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.
Ecumenically Challenged April 10, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Identity & Purpose, Leadership, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Ecumenism, Mission & Purpose, Unity, Values
There are few things I hate worse than being sick on the road. My wife and I are in Columbus, Ohio and I determined that now would be the ideal time to get a four-alarm sinus infection. I can’t focus, I can’t breathe, I have a splitting headache… and I am trying to engage in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue with energy and conviction. Not an easy task. I am hearing through congested filters. When I feel bad, I tend to be a bit more prickly and terse, so take my reflections with a grain of salt.
So many of the presentations and conversations feel like they have a “yes, but…” undertone. The words are about unity and collaboration, but the undercurrent feels polemical and a bit competitive. I listened to a Catholic priest explain how ecumenical dialogue never meant anything until after Vatican II, because without the Catholics in the conversation it could never go anywhere. I have been patiently told that the Roman Catholic church isn’t part of the World Council of Churches because it “doesn’t want to take over.” I have had nine conversations where it has been explained to me what “full communion” isn’t — not once have we settled on what it actually IS. Too often, our best intended introductions devolve to explanations of what we are not, instead of what we are. Our crowing achievements are Thanksgiving services and pantries — things we can do together with no real cost or compromise. I’ve broached the subject of “one body in Christ,” and both times the people I have been speaking to turned the conversation to “different parts.” Unity is the abstraction that brings us together, but not the reality towards which we choose to work.
Unoty April 9, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Seeker spirituality.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Unity
I am attending a National Workshop on Christian Unity this week in Columbus, Ohio. It is an annual ecumenical gathering that focuses on how to build bridges, foster friendly relationships, and improve communication between Christian communions. We talk about finding common ground, celebrating each other, and discovering spiritual synergy where together we are greater than the sum of our parts. It becomes painfully apparent how far apart we are — a small group of religious leaders talking about what if and what could be simply illustrates how NOT united we currently are. And this morning a brief encounter shined the light of brutal honesty on the witness we offer the world.
I stepped out of the meeting to respond to a text message, and I stood near a pair of young Latina members of the housekeeping staff at our hotel. When I finished my message, I noticed the young women, and one asked me, “Who are you?” I froze like a deer in headlights for a moment, unsure how to respond. My confusion was clearly displayed, so the young woman unpacked her meaning by asking, “What group are you with? Who are you?” I explained that we were leaders from a variety of Christian denominations and organizations gathered to talk about “unity” and working together. Both young women looked confused.
Open Mouth, Insert Foot April 4, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Communication in the Church, Core Values, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication, Values
We tend to celebrate our pluralistic and richly diverse culture and, in the church, we talk long and loud about radical hospitality and open hearts/minds/doors. Yet, we still seem to be having problems knitting our intercultural parts into a well-integrated body of Christ. There is so much latent and subversive “-ism” — sexism, racism, classism, ageism, us/themism, colonialism, territorialism — that we cannot seem to all get on the same side at the same time. Dr. Maura Cullen’s book, 35 Dumb Things Well-Intentioned People Say (Surprising Things We Say That Widen the Diversity Gap) is a great primer for anyone who truly wants to be more loving, kind, gentle, respectful, conciliatory, caring and graceful (by which, I hope I mean anyone who really wants to be Christian). Those who bask (consciously or not) in power and privilege are often less than mindful of the impact of their words, regardless of their intention. Cullen’s book calls us to take responsibility for the things we say, and to those of a Wesleyan bent, to truly live the standard of “first, do no harm”.
The book is essentially a compendium of Do’s and Don’ts (35 clear “don’ts…) that help us better understand how to communicate in effective and affirming ways. Cullen helps shift perspective to the other side — what it is like to be on the receiving end of inappropriate, thoughtless, dismissive or even well-intended but harmful statements. Her instruction is simple and straightforward. It doesn’t much matter what we intend; our words are measured by their impact. Thoughtless and offensive statements “pile on” over time, so that the general attitude behind any one comment can be magnified. Defensiveness and attempting to justify oneself adds insult to injury, and mindlessly accepting power and privilege as a personal right while denying the same to others is unacceptable. Most people are trying to be better and do the right thing, but words have power — they can be tools that build up or weapons that destroy. Used thoughtlessly or irresponsibly, they do more harm than good.
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.
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.
Anti-Afflatus March 14, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Critical Thinking, Seeker spirituality, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Holy Spirit, spiritual practices, Values
What do 21st century United Methodists actually believe about the Holy Spirit? Are we in danger of lumping the trans-rational in with the irrational and dismissing anything and everything supernatural with a primitive and premodern understanding of the world? Secular critics like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens delight in “proof-texting” religious history to elevate the gross abuses of religious power from history and the ignorant faith-as-magic modern aberrations as the “norm,” seeking to ignore any and all good spirituality has wrought in favor of religion’s failings. By relegating religious belief to the immature, infantile and primitive, it is simple to dismiss it wholesale. Yet, this ignores that billions upon billions of people find great hope and peace in religious belief. And beefers like Dawkins refuse to include anyone with half a brain in his definition of “religious.” But there is a bell curve in every belief system, scientific, religious or otherwise. Certainly, there are those simple folk who believe in a benevolent grandfather sitting in the clouds, waiting to grant wishes in the form of prayer to change the natural order and defy physics and biology, but they are the tail three standard deviations from the norm. They are the easy target, used to make religion seem silly and embarrassing (yet, people have the right to believe even this if they so choose…). At the other end of the curve, however, is a small segment of brilliant, progressive, insightful and creative people (scientists included) who are deeply religious and spiritual. When I traveled from college campus to college campus conducting interviews for the seeker study in the early part of the last decade, I encountered dozens of young minds turned off by the tail of the bell curve, but totally ignorant of the leading edge. I introduced many students to a whole new range of voices (including Frank Brennan, Ken Wilber, Jim Wallis, Sebastian Kappen, Leonardo Boff, Charles Hartshorn, Sri Aurobindo, Neill Hamilton) that actually resulted in some becoming Christian. I cannot count the number of people whose gratitude rests in the fact that Christianity was redeemed for “smart” people.
It is a tragic failing that we have allowed spirituality to become associated with simple-mindedness and magical thinking. A very prominent concept during the enlightenment was that of afflatus – divine inspiration, or a deeply spiritual creative impulse that allowed human beings to transcend their earthly limitations to think great thoughts, compose great music, author great literature, create glorious art, and strive toward goodness, truth and beauty. In the Christian faith, afflatus was the “breath of God” (Holy Spirit), alive and at work within the body of Christ. Do we, in our cynical and skeptical age, still believe in afflatus?
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?