Contexistentialism February 26, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Core Values, Mission of the Church, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Vision
For a reader, a coffee shop is a frustrating tease. Whenever I think about taking a good book to the coffee shop, I envision sitting cozy in one of the comfy chairs with a good cup of coffee, losing myself in whatever I am reading — perhaps with some good music playing in the background. Ideal. But what generally happens (as it did today) is I find myself squeezed into a noisy, bustling chaos, with cold drafts blowing in each time someone opens the door, a general din of noise, and I end up next to a table of people who are talking to each other at the top of their voices. Usually a child has spilled something, two or three people are kindly sharing their end of a cell phone conversation with everyone, and at least one person will bump my arm while I am holding an open cup of coffee. Less than ideal. The IDEA of the coffee shop is sublime while the REALITY is often ridiculous.
Parallel, the church. There is nothing more sublime than the vision of a people, gathered and joined for the common purpose of worshiping God, learning the guiding principles of a shared faith, discerning and pursuing together a shared vision, and living transformed and transforming lives in the community and world. The assembly existentially rests on what is good, and beautiful, and true — aligning all effort and energy to becoming a keen reflection of the God we worship and follow. Ideal. Ah, but the ideal is rarely the reality. This is the other sublime aspect of true church — it isn’t for perfect people, but imperfect.
Changing the World February 23, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian service, Church Leadership, Evangelism, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values
The United Methodist Church is issuing a challenge: “Change the World.” Billed as a “worldwide event,” this April 24-25 threshold event will show where the values, heart and soul of the UMC really is. I am not talking about participation in this two-day event. I am talking about whether it will be the launch of a new direction (a transformation process) or simply a single-shot “feel-good” photo-op. The invitation to this event is “to bring the people of the church together to make a tangible difference in their communities and across the globe.” Man, if we can do that, it would be an incredible witness to the world. Of course, this cannot happen in two days. Real change takes time, effort, commitment, and resources. April 24 and 25 can be no more than a symbolic launch of a radical and fundamental long-term commitment on the part of the church. And that’s exciting! What if… we really mean it? What if… we really do it!
This Is Only a Test February 19, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Critical Thinking, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Biblical interpretation
Serendipitous synchronicity. When I keep hearing the same phrase or idea from a diverse variety of sources, I perk up. First, I was listening to some chucklehead talking about how the earthquake in Haiti was “God’s way of testing the people’s faith.” Somehow, dropping tons of cement and stone and brick on defenseless poor people seems like a bit of an extreme test to me. Why can’t God go for the multiple choice or true/false variety? Or, better yet, why does God have to test people at all? Where does the God of mercy, justice, love, grace, kindness, compassion, and healing come up with these tests? A little while later, I heard a commentator saying that President Obama has “failed each and every test” while in office. That seems a little extreme. He actually hasn’t had much time to study for any tests, considering the fact that he was immediately buried under the rubble of a crumbling economy and a country at war in two different areas of the globe. Oh, wait, maybe God is testing Obama… Two nights ago I heard a TV preacher say, “the devil has tested the moral fiber of America and America has failed.” Apparently, we are like Jesus in the wilderness — as far as being tempted goes — but surprisingly we don’t score as high on tests as Jesus does. But I thought that was the point. We never do as well as Jesus — that’s why we need Jesus. Yesterday I listened to a heavily made-up woman preacher who explained that God and the devil work together to test us. She explained that God sometimes causes war “to test men’s patriotism and resolve,” but that the devil enters in to cause “good boys to die, testing the faith of family and friends.” I can’t even begin to explain all the problems I have with this convoluted and creative theological perspective. Is our God actually so manipulative and devious?
Ashen Faith February 18, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Lent, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Ash Wednesday, Lent
Thus begins another Lenten journey — the grey days of late winter set a tone and a hue for the next 40 days. Each year this time I reflect on the themes and values that define for me the path from Ash Wednesday through Maundy Thursday to Good Friday and the glory of Easter. All too often we race to Easter and the resurrection — those joyous and triumphant remembrances — without fully engaging the powerful messages of love and sacrifice, suffering and humiliation, loss, grief, fear, frustration, and faith. This is such a rich time. The temptation in the wilderness, the unfolding of the spiritual and political challenges to the status quo, the reinterpretation and revisioning of Hebrew prophecy, the incredible witness to God’s redeeming love — the span of Jesus’ adult life covered in six weeks.
Many people use Lent as a time to give something up. I tend to look for a way to give something more — to spend more time in prayer or meditation or study or service. I want to get more focused, more connected, more engaged. My wife and I talked about fasting one day each week, and using the time for more intentional prayer and thanksgiving. Whenever I think about doing these things for Lent, I wonder “why don’t I do these things all the time?” My daily faith practice is, sadly, a pale, gray shadow of what it ought to be. I know this, and I know I should do something about it (and I do — for six weeks each spring…) but I lack the conviction to sustain it year round.
The Measure of a Church’s Soul February 16, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, Core Values, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, Church membership, Mission & Purpose
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” What a brilliant turn of phrase. Not where the heart is, the treasure will be, but what we count and pursue and value indicates what matters most to us. Genius. So, based on this premise from scripture, what does The United Methodist Church care most about? Well, what do we count and keep track of? We certainly spend a lot of time talking about “members” — they must be important. And attendance at worship. And dollars given weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, quadrennially. We talk a lot about launching new churches. So, if we look at what we treasure it is a straight line to what we value: MORE. We want more people, more money, and more property. This is what we value… at least on the quantitative side.
The Best Defense is a Good Pretense February 15, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Seeker spirituality, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: church, Faith Sharing, Spiritual seekers
I love to step on toes. I love to stir people up. I am especially fond of irritating people around the issue of reaching spiritual seekers who have rejected the church. We in the church are very quick to defend everything we do, and to deflect any criticism as “well, they don’t really understand us.” The sad fact is… they understand us better than we understand ourselves. The major problem is we simply don’t know what to do with groups and individuals who don’t fit our existing definitions. One example from this past week: I talked about two groups of people — one group of seven and another group of nine — who don’t belong to or attend any church, but they meet once or twice a week to pray, study the Bible, sing, eat, and to serve the needy in the area. Someone passed along to me these comments about my blog:
The first obvious question this comment begs is, “What does God want?” Surveys are taken, meetings are held, opinions are sought…..all about what these young adults want and little at all about what God desires! As just a quick shot across the bow, I do believe that God hopes for Christian “community”….small “c” or not!
The second area I believe that Dan may have missed has to do with what seems like a trend in this generation’s shortage of moral (religious) values. I’m speaking of the very sort of values that centers on “me” and “what’s in it for me” and less on what’s helpful to others. Of course, this is a circular problem, is it not? The very values required…..missing…..and basic to Christian faith remain out of their reach in the “church.”
The third point I think Dan misses ties the first two together. Where are the PARENTS of these pre-teen, teen and young adults? Are the parents in church, or do they spend their time at the country club…..or perhaps in a different coffee shop down the street. I understand that these youngsters tend to move in circles outside of the parental fold……but Christian values are generally more prominent in a young person’s life if they were raised in active church families.
It is stunning the assumptions and inferences this person (I have no idea who it is — the name wasn’t passed along with the comments…) makes about “young people”… but they are fantastic illustrations of the problem. To groups praying and studying scripture — something over 75% of our church members DO NOT do is viewed as selfish and self-serving. How is it that people who include God in their faith formation are less interested in God’s will than those who might sacrifice a Sunday every few months to attend a worship service? Two groups modeling authentic community are criticized because they don’t find that community in an organized church — one that is perceived as not wanting them there in the first place!
Dots Dying to Be Connected February 12, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Core Values, Evangelism, Seeker spirituality.
Tags: Church growth, Spiritual seekers
Recent conversations with pastoral leaders in my home Conference (Wisconsin) about young adult ministry share a common theme: there simply isn’t enough interest in the area. Apparently, young adults don’t want what the churches have to offer. Except, this morning when I stopped off for my morning Buzz at Beans ‘n Cream coffee shop, I noticed two small groups engaged in some deep Bible study. One table hosted two fifty-somethings and five college students, the second table squeezed together nine twenty- and thirty-somethings. I stopped and asked both groups what church they were from and got identical answers: we don’t go to church.
Now the default reaction for most mainline United Methodists is, why can’t we get these kids to come to church? They study the Bible — they’re obviously interested in the Christian faith. It seems like they are a prime target audience. They want to grow in their faith, we’re the church — BINGO! But therein lies the rub. Church and the Christian faith are not the same thing, and much of what those inside the church find so valuable, those outside do not. Much of what church members will tolerate, non-church members have no patience for. Attending worship — the meat-and-potatoes of modern United Methodism — is of secondary importance to those seeking spiritual formation in small groups. The sad fact is, we DON’T have what a large population is looking for. They want relationship with God, we offer them relationship with a church (small “c”).
Reality Check February 11, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Core Values, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian discipleship, church, Church Leadership, Church membership
The tragic results of this spirit (looking for quick and easy shortcuts in our faith) are all about us: shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit.
I keep reading articles and listening to denominational officials lament the fact that our church has changed so much in the past fifty years. They decry a constant erosion from the strong church of a couple generations ago with what we have today. The above quote sums up many of the criticisms — superficiality, fun-seeking, pop-star pastors, pastiche spiritualities, and the application of secular business models to the ministry of the church — and they would support the current nostalgic reverence for the past — had it not been written in 1948 by A. W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God. Yep, those who pine for the 1950s and 1940s might want to look a bit farther back — oh, way beyond the 1920s (that godless Jazz Age) and prior to the 1890s (“God is dead!”) and before the Civil War (“Avoid drunks, robbers, and preachers!”) and before the turn of the eighteenth century when ministers were depicted in popular plays as womanizers and fools. Arthur Dimmesdale and Elmer Gantry didn’t come from nowhere — they represent a long line of opinions about the priesthood. And complaints about the superficilaity of organized religion date back to two days after the launch of the first organized religion. Our future does not lie in our past. Sadly, we haven’t seemed to learn much from the past to help us create a different kind of future.
Forced Choice February 10, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Critical Thinking, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Christian Education
This past week I have been embroiled in discussion and debate about our openness to highly intelligent, well-educated people in our United Methodist Church. First, I have been surprised by the number of people from our churches who think poorly of smart people — assuming that they deserve anything that happens to them. Beyond this, however, many people want to resolve the issue by creating a false dichotomy. Here are seven quotes from emails and conversations I’ve had this week:
…but, which would you rather be? Smart or good?
How would you prefer to be remembered — as a saint or a theologian?
If I need to choose between facts and faith, I’m going to play it safe and go with faith.
Human knowledge will always be limited. Divine wisdom is superior to human knowledge in every way.
If I want to understand the mysteries of reality, religion will give me meaning while science will only provide information. Smart people can explain how things work, but they aren’t always as good at the why questions.
When I die I would rather look back at my life and know that I was a “good” person, not a genius.
The higher a person’s I.Q., the greater their scepticism, their disbelief, and their contempt for real faith.
Each of these comments appear based on certain assumptions. First, faith and intelligence seem incompatible in some people’s minds. There is a “forced choice, either/or” quality to most of these comments. Apparently, an individual may be intelligent or faithful, but not both at the same time…
A Return to the Dark Ages? February 9, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, U.S. Culture.
Super Bowl 44 — over. I am a huge Colts fan, but even I can’t be unhappy with the Saints victory. Who could begrudge New Orleans anything? I am delighted for every Saints fan everywhere. I wish I could feel as good about the Super Bowl ads, but I don’t. Oh, there were some funny bits and some classic moments, but as they unfolded I found myself appalled. An inordinate number of ads were incredibly sexist and even hostile to women (except for those by women who objectify and denigrate…). I found myself offended more often than entertained. The “men are pigs, women are ignorant” message wore thin fast. I felt a time warp — cast back fifty years to a time when men could be insensitive jerks and think it was cool. Have we decided that women are somehow okay targets again?