Crossing the Great Divide July 31, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Mission of the Church, Religion in the U.S., The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Evangelism, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church
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I’m attending the School of Congregational Development this week in Evanston, Illinois, and in just the first few hours I am struck by a radical disconnect in our church. There is such energy and passion here. There is a deep vision for transformation of individual lives, congregations, communities and the world. There is a huge wealth of knowledge, experience, and expertise. There is a universal dedication to the idea that we can be better, that we must be better. There is voracious hunger to learn and a compelling desire to grow the church.
But there is also a saddening and maddening cynicism — hallway conversations about the many ways that “this won’t work,” or “all this sounds great, but it won’t work back home,” or “I don’t get any support for this from my conference.” The people here — on both sides of the podium — are some of the best and brightest in the denomination. As an observer (I sat in the balcony of the church for last night’s service) this is an incredible witness to what The United Methodist Church can be. Old, young, Asian, Anglo, African American, Hispanic/Latino, clergy, laity, men, women — no truer or more powerful example of our pluralism and multiculturalism could be hoped for. There is a beautiful gathering of God’s people at this conference.
Perspectival Prestidigitation July 30, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Congregational Life.
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What I said:
“No matter how well we are doing, we can always do better. There is virtually nothing we do that cannot be improved.”
What people heard:
“No matter what we do, it’s never good enough.”
“Our best efforts are doomed to fail.”
”We’re obviously doing it wrong.”
“We’re failing as a church.”
What I said:
“There is absolutely no reason to believe that God stopped speaking when the canon was closed on the Christian scriptures.”
What people heard:
“So, you don’t believe in the Bible?”
“Why do you stay in the church if you don’t believe in the adequacy of scripture?”
“So we should listen to all these nuts who say God told them to kill the pope?”
“Isn’t it dangerous to think you can improve on the Bible?”
“The Bible says woe to anyone who adds anything to what is written. Why do you teach against the Bible?”
I am always somewhat amazed by these bizarre and completely unexpected times when I will say something I believe is innocent or even positive and the response is uniformly negative. I hear in a statement that “we can always improve” a very hopeful note, not a condemnation. I think the idea of a living God continuing to teach, guide, and reveal new knowledge and wisdom exciting, not heretical. I will often talk about the Holy Spirit, and even though it happens frequently, I am always startled when people hit me with, “You don’t really believe all that crazy stuff, do you?/So why aren’t you Pentecostal?/Jesus Christ is my Savior!/Do you speak in tongues?” The point is that communication is much more art than science — and navigating the rich and varied range of filters people employ is extremely demanding and challenging.
How? July 28, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Critical Thinking, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, Planning
In strategic planning work with both conferences and congregations it is common practice to focus first on “who we are, why we’re here, and what we need to do” before moving on to “how.” Getting to “how” to do things is the bane of successful planning — too often we start strategizing tactics before we really understand what our real work needs to be. However, there are five key “how” questions that must be answered, reflected on, and evaluated for congregational effectiveness. They are:
- How do we set priorities?
- How do we cultivate leaders?
- How do we make decisions?
- How do we communicate?
- How do we evaluate?
Unless we understand the answers to these “how” questions, we have very little real chance of success of improvement. They offer a snapshot of our current reality, and provide vital information for ways we can improve the processes within the local church.
Cagey Christians July 27, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Congregational Life.
Tags: Church membership, hypocrisy
A couple weeks ago I posted a blog called Cranky Christians, so this, I guess could be considered a companion piece. Whereas cranky Christians are those who gripe and moan about every little thing, throwing tantrums to get their own way, and acting out in a wide variety of unpleasant ways, cagey Christians employ much more subtle — but no less destructive — tactics. Cagey Christians (what a friend of mine call Wesley’s Weasels) tend to be faithful attenders, committed leaders (though committed to what is in question…), and appear to be positive supporters. But appearances can be deceiving. These folks, in big and small ways, create disharmony and doubt, undermining trust and compromising the integrity of relationships within the church.
What are some behaviors of cagey Christians?
- Laity leaders who send letters and emails to the district superintendent or bishop to tattle
- Pastors who say what they think people want to hear merely to appease and control
- People who sow seeds of doubt by raising questions of “Christian concern”
- Leaders who support things “officially” but then denounce them privately
- Anyone who manipulates others in order to get their own way
- Anyone and everyone who not only spreads gossip within the fellowship, but those who allow it and listen to it as well
United! In What Ways? July 25, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Core Values, Devotional Reflection, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian discipleship, The United Methodist Church, Values
There is a great deal of discussion these days about what makes United Methodists “Methodist.” What I find more challenging is what makes us “United” Methodists. The fractures to our connection are deeply painful to me. There is no real freedom to disagree in love. People talk about one another rather than to one another. Dialogue devolves into interminable and senseless debate. Winning arguments and scoring points takes precedence over reconciliation and seeking creative solutions. Being right is more important than being Christ-like.
I have been reading a marvelous book — Patricia Sullivan’s loving history of the NAACP and the roots of the Civil Rights movement, Lift Every Voice. First, let me say that this is an incredibly painful book to read. It is an embarrassing and shameful story of the mistreatment, cruelty, hatefulness, and violence perpetrated against others based on their skin color. However, it is also an incredible story of the men and women who crusaded for change — pioneers and prophets who stood up to the powers and principalities of their age, overcoming incredible odds to topple the structures of evil oppression, hatred, bigotry and ignorance. It points out as well, that there is still a long way to go. Perhaps the saddest thing about the book is that it tells an all-too-familiar story. There are striking parallels between the Civil Rights struggles of black Americans and those of other immigrant groups, women, and homosexuals. In every place and in every age, the dominant culture-in-power selects a new minority to persecute, attack and despise. And in each and every case, the Christian church in America is front and center in the oppression and violence. What’s up with that?
Superstitious Atheists, Superficial Believers July 24, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Evangelism, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends.
Tags: church, Religious Trends
I read with some amusement the article in USA Today about “de-baptism” yesterday, and it raised for me the same question such stories always do: “What are atheists so afraid of?” In the past year, disgruntled and former believers have gathered in Ohio, Texas, Florida, and Georgia have gathered before a “priest” to have their baptism removed with a blow-dryer labeled “reason” (or some other cute gimmick). On the surface, this seems merely silly and immature (or fun-loving if you swing that way…), but at a deeper level some questions emerge:
- why is it necessary to participate in a symbolic ritual to prove you don’t believe in symbolic rituals?
- if baptism is irrelevant and meaningless, why take any steps to “remove” it? (it’s like saying we need to kill Santa Claus to prove he doesn’t exist…)
- what is the benefit of “debaptism” to the quality of life of the “debaptized”? (Yes, I realize many critics could ask the same question of the baptized and not receive a satisfactory answer…)
- why the defensiveness, sarcasm, and invective? Generally, people confident of their beliefs and mature in their behavior don’t feel the need to bully those with whom they disagree. If atheism is truly superior to the childish and irrational beliefs of the religious, shouldn’t unbelievers seek to take the high road? Many atheists, indignant with the “in-your-face” behavior of immature Christians respond in kind, feeling superior by calling Christians “doo doo heads” and “nut jobs.” Ultimately, immaturity is what both sides have in common, and it isn’t very pretty.
Blaming Christianity on the Christ July 23, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Devotional Reflection, Religion in the U.S..
I caught the tale end of the discussion of a number of “Christian leaders” (that I couldn’t identify) on a television talk show on the topic of “holy hatred.” I learned that:
- hatred is a critical aspect of love
- it is not wrong for Christians to hate — in fact,
- to be a true Christian you must “hate the things God hates”
- though the language used is a bit different, it is evident in scripture that Jesus hated both people and behaviors (I didn’t hear which people, but the Pharisees — and “Jews” in general — were taking quite a beating)
- softening our hatred makes Christians wimpy and ineffective — without hate we tolerate all kinds of evil
- the more mature we are in our faith, the greater becomes our hatred for sin, secular culture, and (apparently) liberal Democrats
- Christians need to be taught to “hate rightly” so that we do not do damage to the gospel
My response to such new information is: Huh??! I have heard the arguments that in a world of love, hatred must exist as its antithesis — you cannot have one without the other. This is philosophical prattle. The absence of love is not hate, and the opposite of love is not hate. In both cases, I believe the real culprit is ignorance. Hatred does not grow as people mature; it dissolves in the light of reason, wisdom, discernment, and critical thinking. Poisoning the Christian gospel with the taint of hate is irresponsible and does violence to the power of our faith to heal, comfort, reconcile, and resurrect.
Mean Christians Suck, Too July 21, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: church, hypocrisy
Some people shouldn’t be allowed to own and display bumper stickers. Going home from the office, a little Honda swerved around me, causing me to slam on my breaks and almost hit another car in a turn lane. The driver popped his arm out the window and gave me a middle-finger salute, mouthed an obscenity, and gunned his car on down the road — but not before I noted the “Mean People Suck,” “Coexist,” and “Commit Random Acts of Kindness” bumper stickers adorning his rear end. There ought to be a law against such false advertising.
My naive hope is that somehow people in our churches would never behave like this — that at the very least, being a Christian would guarantee some kind of higher standard of civility, respect, kindness, and ethical conduct. Instead, I am regularly struck by the small-minded, petty, selfish, and mean behavior of many folks called United Methodist. Among such behaviors I have seen in just the past year:
- two women shoving one another at a church supper over the last white chocolate macadamia chip cookie
- a disgruntled church leader discharging a shotgun at the front of the church parsonage while the pastor and family were at home
- a UMW putting combination locks on the church cabinets to make sure the youth couldn’t make a mess
- a Christian youth group vandalizing area businesses with graffiti because they were “evil”
- a woman throwing a fit because she couldn’t help herself to a soda at a church function
- a group of unhappy parishioners removing memorial gifts from the church because they had a disagreement with the pastor
- a group of men blocking access to the church parking lot with trucks to prevent people attending a contemporary service of which they disapproved
- a cadre of malcontents spreading rumors about the pastor’s sexual orientation to undermine her leadership
- a pastor sharing confidential information to discredit a lay person he was fighting with
Stewardship TOE July 19, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Mission of the Church, Stewardship, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Stewardship
In the scientific worlds of physics and astronomy an enormous effort is underway to discover a unifying force or principle that underlies all of creation. Scientists are pursuing nothing short of a theory of everything, or T.O.E. Since Einstein transformed our understanding of the known world, the universe, and all it contains, through his theories of relativity – both specific and general – the scientific community has searched for the core, the essence, the substance of all that is. It is believed that once we gain insight into this essence, there is nothing we will not be able to understand and achieve. There is a parallel in the church — a quest for a unifying factor that gives definition to our life and ministry together, around which everything we do is aligned. It is our theory of everything. While we may never actually discover something that unifies all of our thinking and doing in the church, it is still a provocative idea. To illustrate it, I want to share some thinking about stewardship, and to talk about ways I see individual congregations moving in this direction. For some churches working on stewardship, they have discovered a unifying principle — a basis for their “theory of everything” — by defining for themselves an “ultimate concern.”
is the essence that binds together our core values, sense of purpose (mission), shared vision, and commitment to achievement in the congregation.
As awesome as this task is, there is almost no doubt among scientists that a unifying principle will be found. Borrowing both the concept and the confidence, I would like to explore this unifying principle for Christian stewardship – a stewardship theory of everything (TOE). This theory may be correct or wrong, but if nothing else it offers a challenge to the way we think about stewardship.
Tags: American culture, Common Sense
Just how stupid are we? This question leaps to mind almost every day, and it assaults my sensibilities. People in these United States love comfort, security, the familiar and known, and the vast majority of us simply want to live each day without fear. Why, then, do we do such unbelievable, irrational, and often downright idiotic things? How is it possible that one of the most highly educated countries in the world can consistently come up with so many outrageously bad ideas? Where is a glimmer, just a slim hope, of common sense? What am I talking about? Well, for example:
- months ago, when Senator Doug Jackson proposed allowing handguns in bars and restaurants (in my then-resident-state of Tennessee), many thought it was a joke. After all, Tennessee bar-fights are a form of recreation, and virtually no one I talked to thought adding firearms to the environment of alcohol-rich redneck dives was a good idea. (No, I am not suggesting that all bars in Tennessee are redneck dives, but there are an impressive number, nonetheless.) Then, it became clear that 37 other states have such laws, and that while gun violence has indeed increased in some of those venues, overall there haven’t been too many problems. One quote I read said that if gunplay occurred, the person’s permit was revoked and their gun was taken away. But the question that comes to my mind — aside from “rights” guaranteed by the Constitution — is simply this, Under what circumstances do ordinary, law-abiding citizens need to be carrying weapons into the Corner Tap or the local Applebee’s? Are we living in 19th century Dodge City? Is there a really good outcome anyone envisions for the equation “alcohol + firearms + late night + elevated emotions?” (Or even, “happy hour + crappy day + screaming kids throwing their ”fun meals” + gun in the pocket” — which I see as an equally dangerous combination.) This isn’t at all directed at a person’s right to own and/or carry a weapon; this is about the application of common sense to a situation made unnecessarily potentially more dangerous for absolutely no good reason.
- The cause of a multi-car pile-up, resulting in two deaths was due to a woman talking on her cell phone, drinking hot coffee, smoking a cigarette, and applying nail polish while driving 70+ miles an hour down the highway. As a nation we can celebrate a decreasing trend in alcohol-related accidents and fatalities, but have you checked the cell-phone related accidents, fatalities, and injuries lately? Some estimates indicate that seven times as many accidents involved drivers distracted by cell phones (talking or texting) than any other cause. Beyond outright accidents, I wonder how much road rage increase there has been as a result of Joe or Jane drifting in and out of their lane doing twenty miles an hour under the speed limit because they are so wrapped up in their phone conversation… (this is the reason why I don’t own a gun. I would have to shoot these people.) In the office I worked before, I knew a woman who had seven fender-benders — all due to distraction involving her cell phone. Come on. What is so important that we recklessly endanger ourselves and others to talk on the phone? Should people have the right to “bear phones?” Certainly, but where can they acquire some common sense to go with them?
- A California community decided to make their homes “open bars” for teenagers — the thinking being if kids can drink at home it will keep them off the streets and make it safe. (Heaven forbid we tell Johnny he can’t drink until he’s 21 and then enforce it to the best of our abilities. That would be mean and uncool.) Parents were appalled when their precious angels produced an impressive jump in car accidents, DUIs, D&Ds, and a couple developed dependency problems. But when law enforcement got involved and told the parents to not allow the youth to drink, they got mad, hired an attorney, and got court permission to continue pumping booze into their babies. Are they insane? (I don’t know, maybe, I haven’t met them…) The right to make decisions in ones own home should be honored and protected. The problem here is that the house rules caused serious risks and problems outside the house. The kids moved around while “drinking at home” — endangering themselves and others. The lack of parental supervision in conjunction with parental permissiveness is simply not a good plan. Coolness factor? Questionable. Common sense? Nada.
- A young woman in Wyoming, learning to rappel, decided to unfasten her harness because “it bunched her top and made her look lumpy.” To no one’s surprise but her own, she fell, breaking both legs, shattering a wrist and her pelvis. She had been instructed in safety protocols, had been repeatedly warned not to alter any of the equipment or gear, and she signed a waiver acknowledging that she had received adequate instruction and warning and taking responsibility for the consequences of doing something risky. Of course, this woman sued. Of course, she won her case. Of course, she was rewarded for her own stupidity, vanity, and lack of even one iota of common sense.
These are just a few brief examples of what I am talking about, but they are not rare, isolated instances. Read any of the Darwin Awards books (or check out their website: Darwin Awards) that document the amazing heights to which human stupidity can soar. For example, this short note is on the site today:
USA’s 4th of July often provides a memorable fireworks-fueled fiasco. But this year, the holiday story is about “Darwin” Wendy, who met Matt in the ER because she broke her leg. See, she had a clever idea during a heat wave: bring cool air up from the basement! She opened a hole in the hall floor… and fell down that same hole a few hours later. Yes, we here at Darwin Awards don’t just report on idiots, we’re idiots ourselves.
Of course, nothing I am saying here applies to the church. One of the basic and universal gifts of the Spirit is a full measure of common sense. United Methodists are role models for rationality, clarity, fairness, insight, and good decision-making. Or, at least, we could be. It is one of the reason’s that our Christian faith is essentially a communal and shared faith rather than a private and individual faith. Together, we have a greater chance of being less stupid than we are on our own. In community, we test ideas differently than we do by ourselves or in small, isolated cliques. In a community, it is hard to believe people wouldn’t raise concerns about messing with rock-climbing gear, giving booze to adolescents, doing everything but drive in a car, or allow weapons in bars. There is at least a tendency toward balance in larger groups of people who care for, respect, appreciate, and feel responsibility for one another. Common sense is not a universal quality available to all in even measure. What makes it “common” is that it emerges from the “common union” (communion, community) for the “common good.” If this can’t happen in our churches, I wonder if it can happen anywhere?