The Barnabas Ministry
Book Review

The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission
By Rick Warren (Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI. 1995).  400 pages.

I decided to read this book because I thought I "ought to" read it. I like to stay up on different approaches to church structure, organization and the like.

I was surprised to see an enormously relevant book. The Purpose Driven Church ought to be a must-read book for every church leader, if not every church member who has ever thought about church practices (and that should be everybody).

Rick Warren, the author and pastor of the Saddleback Community Church, goes through a thorough and candid discussion of the Saddleback Community Church paradigm. But this is not a "be like Saddleback" book (though it candidly and unashamedly talks about the Saddleback approach). Nor is it a growth book (despite the title), though growth is a by-product of the approach advocated in the book.

Fundamentally, this is a "think about it" and "be faithful" book; church leaders really need to think about what it is they are trying to do and examine if that is what God has called the church to do.

We've all heard the story of the woman who was asked by her daughter why she always cut the end off the steak before she put it into the oven. The mother answered that she did it because her mother used to, but she didn't really know why. All she knew is that was what made the steak taste best. As the story goes, they eventually asked the grandmother about the practice and found out that grandma always cut the end off the steak ... so it would fit in her pan.

Like the star of the anecdote, we cling to old ways out of habit and never ask "why?" These things may have been godly and beneficial at one time, but we fail to realize that those ways that are now "tried and true" (another term for old and traditional) to us were once new, unproven and daring to those who developed them. Warren continually urges us to make Christianity contemporary and relevant. We should always be asking "why?" when it comes to church practices and approaches, and be willing to switch to something more effective.

This linking of purpose and practice is the most important thing that Warren advocates, and the book is filled with examples of how he has found "non-traditional" approaches to accomplish the purposes of the church. I can't begin to cover all of the relevant elements of this book, though the sections on church assembly, music and ministry philosophy were power-packed and fairly detailed. Here are a few choice nuggets from this book:

On Evangelism

Every church pastor needs to ask a very tough question: If most of our members never invite anyone to come to our church, what are they saying (by their actions) about the quality of what our church offers? (p. 51-52)

We should not seek church growth for our own benefit, but because God wants people saved. (p. 105)

Unfortunately, many churches have (a) ... lackadaisical attitude toward fishing for men and women. They don't take the time to understand the people they want to reach, and they don't have a strategy. They want to win people to Christ as long as it can be done in a comfortable way. (p. 186)

One of the greatest barriers to evangelism is that most believers spend all their time with other Christians. They don't have any non-believing friends. If you don't spend any time with unbelievers, you won't understand what they're thinking. (p. 189-190)

We must learn to share the Gospel in ways that show it is both "good" and "news." (p. 224)

What really attracts large numbers of unchurched to a church is changed lives-- a lot of changed lives. People want to go where lives are being changed, where hurts are being healed, and where hope is being restored. (p. 247)

On Church Services
Many pastors do not understand the power of the pulpit. ... Where else do you get everyone's undivided attention on a weekly basis? (p. 118)

It is not pandering to consumerism to offer multiple services or even multiple styles of worship. It is strategic and unselfish, and it says we will do whatever it takes to reach more people for Christ. The goal is not to make it as difficult as possible but to make it as easy as possible for the unchurched to hear about Christ. (p. 200)

Many pastors determine the content of their messages by what they feel the need to say rather than what the people need to hear. (p. 227)

Most churches rarely attract unbelievers to their services because members are uncomfortable bringing them to church. (p. 252)

I'm often asked what I would do differently if I could start Saddleback over. My answer is this: From the first day of the new church I'd put more energy and money into a first-class music ministry that matched our target. (p. 279)

There is no such thing as "Christian music," only Christian lyrics. (p. 281)

When I discovered that the greatest complaint of the unchurched in my area was "boring, irrelevant sermons," I decided I'd better reexamine my preaching. I reviewed ten year's worth of sermons asking one question: Would this message make sense to a totally unchurched person? (p. 293)

On Church Programs
We must be wary of the tendency to allow meetings to replace ministry as the primary activity of believers. (p. 79)

What is needed today are churches that are driven by purpose instead of by other forces. (p. 80)

Unfortunately, very little actual ministry takes place in many churches. Instead, much of the time is taken up by meetings. Faithfulness is often defined in terms of attendance rather than service, and members just sit, soak and sour. (p. 104)

... unless there is an intentional plan to balance all five purposes (i.e. worship, evangelism, fellowship, growth, service), most churches will embrace one purpose to the neglect of the others. (p. 124, items in parenthesis added for clarity)

Movements, by nature, specialize in order to have an impact... (but)... The church is not called to do one thing; it is called to do many things. (p. 127-8)

Always clarify the purpose for every program in your church. Kill any program that doesn't fulfill a purpose. Replace a program when you find one that does a better job than the one you're using. Programs must always be the servants of your purposes. (p. 143)

Don't fool yourself. If you don't schedule your purposes on the calendar, they won't get emphasized. (p. 151)

If you ask typical unchurched people what they notice most about their Christian neighbors' lifestyles, they are likely to say, "They go to a lot of meetings." Is that what we want to be known for? My guess is that the average church would be healthier if it eliminated half of its meetings to allow more time for ministry and relational evangelism. One of the reasons church members don't witness to their neighbors is because they don't know them! They are always at church, attending meetings. (p. 375-6)

I don't agree with everything he talks about in the book. But don't let that bother you; a great deal of what Warren says is important and right on the money. The Purpose Driven Church is power-packed, full of both great conceptual ideas and practical details. If you are a church leader-- buy this book, read this book, think about what you are doing. You and those you lead will be better off for it.

Also see review of The Purpose Driven Life

Copyright © 2002 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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