Guerrilla Christianity February 27, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Integrity, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Communication, hypocrisy, Values
“Why were we forced to speak nicely to one another? Why couldn’t we just be honest?” an agitated woman accosted me. “You have no right to censor us. You make rules that we can’t accuse or blame or address people directly. That’s not fair.” This woman was furious that I proposed ground rules for civil conversation before a listening session in a conflicted setting. One man referred to the rules to be respectful, kind, courteous, non-aggressive and non-abusive as “fascist.” When did civility become evil? If the setting had been a political arena or a reality TV show, I guess I could understand it better, but this was in a church. People were actually angry that they could not hurl insults and invectives at one another (in Christian love). Some folks wanted to say truly hateful, hurtful, malicious, and damaging things to each other, and they felt that there should be no boundaries whatsoever. In fact, some people refused to abide by the ground rules — even after they agreed to them. Such is the society in which we find ourselves — one that colors and conditions our Christian behavior rather than the other way around.
Principle-Free Living February 23, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Integrity, Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Faith Sharing, Values
Reading a recent post by sportswriter Rick Reilly (passed on to me by my son Josh) about a young female wrestler, Cassy Herkelman, from Iowa who lost focus and was defeated in the state finals because a young evangelical Christian, Joel Northrup, forfeited an earlier match to her due to his conviction that it isn’t right to wrestle females, I wondered if it would have made the news if religion hadn’t been cited as the reason. Reilly raises the point that a principle isn’t right just because it is religious, but acting on principles — regardless of the reason — is not necessarily a bad thing. Reilly disingenuously makes the point that if he felt religiously motivated to poke people with sticks (he obviously was brought up in an interesting faith…) that wouldn’t make it right. Silly argument. Holding a conviction — whether misguided or not — to not harm someone is not the same as deciding to hurt them. Reilly’s argument is based on a personal value judgment grounded in a cultural bias — if a woman chooses to compete with men, then men need to “grow up” and take them on. If a male refuses, he is not principled, he is sexist. If he doesn’t wish to fight a female on religious grounds, then he is ignorant. The choice NOT to fight is unacceptable. The poor young man who stood by his beliefs sacrificed his own chances at success — something Reilly dismisses as absurd. In a world defined by winners and losers, to choose to lose is the unkindest — and most irrational — cut of all. I understand that this standard makes Jesus Christ the biggest loser of all, and by extension, Christians who turn the other cheek, refuse to be baited into a fight, or lay down their sword are huge losers as well. To me this is a sad simplification and outrageous pandering. Christians have become — with both good reason and no reason at all — a prime target for contempt in our culture. Living a principled life is suspicious; living a Christian principled life is downright stupid.
Open Doors 101 – Part 2 February 22, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Evangelism, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church growth, church marketing, Evangelism, The United Methodist Church
Yesterday I began a reflection and critique on my most recent engagement with the ReThink Church campaign. Today I want to continue the reflection on some “meta-issues” that are related to, but not specifically about, ReThink Church. However, before I go any further I do want to say that I really appreciated the enthusiastic and collaborative leadership that Ken Sloane and Jennifer Rodia brought to the event. The powerful witness to shared leadership between male and female, clergy and laity, older and younger offered as much grace as anything they said, and I thought they worked together amazingly well. they are both very good at what they do.
In my opinion, ReThink Church reflects the current cultural confusion between marketing and communication. Marketing is all about message — creating a compelling message/identity/brand and transmitting it effectively. This is the remnant pitfall of late 20th century “3G” communication technology. When communication technology developed that allowed single point broadcasting to a wide multi-point audience (think radio, television, movies), the very definition of communication changed. With the advent of the “4G” — multi-point/multi-platform communication between points and platforms — communication is returning to a healthier place.
In classic communications theory, there are five aspects of effective communication — creation of a message, transmission of a message, reception of a message, interpretation of a message, response to/application of a message. Dialogue depends on a dynamic interaction of these aspects. The newly emerging “polylogue” (I love that term…) depends on the full engagement of all aspects as well. But the 3G culture of the 2oth century displaced communication with marketing — creating and transmitting messages, disregarding reception and interpretation, and evaluating response based on numbers — sales, attendance, customers, clients, etc. Without direct, clear qualitative feedback throughout the process, many decisions are made based on assumptions and probabilities rather than direct interaction.
Open Doors 101 February 20, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: church, Church growth, church marketing, The United Methodist Church
This weekend we hosted a ReThink Church training event in the Wisconsin Annual Conference. The turn-out and response was great, and it was an excellent reminder at how all-over-the-map we are as The United Methodist Church. Lots of information was shared, resources were lifted up, and the words “invitation,” “welcome/welcoming,” and “hospitality,” were used profusely. Yet, the real value for most people were the stories shared — what “other” churches are doing to “rethink” their current reality and do some new things. It was evident that people greatly appreciated what they heard.
Two things came to mind while I listened to the presentations: 1) it is almost a direct parallel of the Vision 2000 program from about 15 years ago, but with much newer technology and a lot more video. Vision 2000 training focused on invitational evangelism, taught churches to be more welcoming, shared stories of churches doing it well, and targeted young adults. Attending ReThink Church felt a lot like watching a remake of a classic movie that maintained the integrity of the original but with a bigger budget and much better production values. 2) the training is a live, interactive version of the old Idea Mart/”It Worked For Us” articles in the Interpreter magazine of the late 90s. People absolutely love hearing inspirational, creative, accessible stories about things they can adopt in their own congregation. And this is where the training excelled — offering a thousand and one tips on things any church can do.
Are You Serious? February 18, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Critical Thinking, Science and Theology.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Communication, Faith Sharing
I was talking with a small group of young adults about the potential of the church to transform the world. My argument was simple: if we would strive to find a meaningful way to engage 7 million plus United Methodists in the United States in some form of life-affirming missional service, we could impact the very roots of a wide variety of social ills. Snorting coffee, one young woman barked derisively, “Are you serious?” I confirmed that I was, and she replied, “The churches I have been to are some of the most inward-focused, uninvolved, cautious, conservative, and apathetic groups I have ever known. Sure, there are a few individuals in the churches who get their hands dirty, but very few.
This called to mind a story a colleague of mine shared not too long ago where she was teaching a class on resurrection and eternal life. A middle-aged woman in her group laughed out loud and asked, “You’re kidding, right? Do you expect us to believe such an outrageous fairy tale? We don’t live in the stone age. If this is the best you can do, you’ve lost me.” My pastor-friend was flummoxed and annoyed that she stuttered and stumbled around without a clear comeback.
A Friendly Game of Cards February 9, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection.
Humility, Judgment, Grace and Hope sat around a table playing poker. It was a high stakes game. Hope opened with a kind word, Humility self-deprecated (folded), Judgment raised both an eyebrow and an indelicate issue, and Grace called. Hope, as usual tried to draw to an inside straight, Humility buried a pair of twos, Judgment bluffed, and Grace produced a full house.
Judgment: You know, this is a stupid game. No one ever really wins. We just keep taking one another’s money.
Hope: Ah, but one of us might win big. You never can tell. We have to keep trying.
Judgment: Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.
Grace: This isn’t about winning or losing. This is about staying at the table — not giving up.
Humility: Yes, it’s about playing the game well.
Judgment: No, it’s about winning. There’s no reason to play if you don’t win.
O Death, Where Is Thy Sting February 8, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Myths, Spiritual seekers
The powers that be at Marvel Comics decided to kill the Human Torch; at least the most recent incarnation (the Human Torch originally appeared in the 1940s as an android, then was reintroduced as a cocky young kid in 1962 as on quarter of the Fantastic Four). At least, for the time being, he is dead, gone, and will be missed… until he returns. This is the mythic dynamic of the realm of superheroes — good always wins, even over death. Barry Allen died (the Flash) – he’s back. Superman died — not a problem, he returned better than ever. Batman/Bruce Wayne — R.I.P./R.F.B.T.D (Rest in Peace/Returned From Beyond the Grave). Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel — toss in minor characters “cleaned out” from time to time, then brought back and the message is clear. Death is a wimp that can’t keep track of his/her possessions. Our bright and shiny superheroes need have no fear of death (and don’t get me started on the villains — they come back almost as frequently — making most of what I am going to say here oddly contradictory…) because it doesn’t last. Time and slumping sales will conspire to bring resurrection.
Comic books — pardon me, graphic novels (and my favorite, illustration art narrative) — construct for themselves a mythos and a reality. Comic writers/artists assume godlike powers in creating and destroying at will, anything and everything in their path that might stimulate interest and boost sales. The death of Superman was significant in its time because it opened the flood gates — even the invincible icons were fair game. No one was safe from death, but that’s okay because in the realm of the superhero, death is no more bothersome than getting stuck in traffic at rush hour. Things will clear up soon and go back to “normal.” What a grace and comfort it must be to dwell in a realm that believes in eternal life, new beginnings, second chances, hope, trust, loyalty, team work, etc. Wow! Sounds like what the church is supposed to be like, doesn’t it?
Dia-Gnostics February 4, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Mission of the Church, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
¶252.7 Book of Discipline — The Church Council shall endlessly discuss the best course of action for the local congregation, finally approve it, and then present it to the whole church where it will inevitably be rejected after contentious debate.
No, don’t bother looking this up in the Discipline. It isn’t there. I made it up, based on lived reality rather than abstract intention. I cannot believe the number of times I see the leadership of the church abdicate its responsibility and authority to make decisions under the pretext of being nice and kind and inclusive. We keep looking to books, seminars, and studies to magically deliver us from our plight, and wonder why we never seem to get anywhere. In our misguided, but well-intentioned, efforts to keep everyone happy we undermine our structure and process by turning our representational hierarchies into democracies. We end up with anarchy that works to preserve the status quo. Jesus wept.
Why, in the church, do we get so upset when leaders lead instead of manage? Our resistance to change is so strong. We are a mass of paradox and irreconcilable contradictions: we want growth, but not change; we want new members but fear strangers; we want benefits without costs and gains without losses. We want shepherds that will protect us from the world rather than empower us to transform the world. We like what we like the way we like it — regardless of what God’s vision and will might be. This puts visionary and transformative leaders in a terrible position. They are elected to move us into the future, but they are criticized for doing anything that dishonors the past. They are charged with the task of creating a congregational environment that reaches out and receives new people, relates and connects people to God, strengthens and nurtures people in a dynamic spiritual growth, and equips and sends them into the world as witnesses to and members of the body of Christ. They are attacked for anything and everything that challenges people’s sense of comfort, security, and the familiar. Trouble is, we can’t have it both ways.
Hearing and Listening February 2, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication, hypocrisy, Values
I remember strolling down a church hallway toward the Sunday school rooms, when I heard a sweet, little piping voice singing. At first I couldn’t make out the words. All I knew was it was the voice of a 4 or 5 year-old girl, and the tune was “We Are the Church Together.” I finally arrived outside the door of the room where the little songbird was singing, “I am the jerk, you are the jerk, we are the jerks together — all who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the jerks together.” The words are funny enough, but it was the little girls sincerity that put it over the top. It brought to mind a little guy named Scottie in the first church I served who simply substitute words he knew for those he didn’t. He frequently sang such classics as “then sinks by bowl, my Savior got to me,” “amazing grapes, how sweet they sound and saved a wrench like me,” and “to a home of God’s cholesterol” (instead of God’s celestial shore). Ah, how easy it is to mishear and misunderstand (but, oh how difficult it is to admit our mistakes).