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.
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.
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).
Homophily Abounds October 3, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church growth, Core Values, The United Methodist Church, Transformation and Change, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Church growth, The United Methodist Church, Values
Recent church visits strike me with an undeniable pattern — we tend to associate only with those most like us. I have yet to visit any church that does not consider itself “friendly,” yet rarely is there a deep level of awareness that answers the question, “friendly with/to whom?” Two brief illustrations. First, I was a guest preacher in a mid-sized urban church where the attending congregation only nominally reflected the neighborhood where it is located. Four visitors showed up on a Sunday morning — the parents of a couple who attend regularly, a torn blue-jeaned young man with beard and unkempt (by the standards of this congregation) hair, a swarthy, olive-skinned middle-aged man of mixed ethnicity dressed in slacks and a nice shirt, and a young, nicely dressed white woman with a very sweet 2-3 year-old daughter. Go ahead — predict who was greeted and who was not? Simplistic stereotyping? Maybe, but I was the only person in the church that morning who spoke to either of the two single men who visited the church. In fact, I watched a number of people physically keep their distance from the swarthy middle-aged man, eyeing him with suspicion and breaking eye contact the moment he looked back at them. The young guy hung to the side of two or three groups, waiting to be noticed, until I went over to him. He was very inquisitive, asking where I am a pastor, who the pastor was in the church we were visiting, why there weren’t any other young people, what kinds of Bible studies and small groups did the church have, etc. I took the young man over to the lay leader to introduce him, thinking he would get more helpful answers from someone who actually knew the church, but the lay leader kind of nervously backed off, retrieved a brochure about the church’s program, gave it to the young man, then excused himself to go greet the visiting parents of the couple who attended church. I noted that he stood and chatted with them for a good twenty minutes.
The Folly of Form-Focus November 29, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision
I have been asked by a number of people to comment on the 2009-2012 Study of Ministry Commission Report & Recommendations. This I am about to do, but I need to set up the criteria by which I am judging the current effort. There are three fundamental lenses (if you will) that I read through, and if you disagree with any of the three, my opinions won’t carry much weight:
- form actually NEEDS to follow function
- predicating recommendations upon unchallenged assumptions results in more of what we already have
- laying exclusive bias as your foundation risks a house of cards
Examples of each:
- when I chaired the denomination’s task force on the relationship of science and theology, I spent a lot of time with biologists, geneticists, computer programmers and artificial intelligence mavens who pointed out that discipleship is about transactivation, not transformation — we are not seeking a change of form, but one of function and reach. A caterpillar does not become a butterfly, then try to figure out what it is supposed to do. The organic function changes and the form follows to allow it to fulfill its function. A change of form does not necessarily bring about a deeper change at the core, but a fundamental change at the core always alters form. And the beauty of transactivation is that it is genetic and viral — changing the individual organism as well as the genus. We actually want to make disciples for the transactivation of the world. Messing around with form without attending to function is essentially a waste of time. (Keep in mind for later…)
- throughout history, people have actually starved to death because of false beliefs about “unclean” and “unsafe foods.” Because everyone knew a food was poisonous or prohibited, when it came time to eat or starve, some chose to starve. What we decide to be true shapes all our subsequent thinking, and when we begin from the idea that our normal way of operating is right, then our suggestions for change lack any real power to change anything.
- have we learned nothing from the 19th and 20th century gender wars? Making the experience of some the general assumption for all is the worst possible form of paternalism. Whenever we equate “Methodism” (in all its forms) with a “Wesleyan heritage” we are making fools of ourselves — especially since so much of what we have decided in the last few decades is “Wesleyan” would not be recognized by Wesley himself. Our lack of a solid knowledge of our WHOLE history is leading us to some very unfortunate recommendations.
Okay, so here goes nothing.
Failing to Succeed = Succeeding to Fail June 9, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Planning, Critical Thinking, Integrity, Strategic Planning, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Church Leadership, Vision
Talk is cheap, and we talk – a lot! We think and plan and discuss and debate and envision and meet… to think and plan and discuss and debate and envision. We know there are problems, and we know there are solutions. We just can’t seem to figure out what solutions go with what problems. And so we meet some more. And when we can’t work out our own solutions to our problems, we pay big bucks to consultants to figure it all out for us. When they can’t figure it out, we pay them more money to meet with us… to think and plan and discuss and debate and envision. Is it any wonder we find ourselves essentially where we were 40+ years ago? Wilderness then, wilderness now — and we are asking the same questions and pointing to the same problems today that we were then. But simply staying in place is not a neutral state — failing to succeed = succeeding to fail. If we are not getting closer to the Promised Land, we are simply wandering in the wilderness, and over time “normal” gets worse. So, here are five observation-suggestions to move us toward something positive. These are as relevant to a local church or annual conference as they are to a denomination.
Muddling Through the Middle May 16, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Transformation and Change, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
I read an article a few years ago that stated that our brains are hardwired to avoid ambiguity. Even though mature reasoning demands a high level of abstract thinking and working through contradictions, conundrums, and puzzles, the normal state is one of binary certainty. We want our lives to operate in a safe, clean, organized fashion. This is why people will so adamantly defend one position over another — they are trying to simplify the complexity of life and escape the mists of ambiguity. Good luck with that. We really do not live in a “yes/no,” “good/bad” “either/or” world. The gray areas are significant and when we adopt the either/or option, we turn most of life into competition — “win/lose,” “fight/flight,” “us/them,” ”right/wrong.” This is short-sighted, hazardous and self-defeating. But, according to brain research, it is also natural and normal. Our working brains seek resolution. When faced with “maybe,” we will strive toward a definite “yes” or a definite “no.”
And we all know what this means in the church. If we resign ourselves to doing the limbic tango, we will never train our brains to function at higher levels. We will turn everything into a binary choice — bickering endlessly over who is right and who is wrong. Instead of rising above our base natures, we give into the less-mature state and create dissonance instead of harmony and resonance. How sad. There is so little to gain by division — especially in a church called to multiplication. Mature thought and developed cognitive process lead us from conflict through compromise toward true, honest, creative collaboration. We enter into the creative processes of God when we cease to destroy and divide and begin to build bridges and strengthen relationships. We stop hiding the treasure we have been given in a sock in the ground, and we work together to become good and faithful stewards. By the power of the Holy Spirit we begin to realize that Jesus wasn’t just blowing smoke when he said that we would do even greater works than he did. This wasn’t a simple wish or pleasant sentiment — God actually expects us to do great works together (greater even than Jesus did).
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.
A.D.D.-U.M.C. October 31, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Mission of the Church, Transformation and Change, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
Church, church, you are distracted by many things…
In response to a pastor’s call to pray for the people of Haiti (and the current cholera crisis), I heard a lay person whisper, “I thought we took care of that!” I think she was referring to the earthquake response earlier in the year, but we hardly “took care” of anything. Conditions in Haiti have been horrible non-stop since the quake, even though the UMC and other denominations and relief agencies have moved on to other concerns. We suffer a subtle but significant attention deficit disorder — trying to attend to so many things that we pay attention to virtually none for more than a fleeting instant. We want to focus on leadership AND new churches AND reaching new audiences AND revitalizing existing churches AND be in ministry with the poor AND global health AND church growth AND rethinking church AND A Call to Action AND elimination of root causes of poverty AND Nothing But Nets AND Change the World AND AIDS AND disaster response AND apportionments AND guaranteed appointments AND the elimination of institutional racism AND General Conference AND a hundred meetings/workshops/seminars/task forces/tables AND… Jesus wept.
There is no clear priority order for any of these things. If the UMC could do one — and only one — of the things listed above, we would find ourselves mired in an endless debate over what it should be. And most people would be fine focusing on one, but within moments would shift focus to something else. All this because we are not really sure why we are here. We are pulled in so many directions, and because we aren’t sure where we ought to go, we are “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine,” debate, and division. Everything is important, so nothing is more important than anything else. Everything is a priority so that nothing is a priority. We dabble in a little of everything so that we don’t have to excel at anything. There is nothing to be held accountable to because we never bother identifying concrete missional objectives to measure. We just count instead — the number of members, the number of churches, the number of dollars — which tell us very little about how well we are “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We are regularly accused of mediocrity because that is all people see. It is virtually impossible to comprehend all the good things The United Methodist Church is doing because we are doing a little of so very much!
Christianaughty January 8, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Church membership
“Naughty” is a great word. Today it often means risqué, improper, bad or inappropriate, but in its origin it was an all-purpose word that could mean bad, evil, worthless, of no value, unhealthy, unpleasant, disagreeable, adversarial, contrary, difficult, improper, or hypocritical. At its heart and essence was the sense of opposition for opposition’s sake — acting in ways that cancelled out other ways of action so that efforts were “for naught (or nought).” It is this level of contrariness and opposition that I want to reflect on when it comes to the church — the thoughts, words and actions that transform Christianity into Christianaughty.
It has always troubled and perplexed me that we have so many church members who oppose mission and ministry — in fact, oppose any and all positive change and development. They don’t want new people to come in and disrupt the status quo, they don’t want the pastor or other church members active in the community, they don’t want to spend money on new ideas (and many old ideas), and they vote against any new ministries or programs. Yet, they believe themselves to be faithful supporters of the congregations — pillars, if you will.