All Saints, All the Time October 31, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Personal Reflection.
Tags: church, Witess
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As I prepare to preach on All Saints day, three things come to mind. First, of course, I think of all those significant people who helped to shape my life and faith. I think of my mother’s simple faith — she didn’t want to think too deeply about it, and she never wanted to face any contradiction. She wanted to believe that God was in heaven, watching over us all, with a plan for the world. I think of Reverend Collins — perhaps the least suited man ever to enter ministry. His lack of faith, his severe doubts, and his absence of courage made me wonder why in the world he would ever want to be a pastor. But he loved God and he desperately wanted others to believe. His devotion to God’s people inspires me still. Drs. Carl Andry and Neill Hamilton taught me more than I can believe or ever acknowledge. I am who I am because of these two brilliant teachers and guides. My best friend in college — Steve Paul — brought me back to the church. He deserves all the credit or all the blame. I wish I knew where he was and could contact him. Robert “Andy” Warrner — perhaps the kindest, most compassionate, and most wonderful person I have ever known. There are still days that I wish I could be half the man he is. My wife, Barbara, who is my rudder, my anchor, my ballast AND the wind in my sails — she is the best friend I have ever had and I am thankful to God each day for her presence in my life. And my son, Josh, who has given my life meaning, purpose, joy, fulfillment, and an overwhelming pride and hope. So many people have come before, have walked with, and have offered grace to make me want to serve God faithfully and well.
Puritanical Victorianimosity October 28, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Critical Thinking, The Bible.
Tags: Biblical interpretation, Values
It always amazes me when fairly modern interpretations of scripture are represented as “traditional” or “ancient.” Most moralizing uses of scripture are as recent as the Victorian era (1837~1901), and many date back to the Puritan era (1550s~1660s) but almost none have anything to do with their original meaning. Most of our Hebrew and Christian scriptures had a practical, ethical, provisional, or regulatory function — the moral and valuative aspects have been layered on over the past 500 years using a modern, Western, educated, materialistic, and privileged-class spatula. Most writers of our holy scriptures would hardly recognize many of the meanings we draw from their writings today.
When Teaching Became Task October 27, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian Education, spiritual practices
I attended a session a few year’s ago at a Christian Educator’s Fellowship meeting where the leader talked about the importance of “good content, good topics, and good technique.” She delivered a very compelling vision of the task of teaching — organized, exacting, and precise. I went to another workshop on brain research, multiple intelligences, and learning styles. At the time I was reading a book (whose title I cannot recall) on adult learning that was talking about the importance of retention — effective teachers are those who help students retain the greatest amount of information. These things are true — to a point. My own research — and a boatload of research by others in academia — indicates that there is one factor that trumps all others in the realm of effective learning, and that factor is relationships. When pupils and teachers care most deeply about one another (in healthy, productive ways), learning is most effective. Doesn’t matter about the subject, the level of difficulty, or even the individual’s tastes and preferences — unless there is some pathological learning disorder – those who care most learn most.
Giving Ourselves a Tomorrow — Today! October 25, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Core Values, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Church growth, church marketing, Religious Trends
There is generally a distinct difference between our articulated values — what we say is important — and our lived values — the things we actually do. For example, I say that good diet and exercise is important, but I sit on my butt eating bacon-ranch-cheddar fries and drinking Diet Cokes. We suffer a similar problem as a denomination, saying that we are about disciple-making and world transforming, but spending exorbitant amounts of money, resources and leadership on getting more people to become regularly attending, money-giving United Methodists. Oh, no, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but considering how few existing UMs fit the Christian-disciple-transforming-the-world definition, it’s more than a little suspicious that we’ll do any better with new comers. A quick scan and survey of popular UM literature of the past few decades indicates pretty strongly that our greatest concerns are not global social ills or spiritual decay, but our own numeric decline and loss of “market” share. In just the past couple years we have diverted millions of dollars from missional and salary support for our national agencies to advertising campaigns and new church starts. Doom and gloomers predict our imminent demise, and many of our prominent leaders speak more of gaining new members than of saving more souls. Evangelism often has less to do about the gospel of Jesus Christ than it does about attending church. In a conversation I had the other day with one of our UM leaders, I lamented the focus on numbers and growth and he said to me, “Our top priority must be to give ourselves a tomorrow. There is nothing more pressing than our own survival.”
Ecumental Disorders October 24, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Evangelism.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Evangelism, Faith Sharing
Some of the most fulfilling ministry I’ve been a part of in my thirty+ years has been either ecumenical or inter-faith. Beginning in my own “dark ages” as program director for the religious council at Ball State University, those projects and missional programs drawing from a broad diversity of faith traditions and backgrounds were without doubt the most fun and inspirational. I was ecumenically involved in my pastoral ministry and have been as globally ecumenical as possible through my work with the general church. I still am a vocal advocate for ecumenical involvement, but am surprised by the strong resistance I receive to the idea. Interestingly, the main objections I hear to ecumenical and inter-faith cooperation track very closely with five “popular” mental disorders. Here they are, with their UM parallels described:
Punishing Success October 23, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, Core Values, Evaluation and Assessment.
Tags: Church Leadership, Values
A series of recent events have conspired to make me get back in touch with some of the churches I interviewed and studied during my Vital Signs research. Out of fifteen vital congregations, the good news is that eleven of them are still going as strong as ever. The bad news is that four are not — and all four are struggling at this point, not because things have gone wrong, but because the success of the congregation resulted in a pastoral change that altered the vital dynamics of the community of faith. This is further evidence of the need to “pastor-proof” our congregations (make sure the strength and success of the ministry is not dependent on any one person) and supports my deeply held conviction that, while a pastor may have virtually no power to make something positive happen, he or she has almost unlimited power to prevent good things from happening.
In one of the churches, an empowering and nurturing pastor was “rewarded” with a pastoral move to a larger, more prestigious appointment. The church left behind received a pastor with a strong vision for his own ministry, and a heavy-handed approach to casting the vision to the new congregation. As congregational leaders presented the vision and passion of their faith community, the new pastor patiently explained that he was not the former pastor and he had no interest in continuing his predecessor’s ministry. Over two dozen church leaders were replaced, and most of them left not only the congregation, but also The United Methodist Church. Worship attendance is down, participation of a large percentage of the membership is down, giving is down, and enthusiasm and spirit is at a ten-year low.
Prayer Stupid October 22, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking, spiritual practices.
Tags: prayer, spiritual practices
Growing up in the Midwest in the 1960s, we had a term for people too stupid to live — prayer stupid. The not-all-too-sensitive meaning was that prayer was all that was left for these folks — they had no other options. Their guardian angels were beaten, tattered, and torn — having worked overtime with these drive drunk, stick a fork in the light socket, cross the street without looking, play golf in a lightning storm clueless children of God. Three recent incidents resurrected the term “prayer stupid” in my vocabulary. Forgive me if I am off-base here.
That’s the Old Team Spirit October 21, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Spiritual Diversity.
Tags: Evangelism, Faith Sharing, Spiritual seekers
This past weekend I had the exceptional dining pleasure of chipped beef on toast (with eggs over easy) at the Dry Dock restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota. It followed morning worship (of God) then proceeded to the afternoon worship (of football) with the Vikings-Ravens game on one screen and the Packers-Lions’s game on another. I rooted with equal fervor for both the Packers and the Vikings and my waitress asked me, with hand on hip, ”What are you doing?” “Cheering for the Packers and the Vikings,” I proudly proclaimed. “You can’t do that!” she accused. Rolling her eyes, she said, “You can’t be both a Viking’s fan AND a Packers fan. You have to pick a side!” She marched back to the bar and I heard her tell the bartender, “he’s rooting for the Packers AND the Vikings,” with as much contempt as if I’d said I liked trampling baby bunnies. Being a fan — shorthand for being a fanatic — is serious business. We defend the home team as if it were the most important thing on earth. Every other team is “the enemy.” We want our team to not just beat opponents, but to annihilate them! When two teams are in the same division, like, say, the Vikings and the Packers, the animosity is greater as is the sense of who is good and who is not.
This same level of fanatical passion exists with some in the church. (It is well to remember that religious fanaticism is the root of the word “fan” to begin with.) I am constantly amazed by the passion with which Christians — some United Methodists among them — denounce and despise members of other faiths. I have long been a proponent of interfaith collaboration and understanding. I believe that Christ destroyed the dividing walls of hostility, and I am sadly distressed by Christians (including United Methodists) who devote much of their time and energy to rebuilding new dividing walls of hostility. Why do Christians want to undo what Christ did?
Catalytic Conversion October 18, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Spiritual Gifts.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Spiritual Gifts
I met a man years ago who possessed the true spiritual gift of evangelism. He shared faith in such an authentic and unguarded way that even atheists listened to him with respect. More than any words he said, any actions he took, he simply exuded an assurance and a non-anxious presence. People responded to him in exceptional ways. He wasn’t a biblical scholar, nor was he a studied theologian. He spoke openly from his heart. He shared his convictions and he offered others an invitation to meet his Savior. I have never known anyone else who introduced more people to Christ. He wasn’t overly persuasive, charismatic, or influential, but when he shared his faith it was as if there was a spiritual-chemical reaction. His spirit touched other spirits and lives were changed.
Spiritual gifts tend to work this way. They defy simple explanation. When used well and wisely, the results exceed any rational expectation. An acquaintance from Texas with the gift of giving has made and given away three fortunes, and he is just fifty. A woman in St. Louis with the gift of compassion rallied a community to feed over 500 people each week. A teenager in Colorado with the gift of leadership organized a recycling movement that employs dozens of low income residents. A gifted teacher is named by over fifty successful former students as both the source of their effectiveness as well as the source of their faith. One man with the gift of apostleship sold his business and his home and moved to China, where he serves as a Christian missionary. In so many cases, when people live from their spiritual gifts the result is transformation.
Sinking the Steward Ship October 16, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Money and the Church, spiritual practices, Stewardship.
Funny thing. Writing about stewardship all this week resulted in a 30% drop-off in my readership. I’ve gotten a handful of emails this week expressing sentiments like “I expect better from you,” and “you’re as bad as my local church,” and “why are you marching out this tired old song,” and “you’re selling out to the mainline.” First of all, I wonder if these people actually read more than the titles. The other emails I have received are telling me that I am full of fertilizer and that if any of the stuff I am writing is true other people would be saying it, too. The bottom line is that people struggle with stewardship. The wonderful term and concept of “stewardship” has been usurped, co opted, and compromised by the institutional church so that it makes almost everyone squirm. I wish the concept could be redeemed.
In my understanding discipleship and stewardship are two sides of one coin — the yin/yang of the authentic Christian life. Discipleship is based in learning, growing, developing, and following. It is a lifelong process of discovery and empowerment. Stewardship is based in doing, leading, teaching, working, improving, and testing. It is a lifelong journey of managing and employing all that God has placed in our care. There is a dynamic tension between the two that propels a Christian to ever higher expressions of faith and ever deeper relationships within the body of Christ. It is about the whole person — including his wallet and her pocketbook — and all they are and can ever be. It is too bad we have so radically reduced both concepts. In research I did for the denomination, 71% of United Methodists define discipleship as “believing in Jesus as the Son of God,” and 84% define stewardship as “giving time, talent, and treasure to the church.”