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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
Reactive Leadership January 29, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision
It has been an interesting three months. From November 6 until January 27, I spent most of my time bent over in pain as a sliver of bone gouged into a cluster of nerves along my lower spine. I have never known such pain and distress in my life. It wasn’t fun for me, and I wasn’t fun for anyone else. Blessedly, wonderfully, joyously the thorn in my flesh detached and I am (relatively) pain-free for the first time in almost three months. As the fog clears (pain and pain medication are wonderful ways to stop paying attention to almost everything) I am observing the current messages in our denomination about leadership, planning, the future, and our best way forward and I am just as confused as when I was heavily medicated. I attended the Quadrennial Training in Nashville on Adaptive Leadership and have delved more deeply into Vital Congregations and Healthy Church Initiative — and it makes me wonder if anyone consulting our denomination has read anything new in the past dozen years?
Time For A New Mission? January 10, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Identity & Purpose, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Transformation and Change, Vision.
Tags: Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision
Let’s be honest. The United Methodist Church has done a remarkably poor job living up to its stated mission (making disciples of Jesus Christ (1996) for the transformation of the world (2008)). In the same way as Igniting Ministry failed to live up to its slogan (more people find closed minds, hearts and doors in the UMC than experience a radical openness…) our entire denomination is failing to deliver well-equipped, highly motivated, deeply committed disciples engaged in world-transforming activity. The misguided attempts at restructuring our church have as much to do with missional ambiguity and ignorance as intentional resistance or political sabotage. How do you adopt an “appropriate” structure when you don’t know what results you are trying to produce? The existing structure is not designed to produce authentic discipleship, and the various recommendations and “plans” weren’t designed for discipleship either. The sad fact is, discipleship is that to which we pay lip service, not what we desire with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
A system is designed for the results it is getting. Those 18th and 19th century holdovers from historic United Methodism and its antecedents were designed for the pre-modern and proto-modern culture they served. Mere modifications and adjustments to centuries old conventions is foolish. (Think about our current state of being were medicine and science to have adopted a similar mindset!) We are old wine in new skins — and we are shocked when there is leakage and bursting. The United Methodist Church in North America in 2013 is not committed to discipleship. It is committed to institutional preservation, enamored by big buildings and valuable property, in love with celebrity pastors, and engaged in mostly passive, representative ministries (i.e., I will put five dollars in the plate to pay someone else to do ministry for me).
Whose Christmas? December 22, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas, Identity & Purpose, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Values
I had an interesting encounter at my favorite coffee shop (Beans ‘n’ Cream, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin — greatest people in the world…) last week. One of the regulars made the following observation, which led to a spirited conversation — “Christmas would be so much more enjoyable if all the religious people would just leave it alone.” On the surface, this is a ridiculous statement, but he made the following points to his argument — some of which make a lot of sense:
- the cultural experience of Christmas has overshadowed any religious intent
- we celebrate more Pagan aspects of the season than Christian, but even the intent of Pagan religion has been displaced and destroyed
- more Christians shop, cook, bake, decorate, drink and travel than go to church
- more money is spent on materialistic gift giving than are donated through our churches to help those in need
- Santa is more important to more people than Jesus
- the church has bought into the pageantry of Christmas and doesn’t even know/tell its own story with any integrity anymore
- Culturally, Christmas has become a time of stress, discord, depression and division more than a time of peace on earth and goodwill to humankind
- Secular celebration has nothing to do with the story of the Nativity — many people don’t even know what Christianity has to do with Christmas.
Church Or Society September 14, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: church, The United Methodist Church
I am currently attending my first board meeting with the General Board of Church and Society. Up front, let me say that I think this is one of the most important, most valuable of our general church agencies. I understand that this view is not shared by all. In fact, some vehemently oppose Church and Society, and it ALWAYS surprises me. I have written in the past that I feel United Methodism suffers today by a lack of institutional memory and an abdication of our core identity. If your tradition is the Evangelical Association, the Methodist church, or the United Brethren in Jesus Christ, then you are part of a biblically and theologically grounded tradition that elevated missions, evangelistic witness, and a commitment to social justice — in other words, a church that isn’t all about us, but a church that exists for the purpose of serving in the community and world. You may disagree that these things are important, but you can’t change history — this is who we are based on who we have historically been.