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With all the heavy news in the world these days it may be helpful to have a good laugh… even if it is at our own expense…  or our own organizations. Who knows? We might even learn something about ourselves.

The tribal wisdom of the American Indians—passed on from generation to generation—says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

Kind of obvious! But surprisingly, it is more often ignored than honored.

Riding a dead horse

Most of us are in one or another organization. Few of us are in perfect organizations. All organizations, at one point or another, face the necessity to change. Religious organizations are no exception.

Organizations… and individuals… develop all kinds of strategies to cope with change. Some strategies are more successful than others. There is one strategy that has many lives … the “dead horse” theory. The following is an adaptation of something that has been circulating around the internet for some time. Its discovery seemed shrouded in mystery!

Many have researched it and found a whole range of advanced strategies for dealing with a dead horse such as:

  1. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
  2. Develop a training session to improve our riding ability.
  3. Hiring an outside consultant to advise on how to better ride the horse.
  4. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.
  5. Using your horse whip more firmly.
  6. Riding the dead horse “smarter, not harder.”
  7. Changing riders.
  8. Harnessing several dead horses together.

Some take a different tack:

  1. Proclaiming, “This is the way we’ve always ridden this horse.”
  2. Declaring, “God told us to ride this horse.”
  3. Taking a positive outlook—pronouncing that the dead horse doesn’t have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the church’s budget than do some other horses.
  4. Confessing boldly, “This horse is not dead, but alive!”
  5. Get the horse a website.
  6. Killing all the other horses so the dead one doesn’t stand out.
  7. Name the dead horse, “paradigm shift” and keep riding it.
  8. Remembering all the good times you had while riding that horse.

When I trot out these approaches in conversation, many nod knowingly!

Our personal versions?

It is not only organizations that must change. We ourselves must adapt to all manner of changes around us.

Visitors to Vincentian Mindwalk are almost all engaged in some form of ministry. Chances are we have developed strong preferences in how we minister. At the same time, the world around us is changing. So too the needs of those we serve.

Here’s a suggestion for identifying any dead horses we are clinging to.

  1. List the problems you face in your ministry.
  2. Then, in a sentence, describe the approach you are taking to solve the problem.
  3. Look through the list above to see if any fit a variation of the “dead horse” theory.
  4. Finally, take the time to pray the famous prayer for serenity.

God grant me the serenity 

  • To accept the things I cannot change; 
  • Courage to change the things I can; 
  • And wisdom to know the difference.

Perhaps you can summon up the courage to get even more personal and use the above to think about your approach to the problems in your life and relationships.

Can I recognize my variations of the dead horse theory?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

Dead horse theory of ministry
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