Knowing Nods and Beating Dead Horses

by | Oct 17, 2018 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change | 1 comment

With all of 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. Here is a repeat of an earlier FamVin post.
At a gathering of the Congregation of the Mission leadership representing over 50 countries, Fr. Joe Agostino offered this gem which brought smiles …and many knowing nods…

Image courtesy of Agile

“I had the pleasure of meeting Fr. Richard Fragomeni from Chicago at a number of liturgy & RCIA conferences over the years.

He once said in a talk to a group of religious:  if the horse you are riding on dies, get off!

And as common sense as it sounds, we often don’t do that! Instead, we:

  • buy a stronger whip,
  • switch riders
  • appoint a committee to study dead horses
  • visit places that seem to be riding dead horses better
  • or ….  just complain about them!”

He continued…

“Provincial planning places us at a crossroad about the horses we are riding on:

  • Which ones can take us into the future?
  • Which ones need to be laid to rest?
  • What are the important issues that we honestly need to face about the journey?
  • What are the un-askable questions?  What are the sacred cows?”

Sure sounds like material for an examination of conscience for ministries!

Pursuing some due diligence .famvin uncovered more about “The Dead Horse Theory” at Agile

Many variations of “How to Ride a Dead Horse” have appeared, especially on the internet, and I don’t know who the original author is.  We’ve rewritten and adapted this slightly for churches, but every organization (whether it’s business, government, educational institutions, etc.) can have a tendency to hold on to old forms long after their effectiveness has diminished or ceased entirely.

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.

Modern churches, however, have found a whole range of far more advanced strategies to use, such as:

1.     Buying a stronger whip.

2.     Changing riders.

3.     Declaring, “God told us to ride this horse.”

4.     Appointing a committee to study the horse.

5.     Threatening the horse with termination.

6.     Proclaiming, “This is the way we’ve always ridden this horse.”

7.     Develop a training session to improve our riding ability.

8.     Reminding ourselves that other churches ride this same kind of horse.

9.     Determining that riders who don’t stay on dead horses are lazy, lack drive, and have no ambition – then replacing them.

10.  Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

11.  Reclassifying the horse as “living-impaired.”

12.  Hiring an outside consultant to advise on how to better ride the horse.

13.  Harnessing several dead horses together to increase the speed.

14.  Confessing boldly, “This horse is not dead, but alive!”

15.  Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.

16.  Riding the dead horse “outside the box.”

17.  Get the horse a Web site.

18.  Killing all the other horses so the dead one doesn’t stand out.

19.  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.

20.  Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

21.  Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

22.  Name the dead horse, “paradigm shift” and keep riding it.

23.  Riding the dead horse “smarter, not harder.”

24.  Stating that other horses reflect compromise, and are not from God.

25.  Remembering all the good times you had while riding that horse.

Sometimes laughter can help us gain perspective on our efforts.

  • Which of these strategies have you observed?
  • Can you identify times in your life that you used one of these strategies?
  • In either case, what can we learn about approaching problems?


1 Comment

  1. Tom

    Great stuff —and useful ?