This past month, I planned for a business trip to Charlotte, North Carolina. Little did I know that it would be a trip to a land of God’s wonder; one that would lead me to chase a rabbit down a hole and an encounter with a dormant dreamer nursing a dead dream.
In the days leading up to the trip, I searched the Internet for stories relating to the past work of Visioneering Studios. For some reason, my search led me to a video posted by David Docusen, the Lead Pastor of Center City Church, which is situated in the Uptown neighborhood of Charlotte. His story immediately wooed my curiosity.
One, he lived in and pastored in Charlotte, the city I was about to visit. Two, he planned to bring an Ebenezer’s Coffee to the site of an abandoned firehouse in Uptown Charlotte. Third, as a pastor, he had a passionate vision for a facility, not necessarily a church building, that would be an asset to the whole city: spiritually, economically, and communally.
Even without having ever met him, his vision led me to believe that there was a kinship to be developed between us. I was captivated so much that I decided to reach out to him to see if there was a chance we could meet during my trip to Charlotte. I found him on Twitter and tweeted my interest in meeting with him to learn about what God was doing with Center City Church and Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse.
I had no expectations, no allusions, just a deep and nagging curiosity; kind of like when Alice chased that rabbit down the hole.
Shortly thereafter, I received a tweet back from Docusen agreeing to meet at a local coffee house the next week. I was relieved. My fear of coming off as a weird Twitter troll appeared to be unmerited. The light at the end of that rabbit hole was coming into focus.
After arriving in Charlotte, I began a full week of training. During the first day, someone mentioned that the former mayor of Charlotte, Patrick Cannon, had been arrested on charges of corruption. I am not sure how the story came up in conversation; it just did. I quickly filed that bit of information in the “Useless” folder.
The next day, I mentioned to one of my colleagues that I was going to meet Docusen for coffee. “You know,” I explained. “He’s the one bringing Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse to Charlotte.”
His response was a wide-eyed and declarative. He quickly explained that the coffeehouse project had not gone through. Oh, man. What was this rabbit getting me into?
When I got back to my hotel room, I did a little more research. I learned that the Center City Church had the firehouse property under contract. Escrow was due to close on November 20, 2013. According to a blog post written by Docusen five days thereafter, that day came and went. No closing. No explanation.
This confirmed it. The dream of bringing Ebenezer’s Coffee to Charlotte was dead.
Curse that rabbit!
Alrighty, then. How in the world was I going to approach this subject in our coffee meet up the next day? This HAD to be a pretty touchy subject for Docusen. You think?!
I had an idea, though. I would just avoid the topic of Ebenezer’s all together.
The next evening, Docusen and I met at the Central Coffee Co. He apologized for being a tad late because he had just finished a conference call with one of his members who was preparing to launch as a missionary. Good alibi? Check!
Docusen, by all appearances, was a young, unassuming guy. He wore a backwards Detroit Tigers cap, an Orlando Magic t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Not your typical pastor, so I liked him already. Remember…we were destined to be kindred spirits.
I learned that he and wife, Dara, have four kids, three boys and one girl. He was born in Michigan where I was raised (Go Tigers), and then moved to Orlando when he was eight years old. Upon graduation from Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL, he began his ministry as a youth pastor for a mega-church. Lots of students. Big church. Big budget. Not a bad way to cut your ministry teeth.
Later, he and his family answered the call to help a friend plant a church on the north side of Charlotte. There, he learned a lot, too: things to do again, things never to do again. Within eighteen months, he felt the call to plant a different kind of church in a different neighborhood, Uptown Charlotte. This would be a church at the center of the city: Center City Church.
You have to understand, Docusen is a bold visionary with a type-A personality. He was raised in very entrepreneurial family, so his affinity to dream big is part of his DNA. This couldn’t be more evident in his pastorate with Center City Church.
First, he had always told his church that they would never build a church building that only served the church one day a week. When they would build, it would serve as a hub for the community: one that would not only bring spiritual renewal, but one that would also contribute to the economic and community welfare of the city every day of the week.
He was inspired by the vision of Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. About 8 years ago, Batterson’s church came across an old building, which he envisioned as the location of a coffee house that would double up as meeting space, a concert venue, and the location for his church to meet. This was the original Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse.
Docusen struck up a friendship with Batterson and began to see how this vision coincided with his vision for Uptown Charlotte. Thus, the dream for Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse, Charlotte was born.
The dreaming was the easy part though. Making it happen was like chasing rabbits.
Almost everyone Docusen cast the vision to was immediately on board. Over the next several years, he found five potential sites for Ebenezer’s. They were all old urban buildings that were begging for a design intervention. Mysteriously, and disheartenedly, they all fell through.
The most recent site was the most promising. It was the historic Fire Station No. 4 located at 420 W. 5th St. As people begin to hear about the vision, they wanted to help. An architect brought life to the vision; a 2,000 sf coffeehouse on the first floor, a 300-seat multi-use venue on the second floor, and a roof top terrace overlooking the city on the third floor.
A secular investor, while he did not share the spiritual beliefs of Docusen, was moved by the vision to the point of agreeing to donate the nearly $1 million required to purchase the building. Others pledged $2 million to build out the project. But, as Docusen explained, November 20, 2013 came and went, and with it the dream of Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse.
Then, why did Docusen take my request to meet almost ten months later?
That was a question that both his assistant and his wife posed to him. He himself didn’t know the answer to that question; he just did. Maybe he saw that same rabbit I did.
As we talked, it was evident to the both of us, what while Docusen’s dream of Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse died on that November day, God’s plan for Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse was still alive. It was a classic example of the birth, death, and re-birth of dreams that we see so vividly modeled in biblical stories.
Here are some lessons that became clear to us during the course of our conversation:
- Our dreams are not always God’s dreams. We have to check our motives for our dreams. They may smell more like us than they do God. It’s important to place all of our dreams at the altar of God. That’s not to say that they are not derived from God’s inspiration, but doing the right things for the wrong reason is iniquity.
- The death of a dream is sometimes more about a death of self. When a dream hurts so much when it dies, that’s probably a sign that it means too much to us. Dreams themselves can become idols. Sometimes God will take us through a process of grief to clear the way for redemption.
- Dreams are to be held loosely. In architecture school, they teach us never to begin with the end mind. In other words, never pre-determine what the design will look like; you forfeit its creative potential. The same thing goes for dreams. God gives us glimpses of what is possible, but we must be flexible to course correct as He reveals more of His Master-Plan. Sometimes our dreams are too small.
So, whether you are a risk-taking business owner, a visionary pastor, or an idealistic parent, don’t be discouraged when your dreams take a dive into a grave. If you’re flexible to His process, you will know that He is working out His plan for your life.
So, while you wait on God, keep on dreaming. In fact, keep on dreaming bigger, and…don’t be afraid to chase rabbits down holes. Almost always, they will lead you into God’s land of wonder.
It’s a pretty cool place to explore.
Photo Credit: A window display from Fortnum and Mason in London depicts Alice and the rabbit. Other photos by David Docusen.