The Truth Trap January 26, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking, Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Biblical interpretation, Theology
I was driving up to Appleton, Wisconsin the other day for a meeting and I tuned into a Christian radio station, where a very passionate young man was teaching a Bible study. His topic was “God’s Absolute Truth,” and he was making a case for there being one absolute, indisputable, eternal truth that comes from God. His points about truth: universal, never changes, not-debatable, not open to interpretation, discernible through prayer (not dependent on I.Q., age or experience). As I listened, questions mounted. Even if truth is absolute, is it not impacted by our cognitive development? Is “truth” the same for a five-year-old as it is for a twenty-five-year-old or a seventy-five-year-old? Does learning impact our understanding of truth? For example, does the knowledge of germs and bacteria change what we call “truth?” Doesn’t geography, culture, history, environment condition truth at all? “It snows in January,” is a “true” statement in Wisconsin, not so much in New South Wales.
The young man on the radio used scripture to “prove” his claims of truth — including the idea that women should keep silent in church and that it is “true” that women should not be ordained as pastors. (I Timothy 2:12) He explained that this historic, cultural and geographic context has nothing to do with the “truth” of this passage — it is universal, eternal, absolute, and anyone who does not abide by it does not abide in “the truth.” For me, this is a real slippery slope. I am not sure that there isn’t such a thing as absolute truth; I am positive that we, as human beings, lack the knowledge, wisdom, and insight to grasp what it might be (even with the aid of prayer).
The Driver’s Seat January 20, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Congregational Life.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Communication, Values
In college, I had three friends that I hung out with on a regular basis. Whenever we went anywhere, there was a brief battle over who would drive and who would ride shotgun. I am a very basic, boring driver — taking the easiest route, staying within 7 miles per hour of the speed limit, and not taking any chances. Scott was a cruiser, driving around for the sake of driving around, and almost always guaranteeing we would be late no matter where we went. Steve was cocky — a “real” driver (in his estimation), commanding the road, and viewing driving as a competitive event. George was simply a bad driver, clueless, luckless, and a danger to every person on the road. We often let George ride shotgun just so he wouldn’t get behind the wheel. The problem was, each of us thought that we were “good” drivers — that the way we drove was the “right” or “best” way. It made us extremely critical of each other when we went anywhere. In retrospect, it makes me wonder why we went so many places together.
Our problem was confusing style with integrity and opinion with truth. Fact: we always got where we were going. Fact: we never had an accident. Fact: none of us ever got pulled over or given a ticket. Fact: none of us were truly reckless. Yet, we constantly argued about who was the best driver. This memory comes to mind almost every time I work with churches around conflict situations. In at least 80% of the cases, there is no clear right or wrong, no one who is clearly grounded in truth while all others reside in a sticky miasma of delusion. So much of our distress and difficulty in our local churches is nothing more than a clash of opinions or preferences parading themselves around as God-given-truth. We lose all sense of perspective as we fight for what we want — our sense of personal entitlement trumping any and all other considerations.
Perfect Church 2011 January 18, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose
Recently, there was an interesting discussion being held by some clergy leaders in the Wisconsin Annual Conference about the “ideal congregation.” This brings to mind old conversations we used to have in New Jersey about “the perfect church.” In both cases, most of the answers revolve around faithful commitment on the part of all people in the congregation to love God, love each other, and serve in the world in Jesus’ name (my own very brief summarization…). There is nothing deeply profound or surprising in the responses — but they do raise a question. If this isn’t what’s happening in our churches, why not? This is the heart and soul of such recent books as “Simple Church” and the 101 other books just like it. Keep it simple. Get back to basics. Strip off all the extraneous layers of crust and crud we have heaped on the church to make it exciting and interesting and get back to what makes it real and meaningful. Help people love God, love each other, and get busy doing God’s will in the world.
Rocks, Hard Places, Irresistible Forces, Immovable Objects January 13, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Change, Church Leadership, Congregational Planning.
Tags: Church Leadership, Values
Within a twelve-hour period of time I had essentially the same conversation with three different pastors. The topic was leadership and the dilemma was unrealistic expectations. Here is the gist of each conversation:
My church people talk all the time about how they want to change and grow, then they reject or argue with every suggestion to do something new or different. Then, when I back off, they start asking me why we aren’t doing more to grow. It drives me crazy.
I find myself constantly between a rock and a hard place. We set Radical Hospitality as one of our major priorities and we are training people how to be more open and welcoming. We do a good job greeting people, but just let them try to get involved in making decisions or suggesting changes, then they are no longer welcome. Last year, at every meeting, we talked about how to get new people to come to our church. This year, at every meeting, someone asks what we’re going to do about all the new people who are trying to change everything.
My church has this really bad habit of unanimously approving new ideas then expecting the pastor to organize and implement them. There is no ownership. This is a pretty big church to expect the pastor to do everything. I have to be very careful about bringing in any new ideas because I know people will give me total verbal support, but once they approve it, it will be dumped on my plate.
All three is these examples are simply illustrations of normal passive-aggressive behavior in the face of change. Change shifts momentum, and the normal response to a shift of balance is to push back. All people seek equilibrium, and any occurrence that makes them feel the least bit uncomfortable, insecure, or disquieted is met with an equal, but opposite reaction. Too often, we dismiss such reactions as negativity and opposition. Most transformative change takes time. It requires some very intentional nurture and understanding to help people move forward. Ultimately, leading change is about recreating culture — about helping people unlearn old habits and let go of outdated or less helpful practices and beliefs.
Sleeping Dragon January 10, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Change, Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Congregational Planning, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership
I have worked with churches in a wide variety of settings and a wide range of relative states of health. From these experiences, a conceptual frame emerges that I have found helpful as a consultation tool, and as a way of understanding not only what is happening in a given congregation, but what steps might be taken to improve the situation. Here is a simple illustration of what I call the four environments that define a congregation:
These four environments exist in every congregation, each in dynamic tension with the others, however one always predominates. The predominant environment impacts and colors the other three, and in so doing comes to define the “personality” of the congregation. Let me offer a thumbnail description of each.
I’m Back! January 7, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Uncategorized.
Hi, Friends! I will begin posting anew from Epiphany forward, but I am just getting back on my feet from a severe bronchial infection that laid me flat for almost four weeks. I am digging my way out of a mountain of backlogged work and am slowly getting my energy and drive back, so thanks for your patience and support. New post will begin Monday, January 10, and I will try to get back to my two-to-three posts per week schedule. Just wanted to let you know that United Methodeviations hasn’t gone away!