Knittin’ Mittens for a Snake September 27, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Integrity, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture.
Tags: Evangelism, hypocrisy, Spiritual seekers, Values
When will we begin to listen? Much of what we are offering people, they don’t want, can’t use, and don’t value. A growing population of deeply devout people — of all ages — have determined that organized religion is for the judgmentally insane. I was sitting in a meeting with a group of conservative evangelical independent almost fundamentalist teenagers who are furious with their church for not welcoming minorities — racial, ethnic, gay, poor. One by one the young people lamented that they simply don’t care to be part of any religion that uses hate, exclusion, violence, injustice and abuse as their governing values. Twenty years ago, many young people in conservative churches would have not batted an eye at exclusion — only those liberal bleeding hearts would have wanted “those people” anywhere near the church. The trends are fairly clear: more people are avoiding the church because it is too judgmental and restrictive, not because it is too liberal and unrighteous.
Too Busy to Learn July 12, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian Education, Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Critical Thinking, spiritual practices.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Christian Community, Church Leadership, Spiritual seekers, Values
Yesterday, I had the great honor to launch a new learning academy in our annual conference — something we have been talking about for a long time, but for a variety of reasons couldn’t get launched earlier. We are attempting a conference-wide, ongoing Leadership Learning Academy for clergy and laity that focuses in four broad areas: spiritual leadership development, congregational vitality, relational excellence, and cultural competency. As a flagship training, we are looking at Small Groups for Transformation — training trainers to teach effective small group process. This isn’t a formulaic “seven easy steps to small group ministry,” but a college level deep dive into lifelong learning, developmental theory, group dynamics, facilitation, and communication. The first class was a blast for me — I had a great time. It is small — seven students on the first go-round — and I haven’t received feedback from everyone, but at least three of the participants thought it was great. Not just enjoyable/popular great, but beneficial/valuable great (which is always a concern of mine — sometimes confusing popularity for value…). But even more telling than those who said “yes” to participate are those who have been asked but had to say “no”.
The form of the “nos” come in three varieties:
- This is really great and I want to participate but I am simply too busy.
- I am glad we are getting serious about learning, but this topic has no interest for me.
- I have better things to do with my time.
Each of these answers trigger a response in me, and please hear that I am receiving all three as legitimate and acceptable answers, but they raise issues and thoughts in my head. I share the thoughts through a series of questions and comments.
Growth Imperative May 8, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Spiritual seekers, Values
The Christian faith is about growth and maturing. In recent posts, I’ve talked about “mature” faith, and the response has been interesting. Many frame the term “mature” as judgmental, exclusive, and unkind — when compared to “less mature” or “immature.” But developmental and qualitative growth — improvement, strengthening, seasoning, evolving — is best described in terms of maturing. Indeed, there is a value judgment in assessing one behavior as mature against another as immature. Yet, we are all aware of the differences between a mature and an immature response to disappointment, failure, pain, or loss. The more mature response is generally very clear. It doesn’t mean an immature response is bad, it is simply… less mature.
And spiritual maturity is essential for a healthy spiritual relationship — with God, in Christian community, and with those we seek to serve and love. I have yet to find a congregation torn apart by maturity. The most toxic and destructive behaviors come from the least mature spiritually. Where a process for maturing is not provided, the less mature rule. And when the less mature call all the shots, it is amazing how “the mature” often respond — more often than not, like the spiritually immature. It seems that immaturity exerts a greater influence on maturity than maturity exerts in reverse. But this actually make sense — there are way more less mature than mature.
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?
Manipunativity December 16, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Devotional Reflection, Seeker spirituality.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Spiritual seekers
I can quite honestly say I am having a “cognitive dissonance Advent”. Late in November I received a monograph from two graduate students for review and comments. One of the most intriguing aspects of the monograph is that its authors are young females — one Israeli and one Palestinian. Their subject is an examination of the poor in first century B.C.E. Palestine (drawing mainly from sources written 60 – 2 B.C.E.), primarily in urban settings, but with rich detail comparison to rural life. It is slow going because I have been asked to do some source checking, and I find the work both well-researched and exhaustively documented. The problem with it is that it is challenging all of my 20th-21st century dearly held beliefs about the birth of Jesus! Our wonderfully crafted modern mythologizing transforms the accounts from Matthew and Luke into a pageant — grand, noble, inspiring, but also sterilized, palatable, and comfy.
Picture Mary. What images come to mind? The “wise” men? The shepherds? The stable and manger? The immaculately clean, well-behaved, reverent animals in western style stalls? The star in the sky? Joseph? The mean old inn-keeper? In its simplicity it is a sweet, gentle, kind, lovely story. Just the kind we love — don’t nobody mess it up! If you don’t want it messed with, stop reading. No, seriously, you won’t care for the rest of this blog. I mean it. Step away from the blog.
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.
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.
Christi-inanity October 5, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, Critical Thinking, Integrity, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: anti-intellectualism, Christian Community, Church Leadership, Spiritual seekers, Values
Four recent conversations point out a serious (and growing) problem in many of our congregations: we don’t know what to do with smart people who ask tough questions. I have had (intentional) encounters with people in the state of Wisconsin who have visited United Methodist congregations and found them lacking. In each case, the person I spoke to decided to go to another church or to stop going to church altogether. They all gave essentially the same reason: they grew disillusioned that no one could or would answer their questions. The conclusion they all came to is that United Methodists don’t know their faith, don’t engage in open-minded conversation, don’t welcome questions, and teach and preach at a third grade level. Fair or not, we are losing three whole generations of college/post-college educated men and women who feel that we are dumbing-down our faith — and once we lose these folks we aren’t likely to get them back.
When Fruit Goes Bad June 22, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Core Values, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Spiritual seekers
By our fruits we will be known. What’s that smell? Why all the flies? What a waste. The rotten fruit of the Spirit is this: conditional love, repressed joy, fake peace, pretended patience, niceness passing as kindness, generosity to those who “deserve” it, narrow-minded faith-fullness, passive-aggressive gentleness, and demanding others control themselves by our own rules. Something sweet and wonderful is reduced to so much garbage when we let it rot on the vine. We take that which God gives as goodness and we waste it — causing it to be so much less than it is intended to be. It all falls apart when we start deciding who is worthy — by our own narrow definitions.
The Costs of Low Expectations June 3, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church growth, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Christian Community, Mission & Purpose, Spiritual seekers
While cleaning out some files the other day, I came across a folder of interviews I did in 2004 with 22 lifelong United Methodists who, in their 60s, 70s and 80s, made the decision to leave the denomination and join another church. These people did not make the choice based on relocation, change of beloved pastor to a not-so-beloved pastor, or due to a personal conflict or event. The four primary reasons given for their decision were these:
- no longer being fed spiritually
- no longer being challenged to grow or improve
- no experience of God’s presence or the power of the Holy Spirit
- a growing sense of irrelevancy or meaninglessness in the purpose of the church
These men (5) and women (17) were not nominal members, but were part of the leadership core of their congregations — Trustees, UMW officers, members of Staff Parish Relations, Church Council, teachers, lay speakers, etc. They were not defending personal agendas — I interviewed many people who were, and I culled their feedback from the pool. The 22 interviews I compiled represent a signficant and serious of sample of deeply engaged United Methodists who made a painful, costly, yet intentional decision to exit the church they loved.
Rather than summarize the interviews, I present five verbatim quotes from six different people, explaining their reasons for leaving. It might be easy to dismiss their opinions, yet I think they are worthy of reflection as we consider what kind of church we might be in the future.