Observe, Listen & Reflect November 25, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Planning, Critical Thinking, Leadership, Strategic Planning.
In my experience, United Methodists tend to be problem solvers in search of the quick fix. All too often, we wait until a challenge reaches crisis proportions, then we seek a simple, easy solution. Frustration sets in and we begin looking around to see if someone else can solve our problem. We neglect the gifts, skills and knowledge resident in our own community, and we explore elsewhere. In the current environment, we herald “best practices” as the cure for all our ills. The fallacy in this logic is simple: imitation, while the sincerest form of flattery, almost never produces successful results. Industry leaders do not get where they are by copying others. Leaders do not lead by following. Preservation of the status quo never inspires innovation. It is overwhelming the number of stories of pioneer leaders who, while they had mentors and teachers, report that it would have been impossible for them to succeed by looking to someone else to provide them with the insight, direction, thinking, and vision they needed. Some of the most innovative and creative minds share that introspection, contemplation, reflection on values, ethical and moral meditation, and bridge-building (between people as well as between needs and opportunities) are key “intangibles” that cannot be formalized or delivered as simple prescriptions. The inherent wisdom of “to thine own self be true,” should not be discounted. One of my own favorite professors used to say, “Experts tell us that effective planning depends on action instead of reaction. I believe the most effective planning depends on inaction that produces traction.” What he meant by this is that being to quick to act (or react) is deadly. Taking time to truly understand current reality is critical.
Wisdom, For a Change November 15, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Planning, Leadership, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Vision
I received an email from a long-time colleague finding herself in an all-too-common situation: asked to “grow” a church where the leadership begged her to help bring them into the 21st century, she now finds that this same leadership effectively blocks each and every attempt she makes to lead. Her default setting is to think she is doing something wrong (hence, she writes “What am I doing wrong?”) when in fact she is experiencing that frustrating reality known as “normal.” She asked for my “wisdom” on leading change. After reflecting on it for the past week, here is what I came up with. I shared it with her, now I share it with you: Core Principles for Leading Change.
Note I say ‘principles” rather than “rules,” “laws,” “keys,” “models,” “steps,” or “guidelines.” This is intentional. We are a “magic-bullet” seeking church. We want a formula. We want a prescription. We want a “best practice” — even though we have been spoon-fed an unending supply of same for decades and it hasn’t done squat to move us forward. This is simply because copying what someone else has already done is a lousy definition of “leadership.” There are three key variables to every leadership situation that simply cannot be codified and controlled: context, chemistry and competency.
Han Church August 9, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, Leadership, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Faith Sharing, Vision
Okay, this is one of those cases where I probably should run what I am writing by my Korean-American bishop before I make a fool of myself – but, oh well, why start something new at this late date… I spent time this week at the North Central Jurisdiction Urban Ministries event in Milwaukee where the focus was on Asset Mapping. One fundamental tenet of asset mapping is that we should focus on the many blessings and gifts we DO have, instead of always lamenting and bemoaning that which we lack. All too often we are so focused on “need” that we fail to factor in “opportunity.” We see life as a problem to solve, a brokenness to fix, a burden to bear, or a threat to be escaped. Where is God in such a worldview? The doom-and-gloomers who regularly point out our dire situation don’t motivate us, they merely depress us. Panic and woe over the imminent “death tsunami” is purely manipulative and short-sighted — the truest lack of faith in evidence. Yet, we eat it up with both hands and a shovel. As I have said many times, the official United Methodist message is “we’re declining, we’re aging, we’re decaying, we’re dying, the ship is sinking… come join us!!!” And then we wonder why new generations don’t flock through our doors.
I sat listening to a number of people “yes, but…” the idea that we should focus on assets rather than needs, on blessings rather than burdens, and on opportunities rather than problems. One after another emphasized how serious and real the problems are and that if we don’t meet needs nothing else will matter. Actually, none of the leaders said that problems wouldn’t be fixed or needs met — the emphasis was on our energy and focus; our intentional decision NOT to be defined by our deficiencies, weaknesses and faults. But, I realized something. We LIKE our problems. Focusing on what we have lost, what we can’t achieve, what we don’t have, and where we can’t succeed takes all the responsibility and pressure off. The problem-solving mentality says, “well, we tried, but it didn’t work, so let’s call it a day.” We are justified in our depression and despair. We care deeply, but, hey, what can we do? The problems are just too big, and the needs are just too great.
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.
Lego Church April 22, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Church growth, Church Leadership
Forgive the annoying “back when I was a boy…” beginning to this reflection, but, back when I was a boy a Lego kit consisted of a box of white, black, yellow, blue and red bricks that came in eight different sizes. You could make anything your imagination could conceive of, as long as it had sharp, square corners. The directions consisted of three cartoons that showed how the round part on top of one brick stuck to the opening on the bottom of another brick. Simplicity itself. Just the other week, I came across Lego Architecture sets recommended for ages 16+ that are scale replicas of famous structures from around the world. Intricately colored and crafted, these sets allow for no improvisation — each piece is carefully crafted to fit its appropriate mates. This is the Lego equivalent of the old paint-by-number kits — deviate from the directions at your own peril! Creativity be damned — there is ONE RIGHT WAY to do it.
B Church March 24, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values
At a recent workshop, discussion shifted to the question, “So, just what IS the current reality of our local churches in United Methodism?” The following framework emerged from this discussion. In summary: The United Methodist Church is an amalgam of three key aspects that work well in combination but are disastrous when not well-integrated or aligned. The three key aspects are the “Big Bs” of Belief, Belonging and Behavior. The baseline we hope every person can achieve looks like this:
There is a mutual overlap that helps individuals connect through their core beliefs and values, rituals and practices, and relationships and fellowship. The areas of overlap constitute where most people define “church;” the place we go, the associations we form, and where we learn the basic tenets of the faith. However, this is a starting point, not the ultimate goal. We will look at the ultimate goal (as was discussed by the workshop participants) at the end, but first we want to explore the very real shadow sides present in our contemporary church.
Prayerheads March 21, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, prayer, spiritual practices.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, prayer, spiritual practices
I am deeply distressed by the state of prayer in The United Methodist Church – at least among pastors. As I am visiting with clergy leaders, I am asking about their personal devotional lives, and far and wide I am finding that many have no personal devotional life. I have been asking both laity and clergy leadership about prayer, and I get blank stares. In one visit a couple of years ago, I met with a leadership team from a small congregation with some dynamic growth potential. As we named our hopes and dreams for the future, the following desires emerged: we want to grow, we want to reach young people, we want to improve attendance, and we want to get more people involved in leadership. I pointedly asked, “Are you praying for these things?” The pastor asked, “What do you mean?” I said, “When you meet together – do you pray for these things, specifically and by name? Individually, as leaders in the congregation, do you pray for these things every day? Do you raise these things in worship and invite the congregation to pray for these things?” The pastor and key leadership confessed that, no, they were not praying for these things. The following week, I received an email from the pastor telling me how offensive and inappropriate he – and other leaders – felt my comments were. He felt that I created an awkward and insulting situation. I wrote back that I apologized for nothing – if the leaders are not grounded first and foremost in prayer then I doubted that any planning process would be very effective. I haven’t been invited back.
Why Answer the Call? March 8, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church
One of my favorite blogger-buds, John Meunier, raised a great question yesterday that I feel warrants a full response, so I am framing it as a post. Here is John’s question: Why should anyone seek ordination in the UMC given the realities you see? Should those interested in discipleship find it elsewhere?
Why would a young leader have interest in entering the current United Methodist Church system? What are we inviting them to do and be vocationally? What promises are we willing to make from the institutional side of the covenant? In many ways, we are making the “career” of ordained pastor less and less appealing all the time – high indebtedness from seminary at the lead end, less pension benefit at the tail end, reduced insurance coverage provided along the way, and reduced job security as a bonus. Now, more than ever, a person enters ordained ministry from a deep sense of call and a faithful response to God’s will. Anything less is unlikely to sustain a candidate through the arduous process of giving more and more to receive less and less. Top that off with a denominational message of decline, decay, imminent demise, a “death tsunami,” criticism of cultural irrelevancy, and a death grip of “good ol’ white boys” to control what power remains (as more and more power, energy and Spirit shifts to the southern hemisphere), and the draw is anything but attractive. This is all nested in the global paradigm shift from institutional preservation to spiritual enlightenment and empowerment for transformation – where United Methodism at the center is desperately clinging to the preservation model, while UMs at the fringe are seeking true enlightenment and transformation (currently beyond the capacity of the institution as it attempts to live firmly in the past). Our lame marketing ploy to “Rethink” rings with an hypocrisy that further damages our credibility with a large segment of our culture. So, given all of this, why would anyone want to become a United Methodist clergy leader (or laity leader, for that matter)?
I can only offer a few personal thoughts on this question – and they relate to the many inquiries I receive asking why I stay a pastoral leader in the UMC.
The Hegemony of How February 6, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Critical Thinking, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
Responses to Polymorphous Pedagogic Perversity provide a fascinating illustration of the difficulties we face employing adaptive leadership process. Adaptive leadership, by definition, recognizes that our penchant for problem-solving pushes us to seek answers before we truly understand the complexity of the challenge before us. In other words, when faced with a complex situation, we race to ask “how” — how do we do it, how do we fix it, how do we change it. Adaptive leadership moves us into the muck and mire of messy reality and challenges us to observe, reflect, assess, explore and ponder before we try to figure out the simplest response or solution. So, I lay out what I believe to be the basis of an adaptive challenge for the church, and the immediate response of some was — “how do we do this?”
Polymorphous Pedagogic Perversity February 4, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
“Polymorphous” — having, assuming or passing through many and varied forms or shapes
“Pedagogic” — pertaining to teaching, instruction or instructional method
“Perversity” — willful contrariness; turning from the acceptable standard or expectation
Okay, now that definitions are out of the way, let’s jump in. In what ways is the title of this piece an apt description of the current state of The United Methodist Church? In one respect, this is just a fancy way of saying we are all over the map — on just about everything. I another respect, it describes our inability to say who we are and what are our defining and guiding values. Also, it describes our penchant for focusing on division over unity, squabbles over harmony, petty differences over substantive similarities, and peevishness over civility and respect. It explains why in a reality of enormous gifts, talents, knowledge, skills, passions, competencies, resources, assets, opportunities and faith our key leadership (and the counselors, consultants, and hired “experts” who whisper in their ears) chooses instead to focus on loss, death, decay, liabilities, weaknesses, looming catastrophe and death tsunami (have you noticed how offensive and repulsive I find “death tsunami” to be? Gotta love the lack of faith in people who push that one!) We are a church of mixed messages, inexact meanings, misguided metaphors, and miasmic muzzie-headedness. No wonder we find it hard to attract new people…
When we were challenged at the Quadrennial Training in Nashville to identify an adaptive challenge for our conference, I found myself in a distinct minority. As conference after conference talked about lack of resources, inability to draw young people, poor leadership, imminent death and defeat, and loss of connectional commitment, I raised up “need for theological engagement and directed conversation on the authority of scripture.” No one from Wisconsin Conference was a bit surprised this came from me — they’re used to it by now — but leaders from other conferences reacted with a glazed deer-in-the-headlights look. One said, “what good could that possibly do,” while another commented, “we don’t have time to waste on something like that.” A bishop pushed back that “we wouldn’t come to an easy answer” (the definition of an adaptive challenge, by the way…), and a former-colleague from Nashville explained, “those of us who respect the authority of scripture are at the mercy of those people (italics mine) who make a mockery of it (blaming people rather than the system — another clear sign that this indeed is an adaptive challenge).