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.
Talk Is Cheap (Not Talking Is Costly) September 17, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Congregational Life, Core Values, Generosity & Giving, Money and the Church, Stewardship.
Tags: Christian Education, Giving & Generosity, Money and the Church, Stewardship
A pressing concern of many of our congregations is a lack of funds. I know you’re surprised, but money is a concern in many of our local churches. But, I’m going to let you in on a simple, yet very important secret. There is a simple, low-cost solution to most of our financial woes: we need to ask for more money from the people who have given their lives to Christ. The time has come to make sure people know that Christian discipleship impacts our entire life, including our wallet, pocketbook and checkbook. Myths about money and spirituality have been allowed to run wild, taking on the appearance of truth, but these myths are slowly (and not so slowly) killing many of our churches. Leadership requires that we sometimes challenge the conventional wisdom and speak the truth in love. Let’s destroy some myths, shall we?
Teach September 15, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Communication in the Church, Congregational Life, Evangelism, prayer, Stewardship, The Bible.
Tags: Christian Education, Communication, Evangelism, prayer, Stewardship
I may get blasted on this. That’s okay. I am sharing almost twenty years of similar responses here, and I think we — especially clergy — need to listen. Laity across the United Methodist Church are sending four messages loud and clear: prayer, stewardship, evangelism and Bible are NOT being taught in our churches. We are assuming that people know these things. Yet, it is clear that our church is in danger of extinction because these four things (at the very least) are not being taught. In our fever to grow, get new people, build more buildings, pay our bills, and keep up with the newest 7 Steps, 12 Keys, 40 Days programs we have drifted from the basics. We have cultivated a Christian culture of biblically illiterate, nominally connected, scarcity-minded, non-evangelicals.
In Wisconsin I have continued to ask the same questions I did across the denomination for the 14+ years I worked for the General Board of Discipleship. Essentially, I ask lay people how well equipped they are to grow in their spirituality and their discipleship. The vast majority do not remember the last time anyone taught about prayer in the church. Most cannot remember the last time anyone encouraged them to pray. Many are aware that there is a “prayer circle” or “prayer chain” in their church, but they don’t know how it works. Four-out-of-five United Methodists can’t tell you the difference between intercessory prayer, confession, petition, and they don’t know what a doxology or benediction are. Small matter? Maybe, but they are indicators of the more fundamental issue. United Methodists don’t pray much at all. Over 50% don’t think prayer is very important to their faith, and as indicated in an earlier post, many simply are “too busy” to pray on a regular basis. Almost 40% admit that they really “don’t know how to pray” or don’t know “if I do it right.”
Forced Choice February 10, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Critical Thinking, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Christian Education
This past week I have been embroiled in discussion and debate about our openness to highly intelligent, well-educated people in our United Methodist Church. First, I have been surprised by the number of people from our churches who think poorly of smart people — assuming that they deserve anything that happens to them. Beyond this, however, many people want to resolve the issue by creating a false dichotomy. Here are seven quotes from emails and conversations I’ve had this week:
…but, which would you rather be? Smart or good?
How would you prefer to be remembered — as a saint or a theologian?
If I need to choose between facts and faith, I’m going to play it safe and go with faith.
Human knowledge will always be limited. Divine wisdom is superior to human knowledge in every way.
If I want to understand the mysteries of reality, religion will give me meaning while science will only provide information. Smart people can explain how things work, but they aren’t always as good at the why questions.
When I die I would rather look back at my life and know that I was a “good” person, not a genius.
The higher a person’s I.Q., the greater their scepticism, their disbelief, and their contempt for real faith.
Each of these comments appear based on certain assumptions. First, faith and intelligence seem incompatible in some people’s minds. There is a “forced choice, either/or” quality to most of these comments. Apparently, an individual may be intelligent or faithful, but not both at the same time…
When Teaching Became Task October 27, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian Education, spiritual practices
I attended a session a few year’s ago at a Christian Educator’s Fellowship meeting where the leader talked about the importance of “good content, good topics, and good technique.” She delivered a very compelling vision of the task of teaching — organized, exacting, and precise. I went to another workshop on brain research, multiple intelligences, and learning styles. At the time I was reading a book (whose title I cannot recall) on adult learning that was talking about the importance of retention — effective teachers are those who help students retain the greatest amount of information. These things are true — to a point. My own research — and a boatload of research by others in academia — indicates that there is one factor that trumps all others in the realm of effective learning, and that factor is relationships. When pupils and teachers care most deeply about one another (in healthy, productive ways), learning is most effective. Doesn’t matter about the subject, the level of difficulty, or even the individual’s tastes and preferences — unless there is some pathological learning disorder – those who care most learn most.
Listening to Teach, Speaking to Learn September 14, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Church Leadership, Congregational Life.
Tags: Christian Education, Church Leadership
Deeply etched in an archway in Myrtos-Pyrgos is the Minoan phrase, “Listen to teach, speak to learn.” This counterintuitive instruction echoes through the ages to challenge practices in contemporary Christian education and faith formation. In a culture where speech is valued over listening and where teachers are more highly revered than students, it is easy to dismiss such a phrase as quaint or clever. However, there is deep wisdom worth reflection in this simple aphorism.
Listening to Teach
The first part of the phrase does not merely mean that before we teach we must listen, but that listening is a way of teaching. The Socratic Method begins by asking questions rather than giving answers. A fundamental tenet of Socrates’ method was the belief that people already possess the answers to the most profound questions in life. In the silence, in the struggle, in the quest — therein lies the answer.
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.
30 Minute Expertise (Event-gelism) August 4, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Church Leadership, Critical Thinking, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Christian Education, Leadership Development
How long does radical transformation take? What is a reasonable time frame for the development, first of competency, then of mastery? Put another way, how long would it take you to become Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods? Think you could reach mastery by attending a weekend retreat or a one day workshop? Of course not! What a stupid idea. Deep, lasting change comes at a cost. Mastery requires sacrificial commitments of time, energy, money, concentration, study, practice, and willpower. But we’re Americans. We want it now. We want to pick up a guitar and play like Clapton, pick up a tennis racket and play like either Williams’ sister, pick up a cookbook and make Rachel Ray look like a piker, attend a church leadership seminar and lead like Jesus. We don’t want it to be hard or demanding — we want to learn in 30 minutes the 7 Steps, 12 Keys, or 40 Days to create the kingdom of God come upon the earth.
Shortcut spirituality is no spirituality at all. I once saw an add in a “Christian” publications for something called PowerPrayer, a method of prayer for busy people that encouraged 30 second prayer first thing in the morning, at noon, and at bedtime. What a fantastic spiritual discipline for busy people — a minute and a half a day to stay connected with God! (Yes, I realize that’s a minute and a half more than many Christians give…). That brings to mind a program that encouraged “mini-fasting” from 12-5, both a.m. and p.m. The premise was to go without food from noon to five and midnight to five, and to consider this the spiritual discipline of fasting. Lunch at 11:30? Dinner at 5:30? Breakfast at 6:00? Snacks at 10 a.m. & 8:00 p.m.? No problem, because you are fasting 10 hours every day! Spiritual discipline-lite — discipline without any discipline; spirituality that doesn’t touch the spirit. We are a weird people.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Biblical interpretation, Christian Education
Q: What is the number one complaint of seminary students when they serve in the local church? A: What they learn in class they can’t teach in the local church. It seems that the quest for knowledge ends for many at the church door. A significant number of American Christians do not want to base what they believe on the best scholarship in biblical studies and theology. They don’t even like “theology lite” as presented by such popular authors as Marcus Borg and Bart Ehrman. Heaven help us should we bring in any heavyweights. Many in our congregations would die of apoplexy. Why is this?
Partially we have created it for ourselves. Poor translations like the King James Version and imprecise paraphrases like The Living Bible and The Message fuel the “the Bible should mean anything I want it to” mentality of the modern spirit. Susan Jacoby (The Age of American Unreason) and Stephen Prothero (Biblical Literacy) describe the anti-intellectualism that poisoned the Protestant church in the 20th century. The desire to make the Bible accessible to the widest possible population, including the least educated, motivated a movement away from scholarly study. The “me and my buddy Jesus” mentality at the heart of the “do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior” movement resulted in a massive “proof-text” support system where the Bible was interpreted as if it had been written by modern middle-class minds for the U.S. pop-culture. What the Bible said, and what it originally meant no longer mattered. The only thing of value was “what does the Bible mean to me?“ Erroneously labeled “post-modern,” this view has a long historical precedent. It is a basic, somewhat lazy, subjectivity. We work for years to teach our children that they must learn to support their opinions and beliefs with evidence, information, and facts. This is known as education. But for some reason we don’t want to apply these standards to issues of faith. A few year’s ago, the “What Would Jesus Do?” phenomenon swept the country, but research overwhelmingly indicated that the question couldn’t be answered by most American Christians because they don’t bother reading the Bible. Not that this stopped any from voicing strong opinions anyway…
Information, Formation, Transformation May 14, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian Education, Critical Thinking, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Education, The United Methodist Church
My definition of Christian education is (and has been for over thirty years): Information needed for formation that leads to transformation. Christian education was a central focus of the research I did on congregational vitality (1999-2006) and I found quite a bit of evidence that confirmed the value of such a definition. All of our churches use a LOT of information. We teach Bible stories, we read Christian books, we plow through stacks of curriculum, but for about two-thirds of our churches, just getting through the information is the goal. There is great pride in completing a Disciple Bible Study, or graduating a class, or finishing up a six week discussion on The Purpose Driven Life, but when we asked teachers and congregational leaders, “…and what do people do with what they learned?”, the most common response was a blank stare. Many people didn’t understand the question. All too often, we define Christian education as the accumulation of information, or getting through the material.