Stuck Inside a Leadership Net Seminar with a Desire to Get Out!

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DMcFadden

Puritanboard Commissioner
Stuck Inside a a Seminar with a Church Consultant Again!

Consultant.jpg


Through a series of circumstances too irritating to repeat (bottom line: favor to someone I "owed"), yesterday was devoted to listening to a Leadership Net consultant speak to a group of church leaders. Here are my reflections. They throw some light on what is the direction of evangelicalism today.

Today I experienced one of the most challenging, annoying, and disturbing seminars in a very long time. Firstly, with more than five decades of church life under my belt, there are few fads that have not ended up costing me time and money for some class or seminar someplace. In the 60s it was the charismatic renewal, in the 70s church growth. Spiritual gifts followed and then leadership and vision seminars. Lately, we have seen a spate of conferences dealing with the emerging church and ministry to postmoderns

I have sat through more than enough sessions on “reaching the unreached,” becoming “seeker sensitive,” pioneering a contemporary service, and the like. Today was no different. With words like “missional community,” moving from an “attraction model to an incarnational model,” “apostolic leadership,” and a small rucksack full of specialty vocabulary, it felt like being force fed a year’s worth of Leadership Net material through a fire hose.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not immune to the appeal of this kind of material. Indeed, a quest to master this arcane literature led me to complete a masters degree in organizational management at a secular business school during the mid-90s. My more than 500 page thesis surveyed virtually every bit of leadership material then extant as well as conducting some major social science research on correlations between pastoral leadership style and ministerial effectiveness. However, I have come to believe that just as the CEO model for the pastor has proven disastrously unhelpful, so will this newest fad.

During the sessions today some familiar themes were sounded: replacing “church growth” with a vision for kingdom growth; developing disciples instead of members; encouraging a new apostolic leadership; moving away from a program centered preoccupation to focusing on spiritual formation; and shifting from planning to preparing for a challenging and uncertain world.

What I appreciated was the encouragement for church leaders to think “outside the box” and to find creative ways to impact their communities for Christ and to encourage their people to do the same. Some of the ideas mentioned were positively genius! Also, the humorous delivery and relentless teasing made the time pass quickly.

However, when we move beyond these helpful pointers, there was much that was disturbing in the day. With clear echoes of Barna and Viola, the speaker constantly carped on the superiority of missional communities and house churches as an answer to “Constantinian” Christianity.

Evidently practically everything wrong with Christianity today could be solved by promoting missional communities, house churches, and “missionaries” doing intentional outreach in apartment buildings and labs instead of being part of a traditional church. Much as I felt when reading Barna’s Revolution, my mind kept wondering if this speaker was not working over much hard to justify the fact that he evidently does not like going to church and left the pastorate for the peripatetic role of seminar speaker and consultant.

In the estimation of some of the architects of what’s next, the church of the future will be multiform. Mega churches or “big box churches” will not fade away since there will always be “somebody” who likes that sort of thing. But, one gets the impression that the real action will be had in the trenches where the truly committed eschew conventional church involvement in favor of so-called pre-contstantinian “market place” Christianity without buildings, liturgy, or programs.

Rather than being a “project manager,” “cruise ship director,” or other demeaning description of contemporary pastors, spiritually alive folks will devote themselves to the kind of house church structures that are so in vogue in the minds of progressive church consultants today. And, even if these missional communities do not involve themselves in corporate worship, that is no great loss. Our leader explained that he has been to a lot of church worship services and “they ain’t so good.” He assured us that you “won’t be hurt” by missing weekly worship. As for the biblical admonition to "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together," that will take place in the various ad hoc missional activities that people "feel led" to engage in throughout their communities.

A more disturbing casualty of this churchless utopia would seem to be the Bible. The Corinthians did not have a Bible to read, preachers to sermonize, or programs to sign up for, we were told. Yet, they were able to experience a vital spiritual dynamic. They simply followed the mystical leading of the Holy Spirit.

Church history instructs us at this point. I wonder if the seminar speaker ever heard of the Zwickau prophets, early 16th century Anabaptist enthusiasts opposed forcefully by Luther.

“What is the use,” said they, “of clinging so closely to the Bible? The Bible! always the Bible! Can the Bible preach to us? Is it sufficient for our instruction? If God had designed to instruct us by a book, would he not have sent us a Bible from heaven? It is by the Spirit alone that we can be enlightened. God himself speaks to us. God himself reveals to us what we should do, and what we should preach.”

Even Luther’s dear colleague, Andreas Carlstadt, “lost himself in the clouds of a confused mysticism and spiritualism, and appealed, like the Zwickau Prophets, to immediate inspirations.” Luther wryly observed of his friend: "He has swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all."

An evangelicalism untethered from the Word will soon dissipate into little more than social good works or theological irrelevance. And, if history teaches us anything, it demonstrates that diminishing the Word of God always leads to a denial of other core beliefs. Disciples of Christ without a church where the Word is faithfully preached, the sacraments are rightly administered, and discipline is exercised are much like fish out of water. And, they will end up with the same fate.

Consultants always come with a briefcase overflowing with ideas. But, any idea broker who dismisses the church of Jesus Christ as a "constantinian" error, depreciates the importance of Christian corporate worship, and uses immediacy of divine direction as an argument to dispense with the preached Word of God will not lead to a strengthening of God's kingdom or his church. No matter how humorous the delivery or winsome the personality, snarky put downs and non-stop examples of church problems do not a change agent make.

Frighteningly, this man is widely published, highly regarded, teaches D.Min. courses at my alma mater, and consults with several of the major evangelical denominations and many of the para-church agencies out there today. He even told a vignette about speaking to a group of United Methodist pastors, 60% of whom were women.

My lingering questions: Why would church leaders pay outrageous sums of money to listen to this nonsense? And, if they did actually take the advice to heart, how well would most churches respond to proposals to eliminate buildings, stated worship services, and the like? Finally, what would prompt pastors to bring their lay leaders to a conference in order to be told by a man who no longers participates in an organzied church how to dispense with organized churches? I can only assume that the sponsors of this event either did not know what the speaker believed or thought that the listeners would simply go for the show and ignore the actual advice.
 
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py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I hope you were posting on the PB from your Blackberry during the seminar. It sounds like ecclesiastical consulting is the new, improved way for wolves to fleece the sheep without actually having to don the sheep's clothing in any way that would inconvenience their desire to sleep in on Sunday morning.
 

DMcFadden

Puritanboard Commissioner
Actually, I used the convenient need to pick up our youngest from SAT prep class and take her home as my reason for cutting out early yesterday. My wife had to endure the whole thing. She said that one person asked the speaker if he were in an accountability relationship with anyone. He hemned and hawed and allowed that he travels an awful lot. But, on a rare week when he is at home, he is part of a "missional community." Then, with an irony that was evidently lost on everyone but my wife, he noted that they are "re-evaluating" or "re-structuring" or something of the like.

Hmmmm. A man who quit the pastorate to become a consultant, charges gazillions of bucks to get hundreds of pastors and lay leaders together to hear him speak; tells them that their congregations are quite simply passé; informs the lay people that if they really wanted to do ministry Jesus' way (and not in that big bad post-constantinian manner), then they needed to sell their buildings and sort of "hang out" with people in need.

Pretty good work if you can get it. Somehow, I would not want to be in his shoes at the judgment, however.
 

BJClark

Puritan Board Doctor
Sounds like a dreadful way to spend a day...but at the same time, God giving you a little insight as to what to expect in the coming season of this nation..within Man's church..

I don't want to call it God's church as they seem to ignore Him completely..
 

DMcFadden

Puritanboard Commissioner
I am interested in your thesis. Is it in E form?

Also, what was good about the talk?

E form???

As I wrote:

During the sessions today some familiar themes were sounded: replacing “church growth” with a vision for kingdom growth; developing disciples instead of members; encouraging a new apostolic leadership; moving away from a program centered preoccupation to focusing on spiritual formation; and shifting from planning to preparing for a challenging and uncertain world.

What I appreciated was the encouragement for church leaders to think “outside the box” and to find creative ways to impact their communities for Christ and to encourage their people to do the same. Some of the ideas mentioned were positively genius! Also, the humorous delivery and relentless teasing made the time pass quickly.

All of these are valid points. In the 70s evangelicals were all agog with the flush of Win Arn and Peter Wagner's "church growth." Numbers qua numbers lead to Christianity a mile wide and an inch deep. The focus on developing disciples is much more appropriate. Some pastors (especially in the braoder evangelical movement) have fallen into habits of going to seminars with the best and latest, without consideration to the presuppositions behind the ideas being presented. Moving away from being hucksters for a new program to spiritual formation is also well taken. I personally do not appeciate the ahistorical idea of "apostolic" leadership and believe it to be a flawed idea. All of the "thinking outside the box" was to the point and quite helpful.

Pergy, I just started a major medically supervised diet and I'm on my last good nerve. Perhaps it gave me less patience for "consultants." However, it struck me as more than a little irritating to have a fellow charge thousands of dollars to spend a day and one half, without an outline or seeming direction (often simply fielding questions to use up time at the beginning of the presentation), and then to have a bottom line that the "real" action in among those who NO longer go to church at all.
 
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DMcFadden

Puritanboard Commissioner
I just heard from a friend who is in a position to influence those who hired this fellow. He wants to get together to "talk." Hmmmm. Sounds promising.
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Yes, I am quite certain that the early church had many well paid, motivational public speakers who went around trumpeting their version of church and gospel. And you can even find mention of their ministry in the 2nd letter to the Corinthians! For more on these 'super-apostles' please read chapters 11-12.
 
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