A Church Shrouded in Mystery March 30, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church
We’ve got a problem. We don’t know who we are. We have become such an interesting hodge-podge of new and old Christians from such varied backgrounds as Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Reformed, New Age, Independent-Evangelical, Assemblies of God, UCC, UUC, MOUSE as well as UMC and all her predecessors, that what it means “to be United Methodist” isn’t clear to most United Methodists. In our individualized and consumeristic culture, most UM church-goers simply believe what they believe and call in United Methodist. Then, when the denomination or an annual conference leader does something they don’t like, they get all up in arms that we aren’t acting appropriately. Recent controversies over immigration, collective bargaining, and societal advocacy indicate that many United Methodists are completely ignorant of our Social Principles, Our Theological Task, Our Doctrinal Standards, and our rich evangelical heritage of social reform. These things define what it means to be United Methodist, but sadly most of our pastors and laity leaders don’t teach them anymore.
Dress for Success March 28, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Personal Reflection, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Values
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord - has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13, NRSV)
For a very short time I served as a chaplain to a fire company and EMT (Emergency Medical Technicians) squad. I didn’t do a whole lot, but whenever I went out on call I had to “gear up” the same as everyone else. The protective helmets, coats, gloves, boots each served a crucial purpose, and none were expendable — even though they were cumbersome and uncomfortable. I think of “suiting up” in such a fashion every time I read this short passage from Colossians. Having worked for over twenty years in conflicted congregational and conference settings, I know how important it is to go into such situations fully equipped. What I have come to believe is that this should be the “standard uniform” for all spiritual leaders, not just those facing conflict. Our churches need to be safe, healthy, affirming environments where people can learn and grow. If that is ever going to happen, it will be because the leadership is appropriately attired and accessorized.
What’s Wrong With Us? March 23, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Transformation and Change.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose
The answer to the question, “what’s wrong with us?” is that we are fixated on the question “what’s wrong with us?” Doom, gloom, decline, conflict, controversy, division, discord — all addressed with a cheery irrational rah-rah attitude. National events that bludgeon participants with “Death Tsunami’s” and calls to action that lament our imminent demise are not going to motivate us to true systemic change. Scare us? Depress us? Horrify and mortify us? Certainly, as does every other abdication of leadership. Were ministry primarily about problem-solving this might actually work, however, we are not merely managing a mess, but are charged with creating a future. Focusing on what we aren’t, what we lack, what we’ve lost, and all the ways we are not what we once were is no way to envision new possibilities and potential. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. What we were in 1968 is not going to help us figure out who God wants us to be in 2018. Our focus needs to be on who we are, what we have, and how we can most effectively live into the future. We need vision, not vapid angst.
Living a Compassionate Life March 21, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Devotional Reflection, Integrity, Lent.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Lent, Values, Vision
My Lenten reflections this year pull me to my core beliefs and values — why do I think, believe, and feel the way I do about God, my self and others? What is it that I truly believe is God’s will for my own life as well as this beast I call the Christian church? You know, little questions — simple questions — insignificant questions. Questions I should be asking all the time but find ways to avoid because they make my head hurt. I am forced to wrestle with what I most deeply and truly believe. It’s been an interesting Lent. I have been working long hours and pulled a muscle in my back, so I played hooky from church yesterday, but that doesn’t mean I escaped an hour or two with God. I took some time with a pad of paper to think about what scriptures and theological concepts most impact and shape my thinking and writing these days, and this is what I came up with.
Caught in the Cross-Fire March 18, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Mission of the Church.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Values
I find that I am tired of defending the position that Christians should be advocates for the weak, the poor, the oppressed, and the taken-advantage-of. For me, this is a no brainer. But I must confess that I err on the side of care for the underdog at the expense of those who have been given and enjoy much. I have a very skewed interpretation of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” and “Love the Lord your God with all your soul, your strength, your mind and your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.” I think this means we should sacrifice from what we have to care for those who have less or not at all. I don’t hear this conditional upon who deserves it, but just as a common principle. Many people have kindly attempted to show me how stupid and irrational this kind of thinking can be. And I have to admit they have a point. Mine is but one possible interpretation, and I cannot impose it on anyone else.
I will not support people who are doing nothing to help themselves. Taxes are Robin Hood robbery, taking from those who deserve to give to those who do not. I am dead set against taxing the wealthy to pay for the poor who are too lazy, too ignorant, and too selfish to care for themselves. Every person has the responsibility to make the most of their own life. You don’t let people off the hook by making life easy for some at the expense of others.
Fantasy Planning March 15, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Congregational Planning, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
Picture, if you will, a small, rural congregation. The average age in the church is early 60s. The weekly worship attendance is approximately 50, and there is one nine-year-old who comes about once every three weeks. She is the whole Sunday school. The community is a church-going community — about 60% Lutheran, 30% Roman Catholic, 10% “other.” For the past three decades young adults have migrated away from the area for college or work. Young families are rare, and most already hold a church affiliation with the Catholic church. This small church is holding a planning retreat. What do you think their number one goal is for the future? Developing a ministry to attract families with young children! This is NOT planning; this is fantasy.
Wanted: Young People (Some Restrictions Apply) March 11, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Seeker spirituality.
Tags: Christian Community, Evangelism, Spiritual seekers, Young Adults
Going through some files, I came upon a folder of interview notes from the UM Seeker Study I conducted almost a decade ago. There is a wondrous and troubling paradox in the old UMC these days when it comes to young people: we say we want to reach young people and bring them into the church. We say we need to listen to them to find out how to reach them. But when we hear what they say, we argue with them and criticize them for not accepting us just as we are. Which raises the question: do we really want to reach young people or do we only want to reach young people who are exactly like we are? And who, exactly, are these “young people” we are so keen on?
Last question first. When we look at young people, ages 18-34, we’re looking at three distributions: education, economics, and values. About 58% will finish college, about 21% will get some college, and about 21% will have no college. About 55% will make between $30,000 and $70,000, with about 15% making more and 30% making less. About 50% will hold moderate values spiritually and politically, 30% conservative, and 20% liberal/progressive. Young people who are less educated, conservative-to-moderate, and making less income are five times as likely to go to church as their counterparts. This group is most attracted to larger, newer, independent churches with the widest variety of programs and services. Across the board, young people are not joiners, and 18-34 year olds are unlikely to step into leadership positions in traditional structures — they are more interested in doing ministry than talking about doing ministry. Those with a higher education will hold the church to a different set of expectations. Of the 21% who do not go onto college, the basic expectations are: a simple story, clearly told, with very clear instructions on right and wrong, good and evil, salvation and sin. This group will not “over-think” the gospel story, nor will they be attracted to deep theological reflection or the complexity of reconciling belief with behavior. Of the 21% with some college, the expectations shift to include a deeper understanding of the Bible and the Christian story. The hunger for “answers” shifts to a deep desire for “meaning.” The moderately higher-educated will be less interested in knowing “the truth,” than understanding how to live a life pleasing to God. This group will wrestle more with inconsistencies and will seek ways to resolve the inner conflicts that their faith brings to bear on complex social issues. This will be a questioning group, unwilling to take most anything at face value. (In The United Methodist Church, we’re not really sure we want people who will come asking a lot of questions — especially when we don’t know the answers…)
Incarnational Anthem March 8, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Lent, Theological Reflection.
Happy Lent. An odd wish, a contradiction in terms, a not-so-subtle missing the point, but then we all know the story ends with bunnies and chickies and chocolate, so we shouldn’t get too excited. Our church is way too quick to get to Easter. Forty days in the wilderness, Maundy Thursday, “Good” Friday, and the black Saturday to follow — not so much fun, not so appealing. Yet, the journey of the Christ in human Jesus form is the backbone of the story. Sure, it leads to resurrection, but it begins in the incarnation of God in human form, and we don’t dare skip the messy part for the glory part.
I am an “incarnation” kind of guy, more than a “resurrection” type. Oh, don’t get me wrong — I LIKE the resurrection, but I see it as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. God was/is incarnate in Jesus, who was resurrected, that the Holy Spirit might infuse and inform the church to be the incarnate body of Christ for the world. Incarnation, for me, is the whole point. I love the implications of an ecclesial incarnation beyond the Christological incarnation — the human Jesus died that the risen Christ might live in and through the church. Cool.
Segregation of Church & State March 6, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Church Leadership, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Evangelism, The United Methodist Church, Values
It has been an interesting few weeks here in Wisconsin — making the national news almost daily due to our governor, Scott Walker, and his crusade to eliminate collective bargaining rights as a cost-cutting measure to help balance the budget. There is no doubt that it would produce a short-term savings, however, as I have written elsewhere, from a systems perspective this is a short-sighted, dangerous, and costly decision in the long-term. I know too many people in education, health care, law enforcement, fire and emergency services, as well as hundreds of blue-collar service providers (and am widely read in the history of labor negotiations and fair practices) to see this as a positive direction. Many of my clergy colleagues, laity partners in ministry, and personal friends have supported those most impacted by collective bargaining as a simple justice issue. Most of us are not concerned with the political machinations undergirding this debate, yet I am simply amazed by the number of church people who cry out, “the church shouldn’t get involved in politics! Separation of Church & State!!!” Respectfully, the only people who can seriously hold such a view a) don’t understand the concept of separation of church and state, b) haven’t read the Bible, and c) don’t understand what it means to be a United Methodist. Engaging in the political decision-making process of our nation is not merely an option for Christians, it is a fundamental tenet of our faith.
Guilty By Dissociation March 4, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Core Values, Integrity.
Tags: Communication, Reconciliation, Unity
A fascinating occurrence. I reported an incident that happened in another conference in an article entitled Guerilla Christianity, and I have had four separate responses from other United Methodist Churches believing that I was talking about them! Obviously, what happened in the incident reported struck a chord with these other situations, but in each case people wanted to explain how their context was unique and justified. I have no stake in arguing about who is right, wrong, justified or not, but isn’t it interesting how readily four churches identified themselves in the report of the fifth? I have tried to explain to each person writing to me that there are two possible responses: 1) relief to know that they are not unique, or 2) sadness to realize that they are not unique. The fact that uncivil and hurtful behavior is so common is a fact that should cause us to pause.