Parallel Universes July 29, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Core Values, Integrity, Religion in the U.S., serving those in need.
Tags: Christian Community, Stewardship, Values
I sat listening to two older couples talking at my favorite coffee shop. I was working on a presentation for an Urban Ministry Strategy seminar I will be attending next week, and I have been immersed in the demographic and ethnographic realities of poor inner city life for a few weeks. Plowing through statistics on poverty, crime, domestic abuse, and violence among youth perhaps made me more sensitive to the musings of my older companions. One gentleman was talking about a bad investment he made that resulted in losses around $3,000. He lamented that it was “irritating, but just a drop in the bucket.” The woman from the other couple replied in consolation, “Well, we spent more than twice that on our recent vacation!” I sat wondering what percentage of our population would find the loss/spending of $3,000-$6,000 just a drop in their bucket? I have been reading case after case where a few hundred dollars is often all that divides the housed from the homeless, the fed from the starving, the doctored from those with no medical healthcare. I also wonder about all those who have $3,000 to lose with little more than a yawn, and how willing they are to share with those for whom $3,000 is a sizeable portion of their annual income?
Too Busy to Learn July 12, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian Education, Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Critical Thinking, spiritual practices.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Christian Community, Church Leadership, Spiritual seekers, Values
Yesterday, I had the great honor to launch a new learning academy in our annual conference — something we have been talking about for a long time, but for a variety of reasons couldn’t get launched earlier. We are attempting a conference-wide, ongoing Leadership Learning Academy for clergy and laity that focuses in four broad areas: spiritual leadership development, congregational vitality, relational excellence, and cultural competency. As a flagship training, we are looking at Small Groups for Transformation — training trainers to teach effective small group process. This isn’t a formulaic “seven easy steps to small group ministry,” but a college level deep dive into lifelong learning, developmental theory, group dynamics, facilitation, and communication. The first class was a blast for me — I had a great time. It is small — seven students on the first go-round — and I haven’t received feedback from everyone, but at least three of the participants thought it was great. Not just enjoyable/popular great, but beneficial/valuable great (which is always a concern of mine — sometimes confusing popularity for value…). But even more telling than those who said “yes” to participate are those who have been asked but had to say “no”.
The form of the “nos” come in three varieties:
- This is really great and I want to participate but I am simply too busy.
- I am glad we are getting serious about learning, but this topic has no interest for me.
- I have better things to do with my time.
Each of these answers trigger a response in me, and please hear that I am receiving all three as legitimate and acceptable answers, but they raise issues and thoughts in my head. I share the thoughts through a series of questions and comments.
The Joy of Learning June 13, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian Education.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Christian Education, Learning
One of the major changes made to the Wisconsin Annual Conference gathering each June is the addition of a learning day. It is ironic how much resistance I met when I first suggested the idea (“that’s not what people come to conference for,” “people won’t want to add an extra day to conference,” “nobody will be interested in workshops at annual conference,” etc.) considering how popular it has become in just 3 years. The first year we had about 125 show up, the second year we topped 300 and this year we had 600+. Originally, learning day was to be the first day of conference, but it got changed to the last day — a move that met with the universal opinion that no one would stay for it, thus it was doomed. Well, nanner, nanner, nah, nah — lots of people came and lots of people loved it. I am already getting calls asking what will be offered next year.
Wisconsin has a very odd and confusing view of learning. Our clergy vehemently fought to reduce required continuing education to next to nothing (1 Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credit a year = 10 total contact hours and can be achieved by reading one (1!) book of the individual’s own choosing…) and both clergy and laity attend workshops to collect certificates — but they don’t do anything with what they learn (I met a woman at our conference this year who proudly told me she completed her twelfth advanced lay speakers/servants course. When I asked how she was using what she learned, she looked at me like I was crazy and told me, “I’m not going to lead anything, I just love taking the classes!”)
Growth Imperative May 8, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Spiritual seekers, Values
The Christian faith is about growth and maturing. In recent posts, I’ve talked about “mature” faith, and the response has been interesting. Many frame the term “mature” as judgmental, exclusive, and unkind — when compared to “less mature” or “immature.” But developmental and qualitative growth — improvement, strengthening, seasoning, evolving — is best described in terms of maturing. Indeed, there is a value judgment in assessing one behavior as mature against another as immature. Yet, we are all aware of the differences between a mature and an immature response to disappointment, failure, pain, or loss. The more mature response is generally very clear. It doesn’t mean an immature response is bad, it is simply… less mature.
And spiritual maturity is essential for a healthy spiritual relationship — with God, in Christian community, and with those we seek to serve and love. I have yet to find a congregation torn apart by maturity. The most toxic and destructive behaviors come from the least mature spiritually. Where a process for maturing is not provided, the less mature rule. And when the less mature call all the shots, it is amazing how “the mature” often respond — more often than not, like the spiritually immature. It seems that immaturity exerts a greater influence on maturity than maturity exerts in reverse. But this actually make sense — there are way more less mature than mature.
Fruititude March 18, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Values, Vision
U.S. Christians are a lazy, passive, well-intentioned bunch. I am not talking about the 11% who are engaged in some form of regular hands-on ministry. I am speaking of the 89% who define “active” faith as attending church when convenient, showing up at an occasional potluck supper, buying the doo-dad-du jour from the youth group, or who toss a few bucks in the offering plate so that somebody else can do ministry for them. This is the group for whom faith is about “feelings” more than behaviors. 69% of active church-goers have never been on a mission trip or even a one day mission project — yet most are very proud of the mission work of their congregation. Living the faith by a few degrees of separation. I know, whenever I bring this up, people tell me I am being unrealistic to think that people’s actions will reflect their core values and beliefs. Actually, I DO think our actions belie our true beliefs and values — this is the problem.
People who read me regularly know that I am all about spiritual gifts and fruit — how God equips us and what we produce with what we have been given. I don’t believe that there actually is such a thing as a passive Christianity. Oh, I know there are passive people plopped proudly in our pews, and I think they like the idea of God and Jesus, but I also don’t believe they have the first clue what it means to be a Christian (let alone a disciple). Confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not the culmination of anything, merely the launch. And anyone who seeks a faith without hard work, commitment and sacrifice needs to look elsewhere. Christianity is, in essence, defined by five characteristics: 1) an intention to be in full relationship with God through Jesus Christ, 2) a devotion to deepen this relationship in learning, prayerful contemplation and corporate exploration, 3) the development of gifts, skills, knowledge, competency, and passion for serving God and neighbor, 4) the cultivation of synergistic community to seek, discern, understand, and carry out the will of God, and 5) regular employment to allow God to produce such fruit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, mercy, compassion, humility, grace and respect. There is no room for spectators — in this game, everyone is expected to play, no excuses, no exceptions.
Vital Is As Vital Does March 7, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Spiritual seekers, The United Methodist Church, Values
How are we defining “vital” in the UMC? Is vitality mere existence? Is a congregation with a lot of warm, passive bodies vital? Are people huddled inside their doors happily waiting to be friendly to unsuspecting visitors vital? Is a congregation that hosts a dozen small groups that do movie/football/bowling nights vital? Does a lively praise band make us vital? Do we become vital when we attract 5% more people? 10%? 20%? Is there are clear crossover point between vitality and non-vitality? Does age make a difference? Economics? Can we have a vital, financially poor church? Is it possible for a small congregation of 70-80-year-olds to be vital? Is vitality measured by the number of people who come to us or the number of people we equip to serve others? Can a church that eliminates inactive members and is 50% smaller today than it was five years ago be vital? Is a church of less-than-100 members vital? Does a church need a full-time, paid ordained pastor to be vital? What about a church that offers only one kind of worship? Do churches without youth and children qualify as vital?
Disciple Dissipation August 20, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Integrity, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian discipleship, hypocrisy, The United Methodist Church, Values
“Once we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we are forever after his disciples.”
“Discipleship is a gift, a privilege — it comes at no cost.”
“We (The United Methodist Church) have committed to get more disciples in worship each Sunday.”
“We will have 648,626 new disciples worshiping weekly; 794,074 new disciples professing their faith; disciples growing through 443,952 small groups; 806,770 disciples serving God through mission in their communities, in their regions and all around the world; disciples giving $3.6 billion to missional ministries for God’s mission in this world.”
What definition of “disciple” is being used here? It certainly isn’t a Christian disciple, and it obviously does not come from our gospels. Our church is faced with two basic options:
- to lift up a challenging and rigorous vision of discipleship grounded in our scriptures that requires discipline, sacrifice, commitment, lifestyle change, values-based prioritization, and behaviors that reflect those of the Christ — and invite people to engage their faith at an entirely new level, or;
- reduce discipleship to a sham, debasing the gospels and cheapening the example and teaching of Jesus the Christ so that discipleship is meaningless — something that anyone can claim with no investment or price
So, hmmm, which one are we choosing? Well, just reflect on the unanimous parade of bishops at this year’s General Conference who espoused only #2 to the apparent exclusion of #1. We clearly know where the bishops fall. What about our General Boards and Agencies? Well, it is split — most opt for #2, but a couple like Church and Society and Global Ministries are still promoting #1. Our preachers? Well, at least the larger church pastors are primarily in the #2 camp — though there are a few exceptions. Whenever I write articles promoting a “vital” discipleship many people respond by saying I am expecting too much, that we will lose members if we take discipleship too seriously, that people don’t come to United Methodist churches wanting to be changed in any significant way. That’s too bad. We chose our mission “to make disciples,” but when we realized that discipleship was hard and took work we huddled together and decided it was much easier to make discipleship easy and insipid. What once demanded we take up a cross — an instrument of our own potential destruction — in order to follow Christ has now been downgraded by a couple of our bishops to mean “attending church when it is convenient.” Jesus wept.
Childish Church July 8, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Critical Thinking, Evaluation and Assessment, The United Methodist Church, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, church, Church growth, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
This is a rant, so take it with a grain of whatever. I met with a young pastor and asked him how his ministry was going. He replied, “We have eight new members and our attendance is up from 35 to over 50 a week.” I said, “That’s not what I asked. I asked how your ministry is going.” He simply stared back at me with a blank, slighty dazed look on his face. After a moment, he said, “It’s good. We’re growing.” I shook my head. “No,” I said, “I mean, how is the whole “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world-thing” going?” “Great,” he said, “we have eight new members and our worship attendance is up.”
OMG – what is our church producing in lieu of leadership these days? And we have NO ONE to blame but the last generation of dupes who forgot what a church is and assimilated the low values of American culture — making some of them bishops, some General Secretaries, and most of them pastors of big, consumeristic congregations. Now we fixate on size (yes, mostly male pastors — go figure…) and have no language to describe effective ministry besides numbers. This makes sense in a Sesame Street society.
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.