Martin Luther King, Jr is arguably the most famous pastor of the 20th century and "I Have a Dream" is his most famous sermon.
I (Dr. Donnelly) realize you may not be used to thinking of him in those terms, and I've spoken to some people who think his role as a pastor actually stood counter to his role as an activist. What that says to me is that the person speaking may not have a really good understanding of what a pastor is or can be and I get it. In modern America we are often more likely to see a pastor doing a perp walk than doing good on the news and that has skewed the lens a little. So allow me to help.
Pastor as Shepherd
This is probably the most frequently used analogy for Protestant pastors - the shepherd to their flock. Throughout the years, I've heard many, many sermons on how sheep are dumb and entirely reliant on the shepherd for their safekeeping. This language is problematic - of course - and I'm not entirely sure what King David was going for in the 23rd Psalm. (My favorite song, by the way, about this shepherd/sheep language is Andrew Peterson's The Ninety and Nine.)
Instead, I want to focus on the idea of the shepherd as the one who makes sure everyone is on the same page. The civil rights movement was already sprawling when Dr. King stepped into leadership, with several agendas and a lot of leaders. From what I can tell from his writings and speeches, he saw his role as a unifier and therefore, a shepherd.
Pastor as Prophet
Another important aspect is as prophetic voice. Speaking unpopular truths, calling their people towards a higher purpose. Clearly, MLK did this frequently. Dr. Hinson will be with you all on Wednesday, talking about A Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which this role is center stage.
Pastor as Leader
For me, this is the strongest example of what MLK took from his pastoral role into his public leader role. He certainly wrote and acted like he was running out of time, and a good example is the "I Have a Dream" sermon, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial all those years ago.
In the often-missed beginning section, MLK lays out exactly how crap life is for blacks in America. He's honest about the challenges and who exactly is to blame for them. Legend says that was to be the bulk of the speech until his friend Mahalia Jackson told him that the people needed hope. She knew he had it, and she knew they needed it. She ordered him to tell the crowd about his dream - the dream that got him out of bed every morning and that guided his feet on the marches. It's her voice you can hear after his first "I Have a Dream", screaming affirmations. The sermon is laced with language from the Biblical prophets and the Psalms and every person in that crowd, I can guarantee you, knew they were at church.
Leadership is preparation, influence, kindness, vision-casting, and frequently prophetic. We are called to see a future no one else is even dreaming of and prepare the legion for it. The best pastors are the same way.
I know you've heard the clip 4,000 times. I know you'll see it referenced a thousand more times today, but take a few minutes, and watch this clip. Watch this man remind his people where they've been and help them see where they're going. Watch him as he comforts, inspires, and calls the oppressors on the carpet. And then, I'd encourage you to check your life and see the ways in which you're helping or hindering the Reverend Doctor's dream.