Blast From the Past December 6, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christmas, worship.
Tags: Christmas, worship
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Within a day of one another, I received two messages asking for permission to use a Christmas song I wrote 34 years ago! I love the phrasing of the one request: “You came and preached at our church and brought that “gift song” a couple year’s ago. Do you still have that? Could we use it?” How could I refuse a request like that?
The song is called, “The First True Christmas Gift.” It is sung to the tune of “Pass It On” (#572 in The United Methodist Hymnal). I wrote it while in college for a special youth service we were doing at High Street United Methodist Church in Muncie, Indiana. High Street was almost destroyed by a gas explosion in January 1978, so this was the first service back in our rebuilt, completely renovated sanctuary. The song was written for that celebration.
In the event that anyone else likes it and would want to use it, consider this “express written permission” to reprint and perform it. I would love to think one or two churches might use it this year.
The First True Christmas Gift
Two thousand years ago, on a night so soft and gentle,
A tiny babe was born, in a small town, in a stable;
A miracle from God was born
On that first Christmas morn,
The Prince of Peace, Emmanuel
The first true Christmas gift.
Some shepherds in the fields, careful watch o’er flocks were keeping,
When suddenly appeared, an angel host proclaiming
“Fear not, the Savior’s come to stay,
Born on this special day,
The Lord of Lords, King of Kings,
The first true Christmas gift.
Then, wise men from afar, bearing gifts to give the baby
Were beckoned by a star, to make a sacred journey
The prophecy had come to light
On that first Christmas night,
A ray of hope, Light of the world
The first true Christmas gift.
And Mary saw and heard, these messages she treasured;
She held them in her heart, and always she remembered,
The wonder of his marv’lous birth,
Messiah come to earth,
The Prince of Peace, Emmanuel,
The first true Christmas gift.
Words: Dan R. Dick (©1979)
Music: Kurt Kaiser, 1969
Observe, Listen & Reflect November 25, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Planning, Critical Thinking, Leadership, Strategic Planning.
In my experience, United Methodists tend to be problem solvers in search of the quick fix. All too often, we wait until a challenge reaches crisis proportions, then we seek a simple, easy solution. Frustration sets in and we begin looking around to see if someone else can solve our problem. We neglect the gifts, skills and knowledge resident in our own community, and we explore elsewhere. In the current environment, we herald “best practices” as the cure for all our ills. The fallacy in this logic is simple: imitation, while the sincerest form of flattery, almost never produces successful results. Industry leaders do not get where they are by copying others. Leaders do not lead by following. Preservation of the status quo never inspires innovation. It is overwhelming the number of stories of pioneer leaders who, while they had mentors and teachers, report that it would have been impossible for them to succeed by looking to someone else to provide them with the insight, direction, thinking, and vision they needed. Some of the most innovative and creative minds share that introspection, contemplation, reflection on values, ethical and moral meditation, and bridge-building (between people as well as between needs and opportunities) are key “intangibles” that cannot be formalized or delivered as simple prescriptions. The inherent wisdom of “to thine own self be true,” should not be discounted. One of my own favorite professors used to say, “Experts tell us that effective planning depends on action instead of reaction. I believe the most effective planning depends on inaction that produces traction.” What he meant by this is that being to quick to act (or react) is deadly. Taking time to truly understand current reality is critical.
An Unabashed Plug November 18, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Identity & Purpose, Missions, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Mission & Purpose, Money and the Church, The United Methodist Church
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Clergy and laity leadership across The United Methodist Church — attention. When you receive the November/December Interpreter magazine, read it, study it, share it, preach it, teach it. It focuses on The Advance — the United Methodist commitment to second mile giving projects that truly transform the world. In the miasma of bishops sanctioning bishops and people complaining about everything the church doesn’t do or does wrong, we need a message of hope — and this is it. You want to know what we do right? Pay attention to the fantastic work we do through our apportionment giving and our Advance/Advance specials. Leaders, listen up — we need to let people know that they can be proud of The United Methodist Church. It is our responsibility to illuminate the power of our connectional church. It is up to us to help people understand that our giving makes a HUGE difference. Take time to explore the part of our story that all too often gets lost in our disunity and discord. We’ve a story to tell to the nations! Let’s start by making sure we know exactly what the story is!
Wisdom, For a Change November 15, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Planning, Leadership, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Vision
I received an email from a long-time colleague finding herself in an all-too-common situation: asked to “grow” a church where the leadership begged her to help bring them into the 21st century, she now finds that this same leadership effectively blocks each and every attempt she makes to lead. Her default setting is to think she is doing something wrong (hence, she writes “What am I doing wrong?”) when in fact she is experiencing that frustrating reality known as “normal.” She asked for my “wisdom” on leading change. After reflecting on it for the past week, here is what I came up with. I shared it with her, now I share it with you: Core Principles for Leading Change.
Note I say ‘principles” rather than “rules,” “laws,” “keys,” “models,” “steps,” or “guidelines.” This is intentional. We are a “magic-bullet” seeking church. We want a formula. We want a prescription. We want a “best practice” — even though we have been spoon-fed an unending supply of same for decades and it hasn’t done squat to move us forward. This is simply because copying what someone else has already done is a lousy definition of “leadership.” There are three key variables to every leadership situation that simply cannot be codified and controlled: context, chemistry and competency.
Grace-free Living October 31, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose.
Tags: Christian Community, Religious Trends, Values
Obamacare is going to kill America. Giving free health care to those who give nothing back is ridiculous. No one is giving anything to me.
But our church (denomination) believes that health care is a basic human right.
Yes, sure, for people who earn it.
But, if it is a right, it should be provided for all people, no matter what.
Okay, fine, everyone should be cared for, but why should I have to pay for it?
Who do you suggest should pay for it?
Uhm, that is pretty much what is happening now.
Obamacare is NOT the government paying for it. We’re paying for it. People who work hard and earn a living are being forced to care for those who want a free ride.
Isn’t that what Jesus said should happen — those who have care for those who don’t?
That socialist bullcrap. God helps those that help themselves. We should care for the needy, not the freeloader.
Who decides who has legitimate needs and who is taking advantage?
God, I hate this liberal garbage. There are charities to help the poor, and anyone who will lift a finger to help themself will do just fine. I am sick and tired of being told that the riff raff of the world are my responsibility.
Now, I don’t know which side of the argument feels “right” to you, but I do think one aligns much more closely to the Christian gospel than the other. Issues of “responsibility,” “compassion,” “giving,” and “justice” are clearly evident. In question is simply what we believe the most Christ-like response might be. It bugs me when we take basic human values and dismissively politicize them — caring for our own needs and preserving tradition is “conservative”; caring for others and promoting change is “liberal.” Rampant us/them-ism becomes our sword and shield — used to both attack those who differ and defend those who concur.
Knittin’ Mittens for a Snake September 27, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Integrity, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture.
Tags: Evangelism, hypocrisy, Spiritual seekers, Values
When will we begin to listen? Much of what we are offering people, they don’t want, can’t use, and don’t value. A growing population of deeply devout people — of all ages — have determined that organized religion is for the judgmentally insane. I was sitting in a meeting with a group of conservative evangelical independent almost fundamentalist teenagers who are furious with their church for not welcoming minorities — racial, ethnic, gay, poor. One by one the young people lamented that they simply don’t care to be part of any religion that uses hate, exclusion, violence, injustice and abuse as their governing values. Twenty years ago, many young people in conservative churches would have not batted an eye at exclusion — only those liberal bleeding hearts would have wanted “those people” anywhere near the church. The trends are fairly clear: more people are avoiding the church because it is too judgmental and restrictive, not because it is too liberal and unrighteous.
What Color is Your Prayerachute? September 20, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, prayer, Religion in the U.S., Research.
Tags: Christian Community, prayer, Religious Trends
I am still wrestling with a shock I had the other day. A person I know and respect was asked to pray for the situation in Syria. I consider this person to be a fair-minded, mature Christian committed to love, peace, harmony and justice. For this reason, I was shocked when he launched into a prayer calling for God to “rain down fire from heaven” to “smite” the “evil and godless leaders in Syria.” I confess my bias that I never believe in praying to God to do violence and to harm any human being — even those commonly viewed as “enemies” or “evil.” Violence begets violence, and I choose to follow a Lord of Love. The incident causes me to stop and reflect on my own understanding of and approach to prayer.
Shmoo Church September 6, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: church, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church
Showing my age, one metaphor that comes to mind for the contemporary United Methodist Church is the Shmoo, from the Li’l Abner comic strip — originally appearing culturally in the late 1940s, and appearing in my young awareness sometime in the early 1960s when my passion for comics and cartoons hit its zenith. The Shmoo is a pale creature, looking basically like a bowling pin with legs — very bottom-heavy with a small head and no arms — completely docile and pleasant (and as I remember, good to eat…). How are Shmoos analogous to the dear old UMC? Follow along…
Bottom-heavy: 85% of the Shmoo exists below the neck. 85% of The United Methodist Church membership is passive, complacent, perfectly happy to sit in a pew (occasionally), be served (regularly) and otherwise be left alone (perpetually). The small head exists to serve the large bottom — the 15% at the top doing everything in its collective power to keep the 85% at the bottom happy, satisfied, and content. The energy in the church today moves from the most invested to the least invested. Is it any wonder, then, that new people seeking a life-transforming relationship with a world-transforming deity are less than thrilled with what they find? Instead of the energy flowing from the bottom to propel an ever-widening circle of motivated disciples into the top tiers of leadership and action, we have a drain of energy pulling the best of our resources and gifts into a maintenance and perpetuation cycle. Shmoo church.
Han Church August 9, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, Leadership, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Faith Sharing, Vision
Okay, this is one of those cases where I probably should run what I am writing by my Korean-American bishop before I make a fool of myself – but, oh well, why start something new at this late date… I spent time this week at the North Central Jurisdiction Urban Ministries event in Milwaukee where the focus was on Asset Mapping. One fundamental tenet of asset mapping is that we should focus on the many blessings and gifts we DO have, instead of always lamenting and bemoaning that which we lack. All too often we are so focused on “need” that we fail to factor in “opportunity.” We see life as a problem to solve, a brokenness to fix, a burden to bear, or a threat to be escaped. Where is God in such a worldview? The doom-and-gloomers who regularly point out our dire situation don’t motivate us, they merely depress us. Panic and woe over the imminent “death tsunami” is purely manipulative and short-sighted — the truest lack of faith in evidence. Yet, we eat it up with both hands and a shovel. As I have said many times, the official United Methodist message is “we’re declining, we’re aging, we’re decaying, we’re dying, the ship is sinking… come join us!!!” And then we wonder why new generations don’t flock through our doors.
I sat listening to a number of people “yes, but…” the idea that we should focus on assets rather than needs, on blessings rather than burdens, and on opportunities rather than problems. One after another emphasized how serious and real the problems are and that if we don’t meet needs nothing else will matter. Actually, none of the leaders said that problems wouldn’t be fixed or needs met — the emphasis was on our energy and focus; our intentional decision NOT to be defined by our deficiencies, weaknesses and faults. But, I realized something. We LIKE our problems. Focusing on what we have lost, what we can’t achieve, what we don’t have, and where we can’t succeed takes all the responsibility and pressure off. The problem-solving mentality says, “well, we tried, but it didn’t work, so let’s call it a day.” We are justified in our depression and despair. We care deeply, but, hey, what can we do? The problems are just too big, and the needs are just too great.
Parallel Universes July 29, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Core Values, Integrity, Religion in the U.S., serving those in need.
Tags: Christian Community, Stewardship, Values
I sat listening to two older couples talking at my favorite coffee shop. I was working on a presentation for an Urban Ministry Strategy seminar I will be attending next week, and I have been immersed in the demographic and ethnographic realities of poor inner city life for a few weeks. Plowing through statistics on poverty, crime, domestic abuse, and violence among youth perhaps made me more sensitive to the musings of my older companions. One gentleman was talking about a bad investment he made that resulted in losses around $3,000. He lamented that it was “irritating, but just a drop in the bucket.” The woman from the other couple replied in consolation, “Well, we spent more than twice that on our recent vacation!” I sat wondering what percentage of our population would find the loss/spending of $3,000-$6,000 just a drop in their bucket? I have been reading case after case where a few hundred dollars is often all that divides the housed from the homeless, the fed from the starving, the doctored from those with no medical healthcare. I also wonder about all those who have $3,000 to lose with little more than a yawn, and how willing they are to share with those for whom $3,000 is a sizeable portion of their annual income?