Skip to comments.The Purpose-Driven Church (a Book Review)
Posted on 11/06/2003 8:03:49 PM PST by anncoulteriscool
The Purpose-Driven Church by Nathan Busenitz
Copyright 2003, Pulpit - Shepherds' Fellowship. All Rights Reserved.
If numbers were the only standard of success, The Purpose-Driven Church by Rick Warren would stand as one of the greatest books of our time. Having sold over one million copies in 20 different languages, it was selected as one of the 100 Christian Books that Changed the 20th Century. Its supporters include men like W. A. Criswell, Bill Bright, Jerry Falwell, Robert Schuller, Adrian Rogers, and Jack Hayford. And the church that serves as its paradigm, Saddleback Church of Southern California, has grown from the house where it started (in 1980) to a weekly attendance of 16,000.
Yet, numbers are not the only measure of successin fact, theyre not the standard at all. Rather, God teaches that His standard is faithfulness to His Word. After all, 1 Timothy 3:15 says that the purpose of the church is to be the pillar and support of the truth. And 2 Timothy 2:15 says that the purpose of the pastor is to accurately handle the word of truth. It is the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness (Titus 1:1), and it is obedience to the truth that purifies the soul (1 Pet. 1:22). Thus, as fellow workers of the truth (1 John 3:18), pastors should seek to minister for the sake of the truth (2 John 2), in order that the people in their congregations might be those who walk in truth (2 John 4). The biblical standard of success is never numbers, but rather the accurate proclamation of Gods truth (2 Tim. 2:15; James 3:1). With this in mind, Warrens seeker-sensitive model reveals several weaknesses.
Entertainment v. Exposition
A primary weakness in Warrens approach is that he emphasizes the pastors ability to entertain over the pastors responsibility to speak the truth. On p. 231, Warren argues:
Ive heard pastors proudly say, Were not here to entertain. Obviously theyre doing a good job at it. A Gallup poll a few years ago stated that, according to the unchurched, the church is the most boring place to be. . . . To the unchurched, dull preaching is unforgivable. Truth poorly delivered is ignored. On the other hand, the unchurched will listen to absolute foolishness if it is interesting.
While homiletics is certainly an important part of preaching, it is not the most important part. For Warren, the presentation seems to be more important than the truth being presented. The Apostle Pauls priorities, however, were just the oppositehow he preached was not nearly as important as what he preached:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. (1 Cor. 1:17)
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (2 Cor. 2:1-5)
In light of his desire for relevance, Warrens preaching is naturally determined more by His audience than by the Scripture. On p. 227 he says:
One reason sermon study is so difficult for many pastors is because they ask the wrong question. Instead of asking, What shall I preach on this Sunday? they should be asking, To whom will I be preaching? Simply thinking through the needs of the audience will help determine Gods will for the message. . . . Peoples immediate needs are a key to where God would have you begin speaking on that particular occasion.
Of course, Warren is referring to "felt needs" - people's own perception of their needs, which translates into what they want. Again, when compared to Paul, Warrens method comes up short. Instead of beginning with his audience, simply telling them what they wanted to hear, Paul started with the truth he knew his audience needed (even if they did not want to hear it). He says:
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:10-12).
In contrast, the seeker-sensitive model appears to put a higher priority on pleasing the audience than on honoring the Lord. It is no wonder, then, that Warren can say: Being seeker sensitive in our worship is a biblical command (p. 243) and Keep your pastoral prayers short in your seeker services. . . . The unchurched cant handle long prayers; their minds wander or they fall asleep. Again, the question remains, should unbelievers determine what we do in the church, or should Scripture determine what we do? Warrens answer seems to be unbelievers (see p. 189).
Sensitivity v. Sovereignty
Because of its seeker-sensitive approach, Warrens model encourages easy-believism whereas Scripture emphasizes sin, repentance, and self-denial. On pp. 303-305, Warren works through practical steps for persuading unbelievers to make a commitment for Christ. In fact, on p. 219, he states, It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart . . . . The most likely place to start is with the persons felt needs. At least two problems immediately arise with Warrens model.
First, Warren dilutes the gospel in order to make it easier to believe. Stephen Lewis, in reviewing The Purpose Driven Church says this:
Not once does The Purpose Driven Church give a clear gospel message. In asking what people want (rather than what the Bible says they need) has Warren created followers or multitudes based upon their desires or perceived needs? Ironically, in John chapter 6, Jesus rebuked the very people He had just fed, because they only followed Him in search of more bread to satisfy their immediate hunger. Jesus met peoples needs as a way of revealing and/or authenticating Himself before men. Any model purposing to create followers based upon fulfilling perceived needs risks making this into an end in itself. Again, where does The Purpose-Driven Church give people what they really need, the gospel of grace? (CTSJ 6/2 April 2000, 56)
Second, Warren denies the sovereignty of God in salvation. By assuming that he can lead anyone to Christ through felt-needs, Warren directly contradicts the biblical doctrine of election. After all, Scripture makes it clear that only those whom God calls will repent (Matt. 11:27; John 6:65; Rom. 9:18-24; Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:4-11; 1 Peter 1:1-2). Warrens seeker-sensitive approach denies the power of the Holy Spirit to use Gods truth, no matter how it is presented, to penetrate the heart and bring spiritual life.
Other Theological Considerations
In his Shepherds' Conference seminar Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, Rick Holland identifies several other theological problems with Warrens seeker-sensitive model.
Warren assumes that the primary purpose of Sunday morning church services is to reach out to unbelievers (see p. 243). In the New Testament, however, the reason the church gathers is for worship and equipping (Eph. 4:11-16; Acts 2:37-47). Evangelism is to primarily take place in the believers life context (as you goMatt. 28:18-20) rather than being the main focus of the Sunday worship service.
Warren assumes that unbelievers are seeking, yet Scripture says, There is none who seeks for God (Rom. 3:11; Ps. 14:1-3).
Warren assumes that the gospel can be made inoffensive to unbelievers if presented correctly. Yet, Scripture teaches that the gospel is, by its very nature, offensive to those who hate God (1 Cor. 1:18, 21, 23, 25; 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:7-8).
Warren assumes that the style of music a church uses is one of its most important keys to reaching the culture (see pp. 280-281). Interestingly, the New Testament is silent regarding this critical element of church growth.
Warren assumes that large numbers indicate true success. He even says, Never criticize any method that God is blessing (p. 156) and interprets the blessing as that which draws a crowd. But what about the prophet Jeremiahs ministry? He faithfully proclaimed the truth his entire life and yet saw no fruit. According to Warrens model, Jeremiah was a failure.
While Warrens book does offer some practical tips for making a church larger, it fails to expound the foundational theological truths that make a church more biblical. Because it overemphasizes the felt needs of unbelievers and de-emphasizes the priority of clear biblical teaching, The Purpose-Driven Church seems to be driven by the wrong purposenamely, a man-centered desire for acceptance and influence rather than a God-centered affinity for truth.
In this vein, the words of Al Mohler are very appropriate:
One of the fundamental issues of misunderstanding that leads to corrupt churchmanship in our generation is the failure to distinguish between a crowd and a church. The failure to distinguish between a crowd and a church is . . . to misunderstand everything about preaching, everything about ministry, everything about our task. If we think our business is to build a crowd, frankly any of us can do it. Theres a way to bring and draw and attract a crowd. . . . Let us never mistake a crowd for a church [or] think our business is to draw a crowd.
(Shepherds Conference audio recording, March, 6, 2003)
Could you elaborate on what you think the "predominant message" of the book is?
If he is talking about a "church" that is not preaching the gospel at all, but is simply scratching the itches of it's congregants with religious sounding messages, I would agree. But if the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone is being preached (even if the rest of the messages on "life-skills" etc. may be a bit off) and thousands of people are gaining eternal life because they are hearing the gospel at that venue, I for one am going to rejoice (even while I am praying that the pastor's messages improve in other areas)
I am currently on chapter 27. It is a great book for new Christians and was written with them in mind. If you are a mature Christian, I would say it would be of little use to you as most of it would be remedial with few new insights.
If getting people "out of hell" and "into heaven" were all there was to it, and if "quality" was somehow optional for the process, then I could see your point. But you set up a false dichotomy by saying since we can't get perfection, we shouldn't bother trying to get better.
The Great Commission does not command us to "go ye therefore and make converts of all nations". It commands us to make disciples. Disciples do more than learn how to make more converts. If your theology teaches that Christians shouldn't "polish the brass on a sinking ship", you probably discount or avoid other ship-related disciplines as hull & sail repair, mastering sea-sickness, and simple navigation. What good is it to ask people to repent and convert, and not prepare them for how to live afterwards?
The gospel's content is more than just "get out of jail free" instructions, and the proper response is more than the empty-headed repetition of a prayer. There is far more that the Church is called to do for it's members than to just to be "seeker-sensitive" and count converts.
"Two philosophies guide my ministry. One: quality is more important than quantity. God calls us to make disciples, not converts. Principle two: Principle one is just barely true. Quantity is also important. Truth is, quality and quantity normally go together. Christian Schwarz has done extensive study into this, surveying 4.2 million church goers in 1000 churches in 35 contenants. The verdict is clear. Quality churches are nearly always growing churches. People like to go to high quality churches."----Rick Warren
"Simply stated, we are to make disciples, not converts. This means we have the responsibility to consciously do things that will result in new Christians growing toward spiritual maturity."---Rick Warren
"The church is in the sending business. It is our goal that eventually 25 percent of our membership will do some kind of mission project each year. I'd love to see our attendance go down every summer, not because people are on vacation but because they are out on the mission field serving. Another goal is to send out 200 career missionaries from Saddleback in the next twenty years." We as the church of Jesus are called to makes disciples not converts, (Matthew 28:19). We are not to try to see how many we can get to respond to an altar call. We are to see how many we can make into active, viable members of the body of Jesus Christ. We must bridge the gap and make disciples of the Lord Jesus and not followers of " -- insert your name or some ministers name here -- " ministries. We are not to build the kingdom of ourselves. We are to daily crucify our flesh; pride, greed, lust, apathy, etc.
not exalt ourselves and follow Jesus and lead men and women into personal intimate relationship with Jesus that they might become followers of our Master, Lord and Savior Jesus."-----Rick Warren
In short, does Warren advocate any particular brand of brass polish or boat wax?
This is a point I have thought about. I feel that Sunday is the Christians fullfilling of Hebrews 10:25, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves." Yes there will be the occasional attendance of an unsaved person, but for the most part this is the time for BELIEVERS to come together, to fellowship, worship together, be fed and feed.
We visited a church that was putting the principles of this book to use, and every week, Sunday morning Sunday night and Wed, we were given milk, no meat. 40 minutes of music, a short milky:) 20 minute feel good sermon, we were out of there every week on time. According to Scripture Paul preached thru the night at times. Is the HS now on a time frame>
Yes I know it is a believers responsiblility to study on their own, and I do, but I feel pastors are to consider their WHOLE flock, and some of the flock need more then milk. We were starving in that church and left.
AT The church we now attend, the preacher, with the guidance of the HS, picks out a book of the bible and preaches thru it. Funny how it always turns out to be what the church needs.
Thank you for pointing that out Becky, i've been screaming it at the top of my lungs for years to a congregation and leadership that wants to play games about "Felt needs" (= fiction), when their real needs are to be equipped to carry out the mandates of the great commission.
Thats a good point. One thing I've noticed about these type of churches is that they rarely open or close a "worship" service with a prayer. I geuss they figure the singing and music takes place of prayer.
Why do you stick around?
Simple, God has directed us to oppose and correct false doctrine, not to cut and run over some oppsition. To leave a congregation that is not yet apostate simply because it may be 'inconvenient' or uncomfortable to the particular member is not a legitimate reason.