Muddled Maturity May 10, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, spiritual practices, Stewardship
Every once in a while I strike a chord — I have received emails daily about the past couple posts on “mature” Christian spirituality. It seems everyone wants to use their own personal spiritual level as the definition of maturity — which is very normal and human. If we could conceive of something better, we would be doing it. If we are doing something a particular way, it is because we believe it is the best way to do it. Every eight year-old in the world thinks he or she is doing eight exactly right. It isn’t until he or she turns nine that eight isn’t all that much. Every person is as mature as they can be in the moment — when we see more mature ways to engage, we grow into them. Maturity is a process, not a destination. The terms “less mature” and “more mature” are actually better than simply “mature” and “immature.” And maturity is not an “it” but a complex weaving of “its.” Let me explain:
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.
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.
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.
De-Loved Community November 7, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Spiritual Diversity, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Mission & Purpose, Values, Christian Community, Vision
We face a tragic reality in our United Methodist Church today — the inability to disagree in Christian compassion and fellowship. For the past few years I have been promoting a vision, albeit personal, for beloved community. This vision is fairly specific, and contains the following propositions:
Beloved Community is…
- a place where unconditional love prevails
- a place where all are welcome regardless of their purity, privilege, preferences, merit or deservedness
- a place characterized by the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
- a place where everyone is treated with dignity, justice, respect and mercy
- a place beyond judgment
- a place where we choose to set aside our differences and focus instead on those things we hold in common
- a place where “we pledge to continue to be in respectful conversation with those with whom we differ, to explore the sources of our differences, to honor the sacred worth of all persons as we continue to seek the mind of Christ and to do the will of God in all things.” (Preamble to our Social Principles, Book of Discipline 2008)
These are all variations on a theme; a way of saying essentially the same thing over and over. For me, it epitomizes the gospel message throughout the ages. Imagine my surprise as I continuously encounter Christian after Christian who find this vision offensive, demeaning, coercive, hostile and, need it be said, unChristian. I confess that I am a moderate theologically, a social progressive, and a relational liberal — I believe that all human beings are children of God, all are created in the image of God, and all have gifts and graces that no other human being should ever deny or withhold. I err to the side of inclusion, and would much rather be judged for being too accepting rather than too exclusive. But I realize that there are many who want our church to be “just exclusive enough,” and who draw very different boundaries around who qualifies as a child of God and who does not. I can live with such differences of opinion, interpretation, and worldview. I am saddened that there are others who cannot.
Hate Mail Disguised As Love Letters March 6, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Personal Reflection, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
I’ve kept a file since my first General Conference in 1988 of the letters, phone calls, conversations and emails detailing the “concerns” individuals and congregations raised in preparation of the quadrennial meeting. This file is a reminder of the diversity of opinion in our denomination, the level of fear and disrespect still rampant in our churches and conferences, the heartfelt passion people bring to various issues, and just how far we still are from the kingdom/kin-dom/realm of the Almighty. I will make this statement at the outset — knowing it will do little good — to frame my comments. I do not think we should frame our disagreements in battle terms: win/lose, right/wrong, us/them. We are human beings and we will have very strong opinions and beliefs which will be in conflict from time to time. This is healthy and good. It is when we resort to hateful rhetoric, angry contempt, petty bigotry and spiteful attack dressed up in self-righteousness and fake Christian piety that I feel we have a serious problem. Is the majority of it lodged in simple ignorance? Certainly, but it goes beyond that.
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).
Marketing the Messiah December 8, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Christmas, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose.
Tags: Christmas, church, spiritual practices, Values
From the Gospel According to Bob 1:26-2:12 (from the NKJV & The Message):
And on the night unto which the child was to be born, Joseph and his wife Mary sought shelter, but coming late without a reservation, Mary was vexed with Joseph, saying, “I told you so.” Joseph, aware that he was on thin ice, comforted Mary and assured her that he would find them a warm, safe, clean environment in which to deliver the one, true Son of God. He set off on his mission, returning sometime later with the good news (gospel) that, “two out of three ain’t bad…” Mary trusted Joseph, right up to the point where she realized that their was no room for them at the inn. She surveyed the stable that Joseph found, counting unto ten. Then Mary treasured all these things in her heart, being sure to remember them for a more opportune time. Secretly she hoped her child would be untidy so that through his life she might say to him, “What’s the matter with you? Were you born in a barn?”
When the time came for Mary to be delivered, she noted with agitation that Joseph seemed preoccupied. “It’s time,” said Mary. “Hmmm?” replied Joseph. “I’m ready to have the baby, here. What’s the matter with you?” Mary asked. “Oh, nothing. But I was just thinking — this has real possibilities. Son of God, humble beginnings, born in a stable, laid in a manger — it has a real appeal. In fact, I bet we could make tiny models of this and they would sell like crazy,” reflected Joseph.
The rest of the night was a blur. The tiny child was born, angels appeared, shepherds stopped by for a visit, but Joseph busied himself with sketches and copious notes. “All we need now are some magi and the scene will be complete!” crowed Joseph. “As soon as you’re up and around, we need to take a little trip. I know a guy in Egypt that can crank out these nativity sets as easy as you please.” “Joseph,” Mary observed, “I am not sure we should be exploiting this for profit. This is a most holy night, and I am not comfortable with the idea of commercializing it.” Joseph, chastened and repentant, answered Mary, “You’re right, as always my love. This is a holy event, one that should never be exploited for profit. Let this be a lesson to us all — the birth of the Son of God should be honored and not cheapened by commercialization!” (NKJV)
When Mary was about to have Jesus, she and Joseph realized they were homeless. He found a place and said, “I think I know how we can turn a profit on this.” Mary replied, “I can’t talk about this right now. I’m a little busy. And besides, I think it’s a stupid idea.” Joseph thought for a minute, then said, “No, you’re right.” (The Message)
Oh, what have we wrought? Was it ever in the mind of God that we would commemorate the birth of the Messiah as we do today? Inflatable, light-up cartoon nativity sets on our lawns? Angels dancing to “Jingle Bells” barked by dogs? The three Wise Men bearing gifts of pizza, nachos and a keg of bear? Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus made of sausage, meatloaf, gingerbread, or jello? Nativity scenes employing ducks, snowmen, Peanuts characters, Sesame Street characters, Lego, Star Wars, Pokemon… what splendid ways we have created to remember the birth of our Savior! The problem is, there’s big bucks to be made exploiting religion, and the church generally has no problem with selling out as long as it can turn a profit.
Christi-inanity October 5, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Integrity, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Christian Community, Church Leadership, Spiritual seekers, Values
Four recent conversations point out a serious (and growing) problem in many of our congregations: we don’t know what to do with smart people who ask tough questions. I have had (intentional) encounters with people in the state of Wisconsin who have visited United Methodist congregations and found them lacking. In each case, the person I spoke to decided to go to another church or to stop going to church altogether. They all gave essentially the same reason: they grew disillusioned that no one could or would answer their questions. The conclusion they all came to is that United Methodists don’t know their faith, don’t engage in open-minded conversation, don’t welcome questions, and teach and preach at a third grade level. Fair or not, we are losing three whole generations of college/post-college educated men and women who feel that we are dumbing-down our faith — and once we lose these folks we aren’t likely to get them back.
Choose Your C September 21, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, The United Methodist Church, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Church membership, The United Methodist Church, Values
I have been reading both Bruggemann and Block (The Word That Redescribes the World and Community/Abundant Community) and have been challenged in my thinking to a great degree about how we live together in healthy Christian community. Both books press a very simple, yet signficant distinction between two Cs: consumer and citizen. I am not generally a comfortable “either/or” thinker, but this distinction is as concise a characterization of the challenge facing mainline Methodism that I can think of — a dividing line that explains a lot about our fractured and under-functioning church.