Bursting the Bubble — The Lost Episodes #1 April 2, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Values
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When I wrote the book, Bursting the Bubble, five years ago, it was three chapters too long, so it was trimmed to fit page count. Going through some files, I discovered one of the chapters that hit the cutting room floor: Contrary Counter Culture. Though now five years out of date (who talks about The Passion of the Christ, Harry Potter or Jerry Springer anymore?) I thought I would offer it here (instead of taking the time to think up anything new…)
Watch about ten minutes of an evening news cast or scan the first few pages of any newspaper (well, maybe not USA Today…) and you will find overwhelming evidence that we live in a broken, violent, and frightening world. Wars, school shootings, tainted food, terrorist attacks, gang violence, global warming, bridge collapses, fires, earthquakes, floods, and who got booted off this week’s American Idol are proof positive that something is very wrong. Disaster – human-made and natural – lurks around every corner. We stand at the brink of absolute and total annihilation.
This is not news to Christians. Ever since Adam bit the apple/fig/pomegranate (scholars are unsure), the world has been going to hell in a hand basket. This is what our faith is all about: that despite what our eyes and brains tell us, our hearts know better. God is in charge, and all things work together for good for those who love God. We have been given the assurance of salvation and rescue. We know a deeper truth than that offered us by secular culture. Even in the face of severe persecution and the threat of bodily harm, we have reason to rejoice, right? It doesn’t matter if the mass media does everything in its power to scare the living daylights out of us. We’re not shaken by an elevated terrorist threat level (orange, no amber, no crimson, no BLOOD RED!), because we possess blessed assurance, amazing grace, and a friend named Jesus. The culture may tell us the world is a horrible, angry, awful place, but the Christian counter-culture has a more important story to share with the nations: our God is an AWESOME God. The rest of the world may go nuts with fear, but not us…
Vital Is As Vital Does March 7, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Spiritual seekers, The United Methodist Church, Values
How are we defining “vital” in the UMC? Is vitality mere existence? Is a congregation with a lot of warm, passive bodies vital? Are people huddled inside their doors happily waiting to be friendly to unsuspecting visitors vital? Is a congregation that hosts a dozen small groups that do movie/football/bowling nights vital? Does a lively praise band make us vital? Do we become vital when we attract 5% more people? 10%? 20%? Is there are clear crossover point between vitality and non-vitality? Does age make a difference? Economics? Can we have a vital, financially poor church? Is it possible for a small congregation of 70-80-year-olds to be vital? Is vitality measured by the number of people who come to us or the number of people we equip to serve others? Can a church that eliminates inactive members and is 50% smaller today than it was five years ago be vital? Is a church of less-than-100 members vital? Does a church need a full-time, paid ordained pastor to be vital? What about a church that offers only one kind of worship? Do churches without youth and children qualify as vital?
Partisan Piety September 18, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Personal Reflection, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture.
Tags: Religious Trends, Unity
Concepts of separation of church and state, the divide between science/academia and religion, faith and politics are generally muddy and misinformed. Early attempts to guarantee religious freedom and protect against theocracy have come to mean, in some minds, that the physical and the metaphysical should have nothing in common. And when we blur lines and pigeon-hole positions as clearly one thing or the other, we get in trouble fast. Political labels do not line up cleanly with theological labels, and to reduce people to categories is the worst kind of judgmental heresy. We live in a charged society where we define ourselves as much by what we hate as by what we love, by what we oppose as much as by what we support. Rather than focus on our own attributes and virtues, we waste so much time and energy castigating, attacking and insluting those with whom we disagree. We love living in the polarity — but not the polarity of separate, but equal. Instead, we want to prove superiority over inferiority. We take what we are not and make it a terrible thing that no decent, self-respecting person would ever want to be — like those people over there…
Beyond Label or Category June 28, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Religious Trends, Spiritual seekers
I sat with a table of clergy and laity leaders talking about reaching “young people.” In frustration, I asked them to define for me who these “young people” are and what they are like. It became apparent that the “young people” we want to reach are a generic, bland hash of upper-middle-class, calm, well-behaved “newer” versions of ourselves. The expectation is that “young people” will either share, or quickly adopt, our values, that they will enjoy what we enjoy, think what we think, and not question or challenge the way things are. Oh, and they will all nicely and cleanly fit simple categories — easy to label and control. This conversation is a glimpse into a huge problem we face — trying to reach and relate to people we don’t know or understand at all.
Cheapening the Church June 14, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Identity & Purpose, Integrity, The United Methodist Church, U.S. Culture, Uncategorized.
Tags: hypocrisy, Religious Trends, The United Methodist Church, Values
Culture works on church like a cancer. Popularity is the new standard of excellence. Having a slogan or a sound bite or a brand is so much more important than being relevant or having integrity. Our get-’em-in-the-doors-by-any-means mentality has done more to kill the church than almost anything else, but it gives the false impression of success. I saw a man set a record for cramming over three hundred french fries in his mouth at one time, but the caption along the bottom of the television screen read Highlands Assemblies of God Church — and I thought, what a perfect metaphor! Super Size UMC. It’s no wonder that the rest of the world looks at what has become of the church and walks away shaking their collective head. They simply know a sell-out when they see one — reducing the gospel of Jesus Christ to slogans. I got news for you, slapping it on a bumper sticker ain’t evangelism — it’s the path of least resistance. It is what we do when we choose not to do the hard work of actually getting to know people and sharing with them the beliefs and values that give our lives meaning. It’s letting McDonald’s and Wal-Mart teach us how to set up a money-changers franchise in the temple. We have been doing it constantly since the 1960s. How’s that workin’ out for us…?
Emerged February 24, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Core Values, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Church growth, hypocrisy, Religious Trends, Spiritual seekers
I love young adults. They slap me upside the head every time I meet with them. They are the supreme reality check. They burst my bubble every single time I talk to them. I NEED twenty-somethings to help me see what I am missing. Case in point. I met with a group of about forty clergy and young adults — most of the laity in their early- to mid-twenties, clergy in their late-twenties/early thirties. We were talking about the relevancy and significance of the church. Now, a decade ago, when I met with this age group, the hot topic at the time was “emerging church.” It was the rage. Bell, McLaren, McManus, Tony Jones, Warren books were spread all over everywhere, and just about everyone was signed up for an emerging something somewhere. Today, the emerging church was not even mentioned, so I thought I would ask about it. The response I got surprised me at first, but then simply assaulted my own tiny worldview. One of the group snorted derisively and said, “A bunch of 50-year-old white guys talking about postmodern Christianity and missional churches!” I was stunned. Whenever I talk to those 50+ white guys, we think we are so cutting edge and relevant. I have written before about the usurpation of the emerging vision by mainline and evangelical institutional churches — which indeed undermined the relevancy years ago — but I didn’t realize that it had so completely left the radar screen of younger leaders across the country.
Failure In An Instant June 30, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Church growth, Church Leadership, Congregational Life, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Values
At what point do we finally wake-up to the fact that there is no such thing as a lasting, transformative “quick-fix?” We have suffered through over 50 years of “church-in-box” programs that have produced poor results at best. Disciple Bible Study came closest to delivering transformation, but ultimately “popular” did not translate into “effective.” Literally thousands of people have had wonderful, meaningful, enjoyable Disciple experiences. However, a variety of independent follow-up evaluations indicate that there is a very low retention rate, that few people adopt sustained spiritual formation practices, and few report any transformed behavior in their daily lives. I will hear about the handful whose lives were completely changed, and I do not devalue any such experience — but unless Disciple has been an integrated component of a comprehensive developmental process of spiritual formation, it remains a pleasant experience for the vast majority. No, our Bible studies, evangelism programs, stewardship campaigns, membership drives, and 7 Habits, 10 Keys, 12 Steps, and 40 Days remedies have done little to make us a city on the hill or a light in the darkness. Where this occurs, there is hard work, commitment, vision and prayerful discernment shared by the many rather than the few.
The Reason For the Season: Evil December 6, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Religious Trends
I have been laid up with a bad sinus infection pretty much since Thanksgiving, so I spent an inordinate amount of time surfing daytime TV. What an amazing amount of noise passing for entertainment… However, two tidbits caught my attention while navigating the vast wasteland of morning programming. First, I caught a Lutheran pastor’s sermon, “The Reason for the Season,” and anticipated getting all bent out of shape about another “advent” sermon that misses the point. That wasn’t exactly what I got — at least, it missed a completely different point than the one I expected. Second, I listened to a panel of people discussing how “Christians are ruining Christmas” for the general population — a truly novel idea.
Interestingly, I learned that Jesus isn’t the reason for the season; evil is. An earnest, sincere older white Lutheran pastor focused in on the advent theme of Jesus’ last week before his crucifixion to illustrate that our world is corrupt, violent, merciless, arrogant and disgusting to God. God looked at our world approximately 2,000 years ago and saw how filthy and diseased it had become and he sent Jesus to clean things up — however, the world was so far gone that instead of receiving the Son of God with joy and thanksgiving, we annihilated him. We “took God’s gift and spit upon it,” the preacher proclaimed. “And if we thought we were filthy then, just take a look at how foul we have become since!” Christmas, it seems, is like an annual flu shot — an inoculation against the corruption and disease that we call “the world.” Without Christmas, “evil wins.” He digressed to talk about the rampant cultural values that are destroying Christmas — mentioning that “Santa” and “Satan” employ the same letters for a very transparent and insidious reason. Then he said something that I found chilling and incredible: “The light of Christ come down 2,000 years ago has been extinguished — evil has won, the devil is the victor — it is up to us to reignite the flame!”
Holy Disorientation August 23, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Life, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends, Church Leadership, Research.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Vision
The root of the word “orientation” comes from the idea of using the rising sun — the east — as a reference point to stay on course. We” orient,” then as the day passes into night, we become “dis-oriented,” until the sun reappears and we can “re-orient” ourselves. A sublime and simple process — that will preach, by the way (just don’t get too cute substituting Son for sun…). This comes to mind because I just unearthed a folder of congregational profiles that I was working on two summers ago, just before I was let go by the General Board of Discipleship. The study intended to determine where our United Methodist congregations are aligning their energy and resources. It wasn’t intended to judge or imply value, but to merely describe and better understand the orientation of our current reality.
The survey involved selecting one preference from 60 forced choice pairs. For example, “If you could only do one of the following in each pair, which would you choose? — A fellowship supper or a Bible study. Attend worship or go on a mission trip. Sharing my faith with a non-Christian or visiting a church member. Working at a soup kitchen or my church rummage sale. Attend worship or a Bible study. Visit a sick church member or visit inmates in prison.” Then a weighted average of the overall scores were plotted on a chart indicating four orientations: inward focus on our church, inward focus on relationship with God, outward focus on our church, and outward focus on relationship with God.
Yesterday Once More April 28, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Change, Church growth, Church Leadership, Congregational Planning.
Tags: Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Vision
I am constantly amazed at how many churches are looking for their future in their past. It’s a bit like looking in the cupboard to see if we can find the best meal we ever ate. For a people who believe that their Savior makes all things new, we certainly don’t act like it. I cannot tell you the number of Church Councils I meet with to talk about their vision for the future, and what they tell me is what they looked like in their bygone glory days. For example, across the country United Methodist Churches have very little appeal for families with young children who have no desire for anything more than Sunday child care and a fun hour of singing and stories. Yet, we continue to pin our future on recreating a (very brief) golden age from the 1950s and 1960s when our Sunday schools were filled to brimming. Of course, Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren were making more children in those days. However, Christian Educator’s Fellowships coast-to-coast do everything in their power to keep the nostalgia for those mythic days alive. This in a culture where the majority of today’s church-children are born into families of conservative evangelicals who already have a church (non-denominational) affiliation. The secular consultants that most of our agencies have hired to tell them how to be church have admitted to us that we simply do not have much of a “market” with children and youth, yet the majority of our churches still maintain “children are our future.” (Note: “children/youth/young adults are our future” is a dumb thing to say. They are the church NOW, and any “future” that depends on cultivating long-term or lifelong relationships with any one congregation in this day and age is doomed to fail…)