Doxology and PLI ““ Will the LCMS Ever be Able to Walk Together? by Pr. Rossow

After our congregation finished hosting a Doxology conference this last weekend it dawned on me that there are two groups offering post graduate training in how to be a pastor in the LCMS and they could not be more different. They are so different that it got me thinking if the pastors and congregations of the LCMS can ever walk in sync.

The question of disunity in the synod is usally approached from the standpoint of contemporary vs. traditional worship, the role of women and open vs. closed communion. Comparing Doxology to PLI (Pastoral Leadership Training Institute) gives us a fresh look at this matter. It is important to note that I have spoken to neither PLI nor Doxology about this post. All quotes are from the extensive material found on the Doxology and PLI websites. Truth be told neither of them would most likely not want to be associated with disunity in the synod. But this website, along with others, intends to be the go to place for confessional Lutheran news and commentary and we believe this comparison is instructive for the on-going discussion of the health of the LCMS.

Both of these groups are very professional and their training sessions seem to be well done. PLI is a four year program where as Doxology can be done in a single year. There are other similarities and dissimilarities based on structure but we are more interested in comparing their content.

A look at the titles reveals much. Doxology is about training pastors to elicit reasonable praise in the church (that is what “doxology” literally means) and the other is about training pastors in leadership skills. Doxology describes its work this way.

The primary purpose of this organization is to provide training, mentoring and consultation services for pastors who desire to enhance their ability to help people struggling with the ever-increasing personal, family and social complexities of contemporary life. The training environment, grounded in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, ensures that pastors will be emotionally and spiritually refreshed and equipped as a result of their participation. DOXOLOGY strengthens pastors so they can more faithfully pastor others.

PLI describes its work this way.

The mission of PLI is to provide advanced leadership training for pastors whose hearts burn with passion for the gospel and who have exhibited potential for leadership excellence. It is an initiative conceived with the express purpose of supporting a strong, viable church for the next millennium.

So Doxology is geared toward helping pastors to more faithfully pastor others and PLI is geared toward training pastors to be leaders who create strong, viable churches that are winning the lost.

A closer look at the word “leadership” will clarify the difference between these two groups. Understanding what is meant by leadership is the key to understanding the work of PLI. Here is some further definition of the significance of leadership from the PLI website.

The challenge is to move the thinking and operational paradigms of church leaders, both pastoral and lay, beyond shepherd care and administrative efficiency to leadership effectiveness…

Leadership is the critical issue confronting the church as it moves toward the 21st century. The challenge is to move the thinking and operational paradigms of church leaders, both pastoral and lay, beyond shepherd care and administrative efficiency to leadership effectiveness. Leaders must lead! …When you find success in an organization, you find successful leaders. When you find failure, you find leadership failure as well…

What is leadership? Leadership is influence. It is the ability to persuade, to guide, to affect a particular outcome…Most people in churches today do not think of themselves as leaders at all. Consequently the influence they could bring for the advance of the Kingdom of God is dormant.

“Leadership” as used by PLI and other church growth initiatives in the church is a code word. Allow me to break the code for you. It essentially means having the courage to change everything about your grandfather’s church so that your congregation can break free from the traditional shackles of liturgical worship, the forgiveness of sins as the centerpiece of the church and preaching that is built on Law and Gospel. In place of these PLI pastors are taught and mentored to start contemporary worship, programs of “ministry” and relevant/practical preaching.

If you study the scriptures you will see that leadership is not a major theme. As a matter of fact it is not a theme at all. The word “leader” is used 87 times in the scriptures (ESV translation) and only two of those times are prescriptive and they are not prescriptions for leaders but for those following them. The word “leadership” is used only once (Number 33:1) and that likewise is not prescriptive. If you include Jesus’ teaching on “the first and the last” in teh Biblical data on “leaership” then one could say there is indeed a memorable teaching about leadership but it is not positive, but rather is a critique of those who would be leaders.

Looking at the entrance requirements for each group is also telling. PLI limits enrollment to those who have demonstrated competency whereas Doxology’s approach is more evangelical. It is not looking to reward the “best” but instead provides help for pastors who have been judged less than worthy by the world and even their congregations by providing “a safe environment for clergy to reflect on their own spiritual and emotional health and assists them to review and enhance their professional competencies and skills as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s sacred mysteries.”

Another key to the different approaches in advanced training for pastors is to look at the types of books and materials that are read by each group. Here is a list of titles from the Doxology site.

Here is a sample of resources from the PLI website. Notice the emphasis on sociology, business practices and the like.

  • Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All the Rules.
  • Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.
  • Knauft, E. B. and Renee A. Berger and Sandra T. Gray. Profiles of Excellence: Achieving Success in the Nonprofit Sector.
  • Maxwell, John C. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You.
  • Maxwell, John C. The 360 Degreee Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization.
  • Quinn, Robert E. Beyond Rational Management: Mastering the Paradox and Competing Demands of High Performance.
  • Rainer, Thom S. Breakout Churches: Discover How to Make the Leap.
  • Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life.

Both of these groups are doing very good things. PLI however is misguided as to what it means to be a pastor. Their emphasis on leadership is at best out of step with what the Bible says about pastors (since it basically says nothing prescriptive about leadership – leadership is not a key to pastoring according to the Bible) and worst it is a master plan to move the church away from its 2,000 year old, scriptural emphasis on the liturgy, the forgiveness of sins and law/gospel preaching.

Quite simply PLI believes that our seminary training is inadequate and so they seek to fix what is broken by providing sociological and business principles of leadership to form pastors who can break their congregations out of traditional molds. (Is this not an affront to the seminaries?) Doxology on the other hand seeks to complement the very pastoral formation worked by the seminaries by deepening and fine tuning the pastor’s ability to care for souls with God’s word and sacraments. PLI draws the picture of a pastor as a leader who is battling against entrenched traditions in the church. Doxology draws the picture of a pastor as one in the trenches with the laity battling against sin, death and the devil. The fact that these drastically different approaches to pastoral training are going on in the LCMS is a sign of disunity and groups working cross-purposes. The same could be said of different approaches to youth work, mission work, and even men’s groups, as attested to by the Brothers of John the Steadfast.

This denomination cannot thrive in this dis-unified state. President Kieschnick has not been able to bring the two approaches together. It seems logical to let Matt Harrison have a go at it and see if he can bring the two together. He actually addresses this issue in his seminal work on LCMS disunity titled “It’s Time.” Matt Harrison is a pastor’s pastor. His writing and speaking exudes the best of 2,000 years of the church’s preaching and teaching on the Holy Office of the Ministry. And it’s clear that he is not too bad at leadership either, when you consider the masterful and effective way he has led LCMS World Relief and Human Care for the last several years.

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