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.

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 organization. Who knows? We might even learn something about ourselves. We might be riding dead horses!

Riding a dead horse in an era of change

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

Organizations… and individuals… develop various strategies to cope with change.

Some strategies are more successful than others. One strategy, somewhat paradoxically, has many lives … the “dead horse” theory. The following is an adaptation of something circulating around the internet for some time. Its origin seems shrouded in mystery!

Advanced strategies of coping with change

Many have researched it and found a whole range of advanced strategies for dealing with a dead horse. Among them…

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

Religious variations on a theme

  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, is less costly, carries lower overhead, and contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the church’s budget than some other horses.
  4. Professing 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.

Which is easier?

  • Recognizing how others ride dead horses?
  • Owning your own dead horse strategies?

Click below to listen to an early audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

Imagine riding a dead horse