Han Church August 9, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, Leadership, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Faith Sharing, Vision
Okay, this is one of those cases where I probably should run what I am writing by my Korean-American bishop before I make a fool of myself – but, oh well, why start something new at this late date… I spent time this week at the North Central Jurisdiction Urban Ministries event in Milwaukee where the focus was on Asset Mapping. One fundamental tenet of asset mapping is that we should focus on the many blessings and gifts we DO have, instead of always lamenting and bemoaning that which we lack. All too often we are so focused on “need” that we fail to factor in “opportunity.” We see life as a problem to solve, a brokenness to fix, a burden to bear, or a threat to be escaped. Where is God in such a worldview? The doom-and-gloomers who regularly point out our dire situation don’t motivate us, they merely depress us. Panic and woe over the imminent “death tsunami” is purely manipulative and short-sighted — the truest lack of faith in evidence. Yet, we eat it up with both hands and a shovel. As I have said many times, the official United Methodist message is “we’re declining, we’re aging, we’re decaying, we’re dying, the ship is sinking… come join us!!!” And then we wonder why new generations don’t flock through our doors.
I sat listening to a number of people “yes, but…” the idea that we should focus on assets rather than needs, on blessings rather than burdens, and on opportunities rather than problems. One after another emphasized how serious and real the problems are and that if we don’t meet needs nothing else will matter. Actually, none of the leaders said that problems wouldn’t be fixed or needs met — the emphasis was on our energy and focus; our intentional decision NOT to be defined by our deficiencies, weaknesses and faults. But, I realized something. We LIKE our problems. Focusing on what we have lost, what we can’t achieve, what we don’t have, and where we can’t succeed takes all the responsibility and pressure off. The problem-solving mentality says, “well, we tried, but it didn’t work, so let’s call it a day.” We are justified in our depression and despair. We care deeply, but, hey, what can we do? The problems are just too big, and the needs are just too great.
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.
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).
De-Loved Community November 7, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Spiritual Diversity, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
We face a tragic reality in our United Methodist Church today — the inability to disagree in Christian compassion and fellowship. For the past few years I have been promoting a vision, albeit personal, for beloved community. This vision is fairly specific, and contains the following propositions:
Beloved Community is…
- a place where unconditional love prevails
- a place where all are welcome regardless of their purity, privilege, preferences, merit or deservedness
- a place characterized by the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
- a place where everyone is treated with dignity, justice, respect and mercy
- a place beyond judgment
- a place where we choose to set aside our differences and focus instead on those things we hold in common
- a place where “we pledge to continue to be in respectful conversation with those with whom we differ, to explore the sources of our differences, to honor the sacred worth of all persons as we continue to seek the mind of Christ and to do the will of God in all things.” (Preamble to our Social Principles, Book of Discipline 2008)
These are all variations on a theme; a way of saying essentially the same thing over and over. For me, it epitomizes the gospel message throughout the ages. Imagine my surprise as I continuously encounter Christian after Christian who find this vision offensive, demeaning, coercive, hostile and, need it be said, unChristian. I confess that I am a moderate theologically, a social progressive, and a relational liberal — I believe that all human beings are children of God, all are created in the image of God, and all have gifts and graces that no other human being should ever deny or withhold. I err to the side of inclusion, and would much rather be judged for being too accepting rather than too exclusive. But I realize that there are many who want our church to be “just exclusive enough,” and who draw very different boundaries around who qualifies as a child of God and who does not. I can live with such differences of opinion, interpretation, and worldview. I am saddened that there are others who cannot.
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.
Hate Mail Disguised As Love Letters March 6, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Personal Reflection, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
I’ve kept a file since my first General Conference in 1988 of the letters, phone calls, conversations and emails detailing the “concerns” individuals and congregations raised in preparation of the quadrennial meeting. This file is a reminder of the diversity of opinion in our denomination, the level of fear and disrespect still rampant in our churches and conferences, the heartfelt passion people bring to various issues, and just how far we still are from the kingdom/kin-dom/realm of the Almighty. I will make this statement at the outset — knowing it will do little good — to frame my comments. I do not think we should frame our disagreements in battle terms: win/lose, right/wrong, us/them. We are human beings and we will have very strong opinions and beliefs which will be in conflict from time to time. This is healthy and good. It is when we resort to hateful rhetoric, angry contempt, petty bigotry and spiteful attack dressed up in self-righteousness and fake Christian piety that I feel we have a serious problem. Is the majority of it lodged in simple ignorance? Certainly, but it goes beyond that.
False Profits February 22, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Integrity, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, Vision
from the Gospel According to Bob, Chapter 11, verses 15-31; Original Old Prophetic Scripture In English (Oopsie) Version
– (this is satire and parody; I am fully aware that these things AREN’T really in the Bible… but thanks to those who have expressed concern!)
And Jesus said, ’Beware of false prophets who come advising all sorts of worldly and simple solutions to complex and important problems.
He said this in response to the ancient prophecy, “And there will come a day when Towers Babel, Inc., will be hired by the high priests and Pharisees to tell unto God’s people what they ought to be doing, since God’s people will have forgotten and become verily confused. (which in itself was prophesied, ‘the people who walk in darkness will either turn to prayer and the light of discernment or they will stop and ask directions from strangers,’) And on that day, there shall be downsizing and branding and a hunger and thirst for best practices and dashboards,
But I say unto you, identity is not to be confused with image; meaning shall not be reduced to marketing; and the Spirit shall not be confused with structures. For it is written, ‘Those who cannot discern shall count heads, and those who have no witness shall advertise, and the first shall be lost as false prophets share vision that has little to do with God’s will.
The follower known as Robert, also called Bob, inquired, “Should we then form a task force to survey our target audiences, monitor our results on a dashboard, and dissect all the work that has thus far been done by outsiders to offer alternative proposals and petitions?”
Jesus responded, ‘I am THIS close to smiting you! The time for talk is through; we must be doers of the Word and not reduce the Word to ‘words’ in reports and recommendations to endlessly discuss and debate and destroy. Until we remember who we are and why God needs us here, there is little else to discuss. Before we make decisions about structure and processes, we must first recapture our identity and purpose!”
Then Bob asked, “So, is this then a ‘Calleth to Activity?’ O Lord?”
Don’t just sit there, do something. If I hear one more person defend our current denominational studies with the dismissive, “we gotta do something; something is better than nothing; we don’t have a choice,” argument, I am going to explode. I received an email this week from a pastor explaining to me that “the church IS a business, and we have been running it very poorly. Hiring the best secular consultants has been a brilliant idea, and we are finally going to start being competitive and profitable.”
Diss-cipleship February 13, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian discipleship, church, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values
Then Jesus said, ’Think well and hard before you respond to the call to be my disciples, for many are called but few are truly prepared.’
Robert the follower, also called Bob, piped up, saying, ‘What’s that ‘disciple’ thing? Is that like believing you are God’s Son?’
‘It begins with belief,’ replied Jesus, ‘but it is much more than that…’
‘You mean we ought to listen to you and do what you tell us?’
‘Well, yeah, that’s also part of it, but…’
‘I know, I know, you want us to be sure to attend synagogue when the kids don’t have soccer or band on the Sabbath,’ continued Bob.
‘Uhm, well, actually I’d put the bar a bit higher…’ reflected Jesus.
‘Oh, sure, sure, we should also do like the poor widow and toss in a penny whenever the plate gets passed…’
‘No, Bob, I want much more than that…’ Jesus said.
‘Got it! You want us to volunteer to serve on committees and maybe even teach a class,’ Bob proudly concluded.
‘You’re missing the point completely, Bob. Unless you leave father and mother, sisters and brothers, spouses and children, and give up all your possessions, you can’t BE a disciple!’ said Jesus.
‘Whoa, whoa, that’s not gonna work! Who would want to do that?’ asked Bob.
‘The point isn’t about whether YOU want to or not. It is about what GOD might want!’
‘Yeah, well, there’s such a thing as going too far, is what I’m sayin’.’ commented Bob. ‘I am perfectly willing to be your disciple as long as it’s convenient and doesn’t cost me anything.’
‘Bob, unless you are willing to take up your cross daily and follow me, you cannot be my disciple,’ intoned Jesus.
‘Good luck with that. This disciple thing has to be attractive, you know? If you don’t work harder to make it sound fun, most people aren’t going to be interested. You need a logo and a catchy slogan. Maybe find a celebrity to endorse it…’
‘Bob, Bob you are distracted by many things. But there is only one truly important thing: put God first in all you do, and commit yourself to loving God and neighbor and self,’ instructed Jesus.
‘Okay, fine, I can do that. But lay off the leaving family and giving up my stuff. That’s probably not gonna happen.”
The Revised New Revised Standard Revised Version (RNRSRV)
Once again I received a barrage of emails and phone calls from kind people informing me that discipleship is an unreasonable and unattainable goal, the way I describe it in my posts. In a dozen different ways, people explain patiently to me that very few folks actually have any interest in discipleship and that if we insist that people take their faith so seriously, we will lose them in droves. Many tell me that the church is not set up to promote discipleship and that churches have never had true discipleship as a goal or objective. A few point out that discipleship as we talk about it today isn’t the same as discipleship in Jesus’ day. We need a more practical and achievable discipleship. The bottom line is, if you want to truly be a disciple, the last place on earth you will waste your time is in church. Most churches make discipleship a very low priority, and to try to say that our mission should be to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is to deny and insult the real reasons that people come to church. I hear all of this… and I continue to disagree.