How Deep the Well? August 29, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Religion in the U.S., The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian service, Church Leadership
With apologies, this is a “rerun” of the post I put up in March. A number of people have asked for it to be “made available” because they had trouble finding it. I’m just reposting it to make it easier to find. The topic is clergy self-care, but it applies every bit as much to laity leadership as well.
A young clergy woman, beloved by her congregation, finishing her seventh year as a full-time pastor, successful by almost any and every measure, surrendered her orders and left the church. Her excuse? In a word, burn-out, but in more detail — too many demands from too many people taking too much time while constantly failing to live up to too many unrealistic expectations. (In other words, a normal pastoral ministry.) I asked what changed over the seven years, and she confessed that nothing in the job changed, but she had. She wanted a life, and ministry had become for her a slow, painful death.
I share this story because this young pastor was part of a study I did on the spiritual life of pastors. One of the main questions we explored was, “how deep is the well from which you draw?” We explored over 200 pastor’s prayer lives, engagement with scripture, worship lives, self-care, and personal relationships to better understand how pastors renew their spirit and stay grounded in Christ. The thesis we tested was this: you can’t give what you don’t have. If the pastor isn’t spiritually nourished and constantly renewed, he or she will not long last in the pastoral vocation. Not surprisingly, the young woman pastor was “too busy” to pray regularly, read the Bible, worship, exercise, rest, or spend time with friends and family. Somehow her ministry displaced her spiritual life.
Martyrdom or Majesty August 28, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
Perhaps the biggest surprise I received at “Charm School” (the denominational training for District Superintendents and Directors of Connectional Ministry) was a widespread sense of burden and sacrifice that presenter after presenter lifted up and focused on. (Not all of them, but many… our plenary speakers on Poverty and Global Health were very upbeat…) It was fascinating to hear how our work is being framed – “people are difficult,” “you will not be appreciated,” “you will be exhausted,” “you will be insulted if not assaulted,” “this job will not be kind to you,” “we will be misunderstood.” There was very little focus on the joy, the satisfaction, or the blessing of our work. While the work was framed as important, we were repeatedly reminded of the sacrifice, the cost, and the pain. What’s this all about? When I first taught at one of these events thirteen years ago, the main messages were, “you are doing critically important work,” “you have been selected because of the incredible gifts you bring,” “this work is deeply gratifying,” and “you can make a real difference in the church.” What’s changed? Is it the cynicism of the age? Our incessant focus on decline and the need for more? Or have we simply lost focus?
One of the reflection questions sums up the week for me: “How will you expect to manage the conflicting expectations, the disappointments and frustrations, and the tiredness that comes naturally in a time of great paradigm shifts?” This question is freighted with all kinds of meaning. The lecture on leadership that preceded this question was all about unrealistic expectations, broken systems, the unreliability of people to follow through, and the inability of people to focus on the right things. We were told that we didn’t have to be “problem solvers,” but that advice came in context of the “fact” that we will be living in an unending cascade of things needing to be fixed. Someone made the comment that “we need to do our job so that others can do ministry.” What, our jobs aren’t ministry? How did they get separated? A third question offers further challenge, “How will you protect yourself from this job?”
Enough About Sufficiency August 27, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Money and the Church.
Tags: Money and the Church, Values
If I hear another middle class beneficiary of white privilege talk about “sufficiency” I am going to throw something! Of all the pretentious, patronizing, and paternalistic (even though many of the voices are female) perspectives our blessed leaders could take, none are more disingenuous. Such platitudes as “living simply,” “doing with less,” and “being content with what we have,” ring very hollow when spoken by children of privilege and power. Who are we trying to kid? Only people who have a lot have the luxury to talk about simplifying.
I listened to an upper-middle-class white woman drone on about how we shouldn’t talk about abundance and scarcity, but about sufficiency. Abundance makes us think there is enough for everyone and that we should get as much as possible, but that sufficiency pushes us to ask “how much is enough?” and to live within our means. This line of thinking is predicated on spurious logic and a skewed cultural context. Only if you define abundance as “greed” and sufficiency as “satisfaction with adequacy” can you make this work. Abundance is not just about “more.” And sufficiency isn’t simply about “enough.” In our world, there IS more than enough for everyone, and consumption is a justice issue, but “sufficiency” won’t take us any place new. Many people will never feel that what they have is adequate, no matter how creative we get with language. Playing with language is an idle pursuit of the leisure class anyway. Real change is the core issue, but even then my doing with less is no guarantee that someone in greater need will benefit. Plus, my freedom to choose to do with less is part of the problem, not a significant part of the solution.
Creating the Frankenchurch Monster August 26, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, worship.
Tags: Christian Education, church, Church Leadership, worship
I sometimes get accused of being negative. Okay, fine, this post is definitely negative. However, it is not a blaming or accusing post. It is merely describing something bizarre and ugly — patchwork bodies of Christ, slapping together bits and pieces (s0me dead) to create a well-intentioned mockery of life. Harsh? You bet. But the Frankenstein monster — as well intentioned as he might have been — was a monster nonetheless. Many of our patchwork churches — no less well-intentioned — produce some pretty monstrous results as well.
When I travelled as a consultant for congregational revitalization, the number one question I asked was, “Why?” Why do you offer worship? Why do you preach a sermon? Why do you have a Sunday school? Why do you have a worship committee (when the pastor/music director makes all the decisions?) Why do you only have one service? Why do you have more than one service? Why? Why? Why? I always pushed to have people explain the rationale and justification of everything they were doing as a church. Want to know something troubling, though? Most church leaders struggled to answer the “why” question?
We offer worship because we’re a church and that’s what churches do.
We have Sunday school because the parents expect it.
We have one service because everyone needs to be together.
We have two services so we can reach more people.
We have a worship committee so that someone will change the paraments.
A New High Score August 25, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection.
I note with some satisfaction that I passed the 100,000 page view plateau today. Yes, it took me seven months to do it, but from extremely humble beginnings United Methodeviations is now averaging 5,000+ hits a week. I realize this is small potatoes to sites like United Methodist Reporter and the GBOD Worship website that see 100,000 hits a week easily, and UMC.org that probably gets 100,000 views in about ten minutes. But for me and my silly little blog, I think it’s kind of cool. It means I can toss around ideas with UMs I’ve never even met. It connects me to people I would not know any other way. I love it.
Charm School August 23, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Personal Reflection, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
All this next week (August 23-28) I will be attending the New District Superintendent & Director of Connectional Ministries Orientation hosted by the General Boards of Higher Education & Ministry and Discipleship & our Council of Bishops in Lake Junaluska. This annual shindig is lovingly known as “charm school.” It is here that we will be fashioned into upright, (no, not uptight…) principled men and women entrusted with leadership in our annual conferences. Actually, the assemblage of both participants and leaders is impressive. There are many fantastic leaders in our denomination, and quite a few of them are here this week.
I have only been here an hour-and-a-half (at the writing of this post) and have already had two interesting conversations. Three comments snagged my attention, and I have been playing around with their meaning in my own head.
Five Fruits of Practical Congregations August 21, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Core Values.
With apologies to Bishop Schnase for the play on words of his own title (Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations), I want to examine five characteristics — fruits, if you will – of truly vital and healthy churches. They are somewhat unique, in that producing these fruits is exceptionally difficult, especially in combination. Together, these five fruits (trust, transparency, respect, rapport, and passion) create a powerful congregational witness — a message to the world that community in Christ is different. These five fruits reflect the best in the church, and in the values of the Christian faith. They are valuable, partly because they are so rare, partly because they are so fragile, and partly because they are so dramatically different from the guiding values of the secular culture. These are truly delicious, nutritious, and wonderful fruits that, if we could learn to cultivate them in mass quantities, could truly transform this world.
“We” Faith in a “Me” Culture August 19, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: church, Mission & Purpose, Values
I am convinced that the most serious challenge to the Christian church in the United States is the individualistic, consumeristic, self-indulgent, and personal entitlement mindset of most Americans. On a recent church visit, I met a forty-something woman who told me, “I come to church for me. I ask my husband to stay home with the kids so I can come here and get my “God fix.” It is such a blessing to not have to worry about him or the kids. Church is one of the few things that’s just mine.” Am I crazy, or does this kind of sentiment miss a few points? In numerous interviews with both regular church attenders as well as those unaffiliated with any church, I have been struck (repeatedly) by the number of people who share that their greatest gripe with the church is that they cannot “be left alone” when they attend. Fully 40% of active United Methodists say they prefer to come to church, slide in unobtrusively, worship, then slip out unaccosted. What’s this about? It certainly doesn’t honor or reflect the fundamental communal nature of “church.”
But this shouldn’t be surprising. Independent evangelical Christians perpetrated a privatized, individualized, personalized, and consumeristic version of Christianity throughout the twentieth century in the United States. However, blame must be shared with the mainline church that bought into the “do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” and “have you been born again?” mentality that transformed the Christian faith from shared journey to a “me-and-my-buddy-Jesus” closed-club. The “we” of community has given way to the “me” entitlement mentality that saturates today’s church and larger culture.
Shape Ball Spirituality August 18, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Diversity.
Who hasn’t seen a shape-sorter ball for infants and toddlers? From the earliest days of our cognitive development, we learn to identify, differentiate, associate, and categorize. It is so much fun to watch the joy of a child slipping the appropriate shape through the proper slot. It obviously imprints strongly on the human psyche… because we try to do the same thing with people later in life. Slipping people into “slots” is a normal and regular activity in this creature we call church.
We slide people into leadership slots — filling rosters of boards, committees, councils, and teams — to make sure we have the human resources to keep our programs and ministries running smooth. However, in many cases we treat all the different shapes and sizes of Christian disciples as interchangeable — forcing them to fit our slots, rather than bothering to match our need to their shape. Often, this is unintentional. We start with our systems and structures in place and we feed people through the system like meat through a meat-grinder — many cuts go in, but what comes out is all ground beef.