Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Transforming Churches Network: Part 2, It’s All About Commitment

This entire series may be downloaded in Word or pdf format.

Last time we took a look at the origins of the Mission Revitalization program and the Transforming Churches Network (TCN), discovering their underpinnings to be an admixture of Church Growth Movement (CGM) ideas from non-Lutheran and business world sources. Today we’ll take an initial look at how those CGM ideas affect practice.

To gain a sense of the CGM influence, one need look no further than the promotional video “A DVD Overview of the TCN Process” on the old TCN website. It contains a series of interviews of mostly “new disciples” who have this to say:
I spent quite a bit of time addicted to methamphetamines, and now that I have been going, man, it’s just, like I said it’s a hundred and eighty degree difference. It’s like a switch. Like I was, I don’t know, a boy, now I’m way more of a man and I’ve grown much stronger in God.

It wasn’t truly until I gave myself. You know, I can remember the day that I truly truly meant ‘I’m giving it to you.’ You know, ‘I’m giving to you Jesus.’ I needed that arm to reach out and hold me.

Being baptized and saved, that’s just what it means, being baptized and saved. Washing your sins away, opening your heart up to Jesus, and really just, you know, taking that great great change to make you feel better because I know that now that I’m committing my life to Christ, and I know that when I die that I’m going to heaven.

We’re both recovering from meth addiction... Our life has just totally made a complete turnaround. We’re actually reaching out to other people now, inviting them to church, because we love it.
One of the things we were kind of looking for when we were looking for a church was a place that could really help us grow our family, spiritually, which we hadn’t really found in the past, and every single lesson that we’ve learned at LakePointe has applied to our life, and I’m really excited that my children are going to have the opportunity to grow in that church and to be able to be a part of this church because I think that this church is going to do amazing things. And I don’t know that we would have found that anywhere else, so we’re just, I mean we feel like we’re home at LakePointe. [This person is not a new Christian]
Looking closely at the quotes, while we can share the joy of these Christians, it becomes clear that the makers of the video aren’t interested in projecting a view of the Christian life as one under the cross. There is no sense of a daily life of repentance and forgiveness lived out in Christ. Instead, they give the impression that “church” is about turning your life around, solving your problems, committing your life to Christ, making you feel better, and learning important life lessons that can be applied to you and your family. The focus isn’t on Jesus and His obedience, it’s on you and your obedience. It’s a Law-driven message, and highlights the mindset of those “transformed” by TCN. Another quote from a Groups Ablaze! presentation echoes these same thoughts:
People find empowerment for life’s structures of meaning when they participate in the church. Something happens that makes the job, marriage, family, and faith--as well as civic participation--more fulfilling.
These emphases reflect CGM ideas, and a seeker-sensitive mindset, where the unbeliever becomes the customer, and the church changes its “presentation” to attract the unbeliever and meet her “felt needs.” The “seekers” are pandered to; they are presented a picture of the Church as something anyone would want rather than the reality found in the foolishness of the cross. In the process, Law and Gospel are watered down. The TCN small groups and triads are designed with the “seeker” in mind. Quotes from one TCN church Consultation Report reflect this seeker-sensitivity in their prescriptions for this congregation:
- Begin the planning process to initiate a second worship service which is designed to attract the people of [their city].

- This refocusing process will include surveying the community and hosting community based focus groups with the goal of understanding the needs of the people living within the area surrounding the church facility.
We should “understand the needs” of our neighbor so that we can serve him through our vocations. To “understand the needs” of our neighbor so that we can better make “church” more palatable for him does him a disservice. The need of our neighbor that should be addressed in church is his need to hear the truth. Tell him that he is a sinner. Lead him to repentance so that the Gospel will deliver him from his body of death to life everlasting.

Next time we’ll explore the presuppositions on which Mission Revitalization and the Transforming Churches Network are based.

Jump to Part 3

Go to Part 1

This entire series may be downloaded in Word or pdf format.

References updated 5-10-13.


Matt said...

Actually, I think we can learn a lot from focus groups if we can manage to remain quiet and LISTEN to our neighbors, and if we don't cherry-pick respondents from some socioeconomic or age group that we think we should be targeting.

I think they will simply tell us that the church has nothing to offer them. They are uninterested in hip music, networking opportunities, "relevant" preaching or tweaking the service time around their sleeping habits.

Rather they are sick of dishonest, bait-and-switch come-ons and rather suspect that this is all part of a religious right that is more about politics than faith; a politics that they detest and a cloying moralism that they want nothing to do with.

Maybe this will inspire us Lutherans to give up on all the marketing stunts and really think about preaching the law and proclaiming the Gospel in our communities in a way that is fresh and distinctly Lutheran, rather than a lame imitation of a pop American evangelicalism that Americans are increasingly rejecting.

Brian Yamabe said...

"Relevant" preaching is still pretty high on the list, at least in Silicon Valley. Our church sends out visitor's cards and ask what we can do for them as a church and "messages more relevant to their lives" is still a big one.

Anonymous said...

The roar is deafening, of people NOT coming--even by way of a curious visit--to our confessional church, set firmly in a sea of southern baptists, methodists, pentecostals, emergents/mega-wannabes and store-front 'houses of victory' and the like.
The world will not likely clamor for what is offered at our church, and we needn't stick to what we do, in anticipation of the hordes running from false religion towards the truth. We only need to stick to it because it's the truth. Period.
I imagine commenter #2's experience is the most common. Most churches are scared to death of being found irrelevant.
But, I'm scared to death our congregation will one day become afraid, with our lack of growth and of enthusiasm for any new adventures in worship, of the very same thing.
It's simply the way the cookie crumbles, and the way the crumbs fall.
We should never anticipate that, by sticking to doctrine and rejecting the 'pop', anyone, let alone masses, will be lured in and persuaded to stay. That's a self-deception we're not entitled to.
We're just told to remain faithful, and to fight to remain so.
So--we fight, until the day we die.
Susan R.

Matt said...

Great comments!

I live in New York City, and I tend to think my neighbors may be more blunt and cynical than the norm. Nobody here goes to church out of social habit. If I were to ask my neighbor why he doesn't go to church, I would get an answer like "because I'm Jewish."

Brian: I wonder if the folks filling out your cards might not be part of the tribe of church-shoppers that drifts around from church to church looking for the next hip, happenin' thing. Nothing against Californians!

Susan: Right on sister! One of the things I find hardest to accept is that even if we get the formula just right, we are still setting ourselves up for a bunch of rejection from the world. Maybe the church needs to learn to be small, to form tightly-knit communities around word and sacrament that don't depend on numbers. God will lead to us those whom he intends to lead to us.

I think the confessional church may have an easier time among the hardened secularists of NYC than among "southern baptists, methodists, pentecostals, emergents/mega-wannabes and store-front 'houses of victory' and the like." You have my sympathy.

Anonymous said...

I've often thought just so, in regards to your last statement, Matt. 'Church' is thriving here--people do church all the time, in a myriad of places.
What we have to offer is poor competition to those who prefer sugar to salt. And there's simply so much sugar down here, y'all.
But I thank God for our pastor, who keeps us salty.

Brian Yamabe said...

@Matt: I'm sure many are church-shoppers and that is certainly a good point to remember when the TCN and their surveys come a knockin'.

@Susan: My congregation and pastor aren't afraid of becoming irrelevant, they are afraid of the congregation fading away. Less giving and widening budget deficits can lead to worldly desperation even in the most devout of congregations.

Our congregation has the TCN weekend coming up. The pastor and elders have said they would never agree to the Accountable Leadership Model and only hope to get an objective perspective. It still makes me ill thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Brian. It would seem that, regardless of the intentions of pastor and elders, TCN has its foot in the door.
And I doubt TCN can be counted on for 'an objective perspective'.
It all reminds me of Rush Limbaugh's spot-on impression of a former politician, a political foe of Reagan's, who, everytime he opposed some Reagan plan, said, 'Mr. President, we only want to help you.'

Anonymous said...

Brian--with your TCN weekend coming up, I hope you are involved. Listen carefully to what the leader says--take lots of notes, and try to read between the lines. When you get your prescriptions, you may hear some valid "concerns". You may even hear some good "strengths." I hope that your cong. can resist the bogus prescriptions, take the strengths and concerns and run with them. Be warned however, that much of the concerns are defaulted to the cookie cutter prescriptions that TCN is pushing. So they may be bogus--in fact, I predict that at least two, if not three will be bogus.


Anonymous said...

Brian--Oops, I almost forgot. On your TCN weekend, listen to see how much the Gospel is mentioned. If it is more than the fingers on one hand, that will be a minor miracle. And also see if there is any mention of setting goals for how many people will come to faith.