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.
Wanted: Young People (Some Restrictions Apply) March 11, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Seeker spirituality.
Tags: Christian Community, Evangelism, Spiritual seekers, Young Adults
Going through some files, I came upon a folder of interview notes from the UM Seeker Study I conducted almost a decade ago. There is a wondrous and troubling paradox in the old UMC these days when it comes to young people: we say we want to reach young people and bring them into the church. We say we need to listen to them to find out how to reach them. But when we hear what they say, we argue with them and criticize them for not accepting us just as we are. Which raises the question: do we really want to reach young people or do we only want to reach young people who are exactly like we are? And who, exactly, are these “young people” we are so keen on?
Last question first. When we look at young people, ages 18-34, we’re looking at three distributions: education, economics, and values. About 58% will finish college, about 21% will get some college, and about 21% will have no college. About 55% will make between $30,000 and $70,000, with about 15% making more and 30% making less. About 50% will hold moderate values spiritually and politically, 30% conservative, and 20% liberal/progressive. Young people who are less educated, conservative-to-moderate, and making less income are five times as likely to go to church as their counterparts. This group is most attracted to larger, newer, independent churches with the widest variety of programs and services. Across the board, young people are not joiners, and 18-34 year olds are unlikely to step into leadership positions in traditional structures — they are more interested in doing ministry than talking about doing ministry. Those with a higher education will hold the church to a different set of expectations. Of the 21% who do not go onto college, the basic expectations are: a simple story, clearly told, with very clear instructions on right and wrong, good and evil, salvation and sin. This group will not “over-think” the gospel story, nor will they be attracted to deep theological reflection or the complexity of reconciling belief with behavior. Of the 21% with some college, the expectations shift to include a deeper understanding of the Bible and the Christian story. The hunger for “answers” shifts to a deep desire for “meaning.” The moderately higher-educated will be less interested in knowing “the truth,” than understanding how to live a life pleasing to God. This group will wrestle more with inconsistencies and will seek ways to resolve the inner conflicts that their faith brings to bear on complex social issues. This will be a questioning group, unwilling to take most anything at face value. (In The United Methodist Church, we’re not really sure we want people who will come asking a lot of questions — especially when we don’t know the answers…)
O Death, Where Is Thy Sting February 8, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Myths, Spiritual seekers
The powers that be at Marvel Comics decided to kill the Human Torch; at least the most recent incarnation (the Human Torch originally appeared in the 1940s as an android, then was reintroduced as a cocky young kid in 1962 as on quarter of the Fantastic Four). At least, for the time being, he is dead, gone, and will be missed… until he returns. This is the mythic dynamic of the realm of superheroes — good always wins, even over death. Barry Allen died (the Flash) – he’s back. Superman died — not a problem, he returned better than ever. Batman/Bruce Wayne — R.I.P./R.F.B.T.D (Rest in Peace/Returned From Beyond the Grave). Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel — toss in minor characters “cleaned out” from time to time, then brought back and the message is clear. Death is a wimp that can’t keep track of his/her possessions. Our bright and shiny superheroes need have no fear of death (and don’t get me started on the villains — they come back almost as frequently — making most of what I am going to say here oddly contradictory…) because it doesn’t last. Time and slumping sales will conspire to bring resurrection.
Comic books — pardon me, graphic novels (and my favorite, illustration art narrative) — construct for themselves a mythos and a reality. Comic writers/artists assume godlike powers in creating and destroying at will, anything and everything in their path that might stimulate interest and boost sales. The death of Superman was significant in its time because it opened the flood gates — even the invincible icons were fair game. No one was safe from death, but that’s okay because in the realm of the superhero, death is no more bothersome than getting stuck in traffic at rush hour. Things will clear up soon and go back to “normal.” What a grace and comfort it must be to dwell in a realm that believes in eternal life, new beginnings, second chances, hope, trust, loyalty, team work, etc. Wow! Sounds like what the church is supposed to be like, doesn’t it?