The First Last Supper April 21, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Devotional Reflection, Lent, worship.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian worship, holy week, sacraments
I know I am in the minority, but in a culture crazed for Christmas and Easter, my two favorite church holy-days are Pentecost and Maundy Thursday. I’ll get to Pentecost in about six weeks, but for now I want to think about what makes Maundy Thursday so significant for me.
Farewells are often tricky, especially with those closest to us. I wonder if modern men and women can truly relate to the farewell between Jesus and his closest friends? Certainly we have close relationships — friends, families, coworkers, neighbors — but they are very different from the premodern, primitive culture of Jesus’ day. Depending on the gospel source, Jesus and the boys were together morning, noon and night for somewhere between six months and three years. They ate together, slept together, washed together, worked together, learned together, fought together. Jesus trained his followers each and every day of their relationship, and the day came to hand the reins over to the disciples. There is absolutely no evidence that any of them were ready to assume leadership; in fact, it wasn’t clear that any of them yet understood who Jesus really was.
Biblical Preaching May 15, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Pastoral Ministry, Preaching, worship.
Tags: Biblical interpretation, Church Leadership, Preaching
If ever there were a more confusing claim, I don’t know what it is. Biblical preaching. In the past few months, I have encountered people who either complain that their pastor doesn’t “preach the Bible,” or proudly boast that they have a “Biblical preacher.” (One over 2000 years old…?) But to probe what people really mean gets confusing. ”Our pastor doesn’t interpret scripture, he just preaches truth,” is a favorite of mine. I have never, ever met a preacher who doesn’t interpret — though many would have us believe that their interpretation was God’s own truth. Another favorite of mine is, “our pastor preaches mercy, justice, compassion — everything but the gospel!” Okay, here is my interpretive lens, but I thought mercy, justice, and compassion were good news. Now, I have been in churches (thankfully very few United Methodist Churches) where the names “God,” and “Jesus” are never actually spoken, and that it a problem. I once interviewed some people who were leaving worship at a “hot” new UMC, and I asked them, “What did you learn about God today.” Reply after reply was something along the lines of, “You know? I don’t remember hearing anything about God in church this morning!” Not good. On the other hand, some people think they are only hearing “biblical” preaching if the preacher peppers the message with scripture bits, creating the equivalent of a platitude collage. Some folks feel that too much scholarship and study is actually bad for “biblical” preaching. One pastor told me, “the Bible was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me. He didn’t need commentaries and dictionaries and study guides. Of course, he didn’t have the New Testament either, but he made out fine.” I know another pastor who proudly boasts, “I haven’t cracked a text-book since leaving seminary. Everything one needs is right in the Bible.” This person preaches from Petersen’s, The Message.
On the other side, academic snobbery rears its head. ”Preaching is a lost art. We have some of the absolute worst messages being preached, and people eat them up like candy,” a friend laments. Another holds in contempt any pastor who doesn’t preach the lectionary. Some preachers can exegete the hell out of the Bible, but they aren’t making it better. I am of a mind that the gospel doesn’t need our help — it does just fine on its own. At the same time, I believe it is the responsibility of every preacher to bring the very best thinking and scholarship to the pulpit. Preachers should never get in the way of God’s word, and all too often we do.
Who Needs a Sermon? January 18, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Research, Seeker spirituality, worship.
Tags: Christian worship, Preaching, spiritual practices, worship
It never fails that when I am looking for something in particular, I manage to find something else I was looking for months ago. Such is the case with interview notes I took in Colorado, Iowa, and Connecticut with 20-60 year old spiritual seekers. These notes have been the missing piece in a puzzle that has frustrated me for the past three years. They were part of the larger Seeker Study I did for the General Board of Discipleship, and they highlighted some interesting perspectives on preaching and proclamation. These interviews — 71 in all asked non-church-affiliated Christian spiritual seekers to share their thoughts on the art of the sermon. Two-thirds of the 71 interviews (48) were with women, and approximately the same percentage were Caucasian. Twelve were of African-American, six of Korean, two of Puerto Rican, one of Japanese, and two of mixed ethnic heritage. While this may not be overly important, there were some gender and racial/ethnic differences in responses — those these are correlative, not necessarily causative. We discussed five questions:
- what is a sermon?
- what is a sermon for?
- what is the preacher’s role in preaching?
- what do you look for/desire/need from a sermon?
- what types of sermons speak to you in meaningful and/or transformative ways?
Near Miss Worship October 6, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, worship.
Tags: Christian worship, Church Leadership, worship
No one sets out to offer vacuous, insipid, superficial, or self-absorbed worship. Pastors and lay leaders both dedicate themselves to creating meaningful, spiritual and authentic worship experiences. Yet, at a gathering of 21-29 year olds who have “given up on church” that took place in 2007 , these were the top four reasons given why they didn’t like worship in The United Methodist Church. Forty-one young people agreed to attend four different churches for a month in Atlanta, Houston, Denver, and southern California. They filled out survey forms sharing their thoughts. Out of 158 responses, 13 were positive, 29 were neutral, and 116 were negative. All the participants were twenty-somethings who had left the church within the past five years, but who still consider themselves committed Christians. Selections were made at random with the help of researchers in the four geographic areas. (This was one part of the larger Spiritual Seeker study begun while I worked for the General Board of Discipleship).
Worshipedia September 23, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Spiritual Trends, worship.
Tags: Christian worship, church, Religious Trends
We live in a Wiki world. A collaborative, evolving, and highly interactive way of creating and recreating reality. Facts and opinions merge to create a new kind of “flexible” truth. Wikipedia has transformed the way we think about information and the authority of the written word. Knowledge is built over time drawing from a wide variety of sources and perspectives. I would make the observation that the same kind of revolution is occurring within the realm of Christian worship — forms are merged and mashed-up, old traditions and history are rewritten and revised, multiple perspectives and opinions shape reality, and orthodoxy is bound by membranes rather than walls. Having researched worship trends and practices across the denomination, I note six shifts that are fundamentally changing our understanding of worship.
Creating the Frankenchurch Monster August 26, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, worship.
Tags: Christian Education, church, Church Leadership, worship
I sometimes get accused of being negative. Okay, fine, this post is definitely negative. However, it is not a blaming or accusing post. It is merely describing something bizarre and ugly — patchwork bodies of Christ, slapping together bits and pieces (s0me dead) to create a well-intentioned mockery of life. Harsh? You bet. But the Frankenstein monster — as well intentioned as he might have been — was a monster nonetheless. Many of our patchwork churches — no less well-intentioned — produce some pretty monstrous results as well.
When I travelled as a consultant for congregational revitalization, the number one question I asked was, “Why?” Why do you offer worship? Why do you preach a sermon? Why do you have a Sunday school? Why do you have a worship committee (when the pastor/music director makes all the decisions?) Why do you only have one service? Why do you have more than one service? Why? Why? Why? I always pushed to have people explain the rationale and justification of everything they were doing as a church. Want to know something troubling, though? Most church leaders struggled to answer the “why” question?
We offer worship because we’re a church and that’s what churches do.
We have Sunday school because the parents expect it.
We have one service because everyone needs to be together.
We have two services so we can reach more people.
We have a worship committee so that someone will change the paraments.
Worshipping in God’s Absence July 10, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, The United Methodist Church, worship.
Tags: Christian worship, Preaching, spiritual practices
Six year’s ago I worked with five Vanderbilt seminary students on a worship project. They attended dozens of Christian worship experiences in all sizes, shapes, forms, and cultures of United Methodist congregations, then we sat and “debriefed” each experience. One 27-year-old woman, Erin, an Episcopalian, made an unusual and provocative observation that resulted in a lively debate. Erin said, “The remarkable thing about all of these experiences, for me, is that I feel like I am attending a function in God’s house while God isn’t at home.” This led to a discussion based on the question, “What kind of worship experience do we believe God would attend?”
Wanted: Heart Warmed — Strangely or Otherwise May 23, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection, The United Methodist Church, worship.
Tags: Christian worship, The United Methodist Church
I sat through another United Methodist worship service — this time bombarded by thumping, lively praise music extolling how awesome, moist, and shiny Jesus is. (If you’ve experienced ‘contemporary’ praise music, you know what I mean…) The energy was high, it was the theology that was missing. Everything was simple and simplistic. It may not be the service that needs adjusting, but my attitude. I want more. I want to be moved. I want to feel the presence of God. I want to feel my heart strangely warmed. I want an Aldersgate experience.
I reread Wesley’s journal entry and I feel jaded. Part of the reason is, I know it’s out there. I still experience the thrill from time to time. Worship still whisks me away to a higher plane. My spirit soars. I am renewed, revived, feeling humbled in the presence of the divine. It has happened in a small church in Rhode Island, a smaller church in Ohio, a new church start in Oregon, and in a store front church in Arizona — all United Methodist. My problem is I’m not near any of those places, and those are only four out of the hundreds of worship services I have attended.
Once again, part of it is me. I am a closet mystic. I need silence. I need centering. I need reflection. I am an unlikely candidate for the United Methodist cosmos, cluttered as it is with busyness, noise, sit/stand calisthenics, multiple musical performances, announcements, etc. I just barely catch a glimpse of God from the corner of my spiritual eye, but there are so many distractions that by the time I turn back to God, there’s nothing there.
Great (and Not So Great) Expectations in Worship May 10, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, The United Methodist Church, worship.
Tags: Christian worship, The United Methodist Church
Among my greatest disappointments, not being able to follow-through on the UM Worship Patterns project is near the top. I have not engaged in a more interesting — and potentially helpful — project in all my time in research. This article is a companion to Theology of Worship? and Preacher Feature and wraps up the trilogy of summaries from this brief study.
The central question at the heart of this work is: “What do people expect to happen in worship?” We looked at the question from both the worship leader’s perspective as well as the person in the pew. It touches on other significant question’s such as , “Why do we offer worship?” “Why do people come to worship?” and “What effect does worship have on people’s lives and faith development?” Over 5,500 people participated in this project from 2000-2008 — 5,419 laity and 227 clergy from all five US jurisdictions, and representing accurate demographics across race, age, and gender. (Note: efforts were made to reflect the social demographics of the United States, not the demographics of The United Methodist Church. This means ours sample is younger, less female, and much more racially diverse than the average United Methodist congregation, but more accurately resembles “the real world.”)
Worship Snobs April 13, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, worship.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, worship
I admit it. I am a worship snob. They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but a lot of knowledge is worse. And the same goes for experience as well. Knowing what one wants in worship, and having experienced excellent worship in the past, makes it difficult to settle for anything less. There are seven attributes of worship that are important to me, and unfortunately they are scarce in most United Methodist worship settings.
- A strong focus on gratitude and thanksgiving
- Balanced prayer — confession and pardon, intercession, petition, thanksgiving, adoration, and blessing
- Affirmation of the faith by the community
- Thoughtful interpretation
- Invitation to discipleship and growth
- Consecration through the sacraments