Failure In An Instant June 30, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Church growth, Church Leadership, Congregational Life, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Values
At what point do we finally wake-up to the fact that there is no such thing as a lasting, transformative “quick-fix?” We have suffered through over 50 years of “church-in-box” programs that have produced poor results at best. Disciple Bible Study came closest to delivering transformation, but ultimately “popular” did not translate into “effective.” Literally thousands of people have had wonderful, meaningful, enjoyable Disciple experiences. However, a variety of independent follow-up evaluations indicate that there is a very low retention rate, that few people adopt sustained spiritual formation practices, and few report any transformed behavior in their daily lives. I will hear about the handful whose lives were completely changed, and I do not devalue any such experience — but unless Disciple has been an integrated component of a comprehensive developmental process of spiritual formation, it remains a pleasant experience for the vast majority. No, our Bible studies, evangelism programs, stewardship campaigns, membership drives, and 7 Habits, 10 Keys, 12 Steps, and 40 Days remedies have done little to make us a city on the hill or a light in the darkness. Where this occurs, there is hard work, commitment, vision and prayerful discernment shared by the many rather than the few.
A Moral Miasma June 24, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Critical Thinking, Fellowship, Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Faith Sharing, Philosophy & Religion
Disclaimer up front: don’t hold me to the veracity of the terms I am going to use. I am thinking out loud using terms and concepts I think I remember from a Philosophy lecture from my freshman year of college in 1976. I apologize in advance for everything I mis-remember… After two weeks of first, Annual Conference, then a church trial, where multiple arguments centered in “who is right and who is wrong,” I marvelled at the intensity of emotion connected with defending one’s position. Right and wrong, good and bad, winners and losers defines most of our disagreements. And in every case, participants reduce their argument to morality, as if morals are clear-cut. What comes to mind is what I (think I) heard in that lecture back in 1976. The essence of the lecture was this: most of our problems in our culture emerge from reductionism in pursuit of “one right way” that should apply universally to all. How we define how people should act is a “moral code.” But there is not just one moral code. Three equally valid, equally reasonable, equally viable moral codes exist: moral rationalism, moral sentimentalism and moral relativism — doing “right,” doing “good,” and doing “well.”
A Heart Strangely Harmed June 23, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, Integrity, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, church, The United Methodist Church, Values
Way back in the last century — 1988 to be exact — I prepared a sermon for the 250th anniversary of John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience. When I arrived on Sunday morning and looked at the bulletin, I realized that my title had a typo — instead of “Heart Strangely Warmed” the published title was “Heart Strangely Harmed.” It made such an impression at the time that I winged it and preached a sermon from the heart, asking people to consider the ways we use faith to do harm instead of good, and that as long as each individual does only what works for them, we will never actually be “the church” – that ultimately we can only be God’s people together. The concept of a heart strangely harmed stuck with me, and I experienced it once again all over again as I sat through the second day of the Amy De Long trial. I am not going to comment on the trial itself — that story belongs to others more and better able to tell it than I — but on the state of a church that cannot conceive of a better path toward wholeness than accommodating and assimilating a secular court of law.
When Fruit Goes Bad June 22, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Core Values, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Spiritual seekers
By our fruits we will be known. What’s that smell? Why all the flies? What a waste. The rotten fruit of the Spirit is this: conditional love, repressed joy, fake peace, pretended patience, niceness passing as kindness, generosity to those who “deserve” it, narrow-minded faith-fullness, passive-aggressive gentleness, and demanding others control themselves by our own rules. Something sweet and wonderful is reduced to so much garbage when we let it rot on the vine. We take that which God gives as goodness and we waste it — causing it to be so much less than it is intended to be. It all falls apart when we start deciding who is worthy — by our own narrow definitions.
Invitation to Prayer June 21, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Uncategorized.
A church trial begins today. Amy De Long, one of our pastors, performed a same-sex marriage and openly proclaimed her personal relationship with a female partner. She did so in the context of a church that has not accepted either condition as “appropriate” of a United Methodist clergy-person. And so we move forward with a church trial to decide her professional (but not her vocational) future. Amy has done what she believes in her heart and conscience is the right and just thing to do. Many agree with her; many do not. But setting aside the “issues” for a moment, a child of God, a sister-in-Christ, and a member of the family of humankind is going through a stressful and excruciating process of having not only her conduct, but her very personhood judged by the church she feels called to serve. I don’t care what an individual might feel about sexual orientation and the vagaries of human sexuality in general. I care little at the moment about the legalism of the Book of Discipline and a church that runs its most important business by parliamentary procedure law rather than Spirit-filled grace. What I care most about is that our Christian family is broken and that we are seeking ways to amputate limbs from our body. I am saddened that we cannot openly and honestly state our disagreement and discomfort, then commit to finding a way through, together. I have been praying regularly since last night and I will pray for grace, healing, harmony, kindness, mercy, justice, and generosity throughout the three days of trial. I invite any and all who love God and hold hope for our church to pray as well. This is not a time for posturing or debate; it is not a time to do further damage, but to ask that God’s grace might abound and be felt by all.
The Unforgiving June 20, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Core Values, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Christian Community, Mission & Purpose, Values
I am back from Annual Conference (and a few days off to recuperate…). My inbox is packed with mail from people who loved this year’s conference, hated this year’s conference, were proud of this year’s conference, were ashamed by this year’s conference, were excited by the delegation we elected to General and Jurisdictional conference, disappointed by the delegations — in other words, very normal, human reactions to a big business meeting that brings hundreds of people into close proximity in a strange and unfamiliar place. But there is a subtle undercurrent to the reactions to this year’s conference — almost everyone has something unpleasant to say about someone else. “Those people,” “that person,” “them,” pervades each missive. The implied message is that conference would have been so much better, except for “them” (whoever “them” might be…). Don’t get me wrong — we have some serious issues — differences of opinion, theology, moral compass, and personal desires — that divide us. What strikes me is that we are not making any kind of commitment to build bridges, heal hurts, and forge alliances that will move us forward. It doesn’t help that we have a church trial coming up this week to try one of our sisters-in-Christ for her sexual orientation and her officiating at a same-sex union. Hear this: I don’t CARE what views we hold on the issues of gays and lesbians in the church — what I believe is that God wants us to find a way to live the fruit of the Spirit IN SPITE of our personal differences. One may hold a negative view of same-sex partnerships and still offer love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to those same people. Not only can we not muster basic fruit, we can’t even offer a high fructose corn syrup (fake) alternative! For some reason, it is more important to argue and hate and score points off of others than to care for them.
Failing to Succeed = Succeeding to Fail June 9, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Planning, Critical Thinking, Integrity, Strategic Planning, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Church Leadership, Vision
Talk is cheap, and we talk – a lot! We think and plan and discuss and debate and envision and meet… to think and plan and discuss and debate and envision. We know there are problems, and we know there are solutions. We just can’t seem to figure out what solutions go with what problems. And so we meet some more. And when we can’t work out our own solutions to our problems, we pay big bucks to consultants to figure it all out for us. When they can’t figure it out, we pay them more money to meet with us… to think and plan and discuss and debate and envision. Is it any wonder we find ourselves essentially where we were 40+ years ago? Wilderness then, wilderness now — and we are asking the same questions and pointing to the same problems today that we were then. But simply staying in place is not a neutral state — failing to succeed = succeeding to fail. If we are not getting closer to the Promised Land, we are simply wandering in the wilderness, and over time “normal” gets worse. So, here are five observation-suggestions to move us toward something positive. These are as relevant to a local church or annual conference as they are to a denomination.
Pure Theology June 7, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Critical Thinking.
Tags: Biblical interpretation, Faith Sharing, Unity
I don’t interpret scripture; I just read it and do what it says.
Basically, this is a false statement intended to end discussion by claiming that the person speaking has a crystal clear understanding of what God intends based on his or her personal favorite translation of the Bible. No need to interpret — simple know. Yeah, nice try. The human brain doesn’t work that way. Any information received is immediately processed through multiple conscious and subconscious filters. We have no control over some of the interpretation in which we engage — it is simply an automatic response triggered by a wide range of factors. I was listening to a group of men discuss the discipline of children when I stopped for coffee this morning, and this was the nature of the exchange:
The Costs of Low Expectations June 3, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church growth, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Christian Community, Mission & Purpose, Spiritual seekers
While cleaning out some files the other day, I came across a folder of interviews I did in 2004 with 22 lifelong United Methodists who, in their 60s, 70s and 80s, made the decision to leave the denomination and join another church. These people did not make the choice based on relocation, change of beloved pastor to a not-so-beloved pastor, or due to a personal conflict or event. The four primary reasons given for their decision were these:
- no longer being fed spiritually
- no longer being challenged to grow or improve
- no experience of God’s presence or the power of the Holy Spirit
- a growing sense of irrelevancy or meaninglessness in the purpose of the church
These men (5) and women (17) were not nominal members, but were part of the leadership core of their congregations — Trustees, UMW officers, members of Staff Parish Relations, Church Council, teachers, lay speakers, etc. They were not defending personal agendas — I interviewed many people who were, and I culled their feedback from the pool. The 22 interviews I compiled represent a signficant and serious of sample of deeply engaged United Methodists who made a painful, costly, yet intentional decision to exit the church they loved.
Rather than summarize the interviews, I present five verbatim quotes from six different people, explaining their reasons for leaving. It might be easy to dismiss their opinions, yet I think they are worthy of reflection as we consider what kind of church we might be in the future.
Plugged In June 2, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, Integrity, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Values
Two of my colleagues have recently returned from renewal retreats, and it reminds me again how very critical spiritual self-care is for leaders, both clergy and lay. I conducted a variety of studies on clergy wellness, morale, self-care, renewal and spiritual practice when I worked for the General Board of Discipleship, and each study raised numerous flags. I often found clergy who were “too busy” to pray (other than professionally — in church, at meetings, before meals, etc.,), have a personal devotional life, read and study scripture reflectively, attend worship that they were not leading, take vacations, exercise, and on and on. Is it any wonder we suffer such high rates of burn-out, heart disease, stress, high blood pressure, and depression.
Early in my ministry, when I was a lay Director of Christian Education at a large church, I had a very simple, seemingly insignificant experience that stayed with me ever after and is a keen illustration for what I am talking about. The custodian at the church where I worked was a healthy-as-a-horse retired guy in his late seventies named Buck. Buck was strong, wiry, happy and extremely hard of hearing. While he worked, he had a Sony Walkman clamped to his belt with the volume turned to the max. You always knew where Buck was because of the tinny music leaking from his ear-phones. Along with Buck’s hearing deficiency was a tone-deafness that, unfortunately, did not prevent Buck from bursting out off-key and wailing along with his favorites, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. He wouldn’t sing more than a few words at a time, but he always sang him at the top of his lungs. Mercifully, he often ran an industrial powered vacuum, whose roar drowned out Buck and his tunes. Most morning’s when I was in my office, I would hear Buck set up, wail a couple lines, then the vacuum would come on and everything was swallowed up in the “white noise” of the motor. Except one morning I just kept hearing Buck — every few minutes he would bellow a phrase from a song, then quite, then repeat. I finally couldn’t stand it any longer so I went out to see what was up. Buck was blissfully pushing the vacuum back and forth, swaying to the music and singing. My eyes followed the cord of the vacuum back up the aisle, where the plug was lying on the floor under the outlet.