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.
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.
Fickle Fairyland Faith May 3, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Faith Sharing, Myths
I won’t share the convoluted audit trail that leads to this post, but a series of unrelated incidents all point me back to this particular story. When I was in Nashville, I related to a young, well-meaning Christian who went from ultra-committed and ultra-pious to uber-atheist in the blink of an eye. When I was going through my own divorce, he invited me to lunch to try to talk me out of it. He patiently informed me that this was the most heinous of sins, I would never be forgiven nor forgive myself, that I was tempting God and risking eternal damnation. I honestly believe he was doing this from a deep well of concern and a weird form of kindness. He held a very clear and simple vision of Christian faith — do what is right and God will bless you; do what is wrong, and watch out!
It was not a full six months later that we sat together in reversed roles. He and his wife lost two children in a very short period of time — one to illness, one to depression and suicide — and the strain was too much for their marriage. They were engaged in a sad separation on their way to divorce. My young friend spat out his anger and frustration: “The IS NO God. If there were a loving God, He wouldn’t be doing this to me!” I tried to temper his responses, but it was no good. He was through with God, because God wasn’t treating him fairly. His life, when placid, calm and stable meant God was blessing him. His life turned upside down and filled with tragedy, pain and suffering meant there could be no God. There was nothing I could say that he wanted to hear. His myth of the fairyland called “faith” had been destroyed.
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?
Narrative Transformation February 14, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Change, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Christian Education, Communication, Unity, Values
In recent comments, an interesting thread appears: how do we in the church have open-ended conversation about the deepest and most challenging aspects of our life together? Too often, we have no vision for what a new or different conversation might look/sound like. When we think about changing our thinking, we reduce it to changing minds. For myself, I learned a long time ago that it is not my role or responsibility to change someone else, but to create a safe environment where radical change can occur. Change should always be a willing choice, otherwise it won’t last, or it does violence to the person. But how do we even open the possibility of new perspectives in ways that don’t lead to division and debate? I share one exercise and two experiences that have been effective in my ministry.
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?”
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.
All For Nought April 2, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Book Recommendations and Reviews, Church Leadership, Critical Thinking, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Book Reviews, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
Zero is an interesting concept. Is it the presence of nothing or the absence of anything? Is it a baseline from which to measure or a null point? Is it normal or is it failure? Is it a goal for which to strive or a default by which to reset? If you answer “yes” to any or all you are on good footing.
Gil Rendle entitled his contribution to the Adaptive Leadership Series, Back to Zero, and it qualifies on so many levels. First, let me say the positive: there is some good and solid thinking here. I don’t disagree with many of the central ideas: paradigms shift and we are experiencing them all the time; the church is a system and systems are made up of processes — you can’t change the system if you don’t understand how it works; organizational theory offers a number of competing models for change (and the Spider/Starfish model is one of them — Jim Collin’s variation on Isaiah Berlin’s Fox/Hedgehog is another); and, leadership is the key to maximizing our potential. However, Back to Zero could easily have been called Back to the Eighties, or Back to the Twentieth Century, or Forward to the Past — there is nothing new or innovative here, but a mere rehash of the church leadership thinking in United Methodism twenty to thirty years ago.
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).
Reform or Refunction? January 31, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Identity & Purpose, Strategic Planning, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
Well, what do you know, I basically agree with the General Secretaries of our General Boards and Agencies (with a few exceptions): we should be very clear about the missional outcomes we are trying to produce before we determine the best structure to adopt. Amazing. There are some in the church that actually believe that what we are trying to accomplish should impact how we structure to do our work. Knowing who we are, why we exist, and what we need to do all precedes the discussion of how to do it! Brilliant. A history of tinkering with a broken system and then trying to figure out what to do with it may actually come to an end… Nah, that’s hoping for too much. We won’t actually change the system — we will merely rearrange what doesn’t work into new configurations that don’t work, then wonder why. That, my friends, is the Methodist way.