Ecumenically Challenged April 10, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, Identity & Purpose, Leadership, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Ecumenism, Mission & Purpose, Unity, Values
There are few things I hate worse than being sick on the road. My wife and I are in Columbus, Ohio and I determined that now would be the ideal time to get a four-alarm sinus infection. I can’t focus, I can’t breathe, I have a splitting headache… and I am trying to engage in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue with energy and conviction. Not an easy task. I am hearing through congested filters. When I feel bad, I tend to be a bit more prickly and terse, so take my reflections with a grain of salt.
So many of the presentations and conversations feel like they have a “yes, but…” undertone. The words are about unity and collaboration, but the undercurrent feels polemical and a bit competitive. I listened to a Catholic priest explain how ecumenical dialogue never meant anything until after Vatican II, because without the Catholics in the conversation it could never go anywhere. I have been patiently told that the Roman Catholic church isn’t part of the World Council of Churches because it “doesn’t want to take over.” I have had nine conversations where it has been explained to me what “full communion” isn’t — not once have we settled on what it actually IS. Too often, our best intended introductions devolve to explanations of what we are not, instead of what we are. Our crowing achievements are Thanksgiving services and pantries — things we can do together with no real cost or compromise. I’ve broached the subject of “one body in Christ,” and both times the people I have been speaking to turned the conversation to “different parts.” Unity is the abstraction that brings us together, but not the reality towards which we choose to work.
B Church March 24, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values
At a recent workshop, discussion shifted to the question, “So, just what IS the current reality of our local churches in United Methodism?” The following framework emerged from this discussion. In summary: The United Methodist Church is an amalgam of three key aspects that work well in combination but are disastrous when not well-integrated or aligned. The three key aspects are the “Big Bs” of Belief, Belonging and Behavior. The baseline we hope every person can achieve looks like this:
There is a mutual overlap that helps individuals connect through their core beliefs and values, rituals and practices, and relationships and fellowship. The areas of overlap constitute where most people define “church;” the place we go, the associations we form, and where we learn the basic tenets of the faith. However, this is a starting point, not the ultimate goal. We will look at the ultimate goal (as was discussed by the workshop participants) at the end, but first we want to explore the very real shadow sides present in our contemporary church.
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.
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.
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).
Strategy 101: Ten Simple Planning Mistakes to Avoid January 7, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Strategic Planning.
Tags: Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose
This is an often-requested article I wrote over ten years ago. I reprint it here, hoping it still offers value to a new audience.
Musicians become true artists by first playing scales. Star athletes exercise daily and practice the same plays time and again so that they can respond in any given situation without thinking. Anyone who ever mastered a craft did so by first learning the basics. Unless you master the basics, you’re likely to make mistakes when it matters most.
Strategic planning is every bit as much art as science. What is true for athletes and musicians is true for leaders as well. If you don’t attend to the basics, you’re likely to make errors. Most strategic planning efforts in local congregations fail, not due to poor work or lack of knowledge or commitment, but due to simple mistakes. Here is a list of the top “don’ts” when planning for your congregation:
1. Don’t waste time being right.
2. Don’t assume concurrence.
3. Don’t gather paper. Instead, gather information from people.
4. Don’t hurry.
5. Don’t over-plan.
6. Don’t write mission and/or vision statements.
7. Don’t “publish” your plan.
8. Don’t generalize.
9. Don’t plan “for” other people.
10. Don’t be too serious.
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.
Hitting the Hard Stuff April 27, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, General Conference, Personal Reflection, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: General Conference, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values
It is interesting to watch the tensions mount and see a large gathering of competent, mostly-professional, self-possessed people get all flustered and fall all over themselves when someone raises an uncomfortable issue. It won’t be surprising to anyone to know that the gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgender relationship to the church was raised — and ruled “out of order.” Whether it was a good or appropriate time or not is a secondary issue to the root problem we have. We don’t know how to deal with this! It is about relationships with God and one another, and we are looking to books (pick the Bible, the Book of Discipline, or both) and legislative process to tell us what to do. Oh, heaven help us if we didn’t have our books (add Roberts’ Rules of Order to the list, can I hear an “Amen?”) or our cheat-sheets for parliamentary procedure. We might actually have to deal with each other as human beings, and then where would we be?