The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission. By Rick Warren. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995. 399 pp. (Cloth), $24.95.
It is easy to see why so many churches today are “converting” to the “purpose driven church” model for church growth. What makes this new model so interesting is that it allows each church to “market” their church having discovered what the purpose of their church is. It no longer desires to discover what the Bible says about the purpose of the church in general, but it is formulating a specialized model custom-fitted for your church.
Our sanity and survival depended upon developing a workable process to turn seekers into saints, turn consumers into contributors, turn members into ministers, and turn an audience into an army. Believe me, it is an incredibly difficult task to lead people from self-centered consumerism to being servant-hearted Christians. (p. 46)
Warren lists “myths” about growing churches and analyzes and responds to each of them (pp. 47-71).
Warren then discusses the matter of asking the question, “What drives your church?” Churches, he says, are driven by tradition, by personality, by finances, by programs, by buildings, by events, or by seekers. He sees the biblical paradigm as “purpose-driven churches.” There are two essential elements of his paradigm. First it requires a new perspective and second, this paradigm requires a process for fulfilling the purposes of the church.
Warren does state correctly the importance of being purpose driven when he said that nothing precedes purpose (p. 81). When asked, “Why does the church exist?” Eighty-nine percent responded, “The church’s purpose is to take care of my family’s and my needs.” Only eleven percent said, “The purpose of the church is to win the world for Jesus Christ.” If the pastor and congregation can’t even agree on why the church exists, conflict and disagreement on everything else is inevitable (p. 82). Do those answers reflect confusion in the pulpit or a state of mind in our affluent western civilization? Do these statistics prove true for the churches in Southeast Asia, or the former Soviet Union countries, or Latin America, or any place other than the United States?
Warren states that the foundation for a healthy church is determining its purpose. No disagreement here, assuming the gospel of grace is understood apart from works and that it is proclaimed simply and clearly [this matter will be addressed later in this review]. He believes that “When you’ve finished laying the foundation, the most critical work is behind you. You can never build larger than the foundation can handle (pp. 85-86).” A clear purpose builds morale, reduces frustration, allows concentration, attracts cooperation, and assists evaluation.
Warren elaborates on the process of defining your church’s purposes. He says as one looks in the New Testament one should look at Christ’s ministry on earth, the images and names of the church, the examples of the New Testament churches, and the commands of Christ. (i.e., “I will build my church.”) He says, “It isn’t our job to create the purposes of the church but to discover them.”
Warren says when doing this research one should look for answers to four specific questions: 1) Why does the church exist? 2) What are we to be as a church? (Who and what are we?) 3) What are we to do as a church? (What does God want done in the world?) And 4) How are we to do it? He believes “thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips” (p. 99). If you can say it and write it, then you’ve clearly thought it through. No one would disagree with Warren when he says that what people remember are simple statements, slogans, and phrases. However, I am not sure Christianity can or should be reduced to such.
Most might agree with Warren when he lists five purposes of the church: 1) Love the Lord with all your heart; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself; 3) Go and make disciples; 4) Baptizing them and 5) Teaching them to obey (pp. 103-106). These purposes are more what a church does—the fundamental activities of a church. The purpose might be found in 1 Timothy 3:14-15. These activities Warren listed enable the church to fulfill the purpose of being the pillar and ground of the truth.
Four areas concern me.
One is the place of the Scriptures and the proclamation of the text and the role of the pastor as proclaimer of the whole counsel of God. An example would be found on p. 187 and his lack of care in handling the text of Matthew 10:5-6. This makes me wonder how much value he places on accuracy and truth.
The second area of concern is that nowhere is there any mention of the gospel of God’s grace proclaimed. The closest thing is found where Warren states that:
“At the end of each service, I ask everyone to bow their heads and I lead in a closing prayer, during which I give an opportunity for unbelievers to make a commitment to Christ. Then, I’ll pray a model prayer as an example and ask them to let me know about their decision on the commitment card…We have had services where 100, 200, 300, and once nearly 400, unbelievers have committed their lives to Christ and indicated it on a card” (p. 303, italics added).
Where is the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sinless sacrifice? Where was the invitation to believe in Christ alone for eternal life? Where does the Bible say that committing one’s life to Christ saves anyone?
The third area of concern is that of “targeting” church outreach to specific groups in the community. This method can be distorted into a means of discrimination. For example, if a church desires to grow and a mile in one direction is a low-income government subsidized housing project and a mile in the other direction is an affluent, gate-guarded community, which will most likely be the targeted community? There is a tendency to target the people that can contribute the most to the church. They are the ones with the most education, talents, and wealth. Therefore, there is the possibility that the community with the most deficits and needs, to say nothing of racial minorities, may be neglected.
The fourth area is that this model defines the Sunday morning meeting as “church” yet their services are structured to meet the needs of the unsaved (pre-believers) or unchurched as seekers. It may even become a place where the buyer (unreached) and the seller (church) exchange goods or services for some consideration, usually money. There ceases to be a place of worship, where they celebrate God’s presence in worship, communicate God’s Word, incorporate God’s family into their fellowship, and educate God’s people through discipleship. The morning church service ceases to be a place for expository preaching of God’s Word.
Finally, I would not recommend this book to someone who is not already clear on the gospel of God’s grace, nor someone who is not secure in his position of proclaiming the Scriptures expositionally week after week (in season and out of season). There is a temptation to be carried away with the euphoria of “success” and a manifesto to all leaders to consider embracing this model. However, it does provide some very practical “ideas” about the organization, structure and oversight of a large post-modern church.
Dr. Stephen Lewis
Chafer Theological Seminary