The Transforming Churches Network: Part 6, Turning the Church Upside Down, by Scott Diekmann

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

Last time, we took a brief look at the Transforming Churches Network (TCN) use of the dialectic process to effect change in a congregation, including the pastor’s “vision.”   Today we’ll examine how these changes line up with what Scripture teaches.                            


We’ve already noted in Part 3 that the basic assumption of TCN, that the growth of a church (or lack thereof) is a barometer of its spiritual health, is an un-doctrinal statement.   In Part 4, we examined the TCN consultation report.   In it, the congregation is required to suspend specific bylaws so that a new structure (or polity) can be created for the congregation.   This structure, called the Accountable Leadership Model, ends the democratic model of the voter’s assembly, in favor of a top down pastor-as-CEO model.   This type of governance was popularized by Baptist John Kaiser in his book Winning on Purpose.   This model contains serious doctrinal flaws, two of which we’ll examine now.   First, it assigns duties to the pastor that the pastor should not be assigned, and removes duties from the pastor that are his primary calling.   Second, it creates an environment in which the parishioners become the ministers of the congregation.


In the Accountable Leadership Model, the pastor’s role is to lead the church, his primary function being to train and equip leaders.   A Board of Directors (BOD) is established who “govern the church” (from 3 to 7 people including the pastor), staff members manage the church, and the parishioners carry out the ministry of the church.   The pastor-turned-CEO concept leads to a view of the Church as a business rather than the Body of Christ.   It is frequently called an “organization,” and is run on a business model.


Historically, Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregations have maintained a democratic structure, with officers elected and decisions made by the voter’s assembly.   While the structure of a congregation is not something that is Biblically mandated, the democratic model has served the LCMS well.   In 2001, the Synodical Convention reaffirmed C.F.W. Walther’s book Church and Ministry as the official position on such churchly matters.   In it, Dr. Walther, the first President of the LCMS, stated:


For when our Savior Christ says, “Tell it to the church,” He by these words commands the church to be the supreme judge. From this it follows that not only one state, namely that of the bishops, but also other pious and learned persons from all states are to be appointed as judges and have decisive votes (page 343).


Voter supremacy is therefore the official congregational polity of the LCMS.  To change to a pastor-as-CEO model ushers in a host of problems.   The checks and balances that are inherent in the normed LCMS congregational polity are destroyed, crowning the pastor the supreme authority on all things.   When the church is run like a business via the Church Growth Movement (CGM) ideal, the visitors become consumers, and the Gospel becomes a product which needs to be attractively packaged so that it will sell.   The pastor becomes the task master whose job it is to prod the leaders into action with his “vision casting” (a term best left to Word-Faith gurus and New Agers), and in what is the ultimate role reversal, the parishioners become the pastor.


Perhaps most importantly, the pastor-as-CEO model confuses the right hand and left hand kingdoms, granting him powers which are not granted to him in Scripture.   The pastor is not called to lord it over the congregation.   He performs those duties which have been granted to him in the Word, the duties of the right hand Kingdom, which God rules by the Gospel.   Those duties include preaching, administering the Sacraments, forgiving and withholding of forgiveness of sins, and guarding the flock.   The pastor is not elevated above the parishioners; however, to quote Lutheran theologian Dr. Francis Pieper:


Since the ministry is the office of teaching God’s Word, while man’s word is forbidden in the Christian Church, obedience as to God Himself is due the ministry as far as it proclaims the Word of God.   He. 13:17: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves”; Luke 10:16: “He that heareth you heareth Me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me.”   To obey pastors beyond God’s Word is not commanded, but strictly forbidden to Christians (Matt. 23:8; Rom. 16:17).   Also adiaphora are not decided by the pastor or the pastors, but settled by the entire congregation of any place by mutual agreement.   (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III, p. 459)


Church matters that pertain to the left hand kingdom, which God rules by His Law, such as “Should we put a new roof on?” or “Do we need a bigger parking lot?” are matters which should be left to the members of the congregation.   When the Pastor is given all power to make and rule on such things, he exceeds his Scriptural authority.   The Accountable Leadership Model is therefore an un-Scriptural model and should not be used.


In a business, the CEO is held accountable by the Board of Directors.   In the Accountable Leadership Model as it is being set up by TCN, it is much more likely that the BOD is a rubber stamp for the pastor’s “vision.”   In most cases, the members of the BOD are nominated by the pastor, so they are naturally going to be supporters of his “vision.”   If the TCN script of proposed bylaws is followed, BOD members “must successfully complete a training course taught by the Senior Pastor covering the mission, vision, and structure of the Church.”   The primary role of the Board is to write concise Guiding Principles that the pastor is to follow.   These Principles include three areas, Mission Principles (“What ends the Church exists to achieve”), Boundary Principles (What you’re not allowed to do to accomplish the Mission Principles), and Accountability Principles (“How the Board is to establish the Guiding Principles and to monitor the Pastor’s compliance with them”).   Ironically, the pastor is also to “lead the Board by guiding its discussion of mission and boundary principles.   Thus the Principles the pastor is to follow are based on his own input, a rather circular design in which the fox guards the hen house.


As in all businesses, pay is now based on performance, and performance is determined by how many “seekers” come through the front door: “The Board shall determine the compensation of the Senior Pastor based on achieving the mission principles and respecting the boundary principles.”   The pastor becomes a hired hand.   And just like any other business, “Ineffective pastors are asked to move on.”   The senior pastor is granted hiring, firing, directional, and salary decisions for all staff, including associate and assistant pastors, who are also labeled “staff.” “Staff will be evaluated by the Senior Pastor on the basis of their performance in leading their ministries to be effective in reaching the lost, raising-up leaders, and growing their ministry’s impact upon the community.”     This guarantees the senior pastor’s dictatorial powers, since it is the person who has the power to “hire and fire” who has ultimate control of the “business.”   Former boards are dismantled.   The Board of Elders – gone.   The Board of Evangelism – gone.   The School Board – gone.   The Church Council and Finance Board – gone.   The voter’s assembly survives as a rubber stamp to ratify the annual budget and call a senior pastor.   (The senior pastor has the option to use survivors of the previous boards as “support staff.”)


None of this is Scriptural.   Pastors are not employees who can be fired on a whim because the “numbers” are down.   All pastors are called by God – the congregation acting only as God’s instrument.   No pastor has the authority to “hire” another pastor – that would usurp God’s own authority acting through the congregation – this is why it’s called a Divine Call.   And the call of a pastor is a life-long call, to be terminated only for teaching false doctrine or leading a scandalous life.


Associate and assistant pastors are treated as just another employee.   The senior pastor is given the authority to hire other pastors (the preferred method), or he selects “the worker he believes to be best for the ministry,” and the congregation ratifies his decision.   TCN justifies this un-Scriptural invention by stating that all called workers have a “provisional call” and serve under the authority of the senior pastor, claiming that “this has been a part of our history as a church body” (online reference).   It is odd that a layman would notice that their statement is inaccurate, but the LCMS pastors who head TCN would not.   A provisional call has never been an acceptable call method in the LCMS – it is Biblically unsound.   Even the 2003 Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) report on the Divine Call, which deviated from the Scriptural path at certain points, completely dismisses the concept of a provisional call:


Calls should never be issued under certain prescribed conditions. For example, a call should not be extended to a pastor contingent on his achieving particular objectives such as numerical growth, the successful completion of a capital building project, the utilization of a particular program, or the attainment of certain budgetary goals. Such conditions directly infringe upon the divine character of the call issued by the church, and detract from the central task of the office.


They go on to quote a 1988 CTCR opinion that says “unconditional calls have always been the rule in the Synod. In fact, in the opinion of the CTCR, conditional calls are inconsistent with Lutheran theology because they appear to contradict the nature of the divine call as unconditionally given by God through a Christian congregation.”   It is understood by those pastors who participate in the TCN paradigm shift that if they are not “producing fruit,” they will leave or be asked to leave for the sake of the “mission.”   Regarding a similar situation, C.F.W. Walther had this to say: “But the preacher who gives a congregation the right to call him in this way, and to dismiss him at will, thereby makes himself a hireling, a servant of men” (online reference).


TCN is simply trying to “pull the wool over our eyes.”   This should not come as a surprise.   When you try to shoehorn in a polity that is based on false doctrine, you can assume that the “shoe” won’t fit.   For all of those non-Lutherans who have contributed to the final form of TCN, the pastor is viewed as someone who is there for order’s sake.   Since they don’t believe in the power of Word and Sacrament, they don’t view the pastor as the called steward of God’s mysteries.   You can’t blame the Baptists, Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Fellowship of Grace Brethren, non-denominational, secular, and Mormon authors who have influenced TCN for our problems.   That blame rests squarely on our own shoulders, we, the Church of the Augsburg Confession.


While the Accountable Leadership Model grants to the pastor authority he should not possess, it also takes away from him the duties that Christ called him to perform.   His ministerial functions are stripped from him (other than Sunday morning duties) and given to the congregants: “The role of the congregation will be to conduct the ministries of the church” (online reference).   Calling on shut-ins – gone.   Calling on visitors – gone.   This too is un-Scriptural.   This every-person-a-minister goal of the Church Growth Movement completely deconstructs the article of faith know as vocation.


Again quoting Dr. Pieper:


It is not a human, but a divine command that Christians perform the works of their spiritual priesthood; accordingly, preach the Gospel not merely in their homes, but also in their intercourse with their brethren and with the world.   Likewise it is not merely a human, but a divine regulation that Christians who live at one place fellowship with one another, form a congregation, and appoint men equipped with the necessary teaching ability to preach God’s Word in the name of the congregation both publicly (in the public assembly) and privately (to individual Christians).   (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III, p. 443)


This is the way that evangelism has been done throughout the history of the Church.   God’s blessings flowing from pulpit, altar, and font through the Office of the Holy Ministry, as well as laymen serving their fellow man through their various vocations.   Altar, pulpit, and font are the penultimate source from which the Word and Christ’s forgiveness of sins and blessings proceed into the world.   Laymen meet the needs of their neighbor, whether physical or spiritual, through the ordinary circumstances of their lives.   To attempt to assign to the laymen the pastoral functions in the Church makes it appear that church work is somehow more valuable and important than other daily work we perform, which is every bit as important in God’s eyes.   All our works serve Him when done in Christ – we become masks of God.   The every-person-a-minister concept denigrates the priesthood of all believers and appropriates the duties of the Office of the Holy Ministry.   Again, the Accountable Leadership Model is an un-Scriptural model and should not be used.


Article V of the Augsburg Confession gets to the heart of evangelism:


So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.   Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22].   He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.   This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.


The LCMS Church Growth Study Committee reports:


Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:


– When the modern concept “everyone a minister” is equated with the priesthood of all believers: a) This denies the true priesthood of all believers, which is exercised not only in worship and prayer, but also in daily vocation (i.e., the work of one’s earthly calling, Christian witness in daily life, parental teaching in the home, etc.) (1 Pet. 2:9; Rom. 12:1–2); b) It confuses individual Christian lives with public offices in the church. (Acts 6); c) It can be used to undermine Jesus’ gift of the office of preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments (pastoral office) (Eph. 3:7–10, 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28–29 (AC V, XIV, XXVIII [8]).


– When congregations or small groups are encouraged to regard fellow lay Christians or church staff personnel as their pastors rather than those men properly trained, qualified, called and ordained to the pastoral office.


– When the pastor is viewed as a chief executive officer, administrator, or director whose primary purpose is to train laity to do the real pastoral care.


– When the church is operated as a purely secular corporation, with the pastor functioning as the “C.E.O.,” the elders being reduced to a Board of Directors, and the congregation treated as workers, all organized according to a business plan to market a product.


– When the “Priesthood of All Believers” is taken to mean “every member a minister.” This view denigrates the secular vocations (in implying that everyone ought to be engaged in ministerial functions to serve God, as if their existing callings were not equally spiritual in God’s sight). It also can be used to denigrate the pastoral vocation (in implying that everyone can do what the pastor has personally been called to do).


The Transforming Churches Network turns the Church upside down: “Individuals sharing the Gospel of Jesus with individuals who do not know Jesus as Savior is where all growth in God’s Kingdom takes place” (online reference).   The congregants become the ministers of the congregation, a position that Jesus reserved for the called and ordained servant of the Word.   The pastor becomes one of the congregants, ruling with the business formulas of the left hand kingdom.   Formerly, the gifts of God flowed from altar to nave, the congregation then responding with its sacrificial offerings of thanksgiving, prayers, and praise.   Now that order has been reversed.   To quote Pastor Rolf Preus, “…It has reversed the proper evangelical order. The ministry has become, not what God offers to us, but what we offer to him. The ministry is then centered in us, not in the gospel and the sacraments, that is in Christ” (online reference).  


Next time, we’ll look at one other way in which the Mission Revitalization Process turns the Church upside down, by turning the Gospel into Law.



A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.    Psalm 127:1  


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