Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Can Transforming Churches Be Fixed? Part 2: Correcting Errors (I)

By Johannes

It was a false misleading dream that God his Law had given
That sinners could themselves redeem and by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sins to light
That lurks within our nature.

Fixing Transforming Churches (Self Study):
After a congregation signs on to TC, it soon receives a Self Study packet: information about the congregation that is to be submitted to the TC team for analysis prior to the prescription weekend. The following information is to be included (taken almost verbatim from Direct Hit, pp. 127-132):

  • Overview of congregation: history of congregation; list of staff positions; list of people who oversee ministry; description of physical plant; organizational structure, and organization chart.
  • Statistics (20 years), in tabular and chart form, including: Number of members baptized & confirmed); average Sunday worship attendance; Sunday School & Bible Class attendance; incoming & Outgoing Transfers; Baptisms, Infant and Adult; Adult Confirmations and Professions of faith; Average age of persons involved in regular activities; Percent of congregation that regularly attends Bible Class or small group; Number of persons involved in regular activities; Church budgets (2 years) including final receipts and expenditures & current balance sheet; Top ten giving units by amount (last year); Second ten giving units by amount (last year); Total number of giving units and average amount given (last year)
  • School/Daycare/Early Childhood: History of school and/or ECE, its staff positions, organization, etc.; School/ECE enrollment, 10 years; School/ECE mission statement; Visibility of School/ECE in congregation & in community; Congregational involvement in School/ECE; Written evaluation of School/ECE by director; Pastor Visibility with School/ECE; Coordination of School/ECE with evangelism & outreach; Baptisms & confirmations from ECE.
  • Other: Community Study/demographics; Core Values of Congregation (sample of leaders); Copy of constitution and bylaws; Samples of bulletins & newsletters; Minutes of last two voters’ assemblies.
  • Results of five-question self-study (survey/meeting of representative sample)
    • What are the congregation’s three greatest strengths?
    • What are the congregation’s three greatest weaknesses?
    • What three changes would you like to see made?
    • Do the leaders want this congregation to grow significantly?
    • Are the leaders willing to make the difficult decisions required for change & growth?
Where is the Gospel in all of this? Other than baptismal statistics, it is absent. If a congregation’s “health” is to be determined in terms of the Gospel, more information is needed. The following, listed in no particular order, should also be included in the self study, as indicators of the congregation’s spiritual health:

• Number of Pastor’s classes (10 years), including attendance of non-members and members
• Description of Pastor’s Class: curriculum, duration, etc.
• Attendance at Holy Communion (10 years)
• Statement of Communion Policy
• Copies of Pastor’s Sermons (electronic or print) for past six months
• Copies of church calendars for past two years at least
• Bible study topics & curriculum for past several years
• Description of confirmation class curriculum
• List of inactive members and resolution of same for past 10 years
• No. of home/hospital visits in past several years
• Minutes of board meetings: Elders, Evangelism, Stewardship, Properties, Education, etc.

The person or persons reviewing this information must be ordained ministers who are thoroughly familiar with the Book of Concord, Walther’s “Theses on Church and Ministry” and “Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel,” among others. A review of the sermons should reveal whether the pastor is properly dividing Law and Gospel, and faithfully proclaiming the Good News. The pastor’s and congregation’s faithfulness in administering the sacraments, and Office of the Keys can also be gauged. Is the flock being fed, as well as led?

Of the five self-study questions above, the first three give an indication of attitudes within the congregation, but these should not substitute for the team’s personal observations and findings. Are the last two questions appropriate and/or necessary? Change and growth are not the marks of the church, and these questions ought not even be included; they should be eliminated; besides they beg the question. Better such open ended questions as, “Tell me (us) about your officers and boards—what are they doing, how do they lead, what are their priorities, etc.”

Fixing Transforming Churches (Prescription Weekend): About a month after the self-study information has been submitted, the TC consultant team arrives for a weekend consultation, as outlined in Scott Diekmann’s Transforming Churches Network paper. The weekend includes meetings with staff, pastor and his wife, various groups, and concludes on Sunday with worship and presentation of the consultant team’s report and prescriptions.

  1. The Gospel must be given priority and emphasized in all presentations, discussions, and “buzz sessions”, contrary to all TCN literature and websites. The Gospel must be raised to the life-giving power of God to salvation on the entire weekend, not relegated to “Oh yes, that’s important, too,” as one participant reported.
  2. The Friday evening and Saturday sessions should begin with in-depth Bible studies and/or devotions, which have been assigned to the participants beforehand. Luke 15 and John 4:1-42 are just two appropriate texts—there are many more. Rather than only sociological and business models, the weekend should be bathed in scripture and prayer.
  3. The Saturday session should close with a confession-and-communion service (LSB, p. 290 or TLH, p. 46 with communion). All participants from previous sessions should be invited to this service. Here is visible and tangible evidence that the Gospel breathes life into a congregation, something the Law can never do. Such a service effectively brings the activities so far to a fitting conclusion, yet sets the stage for what is to come the next day.
  4. The Sunday worship service should also be a communion service. Although the team leader may preach the sermon, this service ought not be a “theme” service on change or transformation, but should simply be one of the Divine Service settings.
  5. The consultant’s report should be presented after worship, not during the service, certainly not during the sermon! This ought to be an information meeting only. A formal vote should be postponed until the congregation has had time to digest and discuss the prescriptions in depth. After all the efforts of the past weeks, there is no need for a hasty decision—a vote at this time would be a serious mistake.

From sin our flesh could not abstain, sin held its way unceasing;
The task was useless and in vain, our guilt was e’er increasing.
None can remove sin’s poisoned dart or purify our guileful heart—
So deep is our corruption.

Next time: Fixing Transforming Churches—specific prescriptions—correcting errors (II).

Jump to Part 3

This entire series may be downloaded as a single document in Word or PDF format.

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