TCN: Nothing to see here! Move along!

The January Reporter ran a very positive article about the Transforming Churches Network. I didn’t learn terribly much from the article and the group uses enough jargon to make a federal bureaucrat blush, so a trip to their web site requires some good translation skills. But Scott Diekman has written extensively about the group. In this post here at the Steadfast site, he praises TCN’s staff for their attempt to grow the church but criticizes some of the church growth methodology they use. He’s written a total of nine essays that look critically at the non-Lutheran basis of the network and some of their more controversial practices. You can find them all here.

Now, none of these controversies were mentioned in the Reporter article, of course. But I thought this letter to the editor in the February Reporter was fascinating. The letter writer is David Berger, librarian of the Concordia Seminary and all around great guy. Here’s his letter:

To lay to rest any concerns expressed in various quarters about the TCN corporation and its work, especially given its close relationship to LCMS World Mission, the following assurances are important:

  • Because every aspect of helping congregations to “look outward,” i.e., to proclaim the Gospel beyond their doors, has theological implications and is grounded in theological presuppositions, all TCN consultants and personnel subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions, and its resources (print and online) conform to Lutheran doctrine and practice.
  • TCN vigorously promotes Word and Sacrament ministry, including thorough catechetical instruction (teaching) and Baptism of children and adults, as foundational to both a congregation’s outward focus and its internal spiritual health.
  • TCN recognizes that the varied services in [the Synod’s hymnals], grounded in Scripture and in the historic practice of the communion of saints, clearly communicate and teach the Gospel; TCN thus discourages altering worship form and content to appeal to those whose first need is to be instructed in the faith, including how that faith is expressed and fed in the Divine Service.
  • TCN promotes an open congregational polity that encourages all members to be alive in their faith in the work of the congregation and advises against vesting governance in a small, centralized body or in the pastor, whose call is to serve as spiritual shepherd of the flock.
  • TCN upholds the scriptural principle of Christian vocation, i.e., the life of a Christian is one of faithful service to neighbor and family; in fulfilling various callings with our God-given abilities, we are “masks of God” through which/whom He calls others to Him. Cf. Eph. 4:11 ff., 1 Thess. 4:10 ff.
  • TCN acknowledges that evangelism, God’s work of calling people to faith, neither supersedes nor replaces the Gospel itself — the good news of Christ’s saving work for sinners — as the heart and core of the church’s proclamation.
  • Finally, TCN counsels against using membership size or growth as a standard of “accounting” for the faithfulness and spiritual health (or “success”) of a pastor or a congregation (cf. Eph. 1:4-14, Romans 8:28-30) and warns against turning grateful and loving witness, either corporate or individual, into a Law-driven activity.

Is it possible to check on these details and provide assurances regarding TCN theology and practice in a follow-up article?

And in a perfect display of how unresponsive Synodical leadership is, the Communications staff asked Dr. Terry Tieman, director of revitalization with LCMS World Mission and executive director of the Transforming Churches Network, to investigate his own organization. Here’s his detailed, substantiated, fully fleshed out response:

TCN can assure Reporter’s readers that it is in compliance with the above agreement and will continue to do all that it can, by God’s grace and power, to be a blessing to the LCMS.

Well I feel better now. I’m sure you do, too.


TCN: Nothing to see here! Move along! — 90 Comments

  1. Scott,
    How right you are. Have you checked out the Covenant to Fast and Pray During January 2010, on the TCN website? If not, I would love to know your take on that covenant & what is to be prayed for. I don’t remember seeing that in the Retorter article.

  2. Jim #32,
    I didn’t ck your blog, until late yesterday. Well…that was quite the coinkydink! I really didn’t know you had mentioned, who & what you did, prior to my posts. I believe that would be ironic, would it not? Danger, danger, danger Will Robinson!

  3. Re: Rudy Wagner @ 49

    Just a minor correction. Dr. Tieman does not have a PhD. His degree from Fuller Theological Seminary is a DMin.

  4. To all who have any doubts that TCN might be just a bit heterodox. Here is a quote from Borden’s “Direct Hit.” As I said above (#48), I have not seen the # of new disciples goal in any LCMS prescriptions, but I have heard it suggested by both trainers and parishoners who heard the trainer suggest it. It ought to be clear, that, numerical new disciple goals notwithstanding, this system doesn’t square too well with Walther. I don’t believe Walther suggested “hiring and firing” as part of the pastor’s job description.

    “The new structure will be configured distinctly in a variety of congregations, depending on local context and denominational polity, but the results of each configuration should be the same. Authority, responsibility, and accountability should be married. This means that the people who have responsibilities are given the required and appropriate authority to carry out these responsibilities and are held accountable for fruitfulness in their ministries. Rigorous accountability should be introduced throughout the entire system so there is clear evidence that the mission is being accomplished.

    It should be obvious in the new structure that staff members lead the congregation, whether they are full-time, part-time, or unpaid servants. These staff members oversee the basic ministries of the congregation and are held accountable as individuals for how many disciples will come to Jesus under their ministry, how many leaders they are developing, and how their particular area of ministry will grow during the years. Staff members will be honored and rewarded if they achieve their measurable goals; they will be asked to step down from their positions if they do not meet their goals on a consistent basis. Obviously, these understandings have been worked out ahead of time, and staff members have been given ample opportunity to practice working in this new system. (p. 113)”

    If you want to see what a “revitatlization” process looks like that is faithful to the confessions, and very Waltherian, check with the Indiana District, Rev. Geoff Robinson.


  5. What is the real “mission” besides getting everyone to clap to a praise band,
    and make regular contributions to St Louis?

    Called Lutheran Pastors are not supposed to be summarily fired because they don’t “meet expectations” in St Louis; but it looks like even the “CEO” would not be immune. (Though as a practical matter, I would guess that $$$ would outweigh “disciples” in the audit.)

    A successful “CEO” would have associate Pastors; are they to be hired and fired like so many Enron lackeys? In the “business model” they would be likely to take the fall for the “CEO”.

    This is Christianity!?

  6. It seems to me that Acts 6 speaks against the Accountable Leader Model for pastors. Not being accountable for “serving tables” made it possible for the early apostles to concentrate on “preaching the word of God.” Am I wrong?

  7. @grs #58

    There you go beating us up with Scripture. All that matters is getting new disciples. If those apostles would have waited on tables, their church might have grown even more. It was probably a very unhealthy church. Those Hellenistic malcontents could have stopped their complaining and done something really useful like starting a small group study on the “Purpose Driven Early Church”, by Flavius Riccius Warrenius. Now that’s what I call a healthy church culture.

    johannes, headwaiter in training.

  8. Actually I was thinking of Riccius Rabbitius Warrenius, but I didn’t know if anyone, except you, might catch on.


  9. Dutch :
    Pastor Eggelston,
    One question I have, one of many is…if this is Doctrinal & Scriptural, and in concordance with the Lutheran Confessions & standing Bylaws..
    Why is it required, sorry, suggested to change the congregation’s bylaws?
    If it what this is pruported to be, it shouldn’t contridict with any congregation’s bylaws, should it? If not, then why is the Pastor of that congregation required to sign a covenant?

    Shades of PLI. A rose by any other name………………….

  10. @Dutch #65

    I googled “virus” and this is one of the definitions:

    “A virus (from the Latin virus meaning toxin or poison) is a sub-microscopic infectious agent that is unable to grow or reproduce outside a host cell. Viruses infect all types of cellular life.” .

    Does that describe CG or what? And since, by my definition (#39 above), it is a virus, the comparisons are rather striking.

    BTW, in the same post, I provided a quotation. I forgot to mention that the quotation should be attributed to C. Peter Wagner. Major omission. Here’s the quote again:
    “I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the church-growth principles we’ve developed, or the evangelistic techniques we’re using. Yet somehow they don’t seem to work.” That’s from a 1991 article in Christianity Today, quoted by the LCMS’ “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission.” Also. a critique of FSCC, ordered by PK is still on the LCMS website. The original report is not.

    Johannius, anti virus agent

  11. Who creates disciples?

    AC V–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. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace fro Christ’s sake. [Concordia The Lutheran Confessions]

    Who sets the “goals”? We say we trust the Word, but is this the case?

    Apology XXVIII.12, 13, 14–We have declared in the Confession what kind of power the Gospel assigns to bishops…The bishop has the power of the order, that is, the ministry of the Word and Sacraments…They have a fixed command and a fixed Word of God, according to which they should teach and exercise their jurisdiction [Concordia The Lutheran Confessions]

    Power and Primacy of the Pope.60, 61,–The Gospel assigns those who preside over Churches the command to teach the Gospel, to forgive sins, to administer the Sacraments, and also to exercise jurisdiction…This power is common to all who preside over churches by divine right, whether they are called pastors, elders, or bishops. [Concordia The Lutheran Confessions]

    Additional things can be asked of the pastors, but this is by human right and shall not override nor is it above or on the same level as to what God has placed them their to do.

  12. Johannius,
    There’s a reason I said, sounds like the names of viruses. lol Yes, they do bear a striking resemblence, don’t they? I prefer the term parasite, sounds nastier.

  13. @Kurt Klingbeil #67

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. I believe that the Confessions know nothing of “The Great Commission” except the Baptize and teach part.

    It is Justification, AC IV, to which mission is accountable. Period.


  14. I think we are beginning to see why Tieman gave such a dismissive answer to Dr. Berger’s concerns.

    To do anything else would have required him to be honest about how TCN ignores and violates the basic tenets of the Lutheran Confessions.


  15. Todd,
    This sounds an awful lot like a case of, “that’s my story & I’m sticking to it”.
    Never mind, the truth, that’s relative, now isn’t it?

  16. Right, I have a question. Has anyone really looked into “The 72, Partners for the Road” program? Looking at the Areas of Training document, I can’t really decide. Is the TCN for congregations who vote NO to TCN, or is it something different than TCN?

  17. One key phrase in the video for “The 72”, is…
    “Pastors may not have the time to devote themselves to training members.”
    Thoughts anyone?

  18. Pastors are called to teach the Word (in and out of the pulpit) and administer the Sacraments. If the church is large, perhaps it needs two pastors (to teach and administer the Sacraments).

    Other things can be done by someone else, [especially office administration and bookkeeping.]

    I know it doesn’t always work out that way, but shouldn’t it?

  19. @helen #74

    Helen–not according to Paul Borden, who is busy “making” a lot of his disciples in the LCMS these days. The pastor is supposed to be a CEO, or according to the LCMS TCN website, a “captain,” or a “coach.” Chris Roseborough nailed it in this interview on Issues back on January 11. Here it is. A half-hour well-spent:


  20. We were told at our congregation’s TCN consultation that “pastors shouldn’t spend their time doing “busy work” like teaching catechism and visiting the sick.” !?!?!?!?

    Thankfully our pastor did not subscribe.

    Read the books — “Winning on Purpose” and “Hitting the Bullseye.” Its all in there.

  21. @Been there #76

    “Read the books — “Winning on Purpose” and “Hitting the Bullseye.” Its all in there.”

    But don’t buy them–borrow them from somebody. Your pastor–and your congregation–are very smart. What kind of consultant would give that advice? What district are you in, or don’t you want to say? If it’s mine, I’d make some waves.


  22. Dear BJS bloggers,

    Just as we comment on this, the Lutheran Witness was mailed to every LCMS home and congregation (i.e., those on their subscription list) with an article recommending TCN for rural congregations. The articles on rural congregations are actually very good, but they are designed to be an advertisement for TCN. Look for yourself, February 2010, Lutheran Witness!

    Since congregations have to sign a contract to join the TCN program, I wonder if there is a clause in there that holds TCN and its officers and employees “non-liable” in the event that TCN causes the congregation to disintegrate. Why would they have such a clause, if they are guaranteeing the synod congregations that TCN will beneficial?

    By the way, my biggest “beef” with TCN is the Accountable Leadership Model (ALM). ALM is primarily a way that an unethical pastor (plenty of those, unfortunately) can wrest away control of property and assets from the people who paid for them and for the same pastor to avoid doing all the pastoral duties that he doesn’t like. ALM is secondarily a way that unethical lay leadership can hire and fire pastors until they find one that does their bidding, or produces “results” as they define it. Whether ALM goes one way or the other depends on who is unethical, and who gets control of the elder/director appointments.

    Our traditional LCMS polity kept the unethical pastors and lay “bosses” at bay. Break that pattern, and the wolves will take over, from one side or the other.

    Whoever approved ALM (I don’t know who they are) are either: A) completely IGNORANT of basic principles of democratic governance (i.e., things they should have learned in Junior High and Senior High Schools, like “representative government” and “checks and balances”); or B) they are opposed IN PRINCIPLE to democracy in the church and Luther’s and Walther’s “priesthood of all believers” doctrines; or C) they are completely corrupt.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  23. @Martin R. Noland #78
    Can hardly wait to read the Witness.

    Re: your second paragraph on “non-liability” I have not seen the contracts, but it’s possible. If I were to guess, I’d say it isn’t there, but what do I know?……

    Last paragraph re: who approved ALM, it would appear that the LCMS-TCN people have taken the ALM almost verbatim from Borden (the inventor of this bogosity). The one thing I have not seen is that the various “staff” set numerical goals for the # of disciples they will “make” in the coming year. But, as I said above someplace, I have heard it suggested, and echoed. I’m reluctant to choose any of the reasons behind the ALM, “A”, “B” or “C”. I think we have to go back to “The end justifies the means,” and the “end” in TCN is making “New” disciples–you know, “replacement sheep.” Your concerns are well-founded.
    When Borden does an “intervention” as he calls it, he’s very “in your face” about the consequences of non-participation, in one case practically calling down God’s judgment. The LCMS version does not go that far….

    I have not previously quoted a friend (not Lutheran) who was at one time a TCN “practitioner” or “coach,” and had been trained by Borden, but this may be the time to do so. My friend left the program after a couple of bad experiences with pastors he had worked with, one of whom he said had “lost his way.” My friend’s description of TCN in his experience was, “Borden comes into a church, tosses in a grenade, and leaves.” I know LCMS has coaches, etc. that work with cong’s for a year (for “free”), but the long term effects of TCN, sans coaches, etc., might be, well, dangerous. So much for all that “health” jargon.

    johannes, the Grenade-shy

  24. The Mid-South District is exploding TCN and the ALM governance. This is Dr Teiman’s district and his protege took over his spot. It may be more radical an effort than Dr Teiman ever considered. Check out this church, no pastor just a DCE.

  25. In the Montana District Convention last summer, the District memorialized Synod to terminate participation in the TCN within the LCMS. The first draft of this resolution did not provide documentation for the charges. So documentation was provided. Some of the most troubling aspects of it were the following.

    1. Suspension of church constitutions during the process
    “The congregation in accepting this report, understands that it is ignoring the current Bylaws that describe congregational structure. These bylaws will be intentionally put into abeyance for 3 years. … The congregation will vote to suspend the appropriate by-laws when adopting this report. “ From Final Report Section – Samples of Consultations Reports TCN Church Consultation Guide – Ablaze

    2. Forcing pastors out of office
    “If my church does not achieve the 5% growth goal in the next 24 months, and an annual goal of 5% growth in Sunday attendance, I will put my name out for another call.”
    From “Pre-Consultation” TCN Church Consultation Guide – Ablaze

    3. Paying pastors for results
    a. A cost of living adjustment plus a merit increase will be given for exceeding significant goals or achieving exceptional goals on the whole.
    b. A cost of living adjustment without a merit increase will be given for exceeding minimal goals or achieving significant goals on the whole.
    c. No compensation increase will be given for failing to achieve significant goals on the whole. Instead the board will impose a performance plan with six-month goals to boost effectiveness to an acceptable level. If any of these goals are not achieved, the board will offer the senior pastor either a specified time to find other employment or a severance package, depending on the best interests of the church and on the pastor’s degree of cooperation. If the senior pastor is not willing to resign, the board will make its recommendation to the congregation.” From “A Sample Starter Set of Guiding Principles”
    TCN Church Consultation Guide – Ablaze;

    There were others but these seemed to be the worst. Whether this ever gets past floor committees and to the floor remains to be seen.

  26. I’m a little curious…Has anyone at the Purple Palace suggested that this type of accountability program be implemented for synodocrats? How would the current President measure up? Could we get him to sign a performance based covenant? Just wondering…

  27. My husband commented this morning–Didn’t Jesus tell Peter “Feed my sheep”, not lead my sheep?

  28. Eric, you wrote, “I’m a little curious…Has anyone at the Purple Palace suggested that this type of accountability program be implemented for synodocrats?”

    Why no, they haven’t. Isn’t that strange?

    Perhaps Terry Tieman can explain that.


  29. Dear BJS bloggers,

    Just to let you know there are alternatives to TCN, check out this new program:

    Its called “The 72,” in which a couple comes to your congregation and holds workshops on evangelism, outreach, communications, inactives, etc. I think this has a lot of potential for good, and it directly addresses the outreach issues in congregations. It looks like they are looking for trainers. Maybe when I retire, my wife and I will sign up for this, if it is still around.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  30. The discussion has been most interesting, with notable substantive contributions, e.g., Johannes and M. Noland, re specifics of TCN process and practice. (It’s especially heartening when theologically informed laymen become involved in this kind of discussion.) I have also heard from a pastor whose congregation underwent the TCN process early in the game. One comment caught my eye: “One of the things I had a problem with is that the program originated in the American Baptist Church of the West and was heavily Law-oriented. Success was measured in growth of Sunday morning worship attendance.”

    Note that it relates the first “assurance” requested re use of non-Lutheran resources. To continue on the subject of varied resources for Lutheran church work (sorry in advance for the length):

    Below is a link to Missions International, a Groups Ablaze / TCN resource organization. The non-denominational church at Willow Creek and the Baptist church at Saddleback have long served certain LCMS congregations as sources of Church Growth materials, worship resources, and purpose-driven activities. Missions International apparently serves a similar purpose as a resource for increasing small group effectiveness in LCMS congregations who have partnered with the TCN.

    Another TCN-recommended resource, this one for “triads” (a special kind of small group) is a book by Neil Cole: “Cultivating a Life for God.” “[The book] calls upon us to rethink our busy, fast-paced lives. If there is a stirring in your soul for ‘something more’ in your spiritual journey, take a risk on what God might do in and through your life. Discover the compassion that comes from heaven and can be experienced in a Life Transformation Group (LTG). You may never be the same again!”

    For further information, see the author’s organizational web site from which the book is available: Church Multiplication Associates (self-identified as a “movement”)

    There we read:
    “We do not endorse every thought on every page of these resources, nor do we necessarily endorse the author or his/her ministry simply by offering their book on our site. In the same vein, we will not remove a helpful resource simply because we disagree on some items in the book or because the author has written something else that we would not include among our resources.

    “We believe strongly that in order to have spontaneous reproduction, every person needs to be able to hear from God directly and have their own ability to discern wisdom from folly. Therefore, we do not see ourselves as a filter of what is sound and what is not, as much as a catalyst to stimulate better thinking. We do not want to think for you, but help you learn how to think for yourself. With that in mind, ‘Test all things; hold fast what is good (1 Thess. 5:21).'”
    It’s not clear what “spontaneous reproduction” might be in the context, but apparently the good and not-so-good resources can live side by side; we need only to choose a method for winnowing: “hear from God directly” or “test all things” [presumably according to the Scriptures]. While we’re on the site we link to another page. Will the current LCMS movement be among the movements that change the world?

    The point? On the web, one resource link leads to another and to yet another, ad infinitum. If one resource is recommended, and the site speaks highly of another, wouldn’t it be just as good? ” Testing the spirits” becomes a challenge indeed and assumes much about the theological acumen of the potential user.

    TCN “has agreed to foster the mission and ministry of the LCMS, engage in programs in harmony with the Synod, and not to act contrary to the doctrine and practices of the Synod as outlined in the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws, the LCMS Board of Directors’ policies and LCMS convention resolutions.”

    Surely, then, the growing number of resources from generic Protestant, non-denominational organizations, authors, etc., are being carefully examined for agreement with Lutheran doctrine and practice before being recommended. Books published by CPH undergo doctrinal review. Resources adopted by an LCMS RSO for use in LCMS congregations deserve the same kind of careful review and winnowing. Not to do so is to move into an era of “ecumenism by default” or “missional ecumenism,” in which we are all missionaries together, learning from assorted denominational traditions and missional “movements” the most effective measurable means for bringing in the sheaves.

    Possibly we’re ready for a revision of a two-decade-old book (published by CPH in1988). One suggestion for a title: “Non-denominational, Neo-evangelical, Generic Protestant Missional Style and Lutheran Substance: Facing America’s Mission Challenge.” (Note: subtitle requires no change.)

    Sorry again for the long post – one reason I don’t do it very often.

  31. @David Berger #88

    Mr. Berger has made a valuable contribution to this discussion. I will have more to say later, but I do take issue with one item. In the last paragraph he suggests revising the title of a book pubished by CPH– “One suggestion for a title: ‘Non-denominational, Neo-evangelical, Generic Protestant Missional Style and Lutheran Substance: Facing America’s Mission Challenge.’ Having read the book, I believe the author gives lip service to Lutheran substance–his so-called “Lutheran Substance” is not particularly substantive, and I’d be more inclined to call it “Quasi-Lutheran Substance,” or perhaps, “Pseudo-Lutheran Substance.” However, this is quibbling, and straining at gnats.

    Thank you David, for your insight and contribution.


  32. Sorry. The irony in the suggested title for old wine in a new wine-skin apparently lacked clarity. We might better ask regarding the recommendations in “Evangelical Style and Lutheran Substance” (D. Luecke, 1988), “How’s that (neo-)evangelical style working out for you?” with a follow-up question: “Are you still Lutheran?”

    More than a few congregations in the LCMS have adopted the style. The link below takes you to one that has been feted in LCMS circles as a prime example of success in the non-denomational / neo-evangelical mode. At least one sacrament is visible. Sample the videos and also the statement of beliefs. Be informed.

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