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).
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).
Inadequate March 22, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Mission of the Church, Personal Reflection, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision
I guess people actually follow my blog fairly regularly. I’ve received dozens of emails asking, “Where are you?” I have taken a couple of weeks off from writing to do more reading — preparing for General Conference, following the streams of points and counterpoints flying throughout the denomination, and catching up on churchy publications. There is SO MUCH “stuff” out and about concerning our UM church. It boggles the mind, and I plowed through a ton of it, and am ready to start reflecting back. Today’s post is an initial pass at the larger issues; in the days to come I am going to zero in on specific articles and books.
One of the strongest memories I have from childhood was my report card at the end of the first grading period when I was in third grade. On one side of the card were listed the standard subjects: math, English, science, social studies, etc. I was always good in elementary school in math and science, not so good in social studies, and abysmal at English. On the other side of the card was a list of personal characteristics: social skills, comportment, cooperation, attitude, etc. The memory I have is that next to each personal characteristic, written in red ink and all capital letters, was written the word “INADEQUATE.” Now, I considered myself to be a normal eight-year old child, basically happy and friendly, with egg-shell-fragile self-esteem. I was first crushed, then haunted, by the idea that I was “inadequate.” I took my report card home to my mother, hoping for some loving redemption. On the grade side, I had three As, three Bs, and a C-. My mom didn’t even mention the As; like me, she focused on the “inadequate” side of the report card. The only word of comfort I got from my mother was that she was disappointed in me because she knew I could do “so much better.” Once again, inadequate.
Simple Isn’t Easy February 11, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
I received a number of responses and comments on my Simplicity Itself post. I think three in particular deserve specific response:
Dan. I hear you, and agree with many of your points, but I am curious to how you propose to live this out either in your ministry in the Wisconsin Annual Conference or in any proposals coming forward to the General Conference. Obviously, it is easy to point out problems, but it becomes much tougher to offer solutions. What are your solutions? (from John)
My suggestion ARE my solutions, but I acknowledge that this is fundamentally a systems problem. We have designed a church system around numbers, money, prestige and survival, so any suggestions that threaten such a status quo will be viewed as unreasonable or unfeasible. To hold people accountable to the standards of discipleship will drive the less committed away. Many of those will take their money with them. Fidelity to the gospel will result in fewer people rather than more; less money rather than an increase. To leave our buildings is to leave the monuments and edifices that we have built in our own honor. What a blow to our egos to do with smaller and less? That is not the American way. Too many pastors work too hard for too many years to consider serving a small church in a modest building. But our buildings keep us inside. Christ has left the building. So, the choice for us is do we hold onto our buildings or do we follow Christ? Most American adults don’t want to learn; they want their opinions affirmed. To grow, to change, to learn, to be transformed — these are not the values that drive our dominant culture. The values of comfort, security and the preservation of the familiar are our governing values — even in the church. Christ calls us to a learning culture, where we never arrive at the final destination, but are always in process, always becoming something better than what we have been in the past. There is simply no way to commit to comfort, security and the status quo and be a full member of the body of Christ. Our faith isn’t about US, but about God’s will.
Simplicity Itself February 8, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
Following the endless conversations about “what comes next?” in The United Methodist Church, it becomes more and more apparent that most of the suggestions, reports and recommendations made thus far are all designed for just one purpose: to avoid the hard work that actually must happen. In my humble opinion — one I have espoused now since 1986 — there are three things we MUST do to create a viable future:
- become Christian — actually embrace our spiritual disciplines, rituals and practices as the baseline standard for what it means to be United Methodist. You don’t care to pray? You’re too busy for weekly worship? You don’t give generously of time and money? All great… but you don’t get to be a Methodist.
- get out of our buildings — the ministry is in the world, not sitting on our butts in a sanctuary. Church suppers and craft fairs and bazaars are great fun — and we should enjoy the fellowship they bring — but they are not our ministry. More of our churches are known by the “witness” of their dinners, buildings, entertainment, and websites than by any work of compassion, mercy, justice, or spirituality.
- institute a learning culture with accountability — here’s a clever concept: let’s make “discipleship” our standard for inclusion rather than “membership!” The key to discipleship is a lifelong commitment to learning and improvement. As long as people are on the path of development — of their inward growth in relationship to God, Christ, and others, as well as their outward service to neighbor, community and world — the are “active” members of the community. The only real change we would make to membership would be the acknowledgement that there is NO SUCH THING as an inactive member.
Christian Fruit Loops July 21, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection, Mission of the Church.
Tags: church, Mission & Purpose
While this is fairly easy to find, people are constantly asking me for a “copy,” so I am posting it here again.
People who know me know that I am very big on fruit: the outward and visible manifestations of the faith we profess. James says it all when he reminds us that faith without works is dead. Furthermore, it is not enough just to produce fruit because until it feeds somebody it hasn’t filled its purpose. Fruit must nourish. Fruit must strengthen. Fruit contains that which is essential for health. And the fruit that we produce as the church is not to be hoarded and enjoyed by us. We produce this fruit and bear it to a starving, malnourished world, bringing sweetness and succulence to an all-too-often dry and bitter existence. The fruits — peace, patience, love, joy, kindness, generosity, self-control, faithfulness, and gentleness — should be the very first qualities that come to mind when people hear the word “Christian.”
Finding What We Look For July 6, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, Core Values, Evaluation and Assessment, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
Scott Kline, a professional driver, managed to wreck a million-dollar prototype hybrid car when it was first being tested. When asked to explain what happened, Kline reported,
I got so engrossed looking at all the dials and gauges and screens on the dashboard that I forgot to look where I was going.
There is an important cautionary word in this for our church — as “dashboards” to count and measure and track become the new toy we get all excited about in the church, we need to remember that collecting data and monitoring statistics has virtually nothing to do with making disciples of Jesus Christ. You cannot evaluate quality by focusing on quantity.
Our new “Vital Congregations” emphasis has all the marks of steering us in the wrong direction. While its leaders talk about “goal setting” and “missional objectives,” the underlying message is that numbers are the ultimate indicator of health and vitality. Having high blood pressure, myself, I can attest to the fact that large numbers are not always to be desired. Having MORE people, small groups, projects, pastors, ministries, and money seems, on the surface, to be a good thing. However, there is an implicit given that must be taken into consideration, and that is a presumed quality. The presumption that our future growth will all be high quality denies our current reality: if we’re not doing very well with what we already have, it is highly unlikely we will do better with more. A few examples:
When Faced With Two Options Choose the Third May 26, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision
I have been writing recently about reframing our current conversation about the church from one of doom, gloom, decay, and demise to one of faith, hope, vision and relevancy. My central thesis is that we are unlikely to attract new people with the message, “Our ship is sinking and we don’t know what to do about it, but we’re rethinking it – come join us!” Concepts like “death Tsunami” are statements of fear, not faith, and solemnly stating that we are “just being realistic” is a clear indicator that we walk by sight rather than faith. Some call my desire to move toward a Promised Land instead of merely escaping Egypt naive. I can see their pessimism if the only two choices they can imagine are short-sighted fatalism or insipid simplification. I don’t believe we are limited to just these two options. Let me share a story that I can use to illustrate my point.
A Church Shrouded in Mystery March 30, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church
We’ve got a problem. We don’t know who we are. We have become such an interesting hodge-podge of new and old Christians from such varied backgrounds as Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Reformed, New Age, Independent-Evangelical, Assemblies of God, UCC, UUC, MOUSE as well as UMC and all her predecessors, that what it means “to be United Methodist” isn’t clear to most United Methodists. In our individualized and consumeristic culture, most UM church-goers simply believe what they believe and call in United Methodist. Then, when the denomination or an annual conference leader does something they don’t like, they get all up in arms that we aren’t acting appropriately. Recent controversies over immigration, collective bargaining, and societal advocacy indicate that many United Methodists are completely ignorant of our Social Principles, Our Theological Task, Our Doctrinal Standards, and our rich evangelical heritage of social reform. These things define what it means to be United Methodist, but sadly most of our pastors and laity leaders don’t teach them anymore.
What’s Wrong With Us? March 23, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Transformation and Change.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose
The answer to the question, “what’s wrong with us?” is that we are fixated on the question “what’s wrong with us?” Doom, gloom, decline, conflict, controversy, division, discord — all addressed with a cheery irrational rah-rah attitude. National events that bludgeon participants with “Death Tsunami’s” and calls to action that lament our imminent demise are not going to motivate us to true systemic change. Scare us? Depress us? Horrify and mortify us? Certainly, as does every other abdication of leadership. Were ministry primarily about problem-solving this might actually work, however, we are not merely managing a mess, but are charged with creating a future. Focusing on what we aren’t, what we lack, what we’ve lost, and all the ways we are not what we once were is no way to envision new possibilities and potential. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. What we were in 1968 is not going to help us figure out who God wants us to be in 2018. Our focus needs to be on who we are, what we have, and how we can most effectively live into the future. We need vision, not vapid angst.