Riding Dead Horses

I found the following list posted by Harry K. Jones on AchieveMax Blog.  It strikes me that churches in a post-denominational age need to make a practice of stopping to ask themselves: "Are we attempting to ride dead horses?"  That's a structural/organizational question that is increasingly important to consider in a culture in which Emerging generations have less and less commitment to traditional churches and denominations.

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota 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.”

In contrast, here’s how many in today’s [religious] environment respond when they find out their “horse” is dead:

  1. Say things like, “This is the way we always have ridden the horse.”
  2. Appoint a committee to study the horse.
  3. Buy a stronger whip.
  4. Change riders.
  5. Arrange to visit other locations to see how they ride dead horses.
  6. Raise the standards for riding dead horses.
  7. Appoint a triage team to revive the dead horse.
  8. Create a training session to increase our riding ability.
  9. Compare the state of dead horses in today’s business environment.
  10. Change your definitionsor rules by declaring, “This horse is not dead.”
  11. Hire outside consultants to ride the dead horse.
  12. Harness several dead horses together to increase speed and pulling power.
  13. Declare that “No horse is too dead to beat.”
  14. Provide additional incentive funding (more sticks – more carrots) to increase the horse’s performance.
  15. Do a case-study to see if competitors can ride it cheaper.
  16. Purchase a software package or institute a new program to make dead horses run faster.
  17. Declare that the horse is “better, faster, and cheaper” dead.
  18. Form a quality circle to find uses for dead horses.
  19. Revisit the performance requirements for dead horses.
  20. Downsize the dead horse.
  21. Reassign fault to the dead horse’s last rider.
  22. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.
  23. Shorten the track.
  24. Declare the dead horse was “one of the leading horses” in its day.
  25. Establish benchmarks for industry dead horse leaders.
  26. Gather other dead animals and announce a new diversity program.
  27. Put together a spiffy PowerPoint presentation to get planners to double the dead horse R & D budget.
  28. Get the dead horse a web site!

by Derek Penwell


Derek Penwell is senior pastor of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities.  He is the author of articles ranging from Stone/Campbell history to aesthetic theory and the tragic emotions.  He is a graduate of Great Lakes Christian College (B,R.E.), Emmanuel School of Religion (M.A.R.), Lexington Theological Seminary (M.Div. and D.Min.), and a Ph.D. in humanities at the University of Louisville.  He currently blogs at The Company of the Eudaimon and on Twitter at @reseudaimon.  Penwell frequently crochets Mexican serapes from the tattered remnants of repurposed 1970s tube socks.