A reply in caveat to: The Purpose Driven Church

Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission

by Rick Warren
Zondervan Publishing; 1995
ISBN: 0-310-20106-3

Rick Warren's research and shared enthusiasm bring us right up to the beachfront of seeker-active church life.
Within 399 pages, pastor Warren provides us with hundreds of insightful observations & exhortations...
Would the Saddleback experience best furnish us a model for the Church today?


Brother Warren's preface to catch those surfable waves near pop-cultural or generational eddies tempts the reader to invest in paddling out for the next 'big one'. For the Church, Rick Warren writes in truth, It is not our responsibility to make waves but to recognize how God is working in the world and join Him in the endeavor.[p.14] The work of God is itself the one phenomenal crest over a sea of human voice, now extending millennia. Not to fault the method nor feed the sharks... If, as an evangelist, you have learned to surf and fish at the same time, we would thank God for it! Yet, most of our coastlines do not as often present the pleasant surf of California shore.. . . . .


For the impact a changing pastorate may have upon the growth (size) of a local assembly, Rick's Purpose Driven work does not appear to directly address that long-submerged hazard within a pastor led church... Does this church largely depend upon Jesus Christ, or upon pastor Warren & associates? (Not a matter to be established in simple assent.) Pointing to the problem of frequent pastoral re-assignments, Rick Warren writes:
Can you imagine what the kids would be like in a family where they got a new daddy every two or three years? They would most likely have serious emotional problems. In the same way, the longevity of the leadership is a critical factor for the health and growth of a church family.[p.31]
Although the members of Christ are much as children before God, analogy depicting a pastor as the new daddy remains inappropriate, even to supporting an inference in that some shepherds find impractical or implausible the holding of Jesus Christ as Head and Leader of His (local) Church; in all things recognizing Almighty God as Father to His children. Rick Warren does identify problems corresponding with a personality driven church[p.71..]; the program driven, events driven, building driven, tradition driven, finance driven... More than a few people-driven churches. Yet, where shall we tell of the Holy Spirit driven Church?


Myth #1: Large churches do not truly come to depend upon attendance or contributions.
Myth #2: A church may mature in ministry without drawing upon the God-prepared resources of other churches.
Myth #3: We can justifiably pursue quantity over quality in Christian discipleship.
Myth #4: With growth (numbers) as our objective, we have not so compromised our purpose as a local church.
Myth #5: The vitality of the Church depends upon the skill of men.
Myth #6: Our choices in method will ever leave whole the message of Christ.
Myth #7: Faithfulness to God does not always bring fruitfulness.
Myth #8: We can better understand the will of God for us by looking to the direct example & practice of large churches.


In good health or poorer still, the foundation for the Church is found in Jesus Christ. In Him, there remains our clear purpose. For harmony, cooperation, concentration & evaluation, we would have no other prescription. Although Rick Warren has written, If you want to build a healthy, strong, and growing church you must spend time laying a solid foundation.[p.86], it remains our position that the foundation for all the Church has been laid in Christ. A Statement Of Purpose which does not fully reflect the same would serve us short of the high calling in Christ Jesus.

Effort to evaluate and quantify ministry in conjunction with a results-oriented purpose statement may itself have borrowed more from business modeling, than from Christian faith & commission. As pastor Warren has written, If I were to use business terms I'd say that our church is in the 'disciple-development' business, and that our product is changed lives -- Christlike people.[p.109] Sadly, a results-oriented, business-styled approach in the making of disciples tends to remake the outward attitudes & expressions as the product of those consuming. In this way, thousands have been prepared & trained to well play the role of "Christian" for any church function, marketplace, Hollywood scene or staged production, while their inner man remains un-renewed day by day.


Rick Warren's ability to identify markers of the contemporary, Western church is itself noteworthy. His apparent willingness to borrow from outside the Kingdom of God being more of a common thing among us. After briefly describing the Soul Winning, Experience God, fellowship (Family Reunion), Classroom, and Social Conscience church types, he writes: The truth is, all five of these emphases are important purposes of the church and must be balanced if a church is to be healthy. Yes, many have called for balance in expression & objectives of the Church, though short specific authority from God.[p.122...] In truth, this manner of balance remains a teaching unknown in the doctrine of Christ. We are to be and do all that He has commanded, above our would-be attempts to balance.


Despite Rick's call to grow the church from the outside in[p.138], all churches from inception do grow from the inside outward. The lone missionary into a spiritual desert of hedonism & vanity will begin the work from the inside with the truth, wisdom and strength God has given him to serve.
Saddleback Profile [1995]:
Community - Unchurched:[31,000]
The Crowd - Regulars:10,000
Congregation - Members:5,000
Committed - Maturing Members:3,500
The Core - Lay Ministers:1,500
TOTAL Attendance:~23,000
From the concentric Saddleback attendance profile [right], we may observe in that less than 1/4 of the total seated are understood to be maturing. For many churches with expanding attendance, a substantial challenge lingers in how/where to accommodate the largest number of crowd and congregation who are themselves found in a time of comfort; neither growing nor seeking. Can we assimilate them into the Kingdom of God? Of this, brother Warren writes, Are there unrepentant pagans mixed into Saddleback's crowd of 10,000? Without a doubt! When you fish with a big net you catch all kinds of fish. That's okay. Jesus said in one parable, 'Don't worry about the tares mixed in among the wheat. One day I will separate them.'[p.237] Yet, we know Jesus to have indeed sent the pagans packing. Not by being unkind or insensitive to their needs, but resultant in His teaching of more difficult things. When the regular church assembly is to be devoted to seeker-sensitive evangelism, pagans & the uncommitted will linger... in such we most often find ourselves looking to build ever larger auditoriums under which they may gather. Thankfully, Rick Warren has (and continues to the date of this writing) encouraged us not to be about the construction of large church buildings, but rather to make better use of smaller facilities vis-a-vis multiple services, etc.


Does Christian love respond foremost to need, or to passionate vision? Pastor Warren writes:
An important distinction to remember is that people respond to passionate vision, not need. That's why many stewardship campaigns don't work: They focus on the needs of the church rather than the vision of the church.[p.345...]
and also...
I've read a number of articles and books that state that the baby boomer and baby buster generations will not commit to anything. This simply isn't true! What they do expect is to receive value equal to their commitment.[p.348]
Should passion be required in bringing individuals to commitment, it may be that those same people yet lack the passion of Christ within them.(?) In our surrender and covenant to Jesus, there can exist no man's value equal delineation. A "by faith" commitment has become as often understood by California's baby busters as apportioned in life virtual: exercise to be performed in the abstract; perceptual in scope; void of deep conviction; auxiliary to one's own personal life. [Recently, the Saddleback team has targeted the teaching of commitment to seekers, with which we hope them every success!]
What is desperately needed today are pastors and teachers who will clearly teach God's perspective -- about work, money, pleasure, suffering, good, evil, relationships, and all the other key issues of life. When we have perspective, "we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different, or has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth" (Eph. 4:14 LB) Perspective is what produces stability in people's lives.[p.355]
Perspective? Or greater, the presence of God by His Spirit, with His perspective? Are we clearly teaching God's perspective in all things, for Saddleback and beyond? Rick further writes:
The greatest need in evangelical churches is the release of members for ministry. A Gallup survey discovered that only 10 percent of American church members are active in any kind of personal ministry and that 50 percent of all church members have no interest in serving in any ministry. Think about that![p.365]
What do we have when a gifted evangelist acquires church assembly as a venue and form (and forum?) in his holy mission?

Rick has correctly identified the challenge in presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a people devoted in their syncretism, themselves wholly committed in no one purpose. He also writes, I believe that you measure the health or strength of a church by its sending capacity rather than its seating capacity.[p.32] Against such a bold stand, why are (were) there as many as ~1,500 ministers at Saddleback Valley Community Church, yet still unsent?


From The Center For Church Growth:
...many churches have begun implementing the [Saddleback] model, hoping that it will produce the same results in their congregation. However, many are finding that it is not as effective as they had hoped. The difficulties lie in the fact that, unlike Saddleback, these churches are trying to implement the model into long-standing congregations with mature memberships. This presents far more difficulties than implementing the model within a newly-planted church made up almost entirely of new converts. As a result, many established churches find themselves disappointed and frustrated with the Purpose-Driven model.
From Kirk Wellum:
...the CGM [church growth movement] has adopted a phenomenological hermeneutic or a pragmatic principle of interpretation. Although they affirm that the Bible is inspired by God and has power to save and is the final authority when it comes to evaluating the truth claims of all other sources, when it comes to interpreting the Bible, they are directed by something called 'growth pragmatism'. This means that those doctrines that receive the greatest attention are those which actually work to make the church grow numerically. They believe that theological findings should always be validated by experience, if possible and adjusted to fit experience, if necessary. Their key Scripture in this regard is 1 Cor. 9:22b where Paul says, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." For those in the CGM, this validates the use of sociology, demography and the fruits of marketing research to determine what part of the Bible they should concentrate on in order to have the greatest impact on the people they are trying to reach.
From Jim Delany, Salem Bible Church (Salem, New Hampshire):
Perhaps the title "Market Driven Church" would suffice as well as "Purpose Driven Church." While he SAYS he is not "pandering to consumerism" (p. 200), his own words seem to contradict that. He states that church, in order to be successful, must target its audience, and then appeal to that audience. He even goes so far as to claim that Jesus targeted the audience of Israel "in order to be effective, not to be exclusive" (p. 158).
From Robert E. Klenck:
Some of the most disturbing words from Pastor Warren regard his overview of his church:
"Saddleback is kind of the Research and Development department of the church at large. We're not afraid to fail. We've always tried more things that didn't work than did. Every once in a while we find - usually by accident-something that works. Then we teach the seminars and pretend like we planned it all along, when really it was just the result of trial and error."
-- Rick Warren, http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1997/summer/7l3022.html
What scripture could possibly be utilized in order for a pastor to justify social experimentation on his congregation?


*Reduction rip-tides: Who needs God? We've caught a wave!
*High surf psychology: May be difficult to distinguish between real needs and felt needs.
*Safe use of longboards depends upon pragmatism & organizational skills.
*He who catches a wave will soon have to ride out safely.
*Incomplete conversions & little repentance under the curl.
*Quick stance techniques can fail to produce mature adult Christians.
*Wave ettiquette may vary from day to day, from beach to beach.
*Wisdom of God remains greater than all ocean knowledge.