Instruments in Need of Tuning September 29, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: Christian discipleship
- Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
- where there is hatred, let me sow love;
- where there is injury, pardon;
- where there is doubt, faith;
- where there is despair, hope;
- where there is darkness, light;
- and where there is sadness, joy.
- O Divine Master,
- grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
- to be understood, as to understand;
- to be loved, as to love;
- for it is in giving that we receive,
- it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
- and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
- Okay, churches are full of normal, ordinary human beings. We can’t expect too much from, well, any of us. But, you know what? We can do a whole lot better. Surveying recent articles about Christians in the United States it is interesting to note that, as a breed, followers of Jesus are stronger advocates of war, guns, capital punishment, corporal punishment, and killing abortion doctors than non-Christians. A sheriff in Arkansas noted that Christians are much more likely to take the law into their own hands than non-Christians. Two of the more brutal road rage incidents of the past few months were perpetrated by faithful church goers. Arson attacks on mosques, synagogues, temples, and ashrams are most frequently attempted by Christians. Across the country, Christians are no less likely to engage in violent crime than non-Christians. And we can’t equivocate on “real” vs. “fake” Christians. It is scary to read the profiles of some of these guys (yes, mostly guys) who kill doctors, beat bad motorists, and set fire to other people’s sacred space. Most are educated, middle class, long time church members who pray regularly and read the Bible religiously. Some teach Sunday school and work with children and youth.
Fresh Eyes September 28, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Evaluation and Assessment.
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I got a nice email from a pastor in Australia that set me to thinking. He writes:
I found your blog by accident and started reading it regularly, but for a time I thought you were having me on. I thought it was a joke site, because of the outrageous things you sometimes print — like about preachers lying and studying the Bible not being important — but then I read comments other people write. Lordy, it makes me realize that there is a whole world out there that I don’t know anything about. I can’t believe there are people out there thinking like that. I love your blog (even if you are a Methodist) and thank you for showing me the world through a fresh set of eyes.
“Fresh set of eyes,” is a nice, gratifying description of what I do, but it is an important concept for our churches seeking improvement and growth. When I did the research of the healthiest churches in United Methodism, one of the striking characteristics was the reliance on mentors, coaches, and resource people from outside the congregation. For those of us immersed in our own environment, we often become blind to what others see. In a time when our church is so desperately seeking growth and attempting to grasp “radical hospitality” and has added “witness” to its list of membership expectations, it seems interesting that we don’t do more to foster congregational and connectional self-awareness. What we do and how we present ourselves is as important — perhaps moreso — than what we say.
Irresponsibly Unresponsive September 26, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, spiritual practices, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian discipleship, spiritual practices
What responsibility does the individual have for her or his own spiritual growth and development? At least 70% of people leaving The United Methodist Church give “spiritual needs not met” as one of the reasons for their departure. (Based on 429 “exit” interviews, 2002-2003) But what do they mean when they say this? And what does such a statement imply about ones relationship to a church?
First, let it be said that a person’s spiritual needs should be met (or at least supplemented) by their community of faith. This is one of the reason’s why the community of faith exists in the first place. However, spiritual growth and formation is a mutual, interactive process involving an individual in a community with mentors and guides and God and the Holy Spirit. Everyone has a part to play in the process. There is no room for passivity or inaction. Yet, many Christians don’t see it this way.
When I probed to find out what people mean when they say their spiritual needs aren’t being met, the following explanations emerged:
- They don’t like the worship services
- They don’t like the preacher
- They took issue with something the preacher or other leader said
- They didn’t like the Sunday school/education offerings (if they participate at all)
- There is nothing offered for their specific life situation (i.e., young families, young adults, youth, service opportunities, etc.)
- They feel the church isn’t serious enough about something (e.g., prayer, outreach, social issues, Bible study, etc.)
- They feel the church preferences one (or a few) group(s) or individual(s) over others (them)
- They got bored
- They feel that no one in the church is actually concerned about their spiritual growth
- They feel unsupported in their own attempts to learn, grow, and develop
Church Without Churches September 25, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S..
A thought exercise: what would happen to The United Methodist Church in these United States if when we woke up tomorrow morning, all our buildings and property were gone? How many of our congregations would carry on with hardly a disruption? How many “members” would we lose to churches with buildings? How long would it take us to get reorganized? Would one of our top priorities be to build new buildings or would we step back and, uhm, “rethink” church? What would our worship look like? Where would we gather? What form would our fellowship take? What about Christian education? What would we do?
Worshipedia September 23, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Spiritual Trends, worship.
Tags: Christian worship, church, Religious Trends
We live in a Wiki world. A collaborative, evolving, and highly interactive way of creating and recreating reality. Facts and opinions merge to create a new kind of “flexible” truth. Wikipedia has transformed the way we think about information and the authority of the written word. Knowledge is built over time drawing from a wide variety of sources and perspectives. I would make the observation that the same kind of revolution is occurring within the realm of Christian worship — forms are merged and mashed-up, old traditions and history are rewritten and revised, multiple perspectives and opinions shape reality, and orthodoxy is bound by membranes rather than walls. Having researched worship trends and practices across the denomination, I note six shifts that are fundamentally changing our understanding of worship.
Growth Exaggeration September 22, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Core Values, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Church growth, The United Methodist Church
“You’re against church growth, aren’t you?” asked a new, young pastor.
I looked at him for a moment, pausing to reflect on the fact that I am often my own worst enemy. I can fully understand how someone who reads my writing — books and blogs — might get the idea that I don’t like growth. However, that would be a skewed and inaccurate assessment. I responded to the young pastor by asking, “Well, what kind of growth are you talking about? I fully support maturity, growing in faithfulness, growing in our discipleship, growth in our spirituality, and even expanding our reach sharing the gospel – I am for all these things. As for obesity, cancer, sprawl or conquest? Not so much.”
Now I received the glassy stare. “Of course I mean good growth. Who would want unhealthy growth?”
The Measures of Our Success September 20, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church growth, Evaluation and Assessment.
Tags: Church growth
In recent months I have visited a number of churches where leaders have apologetically said to me, “Our numbers are down. We always lose them through the summer.” Worship attendance is currently the primary metric for a church’s effectiveness — which is ironic because worship attendance has nothing to do with effectiveness. It measures attendance. This may indicate popularity of a preacher or music program. It may witness to the importance of worship to individual worshipers. It may indicate the success of marketing or personal invitation. But the mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. How many people show up on a Sunday morning is not an appropriate evaluative metric of the congregation’s effectiveness at discipleship for transformation. If filling our pews is the point, counting warm bodies is the right measure. Changed lives/changed world? Different metrics apply.
A growing number of our churches have stopped counting those who come through our doors. They are more interested in what happens to people after they leave. I spoke to lay and clergy leaders of two smaller Midwestern congregations this week that both have goals of serving the needs of others outside the church, of equipping people to share their faith and monitor how effectively they do it, and of engaging new people in serious spiritual formation and development. They do qualitative evaluation and assessments rather than “counting.” “Oh, we use numbers,” a lay leader told me. “If we served 65 meals last week, our goal is to serve 70 this week. If we got nine volunteers to help out last week, we strive for ten this week. If we have four people equipped to teach a small group this quarter, we aim to have five next quarter. So, yeah, numbers matter, but not as much as understanding how people’s faith and lives are changing.”
Lying for the Greater Good September 19, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Communication in the Church, Core Values.
Tags: Church Leadership, hypocrisy, Values
Okay, I know I am sounding like a broken record, but no other subject has garnered the kind of response this one has. The subject of truth-telling in leadership is volatile. As I have said before, what is most amazing to me is how strongly some pastors and lay people feel that there are times when lying is justified. I share (with permission) two brief stories that push this topic one more step for me, and make me want to present them for consideration with two questions:
- Do these stories truly justify lying?
- What other options are there?
Near-Miss Evangelism September 18, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Core Values, Evangelism, spiritual practices.
Tags: church marketing, Church membership, Evangelism
When did “evangelism” become “marketing?” At what point did the church rise up and say, “You know? Evangelism doesn’t have to be personal. We can phone (email, billboard, television, webcast) it in!” The shift from relational evangelism to representational evangelism is almost complete in some areas. At the School of Congregational Development I listened to one woman jubilantly explain about the “agency” her church hired to “do” its evangelism. She gushed about the slick brochures, the professional quality 30 second TV spots and web videos, the phoning push they contracted with a telemarketer to conduct on behalf of the church, and their direct mail strategy. She boiled it down to “once we receive 82 new giving units, the campaign will pay for itself in 3 years!” Praise Jesus.
I asked what the substance of their message was, and she immediately parroted, “Church for people who hate church!” I pushed a little deeper. “But, what is your invitation? What are you offering to people as “good news.” She cocked her head and said, “We’re leaving that to the professionals.”
My question is: who are “the professionals” when it comes to evangelism?
To, For, or With September 17, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian service, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
I listened to a sermon on restorative justice — one of my passions. I am generally an easy audience for justice messages, but this particular one kept jarring me. The preacher hammered on the need for us to be in ministry to both victims and victimizers, to the incarcerated, to the broken and beaten, to the poor and marginalized. The church has a responsibility, he said, to provide for the last, the lost, and the least among us. Jesus went to the broken people, and so should we. We shouldn’t wait for someone else to do ministry for them. What was especially striking to me was the age of the speaker — early thirties. He sounded much older — not in terms of age, but of era. I felt like I was listening to a speech from the 1950s. Not once in the forty-five+ minute talk did he once suggest we be in ministry with the poor and marginalized. Not once did he suggest we invite them into our fellowship. Not once did he suggest we work with victims and victimizers to create new processes for dealing with crime and punishment. Not once was there a suggestion that the poor and marginalized are ministers, too. In the 21st century, we have so many powerful examples of the church in ministry with people that it is remarkable how fiercely we cling to the patronizing and paternalistic visions of ministry to and for.
I find this same problem with ministry to, for, or with young adults. I have over a decades experience traveling around our connection and everywhere I go there is energy and passion about “young adult” ministry. The problem is, most of the conversation is about the need for ministry to young adults or for young adults. There is very little real interest in relinquishing power and resources to young adults so that they can be in ministry with us. Even in conferences and congregations where young adults are “included” (how kind of us…) in leadership, they are so egregiously outnumbered as to be irrelevant. Sitting in the recent District Superintendent/Director of Connectional Ministries orientation for the denomination I was dumfounded at the lack of both young people and persons of color (other than beigey-pink). How are we committed to young adults when so few of them are in key leadership positions? Could it be that years of service and salary level are higher core values than inclusiveness? (Nah, I’m sure this has nothing to do with it…) The way we operate, young adults are always “the next generation.” By the time our talented, bright, dynamic young adults finally are granted power and authority they are no longer young adults. The problem is, young adults today have no more interest in Baby Boomers planning ministry for them than Boomers cared for the offerings of their elders. Baby Boomers who have prided themselves on their creativity, subversive energy, and “thinking outside the box” are now the problem, not the solution. Young people don’t use hackneyed silly euphemisms like “think outside the box” ad nauseum — only Boomers (and their grandparents) do. (Yes, I know I am a Boomer. I don’t have Alzheimer’s you little snots! Back when I was a boy…zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…)