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:
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.
Spirituality KAMP January 16, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection, Small Groups, spiritual practices.
Tags: spiritual practices
I received a wonderful email from one of my “kids” (a member of a youth group I led in 1978) who tracked me down and shared a humbling note. Here is part of what she wrote:
…over the past thirty-five years I have attended Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist churches, and I have been very active in all of them. I am both a teacher and a student, active in Sunday school, Bible Studies, and a wide variety of small groups. A friend of mine passed along an article you wrote (which is how I found you) and I need to tell you that throughout all these years and all the different groups I have been a part of, nothing has ever even come close to the experience I had in your Spirituality Kamp when I was a teenager. I learned more, grew more, and became a better Christian more than I have in any other group in my whole life.
One of the challenges of ministry is that a leader often has little or no idea what impact she or he is making through preaching, teaching, counseling, spiritual formation, etc. It is always a gift when someone takes the time to let a leader know that they made a difference. It is a nice affirmation, but it also brought back to mind one of the most fulfilling and exciting periods in my young ministry. Bear with me as I tell a story, then hopefully I can make some useful observations.
In the seventies, I was working on a couple community development projects and one of the tools we used was KAP analysis. K=knowledge/skills; A=attitudes; P=practices. A KAP analysis helped struggling communities get a fairly good sense of the human resources and communal strengths it could draw from to develop and grow. I “borrowed” (stole) the basic concept and developed a KAMP model (K=knowledge and skills; A=attitudes and values; M=meaning and purpose; P=practices and exercises) to use with teenagers in the church. One summer, while our normal youth group went on hiatus, I launched a bi-weekly Spirituality Kamp, where anyone who was interested would gather to assess their personal current reality and set goals for growth and spiritual development. Very simply, each participant took an inventory in each of the four KAMP areas: what do I know and what do I know how to do? What are my core beliefs and guiding values? What gives my life meaning and how do I define my sense of purpose? What are the things I do on a regular basis to strengthen my relationship with God and help me live more like Jesus Christ?
From there, each person developed a personal vision and action plan. Every participant created a list of those things they wanted to learn/learn how to do, ways they wanted to improve their attitudes and expand their worldview, live more fully a meaningful and purposeful life, and engage in personal and shared practices to strengthen our relationship with God. Each person was paired with someone else, and when we gathered together we basically shared how well we were working on our plans, and ways we could support one another in what we were doing. We began with six youth, but had to move to a larger space within two months, averaging about twenty kids each meeting — and it became a year-round program. When I moved to New Jersey, I relaunched the process (calling it Pneuma – meaning “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.”).
Without actually meaning to (and before I ever knew about Wesleyan class/band/society accountability groups) I created a safe space for an open exploration customized to the needs and spiritual maturity of every participant. I was nothing more than a catalyst for a very natural formation process. Of all the “programs” I’ve been responsible for over the years, Spirituality KAMP actually demanded the least amount of preparation or expertise. It was, for the young people involved, a true peer-learning experience. It was an immersion in a real discipleship process — self-defined expectations and goals with a positive and affirming structure of mutual accountability.
Spiritual or Spiritualistic August 15, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Core Values, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian discipleship, spiritual practices, The United Methodist Church, Values
A few year’s ago I noticed an interesting trend. As Christians reported giving less and less time to prayer, the sale of books about prayer increased dramatically. For me, this is a simple illustration of a continuing dilemma — we are more interested in spirituality than we are in being spiritual. We amass great libraries of books, CDs, DVDs and workshop handouts on things spiritual, but we never reorient our lives to put all these wonderful things into practice. Our spiritual pursuits most closely resemble our weight-loss pursuits — we’re good on the concept, just lousy on the performance. Most Christians admit that they think prayer, meditation, study of scripture, worship and Christian fellowship are very important for spiritual growth and maturity, but these same people confess that they simply don’t have the time in a busy life to cram in even a few minutes for prayer or Bible reading. Our development is underdeveloped and our disciplines are undisciplined. We want a piety pill that we can take with the morning multi-vitamin so that we can get on with our lives. Jesus wept.
Vegetables of the Spirit April 26, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Core Values, Devotional Reflection, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, spiritual practices
Growing up, fruit was often the core component of dessert after our meals. My grandmother tended a wonderful orchard, full of luscious delights — crisp, sweet apples; juicy pears, plump cherries, amazing berries, grapes swelled to bursting. We supplemented Midwestern fare with citrus fruits and bananas. Fruit was a sweet treat that took the place of cakes and candy (though it promoted pie to primary prominence). Whenever I hear the metaphor of fruit from scripture – especially as used by Jesus and Paul, my mind takes me immediately to the bountiful fruit of my youth and it fills me with nostalgic joy and hope. However, as with many house rules, the path to dessert always ran through the somber and difficult terrain of the vegetable. “You can’t have dessert until you finish your vegetables,” was spoken in my home no less than 24,357,615 times. I am not sure any other phrase was declared more often. No one ever had to talk me into eating fruit, but vegetables were a different matter. It made little difference how “good for me” vegetables were, I enjoyed but few — corn (almost as sweet and juicy as the finest fruit), asparagus, crisp lettuce, snap peas, and cauliflower. I could gag down a raw carrot or two, but never cooked. Brocoli seemed (then and less so now) like a bad idea. Popeye could keep his spinach. Brussels sprouts? Zucchini & squash were unpalatable then (though I have grown to enjoy both). No, most vegetables were a challenge, and those I disliked ever seemed to outnumber those I liked. It is no wonder that our scriptures never refer to the “vegetables of the Spirit.”
Prayer Worriers October 10, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian Education, Core Values, prayer, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian discipleship, prayer, spiritual practices
I haven’t been able to blog for a couple of weeks due to an unusually heavy work/travel load, and an unusually large response to a recent post. Every once in a while I will write something that I believe is a “no-brainer” — it’s not overly profound or insightful, but it catches people’s attention and imagination and it snowballs. Such is the situation with prayer. I made the simple observation — that I have made a number of times before — that United Methodists, by and large, have very shallow and perfunctory prayer lives, and the main reason for this is that they aren’t being taught to pray. The response has been an avalanche (by my standards) of emails, letters, phone calls and personal conversations from people wanting to talk about prayer — mostly to agree with me, then share their own story.
From a young Seattle pastor:
I am in my seventh year of my first church (she isn’t UM) and I never thought about teaching prayer until I read your blog. I realized, ‘No one ever taught me to pray — not at home, not in church, not in college, not at seminary. It has always been assumed that since I am a Christian, I pray.’ I took your blog to my women’s study group and to my ecumenical clergy council and we started discussing it. Most of the pastors there said they can’t remember being taught to pray, except a few remember their mothers teaching them simple prayers and table graces as children. The priests were taught at Catholic school, but even they talk about learning much by rote. One Lutheran pastor also says he remembers the parts of the catechism on prayer, but nothing was ever really explained. My question is, how did we get here? Almost everyone agrees that prayer is very important — essential, in fact — but none of us are doing much about it. That’s going to change, however. Our ecumenical council is going to focus on prayer for 2011 and our shared programs for teaching and preaching will all focus on prayer all year. Thank you for planting the seeds!
Be A Tree March 18, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Devotional Reflection, spiritual practices.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, spiritual practices
There is this great old Peanuts cartoon. Lucy is explaining to little brother Linus how the world works. She takes him to a tree in the yard and shows him the falling leaves. She explains that this is a normal occurence, one of those wondrous cycles of nature. She says that there is an important lesson here, and asks if Linus know what it is. He replies, “Don’t be a leaf… be a tree!” What an amazing observation, and one that we could benefit from in the church. The author of Ephesians writes almost 2,000 years ago, “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (4:14, NRSV) Two millenium later, how are we doing? Are we grown ups now, solidly joined as one — standing as a tree firmly rooted and grounded — or are we leaves tumbling in the wind? Are we known for our unity or our division? Are we bound together by trust and positive regard or separated by winds of doctrine?
Reality Check February 11, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Core Values, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian discipleship, church, Church Leadership, Church membership
The tragic results of this spirit (looking for quick and easy shortcuts in our faith) are all about us: shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit.
I keep reading articles and listening to denominational officials lament the fact that our church has changed so much in the past fifty years. They decry a constant erosion from the strong church of a couple generations ago with what we have today. The above quote sums up many of the criticisms — superficiality, fun-seeking, pop-star pastors, pastiche spiritualities, and the application of secular business models to the ministry of the church — and they would support the current nostalgic reverence for the past — had it not been written in 1948 by A. W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God. Yep, those who pine for the 1950s and 1940s might want to look a bit farther back — oh, way beyond the 1920s (that godless Jazz Age) and prior to the 1890s (“God is dead!”) and before the Civil War (“Avoid drunks, robbers, and preachers!”) and before the turn of the eighteenth century when ministers were depicted in popular plays as womanizers and fools. Arthur Dimmesdale and Elmer Gantry didn’t come from nowhere — they represent a long line of opinions about the priesthood. And complaints about the superficilaity of organized religion date back to two days after the launch of the first organized religion. Our future does not lie in our past. Sadly, we haven’t seemed to learn much from the past to help us create a different kind of future.
Paradoxology December 30, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian discipleship, spiritual practices
Is our faith a blessing or a burden? Are the practices of prayer, worship, fasting, giving, serving and studying gifts or obligations? The way a person answers these questions is very telling as to the role and value of faith in her or his life. It is continuously fascinating to me to talk to people about prayer, and to find out that the majority of Christians I know view prayer as a task rather than a joy. I know for myself that there are times that I can’t wait to get to pray — I look forward to quiet, reflective time with God (usually the first thing after I get to my office in the morning). What I experience is relief and calm, and many days it is the absolute high point. I’m not sure I could cope with much of the minutiae of the morning were I not centered and focused. I don’t feel like I “have” to spend time in prayer, but that I “get” to spend time in prayer. Too many of my colleagues feel burdened by a need to pray, and prayer time is the first thing to go when their schedules get a little hectic (which, for some, is all the time).
Now, I have to be careful when it comes to worship. I’m not talking about attending services (which often does feel more like an obligation than a blessing to me), but I’m talking about those wonderful times of spiritual fellowship where attention shifts to God — giving God thanks and praise and basking in the wonderful sense of God’s presence. This comes to me most often in smaller, more intimate circles where true community defines the gathering and the sense of unity and oneness is strong. Retreats and ongoing small group experiences offer this kind of worship more than once-a-week congregational gathering. I am not exactly sure why I don’t seek this experience more, other than the fact that I’m too lazy.