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