Losers Focus on… Losing February 28, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, Personal Reflection.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, Vision
Negative energy is seductive and strangely appealing. In The United Methodist Church we have established a history of focusing on our decline and failures. For the short-sighted and faithless, how many members we have lost is more important than how many members we have. For the fatalist and facile, what we don’t give is more important what we do give. For the fear-filled and flummoxed, apocalypse is more appealing than ascension. What we CAN be is less important than what WE USED TO be. Their remedy is to preach fire and brimstone — to harp on the statistics that prove our imminent demise. They believe focusing on the crisis will be motivational. Regardless of overwhelming proof that this is ineffective, and actually increases the harm, they continue to shriek that the sky is falling. They frame their cries as “being realistic” and “naming what is,” ignoring the fact that they are adopting a defeatist stance. Losers focus on losing; winners on winning. It isn’t rocket science.
Emerged February 24, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Core Values, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Church growth, hypocrisy, Religious Trends, Spiritual seekers
I love young adults. They slap me upside the head every time I meet with them. They are the supreme reality check. They burst my bubble every single time I talk to them. I NEED twenty-somethings to help me see what I am missing. Case in point. I met with a group of about forty clergy and young adults — most of the laity in their early- to mid-twenties, clergy in their late-twenties/early thirties. We were talking about the relevancy and significance of the church. Now, a decade ago, when I met with this age group, the hot topic at the time was “emerging church.” It was the rage. Bell, McLaren, McManus, Tony Jones, Warren books were spread all over everywhere, and just about everyone was signed up for an emerging something somewhere. Today, the emerging church was not even mentioned, so I thought I would ask about it. The response I got surprised me at first, but then simply assaulted my own tiny worldview. One of the group snorted derisively and said, “A bunch of 50-year-old white guys talking about postmodern Christianity and missional churches!” I was stunned. Whenever I talk to those 50+ white guys, we think we are so cutting edge and relevant. I have written before about the usurpation of the emerging vision by mainline and evangelical institutional churches — which indeed undermined the relevancy years ago — but I didn’t realize that it had so completely left the radar screen of younger leaders across the country.
False Profits February 22, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Integrity, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, Vision
from the Gospel According to Bob, Chapter 11, verses 15-31; Original Old Prophetic Scripture In English (Oopsie) Version
– (this is satire and parody; I am fully aware that these things AREN’T really in the Bible… but thanks to those who have expressed concern!)
And Jesus said, ’Beware of false prophets who come advising all sorts of worldly and simple solutions to complex and important problems.
He said this in response to the ancient prophecy, “And there will come a day when Towers Babel, Inc., will be hired by the high priests and Pharisees to tell unto God’s people what they ought to be doing, since God’s people will have forgotten and become verily confused. (which in itself was prophesied, ‘the people who walk in darkness will either turn to prayer and the light of discernment or they will stop and ask directions from strangers,’) And on that day, there shall be downsizing and branding and a hunger and thirst for best practices and dashboards,
But I say unto you, identity is not to be confused with image; meaning shall not be reduced to marketing; and the Spirit shall not be confused with structures. For it is written, ‘Those who cannot discern shall count heads, and those who have no witness shall advertise, and the first shall be lost as false prophets share vision that has little to do with God’s will.
The follower known as Robert, also called Bob, inquired, “Should we then form a task force to survey our target audiences, monitor our results on a dashboard, and dissect all the work that has thus far been done by outsiders to offer alternative proposals and petitions?”
Jesus responded, ‘I am THIS close to smiting you! The time for talk is through; we must be doers of the Word and not reduce the Word to ‘words’ in reports and recommendations to endlessly discuss and debate and destroy. Until we remember who we are and why God needs us here, there is little else to discuss. Before we make decisions about structure and processes, we must first recapture our identity and purpose!”
Then Bob asked, “So, is this then a ‘Calleth to Activity?’ O Lord?”
Don’t just sit there, do something. If I hear one more person defend our current denominational studies with the dismissive, “we gotta do something; something is better than nothing; we don’t have a choice,” argument, I am going to explode. I received an email this week from a pastor explaining to me that “the church IS a business, and we have been running it very poorly. Hiring the best secular consultants has been a brilliant idea, and we are finally going to start being competitive and profitable.”
Synecdoche February 15, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Congregational Life, Critical Thinking, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
It will take us a while to get somewhere better.
A focus on quality will take us somewhere different from a focus on quantity.
There are dozens of congregations in United Methodism who know this (though dozens out of tens of thousands is pretty depressing…)
What makes these congregations unique is that they operate from a few basic assumptions:
- things of lasting value are never cheap or easy to obtain/create
- God expects the best from us, not whatever we’re willing to give when convenient
- no one can improve without a signficant investment of time and effort
- spiritual formation is a lifelong pursuit of intentional learning and practice
In the past week I have been accused repeatedly of trying to make rare exceptions — highly committed Christian communities of faith — into a gold standard. I have been told that I cannot expect an “average” congregation to commit to the rigors and requirements of Christian discipleship. Additionally, it is unfair for me to make it sound like this is what Jesus expects of us by quoting selected scriptures. I have been told that I am naive, irrational and unreasonable, and that simply because a handful of churches are doing it doesn’t mean others should aspire to do so as well. Baloney (or bologna, if you prefer).
Diss-cipleship February 13, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian discipleship, church, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values
Then Jesus said, ’Think well and hard before you respond to the call to be my disciples, for many are called but few are truly prepared.’
Robert the follower, also called Bob, piped up, saying, ‘What’s that ‘disciple’ thing? Is that like believing you are God’s Son?’
‘It begins with belief,’ replied Jesus, ‘but it is much more than that…’
‘You mean we ought to listen to you and do what you tell us?’
‘Well, yeah, that’s also part of it, but…’
‘I know, I know, you want us to be sure to attend synagogue when the kids don’t have soccer or band on the Sabbath,’ continued Bob.
‘Uhm, well, actually I’d put the bar a bit higher…’ reflected Jesus.
‘Oh, sure, sure, we should also do like the poor widow and toss in a penny whenever the plate gets passed…’
‘No, Bob, I want much more than that…’ Jesus said.
‘Got it! You want us to volunteer to serve on committees and maybe even teach a class,’ Bob proudly concluded.
‘You’re missing the point completely, Bob. Unless you leave father and mother, sisters and brothers, spouses and children, and give up all your possessions, you can’t BE a disciple!’ said Jesus.
‘Whoa, whoa, that’s not gonna work! Who would want to do that?’ asked Bob.
‘The point isn’t about whether YOU want to or not. It is about what GOD might want!’
‘Yeah, well, there’s such a thing as going too far, is what I’m sayin’.’ commented Bob. ‘I am perfectly willing to be your disciple as long as it’s convenient and doesn’t cost me anything.’
‘Bob, unless you are willing to take up your cross daily and follow me, you cannot be my disciple,’ intoned Jesus.
‘Good luck with that. This disciple thing has to be attractive, you know? If you don’t work harder to make it sound fun, most people aren’t going to be interested. You need a logo and a catchy slogan. Maybe find a celebrity to endorse it…’
‘Bob, Bob you are distracted by many things. But there is only one truly important thing: put God first in all you do, and commit yourself to loving God and neighbor and self,’ instructed Jesus.
‘Okay, fine, I can do that. But lay off the leaving family and giving up my stuff. That’s probably not gonna happen.”
The Revised New Revised Standard Revised Version (RNRSRV)
Once again I received a barrage of emails and phone calls from kind people informing me that discipleship is an unreasonable and unattainable goal, the way I describe it in my posts. In a dozen different ways, people explain patiently to me that very few folks actually have any interest in discipleship and that if we insist that people take their faith so seriously, we will lose them in droves. Many tell me that the church is not set up to promote discipleship and that churches have never had true discipleship as a goal or objective. A few point out that discipleship as we talk about it today isn’t the same as discipleship in Jesus’ day. We need a more practical and achievable discipleship. The bottom line is, if you want to truly be a disciple, the last place on earth you will waste your time is in church. Most churches make discipleship a very low priority, and to try to say that our mission should be to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is to deny and insult the real reasons that people come to church. I hear all of this… and I continue to disagree.
Simple Isn’t Easy February 11, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
I received a number of responses and comments on my Simplicity Itself post. I think three in particular deserve specific response:
Dan. I hear you, and agree with many of your points, but I am curious to how you propose to live this out either in your ministry in the Wisconsin Annual Conference or in any proposals coming forward to the General Conference. Obviously, it is easy to point out problems, but it becomes much tougher to offer solutions. What are your solutions? (from John)
My suggestion ARE my solutions, but I acknowledge that this is fundamentally a systems problem. We have designed a church system around numbers, money, prestige and survival, so any suggestions that threaten such a status quo will be viewed as unreasonable or unfeasible. To hold people accountable to the standards of discipleship will drive the less committed away. Many of those will take their money with them. Fidelity to the gospel will result in fewer people rather than more; less money rather than an increase. To leave our buildings is to leave the monuments and edifices that we have built in our own honor. What a blow to our egos to do with smaller and less? That is not the American way. Too many pastors work too hard for too many years to consider serving a small church in a modest building. But our buildings keep us inside. Christ has left the building. So, the choice for us is do we hold onto our buildings or do we follow Christ? Most American adults don’t want to learn; they want their opinions affirmed. To grow, to change, to learn, to be transformed — these are not the values that drive our dominant culture. The values of comfort, security and the preservation of the familiar are our governing values — even in the church. Christ calls us to a learning culture, where we never arrive at the final destination, but are always in process, always becoming something better than what we have been in the past. There is simply no way to commit to comfort, security and the status quo and be a full member of the body of Christ. Our faith isn’t about US, but about God’s will.
Simplicity Itself February 8, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
Following the endless conversations about “what comes next?” in The United Methodist Church, it becomes more and more apparent that most of the suggestions, reports and recommendations made thus far are all designed for just one purpose: to avoid the hard work that actually must happen. In my humble opinion — one I have espoused now since 1986 — there are three things we MUST do to create a viable future:
- become Christian — actually embrace our spiritual disciplines, rituals and practices as the baseline standard for what it means to be United Methodist. You don’t care to pray? You’re too busy for weekly worship? You don’t give generously of time and money? All great… but you don’t get to be a Methodist.
- get out of our buildings — the ministry is in the world, not sitting on our butts in a sanctuary. Church suppers and craft fairs and bazaars are great fun — and we should enjoy the fellowship they bring — but they are not our ministry. More of our churches are known by the “witness” of their dinners, buildings, entertainment, and websites than by any work of compassion, mercy, justice, or spirituality.
- institute a learning culture with accountability — here’s a clever concept: let’s make “discipleship” our standard for inclusion rather than “membership!” The key to discipleship is a lifelong commitment to learning and improvement. As long as people are on the path of development — of their inward growth in relationship to God, Christ, and others, as well as their outward service to neighbor, community and world — the are “active” members of the community. The only real change we would make to membership would be the acknowledgement that there is NO SUCH THING as an inactive member.