Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Can Transforming Churches Be Fixed? Part 3: Correcting Errors (II)

By Johannes

Yet as the Law must be fulfilled or we must die despairing
Christ came and has God’s anger stilled, our human nature sharing.
He has for us the Law obeyed and thus the Father’s vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

Fixing Transforming Churches (Abandon Questionable Prescriptions):

It has been thoroughly and amply demonstrated that several of TC’s prescriptions are most troubling and harmful. Some are of questionable value at best. These ought to be eliminated from future prescriptions.

  1. Accountable Leadership Model: This dangerous prescription should be scrapped for the reasons stated in Scott Diekmann’s report. Training and minor corrections can be made without turning the congregation upside-down. (A suggested replacement is offered below).
  2. Numerical conversion goals: Although this is a part of the Accountable Leadership Model, it needs to be addressed separately. It seems inconceivable that an ordained LCMS pastor would teach this blasphemous practice, yet it has been known to happen. This may be the most damaging aspect of TCN, and should be abolished. If the coach/team leader presents this concept, his ecclesiastical supervisor ought to be informed, and appropriate action taken. Furthermore, any congregation that has received such instruction should receive an in-person apology from the coach/team leader with a review of the proper teaching about the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion.
  3. The “Season of repentance”, and “day of repentance”: These have a somewhat manipulative, almost revival-like quality. One can easily envision Finney’s “anxious bench” at the front of the church. This is nothing more than identification repentance—or “the sin of the week”, as one person has described it. Each person can and should repent of only his own sins. Repentance is to be preached—Jesus commanded it, and a “Day of Repentance” has a precedent in the LCMS--Walther preached more than one sermon for such an occasion. However, as used in TC this is not only a technique for “firing up” the congregation, but clearly a form of penance or “satisfaction” for sins (see A.C. XII). Cut out this prescription, and faithfully preach biblical “repentance and forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47).
  4. Vision: The visioning process has been shown to be dangerous. Whose vision is it really—how do we know it is truly “God’s vision?” Is not Christ’s vision for His church apparent in Scripture? Is not each congregation, like each believer, to “blossom where it is planted?” In every place, every neighborhood, opportunities for ministry and mission abound—we only have to look around us, using our God-given abilities to see and discern: we are, as Rev. Harold Senkbeil has said, “an oasis of life in a desert of death.” Delete the visioning process.
  5. Triads: Small groups go back to the early days of Pietism. In the TCN model, the three members of a triad are (1) an experienced member, (2) a recent convert, and (3) a non-member, perhaps non-Christian. The participants read through several chapters of the Bible, then meet to discuss what they’ve read. The TCN leader has instructed the participants to ask, “What does this passage say to me?” This is a very dangerous way to study scripture, leading to all sorts of mischief. Furthermore, small groups (Triads included) can easily become cliquish and self-serving. Where is the corrective in such Bible study—when is the pastor consulted for the proper interpretation of scripture?
  6. Removing Obstacles to Growth: In Direct Hit, Borden says that the congregation must rid itself of “alligators and bosses”—members who stand in the way of the TC process. Although this had not been made part of any specific congregational prescriptions, the TCN literature alludes to it. (A similar suggestion is made in the recent “Funding the Mission” Task Force report.) We are the Body of Christ—not General Motors: such suggestions have no place in the church.
  7. TC Threats: Get rid of the threats, implied or stated. More than one congregation has reported having been told that, if they do not adopt the TC program, they will soon have to close their doors. Paul Borden himself appears to have consigned at least one congregation (not Lutheran) to God’s judgment if it does not adopt his prescriptions. ( The Law is not our friend, and such threats undermine the life-giving Gospel.
  8. Misleading promises and statements: TC promises conversion growth, increase in worship attendance and giving, among other things. This is patently misleading, and gives false hope to struggling congregations and pastors. It is nothing but hype. The statement, “A Transformed Church is regularly and consistently ‘making new disciples who make new disciples’” must also be dropped. It sets the law against the gospel, denies the power of God’s word, and gives false hope, setting congregations up for disillusionment. These promises and statements need to be eliminated. They are misleading and unscriptural. (It is unfortunate that the 2007 Convention Resolution 1-01A states, “a revitalized congregation is regularly and consistently making new disciples who make new disciples.” Apparently, nobody caught the error.)
Fixing Transforming Churches (Retain the useful prescriptions): A review of several congregations’ consultation reports reveals that many of TC’s prescriptions do have real value, and can be retained. The following are gleaned from about a dozen consultations, and are listed in no particular order:
  1. Outward focus: This is the main thrust of Transforming Churches. Although much of TC is error-filled and dangerous, there is no doubt that many congregations need to look beyond themselves. Outward focus can be encouraged without clubbing the members with Law-based programs, however, and referring to the unsaved as “the people God misses the most,” is disingenuous and patently unscriptural. Nobody can know if God misses anyone the most, and if He does, who they may be. This expression needs to be purged from TC, while congregations need to be encouraged in this area. The TC prescriptions need to be studied in detail for specific ways in which this focus may be generated. Several of the following useful prescriptions speak to this particular prescription, as well.
  2. Plan and organize outward focus events: Community events are a good way to gain a presence within the local neighborhood. The members need to be familiar with the community of which they are a part. The possibilities are endless, and are limited only by the members’ imagination, creativity, and willingness to risk. We must be careful, however, not to get caught up in a “seeker-sensitive” mentality.
  3. Visitors: Welcoming and follow-up with visitors is critical. Although not mentioned specifically, it is implied in many prescriptions. How we treat first-time and repeat visitors cannot be emphasized enough. More than one congregation has been described as “cold” and “unwelcoming.” The pastor needs to be involved here, but the laity have a vital and critical role, as well.
  4. Assimilation: Sometimes an assimilation or discipleship/assimilation task force is recommended. It is not unusual for new members to find themselves in “limbo” after joining a congregation, without a way to break into congregational life. Or they are asked to join a board or committee with no preparation or instruction. A specific program for assimilation of new members is an excellent idea, one that no congregation can afford to be without. We should not forget our newly confirmed members, either. As communing members of the Body of Christ, they must be welcomed into the life of the congregation. In some ways, they are new disciples also, and ought to be treated as such, as they are at considerable risk of being drawn away from the church.
  5. Fellowship task force: Although TC focuses much of this prescription on only those outside the church, this prescription has good possibilities. Working with the pastor and evangelism committee/board/task force, this group can do much to both revitalize the current membership and do outreach. It can also aid in assimilation (4 above).
  6. Communications task force: Poor communications can have a negative effect on a congregation, and such a task force (small in number) might be able to do much to improve communications among the members. Several such communication issues include:
    a) Return all phone calls within 24 hours
    b) Email communications
    c) Sunday bulletins
    d) Monthly newsletters
    e) Weekly staff meetings
    f) Church Council and Board meetings
    g) Voters’ meetings
  7. Leadership development: Leadership is undoubtedly a need in many congregations, and is a skill that can be taught. A training program, led by a TC coach, or outside consultant would be very beneficial. Such leadership development should include laypersons and the pastor. As noted above, the CEO role is not appropriate for the pastor, however he should be prepared to lead his congregation, even if it means occasional Left-hand kingdom business.
  8. Management training: This is a common prescription, related to (7) above. It ought to be offered to pastor and lay leaders alike.
  9. Facility improvements: Many prescriptions note the condition of the physical plant. Simple things like clutter and cleanliness are important to good first impressions, and to members’ attitudes. More serious items such as maintenance of the facility may also need attention. Perhaps an architectural consultant may need to be employed. Handicap accessibility is also a very common issue. The exterior appearance also may need attention, from the standpoints of both attractiveness and of visibility.
  10. Finances: Financial issues often need attention, and prescriptions dealing with finances are very common. A need for “fiscal transparency” is a common concern. Here the Authority / Responsibility / Accountability (A/R/A) chain must be clearly spelled out. This is a legal, practical, and a stewardship issue. Congregations cannot afford to be lax or sloppy in this area. Related to financial issues are legal issues, including insurance, bonding of officers, employee relations, etc.
  11. Unhealthy Culture: A common prescription treats what TC calls an “unhealthy culture.” Disagreements, factions, and inner strife are, sadly, often present in congregations. It may take professional counseling and genuine intervention to deal with such a tragic situation. TC has often identified such situations—again, consulting the specific prescriptions may help to provide direction and help. Here an understanding of the Office of the Keys is vital. See the recommendation below under “Office of the Holy Ministry (II) below, paragraph c). The passages cited there, especially those from Matthew & Ephesians, have application here.
This is not meant to be an all-encompassing and exhaustive list, but it can readily be seen that TC can make useful contributions by means of corrective and revitalizing prescriptions. As noted, a more detailed study of the specific TC prescriptions is needed, and assistance from the TC coaches, or district facilitators will probably be needed. Several LCMS congregations have posted their prescriptions on their websites. It may also be possible to obtain prescriptions from the TC officials in your district or circuit.

Since Christ has full atonement made and brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad and build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord I plead, Your death is now my life indeed,
For You have paid my ransom.

Next time: Fixing Transforming Churches—New Prescriptions (I): The Holy Ministry.

Jump to Part 4
This entire series may be downloaded as a single document in Word or PDF format.

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