Book Review - Transitioning
If The Purpose Driven Church is the “what” and “why” of the church growth movement and all things Purpose Driven, Transitioning represents the “how.” “If the thought of switching from a traditional church to a purpose-driven church leaves you with mingled feelings of excitement and fear, good! It means that, as a pastor, you know the incalculable worth of aligning your church with God’s vision…Transitioning is written for you.” (From the back cover). We also learn from the cover that the book will help a pastor and congregation navigate change and attain rewards that far exceed the risk. Essentially, this book is a how-to guide for changing an existing church from program-driven to purpose-driven. It is written by Dan Southerland, but endorsed by Rick Warren who says that Southerland’s church is “one of the most exciting and encouraging examples of transitioning from being program driven to purpose driven.” (From the foreward)
I always take the time to read the author’s bio that is generally on the back cover of a book as it usually outlines the author’s credentials, providing the reader with some confidence that the author is worth learning from. As if to emphasize the concerns of those who believe that the church growth movement is driven by pragmatism, the author’s bio says “Dan Southerland is the pastor/teacher at Flamingo Road Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida - a purpose-driven, contemporary congregation that has grown from 300 in 1989 to over 2,300 today and launched seventeen other churches.” The author’s sole credential is that he has made the Purpose Driven principles work by seeing the requisite numerical growth.
I have little doubt that this book can help many churches move from being “program-driven” (which is synonymous with “traditional”) to purpose-driven. There is a logical model to follow, there are plenty of practical examples, and many blanks to fill in as part of the workbook section in the back. Those who believe that Purpose Driven churches are the wave of the future, will find much here to praise and imitate. Those who believe Purpose Driven churches are tearing the Christian world to pieces will similarly find plenty to support their belief. I am no lover of Purpose Driven principles, so allow me to point out some of my foremost concerns with the book.
First, the principles within this book are steeped in pragmatism. What works is elevated far above what Scripture teaches. If it works, in the author’s view, it must be good. This is, of course, consistent with The Purpose Driven Church which is modeled as much on Peter Drucker as on the Bible.
Second, the author misuses Scripture. In a vain attempt to lend Scriptural credence to the book, the author bases the process of transition on the model of Nehemiah, who led the Israelites in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Many of these parallels are forced and the Scripture simply does not support the conclusions. For example, when discussing the reality and inevitability of opposition, Southerland writes about Sanballat and his opposition to Nehemiah’s work (see Nehemiah chapters 2 and 4). Of course there is vast difference between opposition raised by a hostile unbeliever and a concerned believer! Southerland, though, groups all those who oppose change as Sanballats.
Third, the author does away with biblical models of leadership. One of the necessary steps in moving to a Purpose Driven church is to make the church staff led instead of committee/deacon led. Rather than having a plurality of elders, a church should have a vision team which is composed of dreamers and power brokers, so that the church becomes led by those who dream big and those who have the money and power within the church.
Fourth, the churches the author proposes are custom-built to appeal to a very limited element of society. It is not mere chance that the author’s church had the average age of attender fall nearly 20 years over his transition period. The church was custom made to appeal to a certain element of society at the expense of others. Who is building and planting churches designed to appeal to the elderly?
Fifth, there is little consideration given to whether this transition is right or biblical. We are to blindly accept that it is the way to do church and to begin the process, regardless of what other church members may desire. The first step in transition is creating a vision. This teaching about vision is something that is in-line with the teachings of Schuller, Warren, Wilkinson, Blackaby and the New Age - we are to dream a big dream, call it vision, and raise that up as our standard. Decisions are made and programs are accepted or rejected based on their conformity to this vision. Yet this vision is created by a man. He may ascribe it to God and it may be biblical, but it needs to be regarded as a lower standard than the Word of God!
Sixth, the method is brutal in its dealing with opposition. There is no latitude given for those who oppose the change, even if they object on biblical grounds. Criticism is viewed as inevitable and unfortunate, but ultimately an attack on God Himself. The pastor is cautioned to remain on track with the change and not allow opposers to derail the process.
Those are a few of my concerns. Ultimately, if you are committed to being Purpose Driven, this book may help you avoid making some costly mistakes in transitioning your church, but I would urge you to spend some time studying the biblical concerns of the opponents of this movement. Determine for yourself if this movement is pleasing to God and if it really does represent the way God would have us “do church.” For those who are opposed to the movement this book has little value. It does provide an interesting case study of the Purpose Driven Church in action but it will merely add fuel to your fire. There must be some better way to spend your money.