Call for Insights into PLI, by Pr. Rossow

We recently had a request for a review of the work of PLI – Pastoral Leadership Institute. I am not aware of any reviews that we have done here on BJS. Does anyone know of any written review/critique of  PLI? If so please drop a note and a link on the comment section below.

PLI is a group that trains LCMS pastors in the “things that they do not learn” at the seminary. It is training in practical leadership for pastors. I look forward to your comments below on the matter but also offer my two cents on the matter. When it comes to the office of the ministry I am skeptical of phrases like “things you did not learn in seminary.” It smacks of American Pragmatism which basically teaches the pagan approach that truth is what works.

I have heard pastors and others say that all you get at the seminary is that “ivory tower” and “scholastic” stuff (e.g. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?) That is just not the case. The Augsburg Confession teaches that the church is where the Gospel is proclaimed in its purity and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s command. Therefore, that is what effective pastors need to be trained to do. Many people don’t want to hear this but training pastors to do just that means that it will include a lot of academic work in understanding the Word of God but it hardly ivory tower stuff.

Many people think that a pastor’s job is to relate to people and be relevant. Of course these are fine qualities but they do not define the pastor. What defines the pastor, as St. Louis Emeritus Professor Dr. Norman Nagel says, is his lips. The only thing that needs to work on a pastor is his lips so that he can speak the word of God (and I guess his hands to so he can deliver the visible word of baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Our seminaries do an excellent job of preparing men to preach the pure Gospel and administer the sacraments as Christ commanded. They are great institutions of “lip service training.” Speaking the word of God purely is not mere ivory-towerishness.

PLI teaches pastors to be courageous leaders. This emphasis on “leadership” at the Pastoral Leadership Institute is cause for hesitancy. I do not know if this is how it goes at PLI but this is how it is in the evangelical world. “Leadership” is code for changing the old stodgy parish into “the church of what’s happenin’ now.” In other words, pastors need to be leaders, i.e. change agents who move the congregation away from the old, stale 2,000 year old liturgy and traditions and into a style of worship and ministry that excites people. Sadly, this is often what the Intentional Interim Pastor program is all about as well. It is code for bringing your parish up to speed with the modern culture (praise bands, “relevant” preaching that meets peoples practical needs, etc.). I cannot say from experience that PLI does this but a review of the required readings in the pastor’s packet (downloadable from the website) shows a heavy reliance on these non-sacramental writers who specialize in secular leadership training for agents of change.

Ironically, leadership is not a prominent Biblical theme. Where it is discussed it is done in the anti-leadership institute way. Jesus says do not be a leader like you see in the world. Be a servant of all. Pastors are not called to be bold innovators but to pass on what they have received from the apostles, who got it from the Son who got it from the Father (I Cor. 11:23, John 17:8). I am not opposed to bold innovation. I have been the “leader” of a few innovations in my 25 years as a pastor. But, those innovations do not characterize the work I have done or define what God has asked me to do. God will grow his church. He is not dependent on the bold leadership of men. I am sure that PLI teaches Jesus words about servant leadership. The concern is that it also teaches open and up-front in their mission statement that they are about teaching courageous leadership. I hope and pray this is merely a passing phase in the LCMS and that we will soon stop looking for courageous leaders and instead pray that our pastors are lip-people who are committed first and foremost to simply being a mouth-piece for God’s word of Law and Gospel.

A cursory look at the PLI mentor congregations also indicates that we are not talking about the hall of fame of LCMS congregations committed to the 2,000 year old historic and Biblical liturgy. Instead it is a list of innovators and “relevant” ministries.

I am sure that PLI does some good for the church. It most likely offers some helpful skills to pastors but the problem is that those planning, organizing and leadership skills are just not as necessary or as crucial as PLI makes them out to be.

If you know of any written critiques of PLI please let us know about them and also feel free to share below in the comment section your constructive criticism and/or praise of the work of PLI.

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.


Call for Insights into PLI, by Pr. Rossow — 269 Comments

  1. Pastor Louderback,
    Blessings to you. I realized something, watching this thread. PLI is where you may have learned leadership & it’s skills & actions. It is & visibly the “basic business model of leadership.” PLI just adds Scripture or Biblical aspect/principal to justify it’s use of that model & open the door to bring that model into the Church. Bring that in, you make a Congregation based on a Business model, not His model.
    I said it would be unfair to argue/tangle this w/you. It is on the basis I used to facilitate Leadership Skills mini-sem’s & meetings at the companies I worked for, also did interpersonal communications for said same. I had a decision to make risk an argument or expose a bit of PLI’s intent & base. Why anyone, would persuade or encourage you, Pastor, as a young Pastor, to venture let alone apply this, is beyond me. You were deceived & led somewhere no one should have allowed you to go. PLI has done an excellent job, mixing left & Right hand Kingdoms. It is almost, artful, wicked & deceitful albeit, but artfully skillful. “7). Understand the “brain” difference between men & women.” I thought our Heavenly Father defined it, but if PLI knows something apart from Scripture, that applies to the Mars vs Venus (Roman Gods) who am I to baulk?

    Take the “Required & Reccomended” Reading lists for after the conference. The usual suspects are there (those who blend business with His Bride) Barna, Drucker, Nouwen, Warren,
    Maxwell (well loved by CBN & Pat Robertson, ‘Leadership Expert’ is Pat R’s quote/ploy) the only surprise was Phyllis Tickle. PHYLLIS TICKLE?! She likened Brian McLaren to Luther & fellow of Nadia Bolz-Weber (hello?!) , Christianity 21? These are who PLI reccomends you read “regarding the Conference Theme”?! With just these authors listed, where is Sola Scriptura, Sola Gracia, Sola Fide, or Sola Christos? They have no place in a model that blends the business leadership model for a postmodern “era/church”. Phyllis Tickle is as far from that as the ELCA is from inerrency of Scripture.
    You just can’t see it. It’s not your fault Pastor L, they told you it was okay…it is dangerous if not mortally wounding. That’s just the reccomended reading list, let’s look at one of the “required books”, for after the conference. I just picked one of the six.

    Andy Stanley, The Next Generation Leader”. Hmm…headship vs ‘leadership’, headship you won’t find in his book nor the other required reading. Andy’s ideas, PLI encouraged:

    -Discover & play to your strengths (your strengths, Scriptural, nope)
    -Harness your fears (in Business easy-His Bride is not a business)
    -leverage uncertainty (stratetigic advantage, upper hand over)
    -enlist a leadership coach (chosen how & by whom)
    -maintain moral authority (moral law vs Scriptural Law & Gospel, oil & water)

    “Capable men & women will catch, pass, and replace the current generation of leaders.” Says Stanley. “Embracing these essentials, you will not only excel in your personal leadership, but ensure a no-regrets experience for those who choose to follow you”
    Stanley’s essentials, not Scripture alone? personal leadership, who leads in His Church?
    Ensure no regret experience, for those who follow YOU? no regrets? experience? Following who? Not Christ to be very sure, they teach we are to follow you w/no regrets.
    And what of those who choose not to follow YOU? What is done or said to them. Warren says it all best, but they all say the same, more or less. In business, your demoted, transfered, or if the attorneys can find cause, your fired. That’s what PLI is teaching the Pastors who attend.
    Why do you think, Pastor’s wives, are encouraged/required to attend? Helpmeet fits into the intent, headship doesn’t. Leave it to humanity, to make the simple, complex & complicated.
    Headship in Christ. Husband or Shepherd, the same applies to both equally.Why? Christ is the Head of the Church, as a husband is the head of the wife. Headship, in Christ per the Office or husbandry.
    Easy, two words apply & we work from there through Scripture first, then Luther, as we are Lutheran.
    Servant & slave, diakonos & dulos. Those terms, are world’s apart, from PLI’s instruction & applications. But the operative words in that previous sentence, are everything in this discussion…”world’s apart”. Realms apart. Under PLI, you can replace people with any product. With Christ, it is impossible to do so. Headship is in love, done for love & by love in Christ, for Christ, as commanded by Christ. PLI,…business is business. Nothing personal.
    Christ is nothing, if not so…he promised much, in Him, the world & those who follow it & its principals? I was to be faithfull unto death against it, face tribulation with it, and risk my very life against it, for His Sake. Does PLI teach that?

  2. Woops, I forgot, Brian McClaren is on the reccomended list, & if attendees, cannot find one of the six required, they can pick from the reccomended list, Brian McClaren is there, along w/Phyllis Tickle. Quite a coinkedink, hey? That, doesn’t in any way, help PLI’s cause, Pastor Louderback, it hurts it…& hurts the Synod by proxy. It allows it, & allows you to be trained & taught by PLI.

    Phyllis Tickle & Nadia Bolz-Weber, are hand in hand at Christianity 21. Did you never test or think to, what you saw or read by those you were encouraged to consult after what you attended at PLI, what’s reccomended reading & what they all teach & preach when they’re not putting pen to paper for your consumption, accourding to PLI? Really? I’m taught to test everything I see & hear…from the pulpit on any given Sunday & His Word. What did you hear I didn’t?

    Phyllis T. , is tied with Nadia Bolz-Weber (Sarcastic Lutheran, cranky spirituality of a postmodern gal. Recent post is No longer Gay or Straight, oh..she’s so way worse than that.) When anyone outside the Lutheran realm, thinks is Lutheran, do ya think they know any difference between you & Nadia? No, they don’t. Phyllis, won’t either… do you even know who their “partner preachers” are?!
    That’s, who’s who of your reccomended, just pertaining to the used & soiled term, LUTHERAN.
    Really, your willing to put yourself in the position you have….for them & the others,? Why, Pastor Louderback, why would you do so? Leaven Pastor, leaven. Google your comments here, Mark Louderback, Mark QL Louderback, or any of the additives you’ve used. It pops up aanyway on Google, and all you’ve said is laid bare. At least, Dutch, is consistant. I don’t change my name at BJS. You have, but your still searchable. I don’t vary, why do you choose to?
    What would you change, knowing Presidents of Synods, can read presently or can look up your posts?

    If your life depended on defending PLI, would you, as vigilantly as you do here at BJS? Knowing full well, that those who taught you, would flee at the nearest threat?
    Would they do all, to stand? No they won’t, they don’t now Pastor L. They stand on sand, so what for you?
    If you are called to account for your posts here at BJS & your belief & defense of PLI, would you stand? Risking life, livelihood, risking all, for the of PLI? Why?
    Sand is sand, rock is rock. PLI is sand, but still you defend it….why?

  3. Pastor Louderback,

    It’s pretty much impossible to answer you on here without using a different font color, which this website doesn’t support in the comments section (since the font in the previous comment isn’t blue), so I’ll cut and paste your comments into an email and respond in a color so that each of our comments can be differentiated.

  4. @Rev. Robert Mayes #103

    I agree with your analysis of the formal and material principles of the books PLI recommends Pastor Mayes. I’d also add for your consideration in the mixture of innovation used to determine their formal principle a reliance on polling (which is really seeker-sensitivity), which in my estimate isn’t a very good way to do “business,” at least not when it’s the business of the Church, which is no business at all.

  5. Dutch,

    Serious–you are talking to me? After refusing to answer questions and quoting Scripture as though that was excuse for you not to defend your position?

    Really? Man, I love the chutzpah! Unreal….

    How about you tell me the difference between headship and leadership and I’ll answer your questions. Hmm? Or, is this a one-way relationship? You get to poke at me, but will cotton no response…

    Scott D

    Use bold. That has been working for me.

    Robert Mayes

    Sorry, still no response for you. But I will give you one nibble:

    (And did it really take you paying the $1000-some fee to attend PLI to learn the skills to ask a trustee in your church to fix the toilet?)

    Yes. Money well spent.

  6. Blessings & Good Morning Pastor Louderback,
    You know your Yiddish, Gottze dank! So do I, I heard it from both sets of Grandparents!!!!
    Oi…Chutzpah. Wrong term. Chutzpah, is unmitigated gaul, Pastor. Ah, so far from my post, word & emotion used, & any & all my intent. But you saw, wasn’t read. How do I know that? You, in fact, ignored me, rather than I, you. Ah, that tells me you saw but didn’t read, what I posted. (rochmonis & sechel)
    Okay?(since you know your Yiddish), what I posted to you was sechel. Sisel Edel & schmalz, I’ll be happy w/Mensch (not German, mind you, Yiddish, im the vein of boychick thru broche). Look them up, if ya don’t know them. I happen to, usually though, Yiddish was reserved for outside this kiddies earshot purposes.
    (I know & say them, spelling & correct definition is really important w/Yiddish)

    So, the coice was made to ignore (your charge against me) & you’ve chosen to leap over, the reading lists & authors I posted in # 252 & 253, along w/most of the info. Pastor, that would be the correct usage of the term chutzpah.

    Leadership, in regards to PLI. I think there is one term, that prevades all. That would be: persuasion. The skill & thus power of persuasion. It is a skill taught, not innate, the uses under persuasion, that may be familiar, rhetoric, & propoganda. Why?
    They offer a “false” pretense/promise of:
    Ck Andy Stanley’s quote again, in # 252. That, is persuasion, rhetoric, and to me, propaganda. Before ya write back, make sure to ck those definitions, please.
    You mentioned “change agent”. By now, I hope you know, I am versed in that term, it’s applications & managing/marginalizeing/vilifing of “resistants”.

    So, as Andy Stanley put it, “ensuring a no regrets experience for those who choose to follow YOU” & I posed the question as to what happens to those who are not “a no regrets follower” or are a change agent resistor…what happens to them, & how are they to be dealt with?

    Since Rick Warren is listed, let’s go w/him. Also, part of the business model of leadership. You may not have seen it done, I have. I cost a company I worked for $1,000,000.00, because I wouldn’t lie. Hmm…does PLI teach! Oh yeah, $1M. Fired, no. Vilified, marginalized, and isolated? In spades. Fired, nope. Hoping for personal termination, oh yeah. Didn’t happen, ’till much later. Lies, aren’t the worst thing, they’re just usually the first thing.

    What do we do w/those “those change agent resisters”?
    -we identify them
    -we determine & assess degree of resistance
    -we persuade, befriend, & attempt to positively involve them in said change, still no?
    – marginalize the non-persuaded
    – vilify-effectively blame for disunity & disloyalty, ridicule
    -establish rules, reg’s, covenant or law, to drive out or punish & threaten future dissent

    Okay, so I think, that establishes, the power of persuasion, leadership principals, leadership business models & applications, & dealing with change agent resisters, between this post & 252 & 253. In regards to PLI.
    Now, knowing full well, what this implies & intails…let’s take a look at headship, as implied to Pastor, Elder, Shepherd. In Scripture, best place to start, I say.
    PLI, is going to look rather lacking, let’s go w/Greek.

    Headship. Easy breezy Pastor Louderback, in Christ & as defined by Him & applied by Him. can easily been seen in just a few Greek terms: I trust you can define them per Scripture for us here at BJS. You still know Greek? In & as defined regarding Headship (Christ as is to the Bride, the Church, I mean, & Divine Office/Shepherd (undershepherd) vs what is taught by PLI: PLI’s opposites:

    Those, & the proper Scriptural definition, application, & understanding, as used in His Word, defining His servants.

    You will not find these or in principal, in the required/reccomended reading lists, Conference Theme, or any application of said same for PLI. Those terms, are polar opposites & incompatable, w/leadership or the business model as understood in PLI.
    I assume you know Greek. I hope so, I think it’s still required, or at least I hope.
    Those define, or at least begin to define “headship” when speaking of the Office.
    Or…I could be wrong, I wager Pastors & laity who know more than I, are more than willing to define them better than I.
    Blessings to you Pastor Louderback.
    Chutzpah free zone,

  7. Pastor Louderback,
    Appyling Scripture, situationally & practically, i.e. the Word to defend Scripture, a Scriptural based position &/or application, which, is Scriptural…is a bad thing to do, for you?

    Isn’t that what our Armor & Paul’s advice, (Ephesians 6: 10-18, + 2Timothy) are for? The Word, Truth, is the Sword, Pastor. It is the only, “offensive” weapon, in that armory. All else, is defensive. And you find me making an excuse? With Scripture, with a Pastor?

    Choosing, not argue, or engaging foolish (fuitless) discussion, is hiding behind Scripture, sorry, using Scripture as an excuse, Pastor?
    You hold quite a distinction w/me. This would be a first.

    I’ve been told I make excuses by or hide behind Scripture, (which is the Word, & In John 1, He is the Word) by atheists, agnostics, gnostics, mystics, alien-based faith believers, & one supposed pagan, (she used the term “white witch”,(oxymoronic term). But, you would be the first Believer, who has inferred or stated thus. Do I hide in Him? You bet. Do I abstain, from foolish arguement, by 2Timothy, often. But that is in no way, shape or form, avoiding Truth, fact or making excuses Pastor Louderback.

    You can rail, rant, & rave, all you choose. I’m still going to care, it’s still going to matter, whether I speak or am stumm, but still will stand.
    And now, I take your leave, His Peace & Blessings to you Pastor Louderback
    & stand…stumm.

  8. Dutch,

    Ah finally! Only after you refuse and rationalize and speak way to much yiddish, I get the defs:

    Leadership, in regards to PLI. I think there is one term, that prevades all. That would be: persuasion. The skill & thus power of persuasion. It is a skill taught, not innate, the uses under persuasion, that may be familiar, rhetoric, & propoganda.

    And then:

    Headship. Easy breezy Pastor Louderback, in Christ & as defined by Him & applied by Him. can easily been seen in just a few Greek terms: I trust you can define them per Scripture for us here at BJS. You still know Greek? In & as defined regarding Headship (Christ as is to the Bride, the Church, I mean, & Divine Office/Shepherd (undershepherd) vs what is taught by PLI.

    Those, & the proper Scriptural definition, application, & understanding, as used in His Word, defining His servants.


    Funny thing is, at PLI we had a presentation on being a servant leader…using many of those terms…

    So, we see “leadership” as exactly how you see “headship”.

    That is to say, with no distinction.

    You can rail, rant, & rave, all you choose.

    Hey, you are the one not answering questions. Not me. Things would be easier if we could just talk about this stuff. But, since you’re all “2 Timothy!!! Ephesians 6!!!” (shrug) There you go.

    I don’t seem to have a problem holding a conversation with Pastor Robert Mayes…we seem to be explaining our points, answering questions, having a real dialogue.

    It is kinda fun with him. So, you know, if you are writing me off again, sorry.

    BTW, Luther was known for his rhetoric wasn’t he? Paul too…both sought to persuade…

  9. For a good analysis of the Church Growth Movement (CGM) and its heresies, I would recommend a must-have trilogy of books by Dr. Gary E. Gilley. They are: 1) This Little Church Went to Market: Is the Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling Out? 2)This Little Church Stayed Home: A Faithful Church in Deceptive Times and 3) This Little Church Had None: A Church in Search of the Truth. I have read all three books and found them to be excellent. These books make clear the heresies being championed by PLI and others on the CGM bandwagon. The views expressed by Dr. Gilley are peppered throughout with Scriptural references supporting his arguments.

  10. After attending a confessional Lutheran Congregation that (unfortunately) called a PLI pastor, I can speak from experience. Their theology is baptist, which means they have no understanding of the two kingdoms, they emphasize a social service ministry and create tension between things that don’t need tension between them (member-disciple, mission-maintenance) They preach “saving the lost” while ignoring the sheep in the congregation (the small groups take care of that) They want to appear like “other christians” and state their evangelical practice has no bearing on their Lutheran Doctrine. Gone is the importance of being Lutheran and adhering (or even teaching) to the confessions. Reverence is replace with Relevance. They believe they need to “earn a hearing for the gospel” through social service. They have forgotten that the Lord’s Word never returns to him empty, and that by being excellent leaders, PLI pastors can help it along. This is re-branded church growth crap. Just ask Reggie McNeal. PLI is a bane to the Synod and if PLI pastors had half as much faith in what they are doing as Pastor Louderback pretends he does, they would not be trying to change LCMS congregations. With a mustard seeds amount of balls, they would go out on their own and create disciples among the lost, not confuse confessional Lutherans who are simply trying to follow their pastor as a good sheep will do. It’s shameful, really. If I really believed all that PLI crap, I could not look into the mirror and call myself a Lutheran. Such a pity. That program really seems to appeal to passive-aggressive introverts that don’t believe enough in their ability to teach the Word by way of our confessions. They need a crutch–and Reggie McNeal has just the dvd series for it! They should repent and become Lutheran once again–or leave, because they believe they were trained in a better way.

  11. If you don’t believe the things I’ve stated, look at and see if you can tell it’s a Lutheran congregation. Just a few questions for Pastor Louderback:

    How is that excellent leadership doing for your community–and your flock? You’ve had several years at it. Are you ready to become the next Joel Osteen or Beth Moore? Give it a few more years, I’m sure you’ll have a Saddleback all your own in no time. (You just need to be a little more purpose driven.)

    You may rail on me for being unfair or mean or however you choose to characterize it, but I am simply saying “What a thing is.” PLI is the broad and easy path and it is the theology of Glory. It might be helpful for you to reread Bondage of the Will and On being a theologian of the Cross and Walther’s Law and Gospel. Try it and weigh them with what you’ve learned in PLI and see if the two can “walk together”. If you think they can, you have my prayers.

  12. Tuesday, May 27, 2008
    A Third Seminary in the LCMS?
    If you were going to start up an airline, you’d need to hire pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that all pilots first be trained by an approved training program, and that would mean hiring people to train those pilots. The question is, who would you hire to train the pilots? I know – hire a bunch of business men.

    That sounds stupid doesn’t it? Yet that’s part of the mindset at PLI, the Pastoral Leadership Institute, the third seminary of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

    PLI was begun in 1999 by LCMS Pastor Dr. Norbert Oesch, with input from many LCMS notables, including then Texas District President and now LCMS Synodical President Gerald Kieschnick.

    The PLI leadership training program for pastors is a four year commitment, with annual attendance at two collegial events plus a conference at various host LCMS mentoring churches. Each year a different major topic is examined, for a total time commitment of 69 days spread over the four years. Specific mentoring churches are selected to host the events because they exhibit one or more “signature ministries” and conduct ministry “excellently,” and participants are encouraged to observe and interact with the staff of these mentoring churches. Each participant is assigned mentors, who are experienced “pastor-leaders.” The participants stick with their collegial group of six or seven fellow attendees throughout the four year program. Pastors build their “mission consciousness” by exposure to a congregation involved in multi-ethnic urban ministry, and through a two week international mission “vision” event. The annual fee for the program is $950 for the pastor and $3,250 charged to their congregation.

    PLI had somewhat of a rough start. While it is a private concern not officially sanctioned by the LCMS, more than $300,000 was given to it by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund. Some synod members were upset by that contribution and other incidents that gave the appearance that the LCMS was allied with PLI more closely than it should have been. There was also controversy surrounding the original “call” of Dr. Oesch to his position of Executive Director of PLI by the Pacific Southwest District, the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) eventually ruling that the District had no authority to issue such a call. Since those days, the LCMS has studiously avoided the appearance of an official sanction of PLI, at least at the top of the LCMS corporate structure. You now have to dig through LCMS Board of Directors meeting minutes and obscure Reporter articles to find mention of PLI from the top. Yet those ties still exist.

    PLI states in its information packet (to access the proper link, click and then download the Pastor Information Packet):

    What is the relationship of PLI to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod?
    PLI is a 4-year continuing education learning experience with a special focus on leadership training and missional formation for pastors and their wives. Though PLI is neither an organization designated by the LCMS as a Recognized Service Organization (RSO) nor an auxiliary organization (like Lutheran Hour Ministries), PLI originated within the LCMS and serves the LCMS.
    Assigned to the PLI Board of Directors is a member of the Council of Presidents. Both LCMS seminaries give academic credit toward a Doctor of Ministry degree for work completed by pastors in PLI. Concordia University Chicago gives academic credit toward a Masters Degree for work completed by pastors’ wives in PLI.
    In addition, members of both LCMS seminary faculties attend conference events to participate in theological dialog with mentor pastors. Faculty members also serve as conference presenters.
    All mentors and their host site congregations as well as conference churches are members in good standing within the LCMS.
    PLI further blurs the line of distinction between themselves and the Synod by saying it is “…a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod ministry.”

    Others seem to miss the distinction between the two as well.

    One LCMS pastor states “PLI is a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod continuing education program….” People Ablaze! calls PLI “a nationwide grass roots training program within the Missouri Synod….” Transforming Church reports that “the LCMS is now adding to their mobility papers for pastors a place to indicate if they are PLI alumni.”

    A further example of the cozy relationship between the LCMS and PLI is that of PLI Board Chairman Dr. Jock Ficken. He is also the Vice President of Large Church Ministry for Capital Funding Services, which is a ministry service of the Lutheran Church Extension Fund. At Large Church Ministry he “develops capital stewardship campaigns and related services tailored specifically for large congregations.”

    When LCMS District Presidents are “nominating” pastors in their district to attend PLI, and when Districts are paying for their pastors to attend, when PLI calls itself “a virtual campus and offers itself as a dedicated training arm for the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod,” it’s time to call PLI what it really is, the third seminary of the LCMS.

    According to the PLI website

    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.
    If I were a pastor and hadn’t attended PLI, would their mission statement motivate me, or annoy me? Does their statement imply that since I haven’t attended PLI’s advanced “leadership” training I’m a laggard? Maybe I’m not “on fire” for the Lord, or I’m a leadership failure.

    Returning to the staffing scenario, if you needed to teach pilots, you’d hire other pilots to teach them. If you needed to teach pastors, wouldn’t you hire other pastors to teach them? (Something akin to a seminary perhaps.) PLI has a whole Lutheran-sounding page on their website claiming that they uphold Lutheran Confessional standards, but the last thing on the page, apparently the thing they want to leave you with is this:

    3) Excellence in training.
    PLI is committed to offering continuing education in leadership areas from experts in the field of executive leadership training who are committed to designs that PLI believes promote excellence in learning theory and maximize participant involvement. Most often these experts are obtained from the business sector of society who have either engaged in training those in the not-for-profit sector or focused sharply on this sector. These experts are selected when they have demonstrated knowledge of the LCMS and can assure PLI that they will not use materials nor teach content that would be in opposition to what the LCMS holds to be true.
    Why would you hire an expert in executive leadership training to teach pastors? Because you’re not teaching them about the things of Christ’s Church, you’re teaching them about the ways of man, and that takes experts in man’s ways, not experts in God’s ways. PLI says

    As graduates of LCMS seminaries, pastors are already prepared with a sound education in theology. Their theological training significantly influences and shapes the way they lead and contributes to the way their congregations function. PLI seeks to fully develop their potential by addressing strategic thinking, management and organizational skills. This additional education provides the pastor with tools to help him effectively lead his congregation to reach the lost.
    After reading that last paragraph, I can’t help but think of Galatians 3:3: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? ”

    The LCMS seminaries do teach some leadership skills, but I am willing to entertain the possibility that more training in that area might be appropriate. The best place to turn to investigate that possibility is the Bible.

    Did any of the writers of the books of the New Testament mention additional leadership training? I can’t find any evidence of such in Paul’s writings, but he did say this: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).” Paul does point to one skill that every pastor must possess, but it isn’t leadership, but the ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:24). The writings of the apostle John might be good to investigate, since he outlived all the other apostles. He would have been in a unique position to see the advance of nascent Christianity and witness any lack of leadership skills that evidenced themselves in the early pastors of the Church, yet he never suggests an intensive four year leadership academy designed by executive leadership experts. I did manage to find this in the Gospel of St. Luke, the 26th verse of the 22nd chapter, words spoken by Jesus: “But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.”

    PLI, for all its pious-sounding talk of adherence to the Lutheran Confessions, can’t even get off their own “Biblical and Lutheran Confessional Standards” page without deviating from the Confession. In the quote above, they say “they will not use materials nor teach content that would be in opposition to what the LCMS holds to be true.” Yet the Formula of Concord states

    God’s Word alone should be and remain the only standard and rule of doctrine, to which the writings of no man should be regarded as equal. Everything should be subjected to God’s Word.
    Other good, useful, pure books, expositions of the Holy Scriptures, refutations of errors, and explanations of doctrinal articles are not rejected by this point. As long as they are consistent with the above-mentioned type of doctrine, these works are considered useful expositions and explanations. [emphasis added] (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 9, 10)
    PLI lowers the bar. Rather than the Confessional standard that all material must be consistent with the doctrine of Christ’s Church, PLI is perfectly happy as long as their material isn’t in opposition to what the LCMS holds to be true. This is a not-so-subtle redefinition of the Confession. We are to adhere to and teach correct doctrine, not just teach whatever we want, as long as it doesn’t contradict correct doctrine. Also, it is what our Confession, as a faithful representation of Biblical doctrine, holds true, that we are to adhere to, not what the LCMS holds to be true.

    PLI also says “The special contribution the Pastoral Leadership Institute makes to the continuing education of those pastors who enroll is the assurance that their learning takes place in the context of the theological framework of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.”

    A good question to ask would be which interpretation of the LCMS theological framework are they talking about, the Confessional interpretation, or the Church Growth Movement (CGM) interpretation? A good way to answer that question would be to look at their reading list (to access the proper link, click and then download the Pastor Information Packet). Their list includes a “Who’s Who” list of leadership gurus, change agents, and CGM advocates and heroes, with names such as George Barna, Jim Collins, Peter Drucker, John Maxwell, Lyle Schaller, and Rick Warren, with bordering-on-heretical Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren thrown into the stack for good measure. I’d have to conclude from the list that they are interested in Church growth the CGM way, not the Biblical way.

    By now you’re starting to get the big picture. PLI is nothing more than the LCMS pipeline for spitting out CGM pastors. Stick an LCMS pastor who wants to get “big numbers” in one end of the pipe, and out comes a CGM automaton at the other end. Oh sure, there might be an occasional pastor who walks away with only “the good” and avoids assimilation, but it’s not the rule.

    Do you disagree? Here is the fruit of one congregation whose pastor attends PLI:

    Recognizing the need for spiritual growth among Resurrection’s increasing number of members and friends, the congregation embarked on the 40 Days of Purpose program during the 2004 Lenten season. Involving most all of Resurrection’s approximately 200 worshipers, the Lord’s gracious love in Jesus Christ was made known through this program in ever-deepening ways, by examining the question, “What On Earth Am I Here For?” What an exciting mission for the Lord we have been given.
    The 40 Days of Purpose program is an outgrowth of Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life. The Purpose-Driven Life is a book which is based on a theology completely foreign to Lutheranism and the Bible. It teaches you to rely on yourself and what you can do for God, instead of relying on God and the gifts He offers to you. It is a book that is driven by the Law rather than the Gospel. To put it into theological terms, it is a Theology of Glory. Any LCMS pastor should easily be able to recognize The Purpose-Driven Life as a threat to the Gospel, yet many pastors who have succumbed to the enticements of CGM philosophy fail to make the connection. They fail to follow the Confessional standard of doctrinally pure materials, and instead preach a different Gospel. The 40 Days of Purpose campaign is very effective if you’re trying to transform your church into a CGM community church, which many LCMS churches are attempting, all the while claiming to still be Lutheran. This campaign is effective in part because operating in the background of the small groups involved in the program is the Hegelian dialectic transformation process, purposely designed to transform your church. If you’re not familiar with the dialectic process, I’d highly encourage you to read up on it. You’ll be amazed, and alarmed, at what you’ll find.

    So what’s wrong with CGM? Don’t we want church growth? Of course everyone wants the Church to grow. But it needs to be “grown” in the way in which God has provided, through the means of grace, which involves the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments. CGM de-emphasizes the means of grace, in favor of the means of man. It can do no other, because it comes from a Reformed theological perspective. That’s why PLI hires leadership experts, not pastors. CGM abandons the Lutheran concept of vocation, in favor of turning every church member into a pastor, and turning every pastor into a business manager. It transforms the Church from the place where God’s people receive God’s gifts to the place where the “seeker” goes to explore and have his or her needs met. This is not to say that some Lutheran churches who use CGM techniques don’t try to retain Lutheran distinctives, but practice influences doctrine, and vice versa. When you import CGM philosophy into the Church, your practice changes, which then influences your doctrine.

    Another LCMS pastor reports on the effects of PLI in his parish:

    What impressed me most about what I experienced and we discussed was the transformational change that a congregation goes through when its main emphasis is making guests welcome and not in making members comfortable. …Our ministry planning efforts of the last few months have helped us see opportunities to guest-er-ize our church. Reserved parking for guests, a cleaner sanctuary, and a less cluttered narthex area are specific ways that we have made our facilities more inviting to guests. We need to see these steps as a beginning and the final development of our Ministry Plan as the road map to a more inviting church.
    Their efforts are taken straight out of the CGM manual. There’s nothing wrong with devoting parking spaces for seekers, but if your main focus becomes the “unchurched,” you’ve got a theological disaster.

    The ultimate goal of CGM and PLI are to reorient the pastor to a completely different paradigm. This isn’t just the change of a guideline or two, it’s a totally different worldview. (It’s also one of the reasons why PLI wants the pastor to bring his wife to some of the events. You are easier to assimilate if your wife can be assimilated at the same time. There’s nothing more inconvenient than an uncooperative wife who doesn’t want to be married to an automaton.) This may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not.

    PLI says

    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!
    According to the PLI paradigm, “success” or “failure” in the Church is defined by leadership:

    First, in any organization, church or otherwise, every issue — whether good or bad — is also a leadership issue. When you find success in an organization, you find successful leaders. When you find failure, you find leadership failure as well.
    They then go on to discuss the implications for leadership development:

    First, leaders must learn how to define and cast a vision. Vision will tell people where we are going.
    Second, leaders must learn how to define and clarify values. Values inform people what they will become as they follow the leader and pursue the vision.
    Third, leaders must maintain the integrity of the mission of the organization. Integrity creates an environment of trust. Trust is essential for any dynamic organization.
    Fourth, leaders must clearly communicate how individuals can be involved in a great endeavor. They release people for service. They help the individual answer the question, “How can I make a difference?”
    Finally, for the church, leaders begin and end at the same place — a passionate love for Jesus Christ and His purposes the church. [sic]
    The above “implications” are the short version of the steps used by individuals, corporations, and governments around the world to effect change and paradigm shift using the dialectic process and other pre-programmed steps. Their technique may have a place in the business world – it has no place in the Church. The preaching of the Word should be the one-step method Christians use to effect paradigm shift, to “transform” a lost unrepentant enemy of God into a believer.

    The above “implications” are the way CGM is being used to reshape pastors and churches to the Church Growth Movement paradigm. This sounds like a Hollywood “conspiracy theory,” but if you’ve ever been in a church that’s been hijacked by CGM proponents, you’ll immediately recognize the hallmark “steps” involved. Many other people have pointed out that these types of emphases are occurring in the LCMS, not just in relation to PLI, but also in relation to other programs in the LCMS, and are being used to transform the Synod as a whole.

    Chris Rosebrough at Extreme Theology and Pastor Cwirla at Blogosphere Underground have both made much the same point. Pastor Cwirla, in his post “A Primer in Change Management,” summarizes the transformational steps in John Kotter’s book Leading Change, the book Chris calls “the BIBLE for change management.” Pastor Cwirla reports:

    Here is the basic transformational game plan according to Kotter (1999):

    1. Establish a sense of Urgency
    2. Create a guiding Coalition
    3. Have a vision
    4. Over-communicate the vision
    5. Remove obstacles to the vision
    6. Create short term wins
    7. Be patient
    8. Anchor the changes in the corporation’s culture
    Transformation makes heavy use of unwavering commitment to the “vision,” authoritarian leadership, team building, eliminating dissent, restructuring the church, and the dialectic process, all following a pre-programmed long-term plan. In certain circumstances, this process may work well, but when dealing with God’s Truth and God’s Church, it cannot be used.

    I don’t want to paint a caricature here, and I’m sure there are things at PLI that are beneficial, and I certainly don’t want to demonize well-intentioned LCMS pastors, but the PLI plan is one based on foreign theology and the dictates of the business world, not on our Confession.

    Let me ask you to entertain a thought. I would suggest that two pastors, both of whom share the same Confession and are in the same synod, could yet have completely different worldviews. It is here that the greatest danger lies. Pastors who attend PLI are exposed to four years of CGM indoctrination. I know pastors that are so blinded by the glow of increasing membership that they’ve literally abandoned the oath they took to uphold our Confession in order to get those big numbers. Those numbers come at a cost, a cost that is much too high to pay. It comes at the cost of exchanging the Truth of God for a lie. God does not promise us unlimited Church growth. In fact, He tells us that the gate is narrow and few find it. You may be able to convince yourself that you can follow Church Growth Movement precepts and still uphold our Confession, but you’ll be unable to convince me.

    The LCMS is being split by these two opposing worldviews. On one side of the chasm stand those who uphold the Confession we’ve all agreed to uphold. On the other side are those who have essentially exchanged the Church’s firm foundation of justification by grace through faith for a foundation of sand built on the Great Commission. To quote Luther on justification:

    This doctrine is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour…. For no one who does not hold this article–or, to use Paul’s expression, this “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1)–is able to teach aright in the church or successfully to resist any adversary… (Quoted from What Luther Says, 2195).
    The third seminary of the LCMS, the Pastoral Leadership Institute, is one facet of this much bigger problem. The LCMS seems to be headed more and more towards an undiscerning embrace of the Theology of Glory, in this case, in the form of the twin foreign theologies of Reformed thinking and business thinking. We will not find hidden treasure in the promise of the Church Growth Movement, but only in Christ Jesus our Lord,

    in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. Colossians 2:3-10 ESV

  13. For more good reading about the heresies being promoted by PLI and their Church Growth Movement (CGM) agenda, I would suggest these additional books: 1) It’s Not About the Music – A Journey Into Worship by Dan Lucarini, 2) Why Johnny Can’t Preach – The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon, and 3) Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns – How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal by T. David Gordon.

    Our congregation was stable throughout its history until we got a PLI CEO posing as a pastor. Now the congregation is divided in it mission, has lost numerous members and has major budget problems thanks to a bastardization of the church’s message and mission by the PLI CEO. When a “pastor” does not understand his biblical role, you know you are in trouble. It seems quite obvious that the Lord is not blessing PLI’s perversion of biblical teaching and their corruption of worship. This is what happens when our mission and the focus of our worship is no longer about God.

  14. OM gosh! The respondents on this thread are convinced that pastors need to be stuffed with leadership practice. This is a ruse to be sure. This is akin to teaching a fish to ride a bicycle.

    PLI is a lie. An untruth with ambitions beyond their reach.

    Do not be fooled into thinking that pastors lack the stuff- Pastors in LCMS churches need to attend to the core issues that are plaguing the people sitting in the pews. Does anybody know what these issues are? No, it’s not the gay agenda, nor is it female leadership- these are extremities, not what is at the core problems residing in the hearts of so many people today and causing the unrelenting strife.

    Pastors have an unparalleled opportunity to meet the needs of the people they serve, and to be a shining city on a hill again. There are several things at the heart of the matter, and addressing it would not be a stretch for the venerable LCMS legacy, but enhance it. Instead the Pastors are being stretched by two sides and lured with a new shinny school of thought. Do not be fooled.

    What LCMS needs is to train third party administrators who are tightly bound to the LCMS and are willing to be the facilitator for organizational coherence between the spiritual office and the church organization.

  15. Interesting points made in the comments regarding PLI. My pastor has recently made a request to attend training with PLI. I don’t know from the points you’ve made, and my research, that I can support spending the congregation’s funds on the training. I’ll pray about it and approach the pastor with my concerns.

  16. “in the evangelical world. “Leadership” is code for changing…leaders, i.e. change agents…into a style of worship and ministry that excites people. It is code for bringing your parish up to speed with the modern culture…”
    “Leadership” is code for “salesmanship”, without the connotation of B.S. artist.

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