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Riding a dead horse

Bill Dettmer wrote: “The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from one generation to the next, says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”

However, in modern times, because of an unwillingness to let things go, we often try other strategies, such as:

1. Buy a stronger whip

2. Change riders

3. Threaten the horse with termination

4. Appoint a committee to study the horse

5. Lower the standard so that dead horses can be included

6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living impaired

7. Harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed

8. Donate the dead horse to a recognized charity, deducting its full cost

9. Time management study to see if lighter rides would improve productivity

10. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position

I laughed so hard typing this, tears were clouding my vision. But within the humor there is a grain of truth. Did any of these answers sound vaguely familiar? Over the years, I imagine we’ve all seen a few dead horses in our lives, our careers, our families and even in our churches.

So, why should a preacher talk about a dead horse?

Anytime you settle for what you have already accomplished rather than continuing to move toward what God wants for us will eventually lead to riding a dead horse. A ride that gets you nowhere fast.

And this could describe many of our churches. Are we achieving our true potential? In my younger days, I would have said something like, “We need to add drums and electric guitars to the worship service. We can hold services on the lake and use the church building for a soup kitchen. Let’s throw everything out and start over.”

Now, in my defense, some of those ideas are food for thought, but I would be showing a complete lack of respect for many of the traditions of our church that are biblical and helpful for grounding us in the middle of a rapidly changing world.

So, what is the point of talking about dead horses?

Matthew 28:19-20 – Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have taught you. And I will be with you always to the end of the age.”

Jesus clearly states our mission. Reach out to others as potential disciples, offer solid teaching and pass on the comfort and hope of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

So, if our main goal is to reach out to others in the name of Christ. Then we need to be aware how people communicate so we can offer the love of Christ. Drums and guitars could be helpful but today we communicate through cell phones, internet and social media including websites, email, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and, since the pandemic, Zoom and others.

What else? Have you researched who lives within a mile of your church? Do you know those people? What are the names of their children? How are they doing?

And to each of us, how well do you know the people who live next door, across the street or directly behind you? Do you know the names of their children? How are they doing? How can you be a good neighbor? Ask, “How can I pray for you?”

1. How can I as a Christian make a difference in the lives of those I meet?

2. How can I be a leader of a church that continually does the same?

If our traditions hold us back from fulfilling our ultimate mission, then we need to take a serious look at ourselves and consider what it means to change. If we spend more time preserving what we have and less time looking for ways to serve, we are riding a dead horse. As much as I respect and love our church, my primary mission is to serve Jesus Christ.

Do we have the courage to dismount from the dead horses that slow us down and concentrate on the challenges ahead? It’s not easy, but serving God was never meant to be easy. God never said, “Get up on that dead horse and ride.” Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.