Prayer Worriers October 10, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian Education, Core Values, prayer, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian discipleship, prayer, spiritual practices
I haven’t been able to blog for a couple of weeks due to an unusually heavy work/travel load, and an unusually large response to a recent post. Every once in a while I will write something that I believe is a “no-brainer” — it’s not overly profound or insightful, but it catches people’s attention and imagination and it snowballs. Such is the situation with prayer. I made the simple observation — that I have made a number of times before — that United Methodists, by and large, have very shallow and perfunctory prayer lives, and the main reason for this is that they aren’t being taught to pray. The response has been an avalanche (by my standards) of emails, letters, phone calls and personal conversations from people wanting to talk about prayer — mostly to agree with me, then share their own story.
From a young Seattle pastor:
I am in my seventh year of my first church (she isn’t UM) and I never thought about teaching prayer until I read your blog. I realized, ‘No one ever taught me to pray — not at home, not in church, not in college, not at seminary. It has always been assumed that since I am a Christian, I pray.’ I took your blog to my women’s study group and to my ecumenical clergy council and we started discussing it. Most of the pastors there said they can’t remember being taught to pray, except a few remember their mothers teaching them simple prayers and table graces as children. The priests were taught at Catholic school, but even they talk about learning much by rote. One Lutheran pastor also says he remembers the parts of the catechism on prayer, but nothing was ever really explained. My question is, how did we get here? Almost everyone agrees that prayer is very important — essential, in fact — but none of us are doing much about it. That’s going to change, however. Our ecumenical council is going to focus on prayer for 2011 and our shared programs for teaching and preaching will all focus on prayer all year. Thank you for planting the seeds!
Talk Is Cheap (Not Talking Is Costly) September 17, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Congregational Life, Core Values, Generosity & Giving, Money and the Church, Stewardship.
Tags: Christian Education, Giving & Generosity, Money and the Church, Stewardship
A pressing concern of many of our congregations is a lack of funds. I know you’re surprised, but money is a concern in many of our local churches. But, I’m going to let you in on a simple, yet very important secret. There is a simple, low-cost solution to most of our financial woes: we need to ask for more money from the people who have given their lives to Christ. The time has come to make sure people know that Christian discipleship impacts our entire life, including our wallet, pocketbook and checkbook. Myths about money and spirituality have been allowed to run wild, taking on the appearance of truth, but these myths are slowly (and not so slowly) killing many of our churches. Leadership requires that we sometimes challenge the conventional wisdom and speak the truth in love. Let’s destroy some myths, shall we?
Teach September 15, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Communication in the Church, Congregational Life, Evangelism, prayer, Stewardship, The Bible.
Tags: Christian Education, Communication, Evangelism, prayer, Stewardship
I may get blasted on this. That’s okay. I am sharing almost twenty years of similar responses here, and I think we — especially clergy — need to listen. Laity across the United Methodist Church are sending four messages loud and clear: prayer, stewardship, evangelism and Bible are NOT being taught in our churches. We are assuming that people know these things. Yet, it is clear that our church is in danger of extinction because these four things (at the very least) are not being taught. In our fever to grow, get new people, build more buildings, pay our bills, and keep up with the newest 7 Steps, 12 Keys, 40 Days programs we have drifted from the basics. We have cultivated a Christian culture of biblically illiterate, nominally connected, scarcity-minded, non-evangelicals.
In Wisconsin I have continued to ask the same questions I did across the denomination for the 14+ years I worked for the General Board of Discipleship. Essentially, I ask lay people how well equipped they are to grow in their spirituality and their discipleship. The vast majority do not remember the last time anyone taught about prayer in the church. Most cannot remember the last time anyone encouraged them to pray. Many are aware that there is a “prayer circle” or “prayer chain” in their church, but they don’t know how it works. Four-out-of-five United Methodists can’t tell you the difference between intercessory prayer, confession, petition, and they don’t know what a doxology or benediction are. Small matter? Maybe, but they are indicators of the more fundamental issue. United Methodists don’t pray much at all. Over 50% don’t think prayer is very important to their faith, and as indicated in an earlier post, many simply are “too busy” to pray on a regular basis. Almost 40% admit that they really “don’t know how to pray” or don’t know “if I do it right.”
When Teaching Became Task October 27, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian Education, spiritual practices
I attended a session a few year’s ago at a Christian Educator’s Fellowship meeting where the leader talked about the importance of “good content, good topics, and good technique.” She delivered a very compelling vision of the task of teaching — organized, exacting, and precise. I went to another workshop on brain research, multiple intelligences, and learning styles. At the time I was reading a book (whose title I cannot recall) on adult learning that was talking about the importance of retention — effective teachers are those who help students retain the greatest amount of information. These things are true — to a point. My own research — and a boatload of research by others in academia — indicates that there is one factor that trumps all others in the realm of effective learning, and that factor is relationships. When pupils and teachers care most deeply about one another (in healthy, productive ways), learning is most effective. Doesn’t matter about the subject, the level of difficulty, or even the individual’s tastes and preferences — unless there is some pathological learning disorder – those who care most learn most.
Listening to Teach, Speaking to Learn September 14, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Church Leadership, Congregational Life.
Tags: Christian Education, Church Leadership
Deeply etched in an archway in Myrtos-Pyrgos is the Minoan phrase, “Listen to teach, speak to learn.” This counterintuitive instruction echoes through the ages to challenge practices in contemporary Christian education and faith formation. In a culture where speech is valued over listening and where teachers are more highly revered than students, it is easy to dismiss such a phrase as quaint or clever. However, there is deep wisdom worth reflection in this simple aphorism.
Listening to Teach
The first part of the phrase does not merely mean that before we teach we must listen, but that listening is a way of teaching. The Socratic Method begins by asking questions rather than giving answers. A fundamental tenet of Socrates’ method was the belief that people already possess the answers to the most profound questions in life. In the silence, in the struggle, in the quest — therein lies the answer.
30 Minute Expertise (Event-gelism) August 4, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Church Leadership, Critical Thinking, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Christian Education, Leadership Development
How long does radical transformation take? What is a reasonable time frame for the development, first of competency, then of mastery? Put another way, how long would it take you to become Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods? Think you could reach mastery by attending a weekend retreat or a one day workshop? Of course not! What a stupid idea. Deep, lasting change comes at a cost. Mastery requires sacrificial commitments of time, energy, money, concentration, study, practice, and willpower. But we’re Americans. We want it now. We want to pick up a guitar and play like Clapton, pick up a tennis racket and play like either Williams’ sister, pick up a cookbook and make Rachel Ray look like a piker, attend a church leadership seminar and lead like Jesus. We don’t want it to be hard or demanding — we want to learn in 30 minutes the 7 Steps, 12 Keys, or 40 Days to create the kingdom of God come upon the earth.
Shortcut spirituality is no spirituality at all. I once saw an add in a “Christian” publications for something called PowerPrayer, a method of prayer for busy people that encouraged 30 second prayer first thing in the morning, at noon, and at bedtime. What a fantastic spiritual discipline for busy people — a minute and a half a day to stay connected with God! (Yes, I realize that’s a minute and a half more than many Christians give…). That brings to mind a program that encouraged “mini-fasting” from 12-5, both a.m. and p.m. The premise was to go without food from noon to five and midnight to five, and to consider this the spiritual discipline of fasting. Lunch at 11:30? Dinner at 5:30? Breakfast at 6:00? Snacks at 10 a.m. & 8:00 p.m.? No problem, because you are fasting 10 hours every day! Spiritual discipline-lite — discipline without any discipline; spirituality that doesn’t touch the spirit. We are a weird people.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Biblical interpretation, Christian Education
Q: What is the number one complaint of seminary students when they serve in the local church? A: What they learn in class they can’t teach in the local church. It seems that the quest for knowledge ends for many at the church door. A significant number of American Christians do not want to base what they believe on the best scholarship in biblical studies and theology. They don’t even like “theology lite” as presented by such popular authors as Marcus Borg and Bart Ehrman. Heaven help us should we bring in any heavyweights. Many in our congregations would die of apoplexy. Why is this?
Partially we have created it for ourselves. Poor translations like the King James Version and imprecise paraphrases like The Living Bible and The Message fuel the “the Bible should mean anything I want it to” mentality of the modern spirit. Susan Jacoby (The Age of American Unreason) and Stephen Prothero (Biblical Literacy) describe the anti-intellectualism that poisoned the Protestant church in the 20th century. The desire to make the Bible accessible to the widest possible population, including the least educated, motivated a movement away from scholarly study. The “me and my buddy Jesus” mentality at the heart of the “do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior” movement resulted in a massive “proof-text” support system where the Bible was interpreted as if it had been written by modern middle-class minds for the U.S. pop-culture. What the Bible said, and what it originally meant no longer mattered. The only thing of value was “what does the Bible mean to me?“ Erroneously labeled “post-modern,” this view has a long historical precedent. It is a basic, somewhat lazy, subjectivity. We work for years to teach our children that they must learn to support their opinions and beliefs with evidence, information, and facts. This is known as education. But for some reason we don’t want to apply these standards to issues of faith. A few year’s ago, the “What Would Jesus Do?” phenomenon swept the country, but research overwhelmingly indicated that the question couldn’t be answered by most American Christians because they don’t bother reading the Bible. Not that this stopped any from voicing strong opinions anyway…
Information, Formation, Transformation May 14, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Critical Thinking, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Education, The United Methodist Church
My definition of Christian education is (and has been for over thirty years): Information needed for formation that leads to transformation. Christian education was a central focus of the research I did on congregational vitality (1999-2006) and I found quite a bit of evidence that confirmed the value of such a definition. All of our churches use a LOT of information. We teach Bible stories, we read Christian books, we plow through stacks of curriculum, but for about two-thirds of our churches, just getting through the information is the goal. There is great pride in completing a Disciple Bible Study, or graduating a class, or finishing up a six week discussion on The Purpose Driven Life, but when we asked teachers and congregational leaders, “…and what do people do with what they learned?”, the most common response was a blank stare. Many people didn’t understand the question. All too often, we define Christian education as the accumulation of information, or getting through the material.
Thinking, Learning, and the Future of Christian Education April 14, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Critical Thinking, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Christian Education
On one of my many forays to the Nashville Public Library, I witnessed a serious young man hunched at a computer screen surrounded on all sides by textbooks, journals, and reams of Xeroxed articles. What drew my attention was the slightly crazed, mad scientist look – wild, uncombed hair flying every direction; bloodshot zombie eyes with dark circles; chewed fingernails, each finger discolored by various pens and markers; leg nervously tapping, and a guttural, throaty mumble that accompanied each slight movement. Employing an uncanny sixth sense, the young man (let’s call him Kyle – he looked like he might be a Kyle in his saner moments) whirled around, looked me in the eye, and with a marked desperation asked,
“Well, what the hell do you want?” I apologized for bothering him, watching him teeter on the edge of his chair. He looked haunted and hunted and on the verge of tears. He said nothing to me, so I waited a beat, then instinctively asked, “Do you want to talk about something?” He looked up at me, and unable to speak, nodded his head.
We went to get some coffee, and Kyle told me his tale.
Stupid Christian Education March 22, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Congregational Life.
Tags: Christian Education, The United Methodist Church
I keep getting requests for copies of this article and permission to reprint it so I thought I would just re-post it here. I originally posted it last November.
What do you know about God? What have you learned about Jesus Christ in the past few weeks? How readily can you apply what you learn to your daily life? Recent research into the learning patterns of United Methodist adults indicate that these questions are irrelevant. Four-out-of-five UM adults (80.4%) report “little” or “no” interest in Sunday school, Bible study, or small group formation experiences. Two-out-of-five (39.1%) claim that believing that Jesus Christ is God’s true son is enough — since they have a guaranteed spot in heaven, there is nothing else of value to learn. An additional 48% believe that attending weekly worship is adequate, and that there is no need for any other formational experience in their lives.
“Boring” is the number one word or phrase associated with Sunday school (among all adults), and “fellowship with friends” is the number one reason adults attend Sunday school classes. Those adults who attend Bible studies find them “interesting” and “informative,” but only 1-in-6 (17%) report finding practical information that applies to their daily lives. We asked participants in the study to “grade” the United Methodist curriculum they use in Sunday school classes. The most frequent grade is “C-”. (Disciple Bible Study I & II, B+; other Disciple Studies, B.) Satisfaction with a class or study has more to do with liking the instructor or liking each other than it does liking the materials.