6 Things Churches can Learn for Dogfish Head Craft Ales

Over Memorial Day weekend I went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with a few friends from seminary.  It was somewhat of a pilgrimage to the birthplace of our favorite beer company.  Dogfish Head Craft Brewery began as the first brewpub in the state of Delaware.  Soon it opened a brewery and began making flavorful and unique beers.  As I visited the pub and toured the brewery I could not help but notice some of the stand-out things that make this company so great.  Here are six things that I think churches can and need to learn from Dogfish Head.




1. Ignore the Status Quo  


When Sam Calagione started Dogfish Head, there were not a lot microbreweries in the USA.  The beer market was totally dominated by the big breweries.  They used massive marketing to say that beer had to be a certain way, was best served cold, and had to be made with certain ingredients.  They tell the customers what to like instead of asking the customers what they like.  To compete with them at their own game would have been suicide.  Calagione had a dream to do it differently.  He started small–building a brewpub before moving to a brewery.  He began in Delaware because he could be part of writing the brewery laws for that state.  He used a wider range of flavors and ingredients.  Dogfish built their market with social media and with grassroots efforts.  They used YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to find new customers.  Happy customer by happy customer Dogfish created a small but very loyal following that became advocates for their product.  They did not compete with the big companies but instead made their own path.

Churches have been doing things the same way for a long time.  There are a great number of established ideas about what a church should do and how a church should work.  Some churches function like big business and build their church around marketing.  Other’s struggle because they don’t have very much flavor and cannot win on marketing.  The status quo of churches is, for the most part, not working.  We need small, grassroot efforts to do something different.  We need new flavors of church.  We need to reconsider the ingredients that make up church and be willing to try some new things.


2. Live out your values


The motto of Dogfish Head is “Off-centered Ales for Off-centered People.” This phrase oozes out of every pore of the company.  It is central to all that it does.  It is core to business decisions, marketing, hiring practices, and even their flavors.  They certainly make off-centered ales.  They do not make boring beer and they do not fit in a normal beer mode.  They use different flavors like pumpkin, peach, and saffron.  Palo Santo Marron is aged in handmade containers made of Paraguayan Palo Santo wood.  Such off-centered ales are not for everyone.  In fact, this off-centered ales have not choice but to attract some quirky customers. In my visits to the brewpub and the brewery, I noticed  a lot of different people that felt free to be themselves (even before the help of the alcohol).  Everyone, no matter how off-centered, was welcome to come and have a good time.  In fact, Dogfish Head tries out new flavors in the brewpub specifically so their customers can have a say in the new beers.  Dogfish even puts their values into their architecture.  They recently put in a separate bottling building back behind the main factory.  The sidewalk between the building (shown in the picture I took) did not have evenly spaced cracks but was actually made to have every line be off-centered. The beams holding the pipes to bring the bear from the brewery to the bottling building was also made with off-centered steel beams.

I bought a shot glass before I left that was also off-centered. It slants sideways and is uneven on the bottom as well.  I am going to keep it on my desk to remind me of the values of Dogfish Head. Our churches have a much more compelling center value.  We have the life and work of Christ to drive us.  We also have our own particular corner of the kingdom that our church is meant to minister in.  Do we know our core values?  Do the people in our pews?  What if we began to make decisions based on a core understanding of who we are?  What if we planned our church architecture around our own motto?


3. Get the right people


Dogfish Head is not just about off-centered ales. They are also about off-centered people.  They hire off-centered people that fit with their values.  The guy giving the tour spoke about the company and the beer as if it was his own and cracked a number of jokes along the way.  The bartenders giving out beer samples were very willing to talk about the beers and the order he poured them in even though there were constantly people waiting.  Every server we had at the brewpub were fun, enthusiastic about the company and the beer.  We found out that the brewpub employees get a free beer with every shift and the brewery workers get a fee case every payday.  All employees get good benefits and profit-sharing.

Dogfish hires off-centered people, but they also appeal to off-centered people.  By creating such flavorful beer, Dogfish Head appeals to certain people but does not appeal to others.  They know this reality and live into it.  They also know how to take care of their customers.  At one point during our stay the manager of the brewpub can and talked to us for about 10 minutes.  He talked to us about the pub, about our tour of the brewery, and what a group of pastors was doing on vacation there.  In the end he bough us a round.  

When I look at the Bible I get the impression that Christians ought to care about people. Somehow, we mess it up.  We tend to care about the people that are the complainers.  We tend to want to attract to our churches those who have already left.  We think that if we could get those people back then everything would be ok.  We should instead try to connect with the people that fit with our values.  We tend to hire staff and recruit volunteers based on skill-sets rather than value-sets.  We need instead to get the right people on board with our church and our mission as we follow God’s plans.


4. Experimentation


I was amazed in my experience with Dogfish Head how much experimentation is part of their culture.  They are constantly trying new beers with new flavors.  They have made beers with raisons, saffron, peaches, and pumpkin to name only a few.  They have made several beers through partnerships.  They make a beer called Bitches Brew that was created with Sony Records for the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’ album of the same name.  Dogfish Head also has an “ancient ales” program where they use archeology to discover ancient brewing ingredients and processes.  Midas Touch is a great beer made from a recipe 2,700 years old.  They also try making beers from around the world.  Chicha, for example, is a beer from Central and South America that is made with pre-chewed corn.  Human saliva is necessary for the beer process.

We also found out on the tour that employees at the brewery are encouraged to work in groups to create new beer recipes.  Every month there is a competition for teams to share their new brew with other employees.  The winners every month get to brew a larger batch at the brewpub to be sold as a special.  The best brew of the year wins a team trip to New York City for the weekend.  Dogfish does everything they can to keep a pipeline of new brews so that there are always new ideas.  They always serve specials at the pub so that customers are part of the research and development process.

Where is this kind of innovation and experimentation in the church?  I think we need to try new things because what worked in the 1960’s is not going to work tomorrow.  We need to continue to keep our edge as Christian leaders.  We need to keep the pipeline full of potential places for God to work new miracles among us.  The church has always had to do this.  For the church today, this might mean going back and rediscovering some ancient ways of doing things.


5. Quality


Everything that Dogfish Head does is of incredibly high quality.  They constantly monitor their brew process. They have a whole team of chemists that check the beer periodically throughout the brew process.  Their facilities are state of the art and have represented a big investment in the last few years.  Dogfish employees are trained to taste beer and do daily taste samples.  In fact, some of the samples are occasionally spiked with contaminants to make sure people’s senses are attuned to what the beer should taste like.  I watched an episode of the show about their company called Brewmasters in which they dumped a huge tank of beer because it did not live up to the standards they had for the beer.  The cost to do this was estimated to be a half a million dollars.  In another episode they did not send a batch of their seasonal Punkin Ale because it was accidentally put in screw-top bottles.

Their quality also shows up in their branding.  The Dogfish logo can be seen on everything they do.  They have trademarked the font that they do all of their titles and signs in.  They have cool paintings on thick paper labels for each of their bottles.  The have a very user-friendly website with a ton of material on each of their beers.  Even the food at the brewpub is made with their beers as feature ingredients.

The church needs to think more about quality.  Most churches do not have the money or the people to do everything as a world-class production.  Still, we should strive to do the things that we do well to the glory of God.  It can be difficult, but sometimes we need to dump what is not working well in our churches.  I also think that churches to not pay attention to their own brand.  What do people in the community say about your church?  What do people assume about you when they see your buildings and read your publications?  Most importantly, when our church members are in public what do they say about our church and our Lord?


6. Grow the right way

Dogfish Head went through a time when they were growing by huge leaps every year.  At some point owner Sam Calagione decided that they needed to have slow controlled growth.  He did not want to see the company grow so fast that it lost  its values.  Dogfish has made a few things clear.  They will not sell to a bigger company or have a public stock offering.  They have moved to more automated systems but have not let employees go.  The employees whose jobs are not needed are always moved somewhere else in the company.  They have intentionally kept the output of the brewery below the facilities capacity.  Some seasonal beers that always sell out continue to be made in limited batches though the market could handle more.  Dogfish is growing slowly by building radical customer loyalty and holding true to its values.

Churches feel the temptation of growth.  We would all love a bigger and better facility and to pay all our bills.  I have seen churches that would sell their soul for growth. Many have lost their identity and their vitality in the pursuit of more full bank accounts and pews.  I think Dogfish challenges us to pursue growth in a way that is slower, more sustainable, and more true to the grassroots movement that Jesus started. 



It may seem odd to ask the church to consider a brewery for inspiration, but I find their story and their culture incredibly moving.  I am now reading Sam Calagione’s Brewing up a Business and really enjoying it.  I dream of an “Off centered church for off centered people.”  I want to see a church were people can come and be themselves.  I want to pastor a church that stays true to its values and tries new things.  

Clergy Parking

The following is a chapter of the book I am working on.  It tells of the first time I parked in the clergy parking spot and why I still do.


When I started my job as a student supply pastor, I had some experience.  I had experienced preaching and strategic planning, some discipleship, but little in the way of pastoral care and almost nothing in the context of hospitals.  My first few months at the church were very quiet pastorally.  I was preaching, ironing out a few difficulties with the decision making structure, and working on a few events that I was inheriting.  A week before finals of my third term in seminary, I got a call that Margaret was in the hospital. I was not ready for Margaret.

Margaret was not a member of my church.  In fact, I had never met Margaret.  She was a family member of one of my members.  She had been fighting cancer, but was losing the fight.  We had prayed for her during joys and concerns on several occasions.  She had gotten very odd in her behavior and had been very sick.  The call that I got stated that she was in a coma-like state and that she probably would not recover.  I did not believe that she went to another church, so I went into this visit with the understanding that this was probably going to turn into my first funeral.

I still remember going to the hospital.  I was 27 years old and not even a year into seminary.  What could I bring to this situation?  I did not even know how to get into this hospital since I had never been there, let alone find the right room.  It sounds silly, but I had never gone to a hospital when I did not already have a room number.  I felt so inadequate in that moment that I could not bring myself to park in the clergy parking spots.  I parked next to them, as if I were almost a clergy but was not yet one.

I stayed in my car and prayed for what seemed like an hour.  I did eventually find the courage to enter the hospital.  I believe that God gave me a perspective on what to do in that room.   The image that came to me was that of the Incarnation.  I believe that Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, was already present in that hospital room.  He can only be there in Spirit since He is with the Father.  I was to be His body.  I was to go in there and be the physical representation of His presence that was already there and would still be there when I left.  I did not need high and lofty words or some prayer that was going to make things alright.  All I had to do is show up and be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit was already doing there.  At this realization, I finally got out of the car and entered the hospital.

I was shocked as I entered the room.  I have seen people who were dead before, but not people who are almost dead.  As Margaret’s body was shutting down, her ability to do things like eat or breath properly were greatly diminishing.  I was shown a few pictures in the room but none of them really looked like her.  She was thin to the bones, pale, and laboring to breathe.  I knew when I walked in the room that she was going to die soon.

I have had very few encounters in my life where mortality has really been before me.  I have been in a couple car accidents.  I experienced the death of two grandparents but I was not especially close to them.  I have also been to a few other funerals of people I did not know well.  As I walked into that hospital room, the weight of mortality struck me a lot more than I expected.  I am sure the clinical setting had something to do with this.  I had my tonsils out as a kid and a few trips to the ER growing up.  My wife had two knee surgeries and two children (at the time) from very smooth cesareans.  The hospital was neither comforting nor welcoming.  It was not particularly scary either.  It was unfamiliar.  I am sure this heightened my sense of mortality and compounded my own feelings of inadequacy.

The experience in that room was not what I expected.  I am not sure why I had expectations since they were not based on personal or pastoral experience.  I expected the mood to be one of sadness and mourning.  What I walked into was actually a vigil of a group of people telling stories about Margaret.  I have heard grief described as a fog.  Suddenly this image made sense.  There were lulls in the conversation where the people in the room would stare off into space and they would not seem to be thinking of anything.  These pauses were ended as someone would begin another story of Margaret.

Selfishly, this vigil was great for me.  I did not know Margaret and these stories were glimpses into Margaret’s life.  They would be important later as I prepared her funeral so I took them all in.  I did not have to speak much at all.  They wanted to share their stories with me.  They were probably tired of telling them to each other over and over again.  The pauses in conversation also seemed natural and important as people faced the reality of losing Margaret.

In only a few minutes that room did not feel like a hospital any more.  The formality of the room remained, with its cold floor, tubes, monitors, and, of course, Margaret dying in her bed. Despite these reminders, a peace swept over me.  It seems odd, but this was a crystallizing moment for me.  I suddenly understood that I was born to do this.  I was right where God wanted me.  I felt so honored to represent Jesus in those moments.  I am a pastor!  I cannot see myself doing anything else.

I sat for over an hour in the cycle of stories and silence.  I gained a great deal of knowledge concerning Margaret’s life that day.  She was much loved.  She had many times opened her home to friends and family.  Margaret had been the rock and the glue for a group of friends and family that had gathered for vacation every summer. Before I left I prayed with the family.  I am somewhat ashamed of my own hesitancy to pray.  I think I still had a subtle feeling in the back of my mind that I did not belong there or at least a lack of confidence in what I should say.

As I left, I was so sad for the family. At the same time, I felt excited that my call had been so confirmed with me.  I was still not totally happy with how I had handled myself.  Had I been too passive during this visit?  Surely there was something I could have said or done to be of more help.  I realize now that I had every reason to be overwhelmed.  This situation was overloaded with subtext- things going on under the surface of the conversation.  There were all kinds of thoughts, pains and worries swirling in the room disguised as whatever we were talking about. Every person in this room was telling stories that really boiled down to how their own life intersected with Margaret’s life.

We all wish we had magic words.  They right verse, phrase, poem, or insight that would make the world right in the face of loss and grief.  If those words existed, we would all use them. But here is the fact–they do not exist.  All we have is hope in God and the support of one another.  Sometimes words make things worse.

I do not think that I needed to say much or point out Christ in this situation.  By my mere presence I represented both a faith and a tradition that did not need to be defended or expounded.  I got to use words at the memorial service the next week.  I spoke about how Christ understands personally what we go through.  He was betrayed, killed, anxious over His death, and even lost a loved one.  We can look to Christ for our hope now and we can hope in a future where there is no more cancer, suffering, or death.  While we long for this now, we hope and pray that Margaret was not longing for it any more.

God used this situation as a formative experience for me.  It confirmed my sense of call.  It set my own pastoral theology.  It showed me the essence of hospital visits.  I am thankful for these lessons and for this opportunity to reflect on them. Now, when I go to the hospital, I park in a clergy parking spots.  I do this not because I feel that I am now good enough.  Instead, I park there because I am called to park there.  That is both a scary and an awesome privilege.


Little Leaders

I enjoy going to leadership conferences, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and reading books on leadership.  These all encourage leaders to have big dreams and strive to accomplish them.  Even the Christian resources encourage big things from leaders–so big that God has to show up and make the dream possible.  I agree with these things.  I want to be a leader that accomplishes big things for God.

But my focus recently has been on becoming a “little leader.”  I want to be a leader that does the little things.  I want to be a leader who finds God’s will in the daily grind.  I want to be a leader that inches daily towards the goals and plans that God has for me.  As Brian Tracy says” “By the yard it is hard but by the inch its a cinch.”

For me as a pastor, this means that I try to make the calls and the visits that I need to. I follow through on what I say we do.  I try to send thank-you notes.  I take the time to have meaningful conversations with those I talk to.  I try to bring my best and my creativity in all that I do. I don’t do little things well, but I am finding that in the long run I get a lot more done by working as a “little leader.”

How can you be a better “little leader” today?

Learning from Gideon (Writing Excerpt)


When I was a kid, my parent were waiting in a doctors office and a little amish boy ran past them.  The father called out for “Gideon” to come back.  My mom said to my dad, “Gideon.  That’s a great name, isn’t it.”  Dad agreed and they spend some time planning out a middle name that would go with it.  “Gideon James” was decided.  They went home and thought very little about he conversation.

A couple of weeks later my parents got a call about a little baby with down syndrome who was going to be born in New York City in a few weeks.  The family was putting him up for adoption.  It was already known that he would need heart surgery after he was born.  We all got exited about the prospect of a little downs baby.  Everyone, that is, except my mom.  She did not like the idea of bringing a baby into the house.  She was unsure about the whole thing.  I have been told that I even challenged her and asker her, “Where is your faith?”  Apparently my gift of exhortation came on early.

We talked about if for a couple days, with my mom holding her line that she did not want to do this.  She sat down for her morning devotions and to read a book she was part way through by Elisabeth Elliot.  She opened the book and read the words “Take Gideon.”  It was as if they jumped off the page and grabbed her.  The actual sentence was, “Take Gideon, for example.”  But in those first two words, my mom was taken back to that conversation at Shriners hospital.  It was as if God was saying to her, “Debbie, you can trust me.  I already gave you the name for this child before you even knew he was on the horizon.”  Mom changed her tune, and my parents flew to NYC to get Gideon a few weeks later.

Gideon had surgery a couple of weeks after that.  He nearly died in my mom’s arm thanks to an errant decimal point on a medication.  But he survived, and he has been such a blessing to us ever since.  When he was a child he looked like a little Keebler Elf.  As he got older he did not like to crawl on his knees, so for several years before he walked he would bear crawl everywhere with his butt pointed to the sky.  He loves watching bullriding and is a season ticket-holder for the local minor league baseball team.  He blasts his music and movies until someone goes up and turns them down.

People with down syndrome can be in a wide range of social and cognitive levels.  My brother is pretty severely retarded and would probably be on the autism scale if that was used for those with down syndrome.  He makes a humming sound sometimes in groups of people and when he is nervous.  If you are around it a lot it disappears in your mind, but if it is new to you it takes some adjustment.  I remember one time as we we looking for churches during a time when my dad was working in para-church ministry.  The pastor of a larger church in Erie actually asked my dad, who he knew form ministry contexts, to take my brother out during the sermon.  He suggested that he be taken to the cry room- a glass room where the service could be heard but the sound inside could not go out.  The problem with that idea is that my brother is going to make that noise for the rest of his life.  I can imagine my brother 20 years from now still sitting behind that glass unable to come fully into the community or into the presence of God.  And he can’t be back there himself, so that decision exiles my mother there as well.  We did not go back to that church.  Even worse, that was not the only church that this kind of exclusion happened in.

The church misses out people like Gideon can find no place.  His joy is so needed.  Sure, his logic is very simple, but the way he loves and gets excited about simple things is inspiring.  Church is a huge part of my brother’s life.  He loves church and sees it as a dialogue between my dad and his including a lot of amens.  He is the pentecostal in the family.

I learned some of my best theology from Gideon.  One of the things that Gideon has trouble with is prepositions.  When he looks at pictures he will see himself and say “me.”  When asked who my mom is in a photo he will point to my mom and say “me,” I guess because that is how she should answer.  This makes for some interesting moments in the language of the Trinity in worship.  Gideon knows that he is his father’s son and often calls himself “son.”  In my dad’s prayer or when the congregation does the Lord’s Prayer, my brother says: “In the name of the Father, the ME, and the Holy Spirit.”  Gideon inserts himself in the place of Jesus.  I actually think that Gideon’s theology is better than most of the people in the pews.  That is really what happens with Jesus.  He takes our sin and brokenness and we get his sonship in his relationship to the Father.

Gideon has taught me about joy, grace, the church, and even the Trinity.  He is such a joy to me.  Would Gideon be welcome in your church?


The Mind of Christ: My Craziest Sermon Idea

This past week I preached what my wife assures me is my craziest sermon idea ever.  I pumped it up as the first sermon in which I have ever needed rubber gloves.  I used a REAL COW BRAIN and talked about how modern neuroscience is describing how the brain works.  My thesis is that if Christ was the perfect human being then Jesus must have used His brain perfect.  Since Paul tells us that we now have the mind of Christ, then we need to change our thinking as well.  This means we should be more creative, playful, and rightly emotional.

Humorously, the iPhone I was recording the video on fell over a couple of minutes in.  Thankfully, a fast thinking member fixed it.  I couldn’t edit it out and though it was funny so I left it in the recording.  Enjoy.

For an audio, listen here:

A Theology of Productivity

My life goes in a lot of different directions.  I am a husband, a father of 4 kids, and pastor of a church.  I try to read a lot and am trying to write my first book.  I do some extra work facilitating ropes courses.  I also did many of these things while I was getting my Masters of Divinity and in the Fall I will be starting a Doctor of Ministry program.  Needless to say, my days and weeks can get full.  It can be hard to get everything done or at least get the right things done.  For that reason, I have always read a lot about goal setting, time management, and

My perspective changed when, on a whim, I picked up the book What’s Best Next by Matt Perlman.  Not only does Perlman give a number of great tips on getting things done, but he does so from a theologically and Biblical astute perspective.  He says at one point that if the Gospel changes everything, then it must change how we approach our work.  Since reading this book I have been thinking about and developing my own theology of productivity.

To begin, God is active and productive.  When we see God in the Bible we see God doing things and getting things done.  God creates, begets, sends, leads, plans, calls, reveals…  In God’s very triune nature there is relationship but there is also responsibility.  God has purposes and God works them out.

When God creates human beings, God creates human beings in God’s image.  God tells them to fill the earth and subdue it.  This means having children, but it also means continuing the work of God to create and progress the world to its fulfillment.  The Bible gives several metaphors for this.   God expects us to produce.–  Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and we are to bear fruit.  Paul even names some of the fruit we are supposed to produce.  We are also building something.–  We are building our lives and building our churches.  We need to plan the costs and build on a solid foundation.  The other way the Bible talks about this is that God has good works for us to do.  The Bible even says that God has prepared things for us to do before time.

It is important that we keep perspective on our work.  First, our work is not saving, but it is responding.  We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works.  Furthermore, God is only as dependent on our good works as God chooses to be.  God does not need us or our efforts, but God has tied God’s work in the world to the work of His people.

Especially important is the reality that our work is broken.  When sin hits humanity, our work is cursed.  There are thorns and thistles in the work that we have to accomplish.  Paul says it this way:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  (Ephesians 5:15-16 ESV)

The days are evil, so we need to be wise.  Paul defines wisdom as “making the best use of the time.”  It is Biblical that we need to get organized,manage time, and set priorities.  If God has plans and purposes for us, then we should at least take some time to think about what they are and make plans to accomplish them.  Important things will not accomplish themselves in our broken world.  As Christians, we need to intentionally pursue God’s plans and purposes for us.

I will look at specifically how to do this in a future blog, but this entry I just wanted to lay out a theological need for productivity.

I recently preached on this topic.  For my sermon on Getting Things Done, listen here or follow the link to http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com/2014/04/27/getting-things-done-a-theology-of-productivity/