Fear of Faith August 31, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Devotional Reflection, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Theology, Trust, Values
In my youth, I had a friend who was obsessed with the devil. A Christian, but obsessed with the devil. Satan haunted his every waking moment. He was constantly warning all of us of the power of the Deceiver — waiting around every corner to trick us, trap us, tempt us and undermine our faith. He harped on sin and sinful behavior and never let any opportunity pass by to tell us how tenuous our faith really was. I always found such a belief system tiresome, immature, and frankly lacking any real faith. I mean, come on, who is more powerful? God or Satan? I believe in God, and to the extent that there is an evil incarnation at work in the world, I simply don’t give him more power than I believe God has. I worship God. I place my faith in God. I do not live in fear of the Adversary.
It constantly surprises me when “Bible-believing Christians” go all hooky over the devil. The devil can have absolutely no power over us that we don’t give him/her/it. Not if we truly believe that God is God and that Jesus the Christ is God made flesh (and that we are still recipients of God’s grace and power through the Holy Spirit). Guess what? I don’t think reading a Harry Potter book is going to undermine the faith of real Christians, and I don’t think it has more power to influence non-Christians than anything else. I see more harm in one hour of American Idol than I do in the entire Harry Potter series. Talk about corrupted values!
Conditional Christianity August 30, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Religion in the U.S., Theological Reflection.
Tags: church, Theology
There is no greater power on earth than the love of God, evidenced in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. Of course, this gift is only given to Christians.
I heard a United Methodist pastor preach this recently, and I called him a few days later to ask if this is what he truly meant to say… if this is truly what he believes. He let me know, emphatically, that this is his understanding of the Christian faith. God’s love is available to all, but it’s up to us to accept or reject it, and there is a very narrow, very specific set of behaviors that prove whether you are a Christian or not. It doesn’t matter what we say — anyone can say they believe in God or Jesus — it only matters that we align our behaviors with a carefully selected list of “dos” and “don’ts” from the Bible.
I asked for a definition of “unconditional” and was told it is “a universal and all-inclusive love that knows no boundaries or limitations.”
I was cool with this, but pushed to then say, “doesn’t all-inclusive include everyone?”
Holy Warps August 26, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Core Values, Religion in the U.S., Vision.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
Okay, I understand disagreements over theology. I understand disagreements over fundamental beliefs — between different religions. I think most of the divisions and debates are pointless, but I understand them. What I don’t understand is the virulent and vehement disagreement over discipleship and church membership. What are our defining features? Jesus didn’t make discipleship easy. As described in the Christian scriptures, Jesus taught that the Christian life is one fraught with sacrifice, peril, discomfort, and the risk of death. He also indicated deep satisfaction, fulfillment, and a killer retirement plan, but there was nothing simple or easy about being Christian. Paul endorses these themes. Christianity as defined in scripture is a reorientation of one’s whole being. It impacts lifestyle, values, practices, and vocation. In short, Christians must work at being Christian, devoting some significant time to learning, practicing, serving, and sweating.
So why is there so much push back from pastors about holding people accountable to their vows? The vast majority of pastors I work with think it is grossly unfair, impractical, and unreasonable to expect people in this day and age to pray, to read and study the Bible, to attend worship regularly, to work for and through the ministries of the local church, etc. Oh, sure, it would be nice if people wanted to do these things, but really, we can’t expect them to. These same pastors lament the state of the church, but see no correlation to our constant low expectations and lack of accountability. They argue that if we make Christianity anything other than easy, people won’t want it and they’ll take their money and go home… or to a church that asks virtually nothing of them.
Holy Disorientation August 23, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S., Research, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Vision
The root of the word “orientation” comes from the idea of using the rising sun — the east — as a reference point to stay on course. We” orient,” then as the day passes into night, we become “dis-oriented,” until the sun reappears and we can “re-orient” ourselves. A sublime and simple process — that will preach, by the way (just don’t get too cute substituting Son for sun…). This comes to mind because I just unearthed a folder of congregational profiles that I was working on two summers ago, just before I was let go by the General Board of Discipleship. The study intended to determine where our United Methodist congregations are aligning their energy and resources. It wasn’t intended to judge or imply value, but to merely describe and better understand the orientation of our current reality.
The survey involved selecting one preference from 60 forced choice pairs. For example, “If you could only do one of the following in each pair, which would you choose? — A fellowship supper or a Bible study. Attend worship or go on a mission trip. Sharing my faith with a non-Christian or visiting a church member. Working at a soup kitchen or my church rummage sale. Attend worship or a Bible study. Visit a sick church member or visit inmates in prison.” Then a weighted average of the overall scores were plotted on a chart indicating four orientations: inward focus on our church, inward focus on relationship with God, outward focus on our church, and outward focus on relationship with God.
Missing the Forest For the Trees August 18, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Seeker spirituality.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Spiritual seekers, Theology
In response to my “Back to Basics” post, many people are asking (demanding?) whether or not theology is at the root of “seeker aversion” to organized religion. More conservative voices posit that our lack of Biblical integrity and adherence, our loose morals, and our “anything goes” liberalism may be what people are really rejecting, while left-leaning libs conjecture that the stuffy, stifling narrow-mindedness of the religious right is to blame. What I would lift up is that it is not a particular theological perspective or position that people are objecting to, but the constant theological bickering itself. People outside of organized religion seem much more tolerant of theological diversity than those inside our hallowed ranks.
Back to Basics August 17, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S., The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Spiritual seekers, Values
News flash! We’re making the gospel harder than it needs to be. I mean, how difficult is “good news?” What part of “God is love” is so confusing? What’s with our penchant to load up “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son” with rules, regulations, judgments, punitive indictments, condescension, pettiness, exclusion, insult and contempt — and label it “Christian piety?” Why do we seem more obsessed with sin than grace, condemnation than compassion, disdain than mercy, fear than faith, and being right than doing good? Why is it that fewer and fewer United Methodists pray regularly, read/study the Bible, fast, celebrate communion, and engage in adult spiritual formation?
We Are The Church… Together? August 12, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Congregational Life, Core Values, Mission of the Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Communication, Mission & Purpose
Yesterday, I posted a piece on the nature and purpose of the church, thinking it to be a fairly safe (but important) topic. I received this email today, and share it (eliminating names and any reference to the specific congregation, and framing it as dialog — with the author’s permission).
I am the chair of <our> church council and I saw your article and thought it would make an interesting devotion for our meeting last night. All I can say is that you need to be careful what you recommend. Our friendly discussion turned into an ugly argument, and our leaders are now angry with each other. This little exercise stirred up a hornet’s nest — one that may take us year’s to quiet down.
Things began friendly enough. I read a passage from Acts 2 then asked, “So, what is the church?” I got a flurry of quick answers: “The place we worship God.” “The people.” “My family.” “Where we learn to be Christian.” “We are the church.” ”We’re an organization that can’t pay its bills… which is why we are meeting and I think we need to get down to business.” Then, after a bit more of the same, <one man> said, “But these are all passive. What does the church do?” I used this to ask, “What is the church for?” Immediately, <one woman> said, “It feeds us and strengthens our spirit.”
“But for what purpose?” <the man> asked.
A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven August 11, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, Mission of the Church, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
Church. What a concept! There are two simple questions I believe every congregation should take some time to seriously consider: 1) what is “church,” and, 2) what is church “for”? We assume we know what church is, but much of what we think and believe is nothing more than validation of our own personal wants and desires — church is what we make it. And often what we make it is a mess. Blog-buddy Taylor Burton-Edwards and I go round and round over what the church is and has been versus what it could (and should?) be. At the heart of our discourse is the fundamental purpose question — why does the church exist? I am unabashedly on the side of “the church does not exist for its own benefit” camp. My vision of “church” is the body of Christ — individuals who are bonded together to be more than the sum of their parts and equipped, empowered, and employed in being Christ for the world. I realize that this is a minority view — I get hammered all the time for trying to make church “too hard.” But I am not trying to make it too hard. I am trying to make it authentic.
I have never said (though I have been accused) that everyone in the church has to BE Jesus — that we should hold everyone to an impossibly high standard of conduct, belief and practice. I do believe that in Christian community all people should strive for their fullest potential, and that the reason the church exists is to challenge, coach, and create authentic discipleship and stewardship. I believe that church is the proving ground for Christian discipleship — that it shouldn’t be “easy” or “comfortable.” We don’t go to the gym because it is easy or comfortable — we go to be conditioned, to sweat, to work hard to improve our physical fitness. This, for me, is what the church should be. Yes, certainly, it should be a place we can turn in time of need or anxiety, tragedy or despair. We should be able to be comforted as well as challenged, but there should be balance. Many people feel the church should do nothing but care for their needs and desires. Many feel the church should not have a social or political voice, that it should not be involved in human rights or justice issues, that it should mind its own business and simply care for the congregation. I can’t go there. The church is not a social service organization. It is a witness to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, mercy, justice and humility. There is no body of Christ that is not deeply and passionately involved in the critical issues of our time.
Blackest Night August 11, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Spiritual seekers, Values, Vision
Since I was eight years old, the Green Lantern has been my favorite comic book hero. Test-pilot Hal Jordan was a normal Joe, picked to be the Green Lantern of sector 2814 (space surrounding our solar system). He wasn’t super-powered, but was given a ring that could create anything the bearer imagined — the stronger the will, the more powerful the construct. Cool. Jordan was selected due to his courage, loyalty, perseverance, and confidence. The story of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern has been a fifty-year epic of one man battling his inner strengths and weaknesses, demons and angels to be a champion and hero. From time to time, evil rears its ugly head, takes control, but is ultimately defeated in the light of good and virtue. Throughout the series, biblical and theological themes recur.
Why the Church We Have Is Not the Church We Need August 6, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends.
Is the church relevant in the 21st century? Depends on what your definition of “church” is. Looking biblically/historically, there is still a desperate need for the ecclesia — the gathered body of Christ serving the world. Looking culturally, specifically in the United States, what we know as church bears little resemblance to the biblical/historical predecessors. This is one of the main points raised by the emerging church/ancient-future/missional church voices. Sadly, these movements have been usurped by organized religion and popular culture. The corrective vision from the fringe quickly becomes as fuzzy and unfocused as the view from the core.