
Simon-Peter challenges the reader to DARE to dream, by developing that acronym and its component parts: Dream like Jesus, Align others to your dream, Realize the dream, and Expand the dream. Her chapters are practical and inspirational, incorporating stories from pastors and churches that she has worked with through her ministry.
Perhaps her greatest gift in this book is her emphasis on agency. So many church leaders, lay and clergy alike, have bought into the belief that they have lost the ability to make an impact on the decline they see around them. In rural areas, especially, the loss of agency has become an economic and existential crisis. “Churches [and, I would add, these communities] see themselves as victims of change, not agents of transformation.” (29)
Rebekah Simon-Peter comes along to revive our faith in the God who enters the broken world and restores the vision of a redeemed creation. This book is practical, accessible, and bullish on the future of the church in the present age. It is, in other words, a book for this time.
Look for my interview with Rebekah Simon-Peter on Heartlands soon.