Some time ago, I was perusing the national publication of the Canadian Christian & Missionary Alliance. Their director of church ministries had written an article encouraging the faithful to step boldly into the 21st century. Apparently, the church needed to change dramatically, to be transformed in an extra-ordinary way in order to meet the challenges of the new century. He had organized the article around the theme of transformation, using the word transformation over and over. However, he never defined the word and so I came away wondering just what he meant by it. That prompted me to survey the current meaning of transformation as it is used widely in evangelical ‘new paradigm’ churches. I quickly learned that new paradigm usage had little to do with the Apostle Paul’s idea of transformation: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind “(Romans 12:2 NIV) Rather, the current definition of transformation seems to be extracted from the popular managerial/leadership teachings of Steven Covey and others in the modern business community.
Erik Reese (the Minister of Life Mission at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California), in his internet article entitled Creating a Synergy of Energy, says:
“This is a time which calls for a critical mass of transformational leaders who will commit to creating a synergy of energy within their circle of influence so a new level of social, economic, organizational and spiritual success can be reached. … This new paradigm of transformational leadership is not just for the marketplace but also for the local and global movement of Christ. … Leaders of Purpose-Driven churches not only are called to authentically model the five Biblical purposes mandated by Jesus in the Great Commission, they depend on the seven principles of transformational leadership to create a synergy of energy with their flock.” (Referenced in Discernment, Vol. 13, No. 6)
It is not difficult to see a parallel between Reese’s seven transformational leadership principles and Covey’s well-known Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Here is my burden in this Plumbline issue: A number of popular, pace-setting, evangelical, managerial teachers have borrowed principles and techniques from the business community, making them the benchmark for anyone wanting to do relevant (transformational) ministry. In books and seminars, we are told that these techniques spell the difference between success and failure in leading (managing/transforming) the local church. However valid these principles/techniques may be in the secular world, the danger is that reliance upon them may unwittingly, or deliberately, supplant reliance upon the Word and Spirit to transform the Church.
The year 2003 is purported to be the year of the “changeover” as transformational leaders will be “networking” with other transformational leaders training pastors and denominational leaders to create a “synergy of energy” model for the church. Transformational leadership will be the litmus test for pastors to gauge whether they are still ‘mired in the 1950s’ or if they have accepted the challenge to be transformed into the 21st century. The Saddleback model is being marketed and franchised all over the world. Pastors, desperate to succeed and not fail in the church-growth numbers game, bring the Saddleback checklists into their churches; many even acquire Saddleback-approved sermons from the franchise headquarters, complete with slide presentations.
Is this biblical transformation or is it secularization (conforming to the world)? Os Guinness has observed:
“The two most easily recognizable hallmarks of secularization are the exaltation of numbers and technique. Both are prominent in the church-growth movement. In its fascination with statistics and data at the expense of truth, this movement is characteristically modem. … Thus, the United States has government by polling, television programming by ratings, sports commentary by statistics, education by grade-point averages, and academic tenure by the number of publications. In such a world of number-crunchers, bean-counters, and computer analysts, the growth of churches as a measurable, “fact based” business enterprise is utterly natural. The problem with this mentality is that quantity does not measure quality. Numbers have little to do with truth, excellence, or character.”(No God But God, Chicago: Moody, 1992, p.164.)I once met a denominational field worker and we talked of a number of churches we both knew. It was shocking the way certain churches were basically written off because they were simply old-fashioned (naive) ’50s churches’ that must be allowed to die with dignity because of their lack of change, and. that the changes to which they must conform, or die, are borrowed directly from the nostrums of current managerial theory.
Obviously, we live and move within our culture and we may find practical help from it along the way. But, if we adopt management principles, importing and implementing them as some great indispensable secret, which spells the difference between success and failure, we are tacitly affirming that God’s revelation is inadequate for the 21st century. Does this mean Christian leaders dare not read extra-biblical sources? Do current secular writings contain no beneficial insights? Is there nothing to be learned outside of the Bible itself? Maybe these are the wrong questions. Maybe we should be asking why the Church thinks (or feels) it needs to go outside the Bible for insights and “models.”
The questions come down to these: Is the Gospel itself “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” or it is not? How did the early church manage without the managerial know-how we have today? Obviously, the Word and Spirit were able to ‘limp along’ quite well in the first century. Is not the Gospel itself the power of God unto salvation? Are ‘leadership models’ in the NT adequate? Must we give the gospel a postmortem makeover by applying the latest offerings of the managerial/church growth super stars? Do church leaders actually mistrust or doubt the sufficiency, or even the adequacy, of God’s Word? What the Church needs is genuine, biblical transformation. Tragically, what many churches and leaders are promoting is conformity to the pattern and mold of the business world. J.I. Packer wrote of this trend years ago:
“The outside observer sees us as staggering on from gimmick to gimmick and stunt to stunt like so many drunks in a fog, not knowing at all where we are or which way we should be going. Preaching is hazy; heads are muddled; hearts fret; doubts drain strength; uncertainty paralyses action…”(God Has Spoken, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965, pp. 11-12).For the most part, the doctrinal belief system has been retained, at least outwardly, but is not allowed to ‘encumber’ the search for new forms of spirituality and techniques. A decade ago, David F. Wells asserted:
“It is not that the elements of the evangelical credo have vanished; they have not. The fact that they are professed, however, does not necessarily mean that the structure of the historic Protestant faith is still intact. The reason, quite simply, is that while these items of belief are professed, they are increasingly being removed from the center of evangelical life where they defined what life was, and they are now being relegated to the periphery where their power to define what evangelical should be is lost. This is not the sort of shift that typical polling will discover, for these items of belief are seldom denied or qualified, but that does not mean the shift has not occurred. It is evangelical practice rather than evangelical profession that reveals the change.”(No Place For Truth, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993, p. 108.)Pastors are in bind. The pervasive church-growth atmosphere tells them they must produce numerically or they aren’t cutting it; managerial marketers ply them with sure-fire techniques to produce those numbers. Postmodern churchgoers (consumers) know of another church not far away that advertises a full range of self-fulfillment programs in evangelical dress. The Pastor-CEO should get with the program or go into another profession! It is assumed that a biblically based ministry in itself will just not get the job done.
In contrast, John MacArthur, Jr. tells of an interesting experience he had in witnessing to an unbelieving Jewish doctor. MacArthur’s simple evangelism ‘tactic’ was to give the man a copy of the Gospel of John. He notes: “The Bible is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Just open the door and let it out. It’ll take care of itself.”
MacArthur then continues his story:
“The next Friday I received a telephone call. The doctor wanted to see me again… He sat down on the couch, dropped the Bible beside him, and said, “I know who He is.” I said, “You do?” He said, “Yes I do.” “Who is He?” I asked. “I’ll tell you one thing – He’s not just a man.” I said, “Really? Who is He?” “He is God!” … “You, a Jew, are telling me that Jesus Christ is God?” I asked, “How do you know that?” He said, “It’s clear. It’s right here in the Gospel of John.”(Our Sufficiency in Christ, Dallas: Word, 1991, p. 143.)
David Wells questions rightly:
“Does the Church have the courage to become relevant by becoming biblical? Is it willing to break with the cultural habits of the time and propose something quite absurd, like recovering both the word and the meaning of sin? … Why should the postmortem world believe the Gospel when the Church appears so unsure of its truth that it dresses up that Gospel in the garments of modernity to heighten its interest? … We need the faith of the ages, not the reconstructions of a therapeutically driven and commercially inspired faith. And we need it, not least, because without it our postmortem world will become starved for the Word of God.”(Losing Our Virtue, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998; pp. 199, 207, 209.)David Wells again:
“In the 1960s and 1970s it was such leaders as Carl Henry, E. J. Carnell, Cornelius Van Til, Bernard Ramm, Francis Schaeffer, and Kenneth Kantzer who provided evangelicals with the capital of which they have for the most part been living since, but this capital has been exhausted. The bank is empty. … Leadership is now substantially in the hands of the managers, and as a consequence the evangelical capital is not being renewed…Without a sharp, cogent, differentiating identity, evangelicals, no less than the Liberals before them, are simply absorbed into the conventions of the modern world in which they live. It is no mystery, therefore, why they are failing to out-think their cognitive opponents. The reason is that they are not that different from their opponents…”(No Place For Truth, pp. 133, 135.)
Once evangelicals, though in the world, were conscious they were not of it, but a transition (transformation) has occurred from historic evangelicalism to a modernized version. Evangelicals, having borrowed so heavily from the culture, have become amicable partners with it.
Michael Horton elaborates:
“… even those who accept its (the Bible’s) full trustworthiness on paper often do not see it as sufficient in matters of doctrine and Christian practice. Our real authorities are secular; judging by some of most popular books being read by pastors these days. We believe that if it is theology, it is in the realm of speculation, but if it is a survey or a sociological study, a political analysis … a psychologist who developed an entirely new approach to self -esteem or a business guru giving us his reading of the parables through the medium of a success story, here is truth.”(Beyond Culture War, Chicago: Moody, 1994, p.241.)It is just assumed that dissonance between church and culture must be eliminated so that coming to Christ is as easy as is humanly possible. It is assumed that if we use the correct planting and watering techniques, we can produce the increase. In ‘new paradigm’ churches lip service is given to the Spirit’s dynamics, but often this belies the real reliance on the tools themselves, tools borrowed directly from the culture. Paul, the greatest of all church planters, was all too aware that only God gives the increase; reliance on external techniques which may work well in the world at large (and may ‘work’ in the church) is not appropriate for the church.
In Romans 12:1, Paul appealed to his readers to respond to the mercies of God (displayed in chapters 1-11) by presenting their bodies as an act of worship. In the next verse, Paul commands them both negatively and positively–do not conform … be transformed. The J. B. Phillips version is: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold but let God remold your minds from within.” Unfortunately, it appears that much of the church has reversed this admonition. Cultural dissonance is to be avoided at all costs. Surveys taken from the ‘target audience’ before a church plant actually fashion the mold into which the gospel message and practice are poured. Self-absorbed self-centeredness comprises the mold. The mold is audience-shaped.
Friends, should not every Christian congregation be Gospel-shaped and Christ-centered? Do we have the faith to rely on the sufficient Word of God and to hold our ministries to that standard?