“We love the church”, say Ed Stetzer, Director of LifeWay Research, and Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. When a book takes up the topic of the Church’s mission and how to accomplish it, a clear statement professing love for the body of Christ is comforting. With many recently published books on the Church that bash or completely redefine the Church, the deep commitment of Stetzer and Rainer to the church and their desire to build her up for gospel ministry is refreshing.
This desire led to a large-scale pastoral, church, and church member survey by LifeWay Research (the Appendix provides an open look at the research methodology). After analyzing all the data, the research team saw certain values, principles, and activities of churches making a “transformational impact” rise to the surface. With these transformational elements in hand, Transformational Church was written with the desire to help churches understand that disciple making is their most important work and how they can measure whether or not they are effectively making disciples.
The heart of Transformational Church consists of the “Transformational Loop,” formed with three categories and seven elements. The Loop gives churches a blueprint to construct their “scorecard.” A scorecard is a comprehensive way to measure the effectiveness of a church accomplishing its mission. Most churches, according to the authors, operate with the 3 B’s scorecard: bodies, budget, and buildings. The Transformational Loop gives pastors and church leaders a blueprint consisting of three categories to change the scorecard: Discern (actively seeking to understand your context and community), Embrace (biblical values that serve as ministry guideposts), and Engage (focused activity leading to disciple-making).
The corresponding element of Discern is missionary mentality. Missionary mentality means “the church understands the community and will minister in contextually appropriate ways to reach local people with the gospel.”
The elements of Embrace are vibrant leadership, relational intentionality, and prayerful dependence. Vibrant leadership is passionate leading by example that moves the people into effective leadership for accomplishing the mission. Relational intentionality is the “development of the church to help Christians deliberately connect with one another” for both “accountability and encouragement”. Prayerful dependence is a humble dependence “on God for the vitality of the church” that sees prayer as “the engine” of all ministry.
The elements of Engage are worship, community and mission. Worship is actively embracing Jesus as a “manner of living and not a mode of programming.” Community is “the activity of joining lives together” on mission for the glory of God. Based on “God’s mission to make disciples of Christ and to engage the world,” mission is understanding “disciple making as the normal state of the Christian’s life” and focusing all church programs around that goal. All these categories and their elements share a common goal – transformed lives. The Transformational Loop is not intended to be another model or formula for church growth, but to serve as a blueprint “to measure the right things and measure the right things properly.” When churches change their scorecard to reflect these elements, they are on the way to becoming a transformational church, which is “a congregation that joins God’s mission of sharing the gospel and making disciples.”
A number of strengths deserve mention. First, the mission of God and the cause of Christ are the author’s chief concerns. They long for the Western Church to passionately pursue the gospel ministry of proclamation and disciple making. This desire grounds every category and informs every element. Second, the gospel is central to every element. From social engagement to small groups to the weekly worship service, proclaiming the gospel to the unreached peoples around us and around the world is foundational. Third, every element of the Transformational Loop is biblical. The reason why this survey found these elements in common amongst transformational churches is because they are churches that are deeply marked and defined by the Bible. It is not due to having excellent, strategic church visions or hip pastors, but because these churches “bleed bibline.”
Ultimately, my main concern with Transformational Church is that though the elements are thoroughly biblical, the authors rarely tie the elements to texts of Scripture. This is unfortunate since it is immensely helpful when they base their arguments on the text. For instance, when they explain why small groups should exist in a local church, they turn to Hebrews 10:24-25 to argue that churches need to provide small groups that “spur one another on in our Christian commitment” rather than to simply provide friendship and fellowship. These sporadic convergences of the analyzed data and texts of Scripture stand out as the most helpful pages of Transformational Church. Unfortunately, the book frequently turns our attention to the data and stories from transformational churches rather than taking deep looks into pages of Scripture.
Transformational Church does not set out to provide careful exegetical work or a biblical theology of the church. This is a book that publishes the results of analyzed data from a large church survey. Though Stetzer and Rainer’s intention is not to offer another methodology, it seems this book has more potential to become another new model of doing church, rather than defining what the Church actually is biblically and theologically. It seems to me that if Transformational Church turned our attention to the Bible first and let the data come alongside and show real world proof, the authors would have published a resource that would better accomplish their vision of helping churches and church leaders be transformational rather than seek to do transformational ministry.