The Transforming Churches Network: Part 5, Whose Vision Is It? by Scott Diekmann

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



Last time, we took a look at a Transforming Churches Network (TCN) Consultation Report.   In it, we got our first glimpse on how the actual transformation of the congregation will occur.   While you might expect a Biblical transformation through the renewal of your mind (Rom. 12:2), in this case you can expect a removal instead if a renewal, a removal of some of your church’s bylaws, followed by a re-engineering of your church’s structure, and lots of talk about “vision” and “accountability.”


When you, as the TCN consultant, stand up before a congregation and tell them they have the wrong focus and lack leadership and vision, and that they need to completely reshape their church structure in order to be “successful,” you might expect some resistance.   However, the consultant expects that the majority of you will go along with their plan (for those of you who don’t, you’re the ones labeled as having “regressive attitudes” and are given the “left foot of fellowship“).   Many of you will even jump at the chance to start remodeling, because of something called transformation.


Transformation is a process whereby change is gradually effected via certain steps that take their origin from the occult thought of George Hegel and his dialectic process.   This process is used the world over to forge such things as Outcome Based Education, the New Age New World Order, Total Quality Management, socialism, the United Nations One World Government, and all sorts of business plans.   The people who implement these plans are sometimes called change agents (in TCN they’re called coaches or personal trainers or pastors or facilitators).   Many of the books that TCN recommends for its participating pastors to read are written by change agents, including Neil Cole, Paul Borden, John Whitmore, Dwight Marable, John Kaiser, and Peter Drucker.


In the dialectic process, a leader casts his “vision,” which the people are to follow.   In order for this to happen, a close-knit group must be created, enthusiasm for the vision must be continually generated, unremitting monitoring of the progress of the group is accomplished, goals are constantly redefined, and members are held accountable for these goals.   A sense of urgency is maintained to apply pressure on the group. The group is encouraged to dialogue about their thoughts (not discuss in a judgmental way, but rather dialogue in an accepting non-threatening manner).   Barriers are broken down with mandatory openness, self-disclosure, and tolerance.   They are encouraged to take risks in order to effect change.   Subjective feelings and experience become the tools whereby common ground is discovered. The more diverse the group, the more successful the dialectic process works.   An idea is mentioned (the thesis), with others presenting their ideas (the antithesis), dialogue occurs, and a group consensus is reached in a never-ending process (the synthesis) as the group moves forward.   The dialectic process takes opposing views and reshapes them into a new synthesis somewhere in the middle.   In the hands of a skillful facilitator, this process is repeated and manipulated until the desired outcome is reached.   This procedure may be well suited for the business world and other applications, but is untenable where the truth of the Gospel is at stake.   Unfortunately, the people undergoing the process don’t recognize what’s happening, and sometimes, the facilitators don’t either!


As the group is encouraged to put aside their differences for the sake of unity, it is apt to move further and further from doctrinal truth.   “Accountability” is subtly emphasized in multiple ways, so that the group members constantly monitor each other, enforcing an unspoken requirement to fall into line with the group consensus, which in this case is the CGM paradigm.   Those who dare question the consensus are labeled “divisive” (or “speed bumps” or “museum keepers”) and are driven out.  The dialectic process is effective with most Christians.   They are naturally inclined to avoid conflict out of love for their neighbor, and don’t realize that pointing our doctrinal error is done out of love for their neighbor. Some people lack proper catechesis and therefore don’t recognize falsehood.   Throw in the constant societal barrage of political correctness in the form of sensitivity, inclusivity, and diversity, combined with the preplanned CGM strategy for transformation, and it’s no wonder Christians are deceived into having their church hijacked in favor of an un-Biblical model.


Pastor Bob DeWaay, who has appeared on LCMS Lutheran Chris Rosebrough’s radio show Fighting for the Faith, states:


We saw that in the New Testament, true unity is gospel-centric. The false unity that is being promoted today is not like that. In most cases it is unity under a religious leader’s “vision.” What is meant by the term “vision” is not the same as the Biblical usage. It is used in a modern marketing sense and relates to the leader’s mental image of what he wants the product and corporation to be like in the future.


The unity that is necessary to create a church molded from the mental image of a religious leader’s dream of an optimal future is unity under the religious corporation’s vision. To fulfill the dream each piece must work together and each piece must contribute to the purposes determined by the visionary leader. The wisdom of business gurus has been mined by Christian leaders who have created religious versions to help pastors market the church.


The Herescope apologetics website, whose contributor Jewel Grewe has been on Issues, Etc., had this to say:


This type of language has entered evangelicalism like a flood. It came into the church via the business gurus and consultants. Churches have been feeling pressure to define their “mission, vision, and values.” Pastors have been told they should strive to become “visionary” leaders.


Christians are being deceived into thinking that “visioning” processes such as these are necessary to bring about the Kingdom of God. Nothing could be further than the truth!


Christian apologist Berit Kjos says:


Did you catch the difference between discussion and dialogue? A good discussion relies on facts and logic — solid information — to present a logical argument that might persuade others that something is true or right. But such a didactic discussion clashes with purposes of the dialectic group, which trains diverse minds (remember, everyone is encouraged to bring friends) to ignore offensive truths for the sake of unity. Each person must learn to share their hearts authentically, to “listen” empathically, to ignore divisive facts or Biblical standards, and to continually synthesize individual views and values into an ever evolving common ground. Naturally, this feel-good process blurs God’s dividing line between good and bad, truth and error.


Herescope also states:


“Vision” statements are usually concocted in orchestrated consensus meetings, in which foregone conclusions move people from Tradition towards Transition. During the Transition process, people normally are challenged to leave Tradition. Their “cherished assumptions” are supposed to be abandoned in order to acquire new ideas, beliefs, opinions, attitudes and values.  


The dialectic process can be seen working throughout all the different venues of TCN.   Triads and the small groups are prime breeding grounds for the dialectic process to take place.   It occurs as the coach trains the pastor, and then as the pastor interacts with the church leaders and the congregation.   The pastor is the main change agent.   When he casts his “vision,” who can argue?   At that point, he’s like the Blues Brothers – he’s “on a mission from God.”  


The following quotes are all taken from TCN materials, and serve to illustrate the dialectic process at work in the “Mission Revitalization Process”:   The pastor is to “use the pulpit to cast vision and to create a sense of urgency,” and “ensure that adequate momentum for change is harnessed.”   He “creates urgency in casting vision continually; understanding and leading change.”   “A pastor at some point will need to be an agent of change.” “The pastor is the initiating leader of the transformation process.”   Prayer teams “focus on seeking God’s help to bring new vision and passion to our congregation….”   Triad members “agree to read a section of scripture and review it, sharing questions and reactions. Then discuss difficulties, sins and obstacles to a relationship with Jesus and pray about ways to overcome these.”   “I encourage members to take risks and try new things in ministry and group leadership.” “Leadership will continually insure that every member knows and is committed to carrying out the vision.”   “All existing and new ideas, facility plans, programs and ministries must be evaluated in light of this vision and any that do not enable the congregation to move closer to achieving this vision shall be stopped or not implemented.”   “A personal trainer must master the skills required in any problem solving situation which include the articulation of the problem, the discussion of the issues related to the problem and options for effective resolution of the problem. Often, the pastor will be able to discover the right path if a skilled personal trainer will help facilitate the journey.”   “…Open communication based on trust and confidentiality are essential. Personal trainers need to be able to keep track of the issues that have been discussed so that appropriate accountability can be brought to bear in future personal training sessions.”   “A personal trainer can offer tremendous help to a pastor in encouraging him to articulate his dreams and aspirations.”   “Once reality has been sufficiently explored the personal trainer makes a natural shift toward creating a way forward.”   “Equip the pastor to deal with roadblocks and resistance. Resistance is likely to be present as the church transitions to the Accountable Leadership model. The pastor may need your counsel and support if the threat level becomes high enough.”


As already noted, there are grave dangers here for Christians.   It is important for Christians to understand and recognize the marks of the dialectic process, so they will not be duped by it.   The clear meaning of Scripture is not something that can be dialogued about and interpreted.   Small groups can become their own mini-church, but lacking pastoral supervision.   The “vision” of the pastor is not a vision from the Holy Spirit, but rather his own “wish list.”   What specifically are the doctrinal problems inherent in the TCN vision?   That will be the topic of the next post, where we get into the theological meat of the discussion.


Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.       Jeremiah 23:16 ESV



For more information on the Hegelian dialectic process:


“Small Groups and the Dialectic Process” by Berit Kjos:


“Transforming the Church Through the Dialectic” by Dean Gotcher:

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


The Transforming Churches Network: Part 5, Whose Vision Is It? by Scott Diekmann — 10 Comments

  1. Scott,

    What do you think of the possibility of these types of visions(which are what the pastor thinks should happen or in this case the LCMS who acts as the corporate office and the TCN as (“Consulticks” if you read Dilbert you will know what I am talking about)becoming mo different than the Emergent Community which is heresy itself?

    I remember when I attended an LCMS congregation years ago that was already employing a “Facilitator ” to work with the church’s pastor. This evil has been in our midst for a long time and I wonder how long the church’s who resist the synod’s will if they should consolidate power will do ?

  2. “My name is Legion, for we are many,” said the demons to Christ (Mark 5:9). So it is with CG programs. (The latest issue of “The Reporter” does not lend comfort–by now some 250 congregations are dabbling in TC.) Pastors who want to be “effective” (A CG code word) will be ascertaining “God’s vision” for their congregations, through “Cosmic Praying”, among other things. Who says it’s “God’s vision”, anyway? How can we know? Who dares to stand against “God’s vision”? Such chutzpah! Congregations now have “vision task forces” (really!). One pastor’s vision of ten years ago has now changed–same pastor–new vision. Next year, or the year after, who knows? Another new vision? Perhaps the seminaries should offer “Visioning 101”. Can you imagine Dr. Scaer or Dr. Gibbs leading such a class? Where is the ecclesiastical 911 line when you need it? HELP!!!!

  3. lDAY,

    The Emerging Church at least has the good sense to use the word “vision” in a much more grandiose, sweeping way than we do. We use it to try and claim that the Spirit is working through the pastor’s “vision casting” to rally the troops around that new sanctuary the pastor has been wanting.

    The Emerging Church (EC) is much more effective in utilizing the Hegelian dialectic than our ham-handed efforts. They have used it to completely “reimagine” what the Church is supposed to look like, and have succeeded in duping millions of people to follow a social gospel that has no doctrine or theology behind it. Brian McClaren, the de facto leader of the Emerging Church, is a master of the dialectic process. The EC is a good illustration of why the dialectic process should not be used when dealing with spiritual matters.

    The EC use of “vision” is generally more in line with their concept of “incarnating the Kingdom of God” through their own actions. Through the EC communal conversation, the Spirit works apart from the Word, according to them (narrative theology). In this sense, the EC and TCN are similar, because they both tend to divorce the Holy Spirit from the means through which He chooses to work. The EC claims the Spirit works directly via their ongoing “conversation,” which could be called a form of enthusiasm, and is actually the dialectic process at work. In our case, we have ceded to the pastor the work of the Holy Spirit through the pastor’s “vision,” thus divorcing justification and sanctification from Word and Sacrament, or making it the Gospel, plus something we must add, via small groups, repentance, and a special form of church governance, to make the Spirit effective.

    What will churches who resist do if the Synod eventually applies pressure on them? They will do one of two things, both of which have merit: 1) They will leave the Synod, seeking a safe harbor in which God’s Word can be rightly divided, or 2) They will stand and fight, trusting in Jesus Christ’s Word and promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church.

  4. Scott,

    As I stated in another venue, thank you for this series on the TCN. Western Civilization has a tradition of teaching through dialogue. Socrates and Plato established it in the Greek tradition. Jesus certainly asked questions (and most often provided the answers too) of his disciples. The Greek philosophical tradition and Jesus has a commonality. They both sought to find or reveal the truth. Ultimately that truth is the divine dialectic, that is, the Logos made flesh. The classical model of education exemplifies this search for truth.

    This post-modern model rests on the sinking sand of human imagination and self-expression.

  5. Scott,

    Thank you for exposing the TCN’s slide of hand. As has been pointed out, its substance is vacuous. I see another contrast it has with the Gospel. While the Gospel of Jesus Christ is free for the trusting, since God desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), the TCN model divides people into strata. You have those “really in the know” telling everyone else how the vision and dialectic are going to proceed. Do we see its similarity to some shades of Gnosticism?

    Under the dialectical method of the TCN model, those “not in the know” get only the information and means to spur them along. They get just enough information to push the synthesis to the antithesis, etc. In any case, this whole transformational scheme seeks to redefine the Church, salvation, and even how we view the Savior.

    Talk about putting new wine in old wineskins! One reason this TCN stuff tried by churches in our synod looks so strange and–mind I say–eye catching–is that they just don’t go together. The formal principle of the dialectic is immediate change agent and the dialectic at the next level up. The material principle is participation in the ongoing conversation (to borrow an emergent theme). Now that’s a far cry from Sola Scriptura and justification by grace through faith in Christ alone.

    This TCN model shows all the more that the folks wanting to restructure our synod intend more than just organizational change. They are wanting to put doctrine up for a vote. Now, tell me. When has our Lord through His Word called us to put His essence and teaching up for a vote or dialectic? He doesn’t. Rather, He gives us all the means and His teaching. (Matt. 28:18-20) And all this with no merit or worthiness in us!

  6. David Rosenkeotter asks:
    ‘Do we see its similarity to some shades of Gnosticism?’
    We see the similarity to utter tyranny.
    When a fellow Christian lords over another his better knowledge of how the church is supposed to work, then it ain’t church. It’s a fascist enterprise.

  7. Susan, David R.– ALL Church Growth programs, whatever they are called, are inherently Gnostic in their methodology and philosphy. The Holy Spirit is separated from the Means of Grace: the Word has no power, and the sacraments are marginalized–WE have it all figured out! Check it out. I’ve just about come to the conclusion that gnosticism, in one form or another, is behind all heresy. Still working on that one.

  8. Which really prompts the question: what’s behind gnosticism?
    Isn’t it really that old triple enemy of ‘Me Myself and I’?
    Isn’t it just Adam/Eve wanting the final word?
    Lip-service to God; full service to the ego.

  9. The main similarity between TCN and Gnosticism is that they both lead you away from the truth. In Gnosticism, salvation is the escape from the body (which is the wrong goal), achieved not through faith in Christ but by special knowledge. The “special knowledge” that TCN seeks to impart is that you need to repent and adjust your way of thinking. It then exchanges the truth of God, that all blessings flow from our daily justification in Christ through our Baptism, with a lie, that everything is grounded in our purpose – to bring others to Christ. Once you’ve made that paradigm shift, you’ve changed the Gospel into Law, and are well on your way to works righteousness and destroying the faith once delivered to the saints.

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