The Transforming Churches Network (TCN): Part 1, A Non-Native Invasion Into the LCMS, by Scott Diekmann

(Scott’s posts are archived on the Regular Columns page under the title “Apologetics: Apply Liberally.” This is the first in a series on the TCN program. It is also posted on his website Stand Firm.)

You may have heard of the invasive plant species called kudzu, which has taken over the south. Originally imported from Asia and used extensively to control soil erosion, this non-native vine grows rapidly, overwhelming native plant species. It kills trees, covers abandoned buildings, and collapses power lines. Indigenous animals lose their food supplies, resulting in starvation. This foreign plant, which was meant to be a helpful aid, has instead become a complete disaster.

There’s a similar invasion that is quietly going on in the LCMS, with congruent catastrophic results – the name of this non-native “species” that is currently invading the LCMS is the Mission Revitalization Process.

The Mission Revitalization program is an outgrowth of , and was begun by LCMS World Missions through its Revitalization Task Force. Its goal is to “revitalize” at least 2,000 LCMS congregations by 2017. 1/3 of its budget comes from the LCMS World Mission budget, a portion comes from other LCMS sources such as Fan into Flame and participating districts, with the remaining funds coming from private contributions. The Transforming Churches Network (TCN) operates the Mission Revitalization program. While the developers of TCN should be praised for their desire to “grow” the Church, their methods fall short of the Scriptural mark.

The voluntary transformation process begins when a team of trained consultants visit your congregation for a weekend, and develop five “prescriptions” which are designed to revitalize the congregation. These prescriptions include turning your congregation from an alleged inward focus to a missiological outward focus using “vision,” leadership development, and an Accountable Leadership Model. The Accountable Leadership Model remodels your church bylaws, turning the pastor into the CEO, complete with a (usually) three-person Board of Directors, and turning the parishioners into the ministers of the congregation. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? It should, because it’s at the heart of Church Growth Movement (CGM) thinking.

“The ultimate goal of TCN is to bring about a deep and systemic change in the Missouri Synod, and for us to accomplish that not only do we need to provide training and resources for existing pastors and congregations, but we also want to make a significant impact on the formation of new church leaders at the seminary and university levels”(online reference). Supplementing the program are other spinoffs. The District supplies a coach for at least one year who guides the pastor and congregational “leaders” as they make the paradigm shift from Word and Sacrament ministry to a CGM ministry (not all Districts are participating). There is a “learning community” for both the pastors and the lay leaders, which utilizes the Ablaze! Leading series. It “offers training modules to equip pastors and church leaders to develop leadership skills necessary to support the change in culture of a congregation consistent with a shift in focus from an inward to outward”(online reference).

Triads are formed, which consist of three people — a mature Christian, a new Christian, and a “seeker,” which meet regularly around prayer and Scripture. “Triads arise out of the initiative of individual Christians, not church programs, and become a non-threatening place for seekers to ask questions, share concerns and meet the personal Jesus” (online reference).

A small group model called Groups Ablaze! is put into place. It is billed as “a simple non-threatening process which prepares congregational members, meeting in small groups to form relationships with people outside the church and sharing the good news of Salvation in Christ with them. Six modules, each spanning six weeks of discussion material lead small groups to be motivated and spiritually equipped to effectively respond to the Great Commission of Jesus. Groups Ablaze! is currently being used by nearly 300 congregations in a dozen LCMS districts.” It is modeled on cell church principles, which are often problematic.

The myriad of programs that are cobbled together to create the Mission Revitalization Process come from the minds and theology of non-Lutherans. I counted at least nineteen different books recommended by TCN to shape the perspective of TCN participants — they were written by people who were Baptist, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Fellowship of Grace Brethren, non-denominational, secular, even one Mormon, but not a single Lutheran.

The concept of Triads come from Fellowship of Grace Brethren pastor Neil Cole in his book Cultivating a Life for God. He is the founder and executive director of Church Multiplication Associates.

The congregation consultation process, which is at the heart of TCN, comes from the founder of  Growing Healthy Churches, Baptist pastor Paul Borden. “He has been a lead consultant in a number of LCMS Congregations this past year, and his methodology has had a major influence on the consulting process developed by the Transforming Congregations Network (TCN)” (online reference). The methodology comes straight from his book Direct Hit. A good indicator of where his group gets it’s “theology” can be deduced from the article on their website titled “What Can the Church Learn from Costco?” (Their answer to the question is not “Nothing.”)

The coaching model used for Groups Ablaze!, called the GROW model, comes from the book Coaching for Performance, written by the Executive Chairman of Performance Consultants International, Sir John Whitmore. According to his website, he “is a pre-eminent thinker in leadership and organisational change and works globally with leading multinational corporations to establish coaching management cultures and leadership programmes.”

A synopsis of his book states:

Translated into over a dozen languages, this essential training guide has been used by organizations large and small, in nearly every corner of the world-from Coca-Cola, IBM and Ford Motor Company to the Hollywood, Florida, Police Department-to develop the personal and professional skills leaders need. This new edition introduces three new chapters, expanded examples, and an update to Whitmore’s original GROW model for fundamentally transforming management style and culture. New material includes additional chapters on raising self-esteem, incorporating meaning and purpose into work, setting goals, and adding a spiritual approach to coaching. A new section explains how to improve performance by applying coaching to organizational culture (online reference).

The chief consultant and strategist for TCN is Dwight Marable, the President of Missions International. He’s had a hand in virtually every aspect of the Mission Revitalization Process, which is reported to come from a Baptist background.

Their mission statement reads: “…’to have the greatest impact possible on where the largest number of people possible spend eternity’ is carried out primarily through doing quality research on what the Holy Spirit is doing and creating training tools for pastors and leaders from t he research.” According to his website, “Dwight had a personal encounter with Christ and devoted his life to Him in 1963.” His statement is typical of those who have built the TCN foundation, and indicates that his interest lies in the “Jesus in me” rather than the “Jesus for me.” Whether these consultants have “a personal encounter with Christ,” or “decide for Christ,” the one thing they don’t have is a proper understanding of Scripture — a requirement that is absolutely critical when you are teaching Christ’s Church.

All of these consultants are steeped in Church Growth Movement ideology, which is generally constructed by those who don’t believe that conversion comes by hearing the Word of God without a “decision” on your part, or who don’t believe that conversion comes by the operation of the Holy Spirit through means. When you don’t believe that the Word has the power to convert unbelievers, then helping the Holy Spirit with your own techniques in order to “convince them” becomes the modus operandi. The Scriptures become an instruction manual on how to live your life, rather than the unfolding of God’s divine plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. Since they hold to a flawed Christology, all other articles of faith, such as their views on sanctification, the Church, the Office of the Holy Ministry, and the Sacraments, are corrupted. Evangelism, which should be entwined with the liturgy, Word, and Sacrament, becomes a pragmatic board game played out on squares labeled “sociological studies,””emotion,””felt needs,””business marketing,” “assessment testing,” “accountability,””coaching,””attitudinal changes,” and “psychological manipulation.”

These distorted CGM ideas become the riverbed from which the “mission” of the Transforming Churches Network flows. Next time, we’ll take a look at how their flawed ideas manifest themselves in the life of the Church.

photo credit: Exothermic

About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.


The Transforming Churches Network (TCN): Part 1, A Non-Native Invasion Into the LCMS, by Scott Diekmann — 28 Comments

  1. Gread article, but no mention was made of the “covenants” (aka oath, vow, contract)that are signed by the participating Pastor and/or district president. No human being has, can or will ever grow or plant a church, that is at our Lord’s Gracious choosing. How arrogant have we sheep become! Scripture is so lovingly simple, leave to human beings to take the art of overcomplication to new and regretfull levels! When will it be realized that Ablaze! is burning down(not building up)our congregations from within? Thank you for writing this, and do please keep us informed!
    His Blessings for you all!

  2. Scott,
    Do you see any connection between this (TCN) and the Blue Ribon Task Farce(Force) ?

  3. Steve,

    I do not think there is a direct connection but these are all the same people, moving around from one executive postition to another with the same bad goals for the synod, i.e. to take us from being a Gospel preaching, liturgical, truth confessing church to being more progressive, i.e. relevant, topical, felt-needs meeting church.


  4. Steve, I don’t see a direct connection between TCN and the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure and Governance, but there’s certainly an indirct connection. The operative word in Transforming Churches Network is “Transforming.” What they’re really doing is creating a paradigm shift, which I’ll talk about further in later parts of the article. The paradigm shift is one which leads to an un-Scriptural model of the Church based on Church Growth Movement ideas. If they succeed in their plan, they will have transformed 2,000 LCMS congregations to the CGM mindset. Doctrine will be a thing of the past, and proposals like those of the BRTFSSG will fly through the convention unopposed. After all, it’s all about mission, and nothing else. :>)

  5. Scott,
    OH,THANK YOU (!!!), few know about this, let alone how dangerous this is, not only to the LCMS, but on an individual level. Thank you for being a watchman, I fear there are far too few.

  6. Do you see any connection between this (TCN) and the Blue Ribon Task Farce(Force) ?

    The centralized authority commonalities and sociology-driven MO between TCN and the (Pabst) Blue Ribbon Task Farce are amazing. There is a Master’s Thesis somewhere in that, probably. Just compare the conversations that Schurb has been doing on Issues Etc with the program M. Noland had on TCN for starters. I would hesitate to say that this all comes out of the synodical headquarters. Think more in terms of district offices. One hand is distracting us from what the 35 other hands are doing. 1333 is a diversion in many ways.

  7. Why was signing away authority the at the front of the process? What about the program made them anticipate the “need” to do that? What does this tell us about the latest buzzword going around now, “leadership”?

  8. “St. Peter prohibits the bishops to rule as if they had the power to force the churches to do whatever they desired [1 Peter 5:2]. Now the question is not how to take power away from the bishops. Instead, we desire and ask that they would not force themselves into sin. But if they will not do so and despise this request, let them consider how they will have to answer to God, since by their obstinancy they cause division and schism, which they should rightly help to prevent.”
    + Augsburg Confession, Article XXVIII,76-78 +

    “…All this evidence makes clear that the church retains the right to choose and ordain ministers. Consequently, when bishops either become heretical or are unwilling to ordain, the churches are compelled by divine right to ordain pastors and ministers for themselves. Moreover, the cause of this schism and dissension is to be found in the ungodliness and tyranny of bishops, for Paul warns that bishops who teach and defend false doctrine and impious forms of worship are to be considered accursed.”
    + Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, The Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops,72 +

  9. District offices (at least the one’s that I’ve been involved with over the last 25 years; Pac SW and Pac NW) seem to be nothing other that satelite branches of Synod, DP’s just another voice of the SP. It seems to me that I might want to change careers, get out of the distribution buusiness, and get into the consulting business.

  10. Scott is doing a great service to our synod. I’m sure he will show that in TC, the pastor becomes the CEO, in effect, and actually is given authority to hire and fire people who “don’t perform.” Everything is measured against the Great Commission, and Justification by grace thru faith is patently ignored. The Holy Spirit is marginalized, and the church is turned upside down. The sweetness of the Gospel is “transformed” into the terror of the Law! This program was “piloted” for two years before the 2007 Convention passed “Mission Revitalization” (Res. 1-01A). Nobody told us what that meant–it was a true “stealth” resolution. The Gospel is being trampled underfoot. Keep it up, Scott!!

  11. I wish I were more articulate as the bulk of this group.
    Sure I’m good for a wise-crack, or a snark as pointed out in other posts, but there are things stuck in my brain box that I will never be able to put on paper.
    My vocabulary is that of a street urchin at best, if it wasn’t for spell check I would totally be embarrassed.
    I can only say that this strikes at my core. It disturbs me to no end. The Lutheran Church, the more I understand it is totally unique. For the life of me I cannot figure out why the powers that be pull us to the unintelligent side of religion. Lutheran laymen historically have been instructed and informed into what we believe.
    I can only pray that the Father intervenes in this travesty we call synod.


  12. John–you done good! The answer to your puzzled question is quite simple: It is a lack of trust in God’s Word; it is forgetting Article IV and V of the Augsburg Confession. When that happens, we resort to the world’s methods. As Scott continues his series, prepare to be further alarmed.
    TC is simply the latest mutation of the Church Growth virus.

  13. Watching this from afar and in the LCC in Canada I hope and pray that the “weeds” can be cut out of the LCMS and we can remain a historic Lutheran church true to the the Word and Sacrements the Book of Concord and Augsburg Confessions. Keep up the fight I sometimes find it hard to believe that this is actually happening.

  14. Scott– I have been combatting TC in my area for a year. I have sat thru a TC “prescription” weekend, after reading “Direct Hit.” I’m thoroughly familiar with TC’s utter bogusity, and I’m looking forward to the rest of your series–we are on the same page. By the way, your analysis of the website video is right on the mark, and everyone who reads these postings should view that video to see just how awful this program is. Keep up the good work. It is very necessary.

  15. What is with these people?

    I cannot for the life of me understand why the Lutheran Church wants to keep on modeling itself on the principles of men and error. Have they forgotten that they should not be taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy that is dependent on the rules of men rather than Christ?

    It is this type of thinking that does not bring anyone to church but away from it more.No one is filling the “Movie Theatre anymore now thatn earlier. For the man centered seeker types the fad has worn off and new entertainment must be found. What about Buddism? Maybe the Synodical Conference Churches will try this next? Do the powers that be forget how much error and in some cases heresies that some of these other denominations bring. The Confessional Lutheran Church has been the lone symbol of the Evangelical Catholic Faith free from the fasle teaching of Rome that is now begining to corrupt itself with the false teaching of Rome via America and worse that of the LDS. By the way, what do Christians have in common with Belial and is it not true that no one can ask Jesus into their heart as they are dead in trespasses and sins?

    These groups that this program seeks to implement are endorsed by cults such as the Boston Movement and are historically present in movements like the Pietism of Spenner and others. It seems they have also forgotten that all are sinners alike under sin. There are no special level of believers who are higher on the pole than others. This leads to many who think more of themselves thatn they ought to think. Just try attending churches who have an extremly high view of the public ministry and you will see what I mean.

  16. 1Day–you are right to identify what’s going on in the LCMS as pietistic. I suggest you read Klemet Preus’ article in Epiphany 2009 LOGIA, entitled: “Pietism in Missouri’s
    Mission from Mission Affirmations to Ablaze!” It is very revealing and insightful, and well worth your time. Another “take” on this business is “Three Missouris” by Prof. David Adams of St. Louis Seminary. Satan continues to dress old heresies/errors in new clothes, and we seem to fall for it. It’s Man’s religion, not God’s religion. “Jesus saved you, so get to work!”

  17. TO #17 – Elaine,
    Please do not be fooled. My minister is down in St. Louis at the TCN conference thing as I type. I would guess that he is down there with an official of the ABC District and probably a LCC official. As a matter of fact, my minister was part of a Canadian TCN task force that did a revitalization of two LCMS congregations in Florida. This stuff is everywhere.

  18. At what point in the process were TCN and the LCMS Board of Directors contacted to discuss these matters? What was their response? It seems that the Synod and the Nebraska District are open to questions and concerns – and in fact, WELCOME them. Have they been contacted at all?

  19. I’m just curious about the process used to gather your data. Have you talked to the LC-MS leadership, the TCN leadership, or ANY of the 166 churches that have implemented the TCN revitalization program? Or is this material strictly based on opinions rather than data?

  20. Yes John, I’ve talked to the LCMS leadership, and I’ve talked to ANY of the 166 churches that have implemented the TCN revitalization program. This TCN article was also posted on my blog, which Rev. Terry Tieman, the Executive Director of TCN, follows via Blogger, so I think it’s safe to say that TCN leadership has read what I’ve said, but chosen not to respond. Due to the extensive quotes from the TCN website and TCN prescriptions, etc., I wouldn’t characterize the material as “opinion,” although you’re certainly free to disagree with my conclusions. Nor am I the only one speaking out on the subject. Joe Strieter gave an excellent presentation warning about the dangers of TCN at the Lutheran Concerns Association Annual Conference in Fort Wayne earlier this year.

  21. We have just experienced the “consultation weekend” at our congregation. It was appalling. One of the men, who is a major figure in TCN (in the FL/GA District of LCMS) and who is a retired LCMS Pastor made a statement near the close of the Saturday “training”. He invited us to consider how wonderful it would feel to have somebody walk up to us in heaven and say “I’m here because of you.” Now I ask you .. how on earth can it be suggested that anyone is in heaven other than by the Grace of God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m quite certain this retired Pastor believes in salvation by faith, but he’s gotten very sloppy in his language and so is the entire TCN movement. When folks here us talking like that how are they supposed to hear the Good News of Salvation?

    On the same weekend another Pastor, from the pulpit during worship, told a story about a former pagan, having been a Christian for only a year and seven months, who had brought 81 people to faith and had planted 7 churches. The implied question was you, sitting in the pew, how many have you converted. Well, “Pastor”, I have never converted anyone. The Holy Spirit does that. Go back to Confirmation and forget all the mumbo-jumbo you’ve learned from the non-Biblical sources.

    It is disgusting and dangerous.

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