Wisdom, For a Change November 15, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Planning, Leadership, Transformation and Change.
Tags: Christian Community, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Vision
I received an email from a long-time colleague finding herself in an all-too-common situation: asked to “grow” a church where the leadership begged her to help bring them into the 21st century, she now finds that this same leadership effectively blocks each and every attempt she makes to lead. Her default setting is to think she is doing something wrong (hence, she writes “What am I doing wrong?”) when in fact she is experiencing that frustrating reality known as “normal.” She asked for my “wisdom” on leading change. After reflecting on it for the past week, here is what I came up with. I shared it with her, now I share it with you: Core Principles for Leading Change.
Note I say ‘principles” rather than “rules,” “laws,” “keys,” “models,” “steps,” or “guidelines.” This is intentional. We are a “magic-bullet” seeking church. We want a formula. We want a prescription. We want a “best practice” — even though we have been spoon-fed an unending supply of same for decades and it hasn’t done squat to move us forward. This is simply because copying what someone else has already done is a lousy definition of “leadership.” There are three key variables to every leadership situation that simply cannot be codified and controlled: context, chemistry and competency.
Han Church August 9, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, Leadership, Vision.
Tags: Church Leadership, Faith Sharing, Vision
Okay, this is one of those cases where I probably should run what I am writing by my Korean-American bishop before I make a fool of myself – but, oh well, why start something new at this late date… I spent time this week at the North Central Jurisdiction Urban Ministries event in Milwaukee where the focus was on Asset Mapping. One fundamental tenet of asset mapping is that we should focus on the many blessings and gifts we DO have, instead of always lamenting and bemoaning that which we lack. All too often we are so focused on “need” that we fail to factor in “opportunity.” We see life as a problem to solve, a brokenness to fix, a burden to bear, or a threat to be escaped. Where is God in such a worldview? The doom-and-gloomers who regularly point out our dire situation don’t motivate us, they merely depress us. Panic and woe over the imminent “death tsunami” is purely manipulative and short-sighted — the truest lack of faith in evidence. Yet, we eat it up with both hands and a shovel. As I have said many times, the official United Methodist message is “we’re declining, we’re aging, we’re decaying, we’re dying, the ship is sinking… come join us!!!” And then we wonder why new generations don’t flock through our doors.
I sat listening to a number of people “yes, but…” the idea that we should focus on assets rather than needs, on blessings rather than burdens, and on opportunities rather than problems. One after another emphasized how serious and real the problems are and that if we don’t meet needs nothing else will matter. Actually, none of the leaders said that problems wouldn’t be fixed or needs met — the emphasis was on our energy and focus; our intentional decision NOT to be defined by our deficiencies, weaknesses and faults. But, I realized something. We LIKE our problems. Focusing on what we have lost, what we can’t achieve, what we don’t have, and where we can’t succeed takes all the responsibility and pressure off. The problem-solving mentality says, “well, we tried, but it didn’t work, so let’s call it a day.” We are justified in our depression and despair. We care deeply, but, hey, what can we do? The problems are just too big, and the needs are just too great.
Fruititude March 18, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Values, Vision
U.S. Christians are a lazy, passive, well-intentioned bunch. I am not talking about the 11% who are engaged in some form of regular hands-on ministry. I am speaking of the 89% who define “active” faith as attending church when convenient, showing up at an occasional potluck supper, buying the doo-dad-du jour from the youth group, or who toss a few bucks in the offering plate so that somebody else can do ministry for them. This is the group for whom faith is about “feelings” more than behaviors. 69% of active church-goers have never been on a mission trip or even a one day mission project — yet most are very proud of the mission work of their congregation. Living the faith by a few degrees of separation. I know, whenever I bring this up, people tell me I am being unrealistic to think that people’s actions will reflect their core values and beliefs. Actually, I DO think our actions belie our true beliefs and values — this is the problem.
People who read me regularly know that I am all about spiritual gifts and fruit — how God equips us and what we produce with what we have been given. I don’t believe that there actually is such a thing as a passive Christianity. Oh, I know there are passive people plopped proudly in our pews, and I think they like the idea of God and Jesus, but I also don’t believe they have the first clue what it means to be a Christian (let alone a disciple). Confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not the culmination of anything, merely the launch. And anyone who seeks a faith without hard work, commitment and sacrifice needs to look elsewhere. Christianity is, in essence, defined by five characteristics: 1) an intention to be in full relationship with God through Jesus Christ, 2) a devotion to deepen this relationship in learning, prayerful contemplation and corporate exploration, 3) the development of gifts, skills, knowledge, competency, and passion for serving God and neighbor, 4) the cultivation of synergistic community to seek, discern, understand, and carry out the will of God, and 5) regular employment to allow God to produce such fruit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, mercy, compassion, humility, grace and respect. There is no room for spectators — in this game, everyone is expected to play, no excuses, no exceptions.
The Hegemony of How February 6, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Critical Thinking, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
Responses to Polymorphous Pedagogic Perversity provide a fascinating illustration of the difficulties we face employing adaptive leadership process. Adaptive leadership, by definition, recognizes that our penchant for problem-solving pushes us to seek answers before we truly understand the complexity of the challenge before us. In other words, when faced with a complex situation, we race to ask “how” — how do we do it, how do we fix it, how do we change it. Adaptive leadership moves us into the muck and mire of messy reality and challenges us to observe, reflect, assess, explore and ponder before we try to figure out the simplest response or solution. So, I lay out what I believe to be the basis of an adaptive challenge for the church, and the immediate response of some was — “how do we do this?”
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).
The Janus Conundrum November 18, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, Communication in the Church, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, Vision
A day of new beginnings often produces mixed results — hopefulness & skepticism, promise and problems, anticipation and anxiety. In The United Methodist Church we are poised — some say on the threshold of a new day, others say on the brink of utter annihilation (most feel we are somewhere in between, but are not sure just where…) Unfortunately, when there is an absence of visionary leadership, we unintentionally compound the problem by adopting contradictory and incompatible tools and processes to attempt to make something happen. We have done it before, and we are doing it now. Case in point? Vital Congregations and Adaptive Leadership.
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.
Jurisfictional Conference July 18, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church, Vision
Okay, this is just weird. Holding a Jurisdictional Conference (JC) with no bishop to elect and only 25 nominations to general church boards and agencies is bizarre. The rhythm, drama, and impact of JC is greatly diminished — and there’s virtually nothing to do (unless you serve on Nominations or the Episcopacy Committee). Yes, we will learn who our new bishop will be in Wisconsin, but exactly how long does that need to take? We are investing a lot of time and resources in a meeting that should only take a day/day-and-a-half tops. Oh, sure, we could have had a bishop retire or ascend, and then an election would have been necessary, but that didn’t happen. We are here (in Akron, in the North Central Jurisdiction) looking a little dazed and confused.