"The Purpose Driven Church" has become the manual for church leadership and structure for many throughout the world. Likewise, the author, Rick Warren, has become the leader of the "Seeker Sensitive" movement that has reshaped ecclesiastical life in the United States and abroad. What started out as a simple guide for ministers and pastors has become a culture shaping work that has changed how many approach their congregational ministry.
A pastor in Trinidad last summer told me to read this book and use it in my own ministry. This is just one example of this book has had an immense impact on the world in which we live. Millions have read it, and continue to practice it in their daily lives.
The book breaks up into 5 sections. The first section is titled "Seeing the Big Picture." Here, the author gives the reader the story behind the growth of his church, Saddleback in California. Since it’s birth, Saddleback has become one of America’s leading churches in growth, church movements, and evangelicalism. The author describes how he went about planting the church and growing it to where it is today. For the rest of the book, he describes the specifics of his form of running a church and it’s different components.
Also, in this section, he describes several myths about growing churches. He provides several helpful explanations concerning these myths. Many have made wrong assumptions concerning mega-churches that are simply wrong. He seems to emphasize that the goal of every church is to be authentic and more specific; purpose-driven. This is, then, the "purpose" of the book; how to make your local church "purpose-driven."
The second section of Warren’s book really begins to get to the heart of the book, that is, how to be purpose driven in your approach to ecclesiology. The first thing he discusses is what drives churches. Some churches have different purposes of your church. Some churches want to have the best buildings, some driven by events, programs, etc. Warren, however, wants the church to have a different purpose.
Whenever the church decides it’s purpose and writes it down in a clear, precise way, we must communicate that purpose to the congregation and to those who will become members in the future. Whenever we communicate our purpose to the people, we must organize around that purpose. This means that all events we plan must have a purpose. Get people on your staff who understand the purpose and will practice it.
The next section in Warren’s work concerns reaching out to the community, a vital part of the church’s mission. The first step in reaching the community is to know who you are targeting. This involves knowing your city very well. We must study the geography, demography, etc. This will tell us how we can reach the people, what programs and activities to involve, what type of service to have, what age groups to emphasize, and many other vital information that helps the church minister to the surrounding area.
After this careful study of who you are going to target, we must develop our strategy. To do so, we must understand what are people are saying about our church, what we need to keep, what we need to take away, how to reach the lost, etc. Warren, when he was building Saddleback, he sent a flyer out to the surrounding area of where he was trying to reach, and included information that would attract the people.
Part four is concerned with bringing in the crowd. To do so, we must study how Jesus brought in crowds. He reached out to everyone, He met their needs, was applicational in His teaching, and many other techniques.
After this discussion, Warren then describes how the church can be "seeker-sensitive." This means to offer multiple services, focus on importance of worship, make visitors feel comfortable, and many other important techniques.
We must also select appropriate music for worship. This can be a sensitive issue for many people in our day, and doing the original study of your community will do a lot of help in this area. We must make sure that the music is purposeful and worshipful and you need to preview the music before it is played in the service.
The final section of Warren’s book is concerning building up the church. Prior to this section, Warren has made it clear that the purpose of his church is to reach the lost. To him, the church must appeal to lost sinners, bring them into the church, and get them saved. At this point, Warren realizes the problem that creates; what do you do with all of these new believers? His answer is simple; disciple them.
To do so, we must first make them members of the church so that they can get involved. To do so, we must communicate the importance and need for membership. When people present an interest in becoming members, Warren suggest having a new members class. This way, each new member will know what the church offers, programs it has, how they can serve and get involved, and many other vital information.
Once they become members, we must turn them into mature believers. To do so, we must encourage the new members in their daily walk. To do so, we can offer classes for them to grow in Biblical knowledge, theology, and application for their daily lives. We must encourage and exhort them to continue to grow in their faith. As discussed previously, hiring the right staff is vital, and this is one reason why. The right youth leader or children’s minister must be someone who encourages members to grow in their faith.
The final stage of this growing maturity of the believer is to lead them into ministry. This does not mean that all of the members must become pastors, but rather that they serve the church in some type of ministry. At this point, the believer has shown themselves as a strong believer, knowledgeable, and capable to serve others and encourage them to grow in their faith. We must make sure that we don’t vote on a ministerial position, but rather appoint according to their abilities and gifts.
My main concern with the book as a whole is the whole seeker sensitive movement. It appears to me that it contradicts much of what Scripture teaches. Rick Warren is a firm believer in the infallible inspired Word of God, but yet, apparently, he has missed some of what it says. We are not to make church and worship essentially a social club where non-believers can gather and be saved, but a place where the redeemed can fellowship with one another and be trained to minister to the lost.
This whole idea that the church should be built on unbelievers is simply biblically flawed. Is it not the churches goal to train up believers so that they can minister to the lost? Sometimes I feel that Warren just doesn’t get that. The church must evangelize, but the churches main objective is to train up believers so that they can go out and do the ministry. This false understanding of the role of the church leads Warren to several mistakes.
Also, there was one particular comment that I found troubling. I don’t want to take him out of context, but what he essentially said was that members who no longer come to your church, you should not be worried about them. Instead, he suggest to continue to reach out to new people.
To me, what Warren is saying is to simply to leave the "inactive" members out to dry. He comes out and says that they will probably join and be involved somewhere else and so Saddleback does not need to worry about them.. By doing this, these believing members will not learn to do the ministry. Instead, the author is suggesting that the church bring new people in, and then bring more new people in. This is all fine, but the problem is, the "saints" aren’t being equipped to do the ministry, because if the members stop coming, then the church is required to bring in and raise up new babies. Again, I don’t want to take him out of context, but I think Warren needs to reevaluate what he says here.
Similarly Warren believes in simply delete people from their databases whenever they don’t show up for a while. I hope that they are contacting them and finding out why they haven’t been coming to church or if something is wrong. Hopefully, they are doing more than just hitting the delete button on their computers. I’m sure that they are reaching out to them, but he doesn’t say whether they do or not. So, it would be appropriate that they move those individuals back to another category instead of just deleting them.
I also have problems with Warren’s approach to preaching. He says that he spends twenty weeks every year on the five purposes of the church. True, as he mentions, that allows over half the year to preach on other things, but the problem is that the he isn’t growing the congregation as much as he should. It is not a good thing for the members of the church to come to the worship service already knowing what the pastor is going to say and what he wants them to do.
Rather, the members should be anticipating on discovering what else God wants them to do. The Christian life is a work in progress, and we must be continually nourished with the Word and it is the pastor’s main responsibility. I am all for reminding the church it’s purpose is, but twenty weeks a year is way too much.
I worry about is that the church may think that the ministers don’t know about anything else because they continue to preach about the purpose. This can easily be avoided if the minister is careful, but if he does the same sermon several times, the congregation will be bored, or tired of hearing the same sermon. I do believe that repetition is important when stating the purpose, but there must be caution used. You don’t want to over repeat yourself.
Also, it appears that his view on expository preaching is wrong. To him, it seems like people are unable to understand the whole Bible. True, much of the Bible is difficult, but it should not be ignored. I understand that he teaches theology, just not the terms, but does he spend much time in Scripture in his sermons, or is he too busy telling cute stories? The stories and illustrations of a sermon, although they are helping, are nothing in comparison to the explanation and application of the biblical text. If one has too much material in a sermon, the illustrations should go first, not the explaining of the biblical text.
Also, his comment that "most unbelievers are looking for relief, not truth," bothers me a bit. To me, it appears that he is saying, "make them feel better, and they’ll convert." Relief is important, but without the truth of the Gospel, what good is relief? What good is it if a man gains the whole world, or is relieved, and still loses his soul? I know that Warren seeks the lost, but he must present truth to unbelievers, but at the same time, feed the others steak and not milk.
He also thinks that expository preaching is only useful for believers because the Bible can be intimidating. He must not know that the Bible is more powerful than any two edged sword. We shouldn’t shrink in our preaching just to be appealing. We’re to "preach the Word" and let the Holy Spirit move. I also fear that he is slow at helping the believers grow in their faith because he’s always doing simple, easy to understand sermons. Babies eventually grow up and desire more than milk. If the pastor doesn’t expect much out of his congregation, the people are not going to strive real hard to grow in their faith. They will simply plateau in their Christian walk and never be prepared for the ministry the church is to be training them for.
This overemphasis on being "Seeker Sensitive" isn’t good. As already mentioned, the believers need to stop drinking milk, and begin chewing meat. This will not happen if the church is running around seeking new visitors. It seems that the church is more evangelistic than shaping the saints for ministry. Notice that the church is to raise up ministers so that they can go out to world and preach the gospel. Warren does the opposite. Also, the church should focus on all groups, not just one or two, such as the lost or even youth. If the singles ministry is lacking, it needs to improve. If senior citizens are being ignore, they need to be noticed by the church.
Everyone is equal in God’s eyes, and they all need the gospel! If you want to have a contemporary service to attract younger people, go for it. But, you should provide a service that would attract older adults. Instead, Warren suggest having multiple services that are identical. I wonder what people who want to feed on something more than John 3:16 think of the services?
However, there are several things I did like about this book. First, Warren says that he isn’t going to waste time on events and activities that have no purpose. This is good thinking. The activities that are planned are done so with a purpose in mind, whether it be evangelism, spiritual growth, or something similar. Also, Warren teaches the importance of organization and pre-planning. Warren makes it clear to his congregation what they will be doing that year. As a result, things can be done right and organized with the maximum results. This is one thing that
Warren purposes that I am in heavy favor of.
Also, I like his comment that it isn’t wise to compare the attendance of one church with another. This is so true and much needed in Ecclesiastical life today. A small rural area may not have a population of hundreds of thousands of people like a city does. Therefore, city churches will more than likely have more members. So, Warren concludes, comparing attendance records is useless. Each church ministers to their area. Population has nothing to do with it. Amen to that!
I agree that people will come to the church if they can relate to the pastor. So, the pastor must know what type of people they attract, and focus on that group and reach out to them. This is why I believe his section on the importance of knowing your area very well. Such research will allow the minister to be more effective and grow more when it’s target is named.
Finally, I like his emphasis on the lost in that they should constantly be on our mind because Jesus Christ demands it. So, we must be sensitive to their needs, and to how they can better understand the gospel. The ideas and suggestions he puts forth are helpful and should be used.
Overall, Rick Warren’s book is a helpful resource to understanding how Ecclesiology could be practiced and approached. His gives a thorough account of how he does his ministry and how the reader can practice it as well.
Although there are many things that I question in this book in that he makes several Scriptural and fundamental errors, he does have a lot of great things to offer in this best-selling book. There is a reason why millions have turned to this book in search of how to run their church. It is helpful, practical, simple, and at times, wise to follow his instruction.