Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Purpose-Driven Splits?

A friend sent a Wall Street Journal article* reporting that Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven® methods are dividing some congregations. (Alas, there is no link unless you have a paid subscription.) As churches adopt Warren’s approach, some traditional members are balking. WSJ readers probably won’t be too sympathetic with the comments of one of the dissatisfied, "[The pastor of one church in transition] didn’t preach on someone going to hell." That’s probably the first time that I’ve heard that a pastor didn’t preach enough hellfire and damnation.

Nonetheless, I am sympathetic with the traditional churchgoers. There are serious concerns that Rick Warren has accommodated the gospel to a consumer-driven American culture. One pastor is quoted as saying, "I believe that Jesus died for everyone," not just people in a "target audience." These theological concerns are important and should not be ignored.

In addition, there are real pastoral issues when a congregation makes a major change. In the Purpose-Driven® Church, Rick Warren even suggests that pastors may want to think twice before applying his thoughts to an existing church. There is an implied preference for new church developments. Established congregations are just too messy.

Unfortunately, congregants who don’t feel respected and heard will work against any change. Forcing a cookie-cutter program on a congregation in a heavy-handed way does not win friends. I will easily grant that not every Purpose-Driven® congregation is guilty of this. However, some are reaping what they sow.
Some pastors learn how to make their churches purpose-driven through training workshops. Speakers at Church Transitions Inc., a Waxhaw, N.C., nonprofit that works closely with Mr. Warren's church, stress that the transition will be rough. At a seminar outside of Austin, Texas, in April, the Revs. Roddy Clyde and Glen Sartain advised 80 audience members to trust very few people with their plans. "All the forces of hell are going to come at you when you wake up that church," said Mr. Sartain, who has taught the material at Mr. Warren's Saddleback Church.

During a session titled "Dealing with Opposition," Mr. Clyde recommended that the pastor speak to critical members, then help them leave if they don't stop objecting. Then when those congregants join a new church, Mr. Clyde instructed, pastors should call their new minister and suggest that the congregants be barred from any leadership role.

"There are moments when you've got to play hardball," said the Rev. Dan Southerland, Church Transitions' president, in an interview. "You cannot transition a church...and placate every whiny Christian along the way."

Rick Warren distances himself from the hardball tactics, but no wonder some churches are finding splits instead of growth.

To be fair, I know nothing about church growth. No one is beating down my door searching for advice. As a pastor, all I try to do is love my people and more importantly love God. All I want is a church which manifests the fruit of the Spirit – "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal 5:22-23). I could care less whether it looks like Saddleback Church or not.

* "A Popular Strategy for Church Growth Splits Congregants" by Suzanne Sataline. Wall Street Journal. September 5, 2006.


Stushie said...

I did a 40 week Purpose Driven Life Sunday School class which went very well. Our church also put together an online version. I also have attended Trinity Presbyterian Church's Purpose Driven Confrences for Presbyterians at Satellite beach in Florida for the last three years.
Our membership is up 20% and our worship attendace has increased by 33%. Whatever complaints people have about Purpose Driven, the numbers seem to speak for themselves.

James said...

Thanks for your comment. I think I was more shocked at the hardball tactics of some. Any change in a church needs to handled with a bunch of grace and love. If Purpose-Driven(R) gets people to put God first in their lives, then I applaud.