Confirmation Consternation February 27, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church membership, confirmation
Worship Connection posted an interesting article by Shane Raynor this week, Reinventing Confirmation. As I read it, I experienced a strange ambivalence — agreeing with many of the observations Shane makes while feeling like something was missing. Some of the insightful points in the article challenge the “one size fits all” mentality we apply to confirmation, the idea that all youth are all emotionally and intellectually ready to make a profession of faith at the same age, the artificiality and unnecessary pressure of making Confirmation a special service or event, and the tendency we have to make confirmation more about information than transformation. As I nodded my head in agreement to these points, it dawned on me that this critique of confirmation reflects a much larger, much deeper issue about our current understandings concerning church membership.
Zombie Congregations February 26, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S..
Okay, right off the bat let me say, my intention here is not to offend anyone (which means I am pretty sure I will offend someone…) What started me thinking about this was a church sign I passed where, I believe, someone made a rather amusing mistake. The sign read, “Dead inside? You belong here!”
Zombies — by definition — are lifeless corpses that continue to function in an imitation of life, generally doing more damage than good. They are frightening, and if George Romero is to be believed, they seek one thing — to feed upon the living. Unfortunately, this is not an unfair metaphor for a number of mainline Protestant churches. Check the list: lifeless, going through the motions, trying to get new people upon which to feed. It is a pretty stark, but accurate description of a number of decaying churches.
An Ash Wednesday Reflection February 25, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection.
Tags: Ash Wednesday
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Meant To Be Seen
What are the outward and visible signs of our life of faith? When people look at us, what unmistakable evidence exists that identifies us as members of the body of Christ? Today, as we begin our Lenten observance, we receive a mark of ash and oil that signifies our commitment to Christ. This is a mark for all to see, placed on the forehead. Its very presence is a statement of faith. For a brief time, we bear an outward and visible sign — but once the ashes and oil are washed away, what will signify to others that we are disciples of Jesus Christ?
Signs and symbols are an important part of our story and history. The cross, the fish, the dove, the shepherd’s crook, the Chi Rho, and many others span history as testaments to our beliefs. In our day, these symbols are found on car bumpers, coffee mugs, T-shirts and refrigerator magnets. They endure because they have meaning. And yet, alone they often don’t tell much. We don’t really know anything of substance about the woman who wears the cross necklace or the guy driving the minivan with the Icthus/fish symbol on the back. Symbols are a bit ‘fuzzy’ sometimes. I live in Nashville, and I remember the days following the attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11. Many people put out flags as a sign and symbol of patriotism and solidarity. What I found confusing was how many people in our area hung out Confederate flags. What was that all about? Mixed symbols, mixed messages.
The Urgency Element February 24, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Mission of the Church, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Christian service
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Two major research projects have essentially defined my ministry for the past ten years: congregational vitality and seeker spirituality. A recent job change offered me (forced) a unique opportunity to pore through a veritable mountain of surveys, interviews, and site visit notes to determine what to keep and what to shred. Though I have analyzed this data and studied the information many, many times, something brand new caught my attention — something that both projects share in common — what I am calling “the urgency element.”
Doing the Wrong Things For All the Right Reasons February 21, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S., The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
A few years back, I was consulting with a district about revitalizing existing congregations and perhaps launching a new church start or two. Though it may seem obvious, my main question to the leadership of the district was, “Why?” Why do we want to revitalize struggling churches? Why start new congregations when the ones we have are struggling? Why is a United Methodist congregation needed in the area? Why now? I am always amazed at how vague the answers are to such questions, if thought has been given to them at all. I usually get some variation of “we want to be more effective fulfilling our mission,” and/or “we want to reach more people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” When I push, the answers become more practical and worldly. “If we don’t turn this church around, we’ll have to close its doors,” or “we need to do something to stop the decline in membership,” or “there’s a new church in the area that is booming and we want to get in on it, too,” or “we voted to make revitalization and new church starts a priority at last year’s annual conference.”
Many efforts to revitalize and re-energize the church are misguided. The desire to strengthen our congregations and make them more effective in their mission and ministry is laudable, but the paths chosen to get there are often just plain wrong. Instead of finding the Promised Land, many churches and annual conferences end up wandering in the wilderness. What do some of these poor pathways look like? I’m glad you asked…
Christianity for Dummies? February 18, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Critical Thinking, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Spiritual seekers
Do you have to be stupid to be a Christian? I sometimes wrestle with this very question. It’s reminiscent of the joke poster — “You don’t have to be crazy to work here… but it helps.” One of the most common reasons Christian spiritual seekers outside the church give for not finding a home with us is that they are not intellectually challenged. Unreasonable, irrational, and simplistic assertions are deeply troubling and off-putting to a growing segment of spiritual seekers in the United States. A huge number of Christians — both inside and outside the institutional church — are irritated by the resistance they encounter when they ask questions about cherished notions and beliefs. People inside our churches confess to feeling threatened by more educated people who they feel question — and sometimes disrespect — their faith, while those outside the church feel unwelcome when they ask what they feel are legitimate questions.
Wipe That Smile Off Your Faith February 16, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Christian worship, Church Leadership, humor in the church
Humor is a powerful tool for communication and relationship building. A good sense of humor is an essential element of mental, and even physical, health. Most people like to laugh, they like being around others who laugh, and they are drawn to those who make them laugh. Laughter is good medicine. But as with all medicine, overdoses can be deadly.
I love to laugh and there are few things more satisfying to me than being able to make others laugh. I have nothing against “funny.” However, I have noted a growing trend in worship settings that troubles me. Three quick stories.
Last fall I attended a fairly well-known church that is growing at an incredible rate. It prides itself on its contemporary worship, and it offers wonderful music, and a bright, open setting with state-of-the-art technology. The congregation buzzes with energy and excitement. What struck me as a bit bizarre was “the morning musing” — this congregation’s contemporary equivalent of “the sermon.” Auditorium lights dimmed, and a single spotlight shone on a stool with a wireless microphone sitting on it. The pastor ran down the aisle, took a swig from a bottle of water, scooped up the microphone and launched into a hysterically funny stand-up comedy routine on “you might be a Christian if…,” riffing Jeff Foxworthy’s similar “redneck” rant. There is no denying that it was funny. There is no denying that the crowd loved it. There is no denying that people are coming from all over to hear such routines. There is a question, however, of how it fits into Christian worship. Lots was said about “Christians,” but nothing about God, Jesus the Christ, or the Holy Spirit.
Oh We, Of Little Faith February 13, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Critical Thinking, Religion in the U.S., The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, Church membership, The United Methodist Church
I received three emails today that I call “Chicken Little” messages. You know, the panicky ‘sky-is-falling’ folks who take every apocalyptic message as gospel fact. Somewhere, someone is marching out the old, tired chestnut that the United Methodist Church is dying and won’t be around in thirty or forty years.
This “fact” gets shared every couple of years, though it is based on poor reasoning and flawed thinking. The argument goes something like this: we have declined by this much in the past year, so using a linear, non-critical formula, we will disappear in this many years. Sounds reasonable, but it isn’t.
Popular Mythconceptions February 12, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking.
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On the 200th anniversary of the births of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, it is amazing to see how these two men have attained legendary, larger-than-life stature. It is not that both men don’t deserve admiration, respect, and the attention they receive. Lincoln and Darwin, each in his own way, changed the world. But both men have ceased to be real three dimensional flesh-and-blood people, having become instead mythological caricatures.
Many people hear about Lincoln and Darwin. History classes in American schools provide a compelling story of the self-made man rising from humble roots to become the Great Emancipator. Abraham Lincoln is a hero and the embodiment of what it means to be a “real” American. He is consistently named one of the most respected and admired figures in history. He is considered, slightly ahead of George Washington, the greatest president of the United States. Interestingly, very few Americans have actually read any of Lincoln’s personal writing. The Library of America offers two volumes of Lincoln’s Speeches and Writings (1832-1858 and 1859-1865). Presented in this fashion, two things become immediately obvious. First, the Lincoln we learned about in grammar school is very difficult to recognize in his writing. Lincoln, in his own words, is a harsh, opinionated, impatient, basically racist man who constantly questions the decisions he makes and his right to make them. Second, Lincoln’s thinking and worldview evolve over time, and the Lincoln who writes in the 1860′s is a very different Lincoln than the one writing before the Civil War. The greatest lesson from these writings is that people can learn and grow and change — becoming better, indeed — in Lincoln’s case — becoming worthy of study through history.
Theology of Worship? February 9, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, worship
A few year’s ago, I attended worship at a hot, new, up-and-coming congregation situated in a strip mall, eschewing anything smacking of “traditional” church (at least in The United Methodist system). We sang a lot of ‘contemporary’ tunes, saw a ‘post-modern’ dramatic interpretation of scripture (in mime and ‘liturgical’ dance) and heard a very funny ‘message’ that neglected to mention God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. The only prayer offered during the service instructed us to “Leave here and be the change you want to see,” at the very end, before the band broke into a hard-rock anthem guaranteed to blast people out the doors. I had a chance to talk with the pastor and worship leader over lunch, and I asked the question, “So, what is your theology of worship?” The pastor scrunched up his brow and said, “What do you mean by that?” I explained, “what are the underlying beliefs and motivations about God and the worship of God that shape and inform what you offer as leaders?” The worship leader chimed in, “We don’t really think that way. Worship is about giving people a memorable experience.” The pastor added, “Our theology of worship is engage, inspire, entertain, and excite.”