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Dream Center Founder Speaks at Chapel

By Amanda Morad | November 8, 2013

Matthew Barnett.

What began as a simple trip through Echo Park in Los Angeles for pastor and Dream Center founder Matthew Barnett has now grown into an outreach facility serving 50,000 people each month. On Wednesday, Nov. 6, Barnett spoke to a combined Regent University and CBN Chapel audience about ministry that's less about being relevant and more about being revolutionary.

"God's not looking for copies of copies; He wants originals," Barnett said, using the Dream Center's story to illustrate. The center serves L.A.'s homeless, runaways, trafficking victims, families in poverty, addicts and others. Barnett's mantra for ministry is "find a need and fill it; find a heart and heal it."

"I couldn't understand a lot about my neighborhood," he said about having come to Los Angeles when he was 20 and ministering in a rough part of town. "I thought I had to be relevant to reach the neighborhood, but they weren't looking for relevance, they were looking for revolution."

There's nothing wrong with being relevant, Barnett explained, but it doesn't quite go far enough to reach people's needs and create change. "But the moment you submit your life to God, he'll take you beyond relevant to revolutionary," he said. "Relevant tries to understand the problem, revolutionary solves problems. They figure it out as they go because the need is attracted to their hearts."

Barnett explained that with revolution comes commitment to the ministry God provides. He's been serving the same Echo Park neighborhood for 19 years. "The people weren't looking for someone to understand them," he said. "They were looking for someone to outlast the liquor store. Whoever stays longer in the community wins influence in the community."

That concept rang especially true for "Homeless Barry," a man living under a bridge near the Dream Center who refused help from them for years. Barnett couldn't even get him to accept a meal.

But then a teenage girl visiting with her youth group took Barry by the hand, practically dragged him to the center for a hot meal, and he kept coming back. First, it was just for free meals. Then he started coming to church. Then he entered the rehab program. Then he went to seminary. Then he became a pastor on staff at the Dream Center who preaches 15 times a week.

"Relevant said this man needs a meal; revolutionary said there's a pastor in that man," Barnett said.

He also told stories of encountering teenage girls prostituting themselves on Hollywood Boulevard, offering them a single rose to remind them of their beauty and worth, and a tube of lip gloss with the Dream Center's number on it. Those girls began contacting the center and were rescued from the streets.

"This wasn't part of the ministry plan," Barnett said. "But sometimes you have to rip up the idea of what you want for your life and say God, take what I've got and use me."

He recounted living on Skid Row for a few nights—leading people to Christ and preaching from a stage in Heroin Alley, attempting to avoid a "contact high" from those smoking marijuana around him.

Barnett's upbringing as a pastor's kid had given him little context for the ministry he's encountered. "Everything God has called me to, I can't understand, but it's not about understanding," he said. "It's just about being available to God."

He left the audience with a challenge to take their calling from relevant to revolutionary: "Set the pace for the world," Barnett concluded. "Meet needs, make a difference, and serve your generation."

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