In my perspective, the DCC has long practiced a performance-oriented theology, driven by its historic reactions against the “traditional” churches of Christ and centered around what I consider to be a well-intentioned but distorted concept of discipleship.
In this theology, man’s purpose in life is to please God with his works. Discipleship is the price of salvation. Yet, there are always more works to do, and man is never, ever good enough. The DCC would not explicitly teach that man is saved by works because the concept is patently absurd, but this is pretty much what is practiced. For example, conversion (as taught in First Principles) focuses almost exclusively on human performance with scant mention of the notion of grace or salvation. The ministry focuses on what we are “supposed to do,” as though that were the essence of the Christian experience. In our preaching, Jesus is rarely presented as a Divine Savior; far more frequently he is presented as a “perfect disciple.” The idea is advanced that if we just tried hard enough, we too could be perfect just like Jesus. Righteousness is something that is attained by trying harder, not the result of salvation. In my opinion, such a philosophy is at odds with passages such as 1 John 1:8 and Romans 7:21-25.
Performance-oriented theology brings a host of unhealthy side effects, most notably the pride and boasting in what one does, especially in favorite areas of religious performance. It makes certain works better than others, certain people better than others. It creates a false sense of entitlement and spiritual security for those who play the game well, and a corresponding false sense of guilt for those who don’t play the game quite so well.
Performance-oriented theology produces nice results for a short time, but it robs the cross of its power and meaning. In the end, it leaves people destroyed spiritually. (Not surprisingly, we then turn around and blame them for being destroyed. That’s like murdering someone and then blaming them for being dead.) I am persuaded that people don’t need to be told how they constantly fall short of perfection and God’s standards; they face this every day. What they need to know is that God wants a relationship with them and that he can work through their imperfections by his Spirit to accomplish his works in their lives anyway.
In my opinion, this performance-orientation issue permeates the DCC culture like toxic waste oozing from beneath the surface. It is everywhere, and it is insidious. Getting rid of it will not be easy for those who have lived under it and perpetuated it for many years. How much harder it will be for those who do not see its shortcomings or are enthralled with its short-term results.
Leader-Centric Ministry Approach
In my perspective, the DCC ministry model is fundamentally leader-centric. Things revolve around a leader, especially region-leader evangelists. I believe the Scriptures testify more to a Jesus-centered and body-centered (or sheep-centered) model.
In a leader-centered model, things are seen from a leadership point of view, and the leader must make things happen. Along with this come the undesirable side effects of control, favoritism, reliance upon personality and hype to extend the abilities and limits of leadership. Under such a model, the members never really mature but remain spiritual children to the leadership. In the end, the sheep end up serving the leaders. Then the leaders are expected to live up to the position they’re in, and resent it when people expect them to be perfect.
A sheep-centered model looks at things from the point of view of the sheep and how to develop and mobilize church resources for the benefit of the sheep. The ministry serves the sheep, for their benefit—just like Jesus who came for our benefit, not for his. A Jesus-centered model looks to him to make things happen. It is willing to accept his agenda, his timing, his working, and not the arbitrary goals of leaders who are eager to make a name for themselves or prove themselves worthy of greater roles in the church. A great example of this sort of a ministry is Paul’s summary of his ministry in Colossians 1:24-2:3.
We’ve seen the failings of a leader-centric approach first-hand, yet the DCC still seems entrenched in a leader-centric ministry approach. Leaders are important, but we would do well to remember that they are usually referred to in Scripture as “servants.” Does the name itself not suggest the model that should be used?