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Tim Challies

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11 years 7 months ago
Josh Harris is all grown up. The man who brought us I Kissed Dating Goodbye when he was just twenty-one, and who is best known for bringing courtship to a whole new generation, is now senior pastor of a large and growing church and no longer speaks at conferences. Stop Dating The Church is his first book targetted at an audience wider than merely teens and parents of teens.

Harris believes that many, and perhaps even the majority of Christians, have a fear of committment to the church. Rather than committing to a local body of believers, most Christians “date the church,” refusing to commit to a long-term relationship. He says, “This is my third book on relationships, but it’s unlike any of my previous books…this book is about how you should relate to the family of God” (page 12). In Failing to commit to the church, we cheat ourselves, we cheat our church community and we cheat the world.

Over the next six chapters, Harris explains the beauty of the church, our need for the church, what committment to a church involves, what to look for in a church, and how to make Sunday the best day of the week. He draws liberally from the books and teachings of Charles Spurgeon, Don Whitney and John Piper, and builds convincing, biblical arguments. Chapters five and six are particularly engaging. The fifth chapter lays out ten criteria by which to choose a church. The sixth chapter provides some suggestions for redeeming Sunday and restoring it to a place of distinction whereby we use it deliberately as a day to refuel our spiritual batteries.

I must admit that this is the first of Harris’ books that I have read, and I was thoroughly impressed by his committment to Scripture, to expository preaching, and to the historic tenets of Protestantism. The men under whose influence he has grown seem to be theologically-sound, showing that he has a true committment to biblical doctrine.

There is not much in this book that has not been said elsewhere more thoroughly and perhaps even more convincingly. But what this book adds to the discussion is accessibility. It should appeal to many young people who already know and appreciate Harris’ ministry, and will engage young people who may shy away from longer treatments of the subject. Weighing in at only 129 pages (and small pages at that) this is a book that can be read and digested in a couple of hours. It will undoubtedly benefit all who read it and I give it my recommendation, especially to young people who are disillusioned by the church and may be turning their backs on her.

11 years 9 months ago

Deceived on PurposeDeceived On Purpose is probably the most important contribution in the ongoing discussion about Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life and all things Purpose Driven. It is one of only a couple of book-length treatments of the subject and the one that brings the most to the table. The author, Warren Smith, is a former New Ager who, after being saved, researched and has written extensively on the topic of spiritual deception. Having been immersed in the New Age movement for many years, he is sensitive to the inroads of New Age beliefs into Christianity. He says “Because of my New Age background, I have written this book Deceived on Purpose to specifically address some of the New Age implications of these purposes [for the church].” His discussion of the New Age implications of The Purpose Driven Life merits consideration by all concerned believers.

The author is clear from the beginning that this book is not a mix of positives and negatives. He believes that Rick Warren is leading the church astray and will mince no words in defending the Body of Christ. Leafing through the book, the reader might be surprised to see how much of the book is dedicated to a discussion of Robert Schuller. As a matter of fact, I suspect the book has more references to Schuller than to Warren. Why this apparently misplaced emphasis? Smith contends that many of Warren’s ideas and beliefs were shaped by Schuller. Hence to learn about Schuller is to learn about Warren.

Smith leaves no stone unturned in exposing Robert Schuller as a major player in the New Age movement. Schuller has often invited New Age teachers to appear on his show and preach from his pulpit. New Age courses have been taught on the campus of his church, New Age materials are sold in the bookstore and he often declares his affection for the teaching of New Age gurus. It seems his New Age beliefs are common knowledge amongst New Agers as they consider him a leader who may be able to bridge the increasingly blurry gap between the New Age and Christianity.

Ironically and alarmingly, Schuller is also a major player in the Christian church. Having spent great attention on exposing Schuller as a false teacher, the author then shows the connection between Schuller and Rick Warren. Warren trained extensively under Schuller and acknowledges him as one of his primary influences. Many of the concepts and even sentences from The Purpose Driven Life are taken directly or almost directly from Schuller’s writings, and these were in turn culled from New Age material. The author provides many examples of this, but I will contain myself to one. In this brief section Warren quotes from the New Century Translation:

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren - “The Bible says, ‘He rules everything and is everywhere and is in everything.’”

Hour of Power (November 9, 2003) by Robert Schuller - “Yes, God is alive and He is in every single human being!”

Prescriptions for Living by Bernie Siegel - “God is in everyone and everything.”

There are many similar (and even more clear) examples where Warren has borrowed or even plagarized the writings of Schuller. The conclusion we must draw if that Schuller is as corrupt as Smith portrays him, we must necessarily be suspect of Warren and any others who have trained under Schuller. While they are not covered in great detail, the author dedicates a small amount of time to exposing The Message and the writings of Bruce Wilkinson as having a similar New Age bent. Wilkinson was another man who was profoundly influence by Schuller, and thus by the New Age.

It is no great surprise that this book has been published by a small publishing company (Mountain Streams Press). While it is well-written, well-researched and convincing, it deals with a subject matter most publishers will want to avoid. Despite being confined to small distribution channels, I was glad to see that it is in its second edition and that a third is underway. I believe it has many important things to say and that Christians need to evaluate the teachings of Warren to see if they are consistent with the Scriptures. “In these times of heightened danger and trecherous deception, we must always go to the Lord for truth and direction. Christians following deceived leaders will only end up deceived themselves. We must always measure everything by the true Word of God. Seek the truth and you will find it. Knock and the door will be opened. Ask God in sincerity and in true faith, and He will give you the wisdom you need…May we always have a love of the truth. May God give us wisdom and spiritual discernment as we seek to contend for the faith.” (Page 180)

Warren has written a book that is alarming, but not apocalyptic - a book that shows a love for the church and a godly concern for her welfare. I highly recommend this one.

11 years 9 months ago
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.

11 years 9 months ago
John MacArthur’s latest book, unimaginatively titled The Book on Leadership, has one of the finest-looking covers I have ever seen. With its leather-looking cover, rough-cut pages, gold lettering and marbled inside pages, it looks like a wonderful, valuable, antique book. Truth be told, I probably would not have purchased it were it not for that cover. I am not so shallow that I would purchase it based soley on the cover, but a great cover and an author I respect are too much for me to pass up.

In this book, MacArthur provides his spin on a topic that is gaining prominence in the church. I suspect the books published on the subject of leadership in the church in the past five years would by far outnumber thoese published in the prior 2000 years of Christianity. Leadership has become a buzz-word, and leadership skills are more highly-valued by many than the ability to write good sermons, to relate to people or to express clear doctrine. For many people today a pastor’s role should primarily concern leadership with the preaching of the Word taking on a secondary role. In this context I looked forward to gleaning from the wisdom of John MacArthur.

This book is based around the apostle Paul (rather than Nehemiah, who seems to be the subject of many leadership manuals), drawing lessons about leadership through two of the situations he faced: his time in prison and his time pastoring the church at Corinth. I was surprised to find that the leadership principles outlined by the author are not expositorily drawn out of the Scripture, for expository teaching is what we have come to expect from MacArthur. Instead, he uses Paul’s life to point to principles of leadership. For example, the sixth principle of leadership is that a leader is optimistic and enthusiastic. MacArthur shows this in Paul’s life by referencing Acts 27:25 where the apostle tells the men aboard his doomed ship to “take heart … for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” There are twenty six of these principles introduced in similar fashion throughout the text.

While the book does a respectable job of introducing principles of leadership, I found its primary value in serving as a commentary on portions of the books of Acts and Corinthians. MacArthur is a skilled expositor and does deep research in the Scriptures. Thus he brings to light many situations and tidbits of information that helped me better understand these passages of the Bible and to understand Paul. Reading the book purely as a commentary will be rewarding in itself, with the principles of leadership serving as icing on the cake.

I have to admit I found this book a little disappointing, primarily because it was not entirely expository in nature. The twenty six principles of leadership are sound and will no doubt serve to strengthen many future and current leaders. In the final analysis, though, while they are proven from the life of Paul, they were not drawn explicitly from Scripture. Despite that, a man who exhibited those qualities would no doubt be an godly man and one well-suited and eminently qualfied for leadership in the church. I do recommend this book both as a commentary on parts of the life of Paul and as a guide to important qualities necessary for godly leadership.

11 years 10 months ago
Truth be told, I was a little disappointed with 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. The problem is not that it is a poor book but more that I had unrealistic expectations of it. I was hoping this book would be everything the church growth manuals are not; that it would be a knockout punch against church growth. It is not all of this, but that does not mean it is without value. I suppose I expected it to be a rebuttal of the seeker-friendly/church growth movement, but this is not what it is inteded to be. In retrospect, this is far better, for the book begins and ends with the Bible and the wisdom of God rather than with a rebuttal of the the wisdom of men. This book represents an interesting contrast to other books on this topic that have emerged from the Southern Baptist Convention, most notably The Purpose Driven Church. Where Warren’s book claims to be about church health it is clear that the true focus is on growth. In 9 Marks, Mark Dever is able to seperate health from growth, rules from results. The focus of this book is on “being” church rather than “doing” church - on accentuating biblical perspectives on personal holiness above numbers or cultural relevance.

The author, Mark Dever, is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Washington, D.C., and also heads up IX Marks Ministries. Dever seems to be anything but typical as a Southern Baptist pastor, and with his thoroughly Reformed theology must represent a minority position within the Convention. In this book, as in IX Marks Ministries, he seeks to rediscover the pillars of the church as outlined in the Bible and practiced in traditional Protestant churches. Here is a brief overview of the 9 marks he identifies:

  1. Expositional Preaching - Expositional preaching (otherwise known as expository preaching) is the investigation of a particular passage of Scripture whereby the pastor carefully explains the meaning of a passage and then applies it to the members of the congregation. The point of a sermon, then, takes the point of a particular passage. This is in opposition to the topical preaching showcased in the majority of evangelical churches, where Bible passages are woven together to support a pre-existing point.
  2. Biblical Theology - This emphasizes not only how we are taught but also what we are taught. In a sense this should follow naturally from expository preaching because the careful exposition of a passage should lead to sound theology. The majority of poor theology arises from a lack of careful Biblical exposition. Where there is poor exposition, we should expect to eventually find poor theology.
  3. Biblical Understanding of the Good News - There needs to be a proper understanding and necessary emphasis on the full gospel. Where many contemporary churches teach that Jesus wants to meet our felt needs and give us a healthier self-image, that is not the gospel. The gospel message is that we are sinners who have rebelled against our Creator. But Jesus took the curse that was rightfully ours and all that remains is for us to have faith in Him so God may credit Christ’s righteousness to our account. When we de-emphasize sin and damnation to make the presentation more friendly and less offensive we cease declaring the full gospel.
  4. Biblical Understanding of Conversion - When we have a Biblical understanding of the gospel, we must then also have a proper understanding of conversion. Conversion is a new birth from death to life and is a work of God. It is not merely a change of attitude or a change of affection, but a change of nature. Conversion does not need to be an exciting, emotional experience, but does need to produce fruit to be judged a true conversion.
  5. Biblical Understanding of Evangelism - The way we evangelize speaks volumes about how we understand conversion (and further, what we understand about the good news). If we believe that people are essentially good and are seeking Jesus, we evangelize using half truths and tend to elicit false conversions. When we present a watered-down gospel, we end up with a watered-down church. We need to be faithful to present the full gospel, the good news with the bad, and leave the results to God.
  6. Biblical Understanding of Membership - Church membership is a privilege and a responsibility and needs to be regarded as such. People should only be members if they are dedicated to the church – in attendance, prayer, service and giving. To allow people to become and remain members for sentimental or other unbiblical reasons makes light of membership and may even be dangerous.
  7. Biblical Church Discipline - Discipline guides church membership. The church has the responsibility to judge the life and teaching of the membership since they can negatively impact the church’s witness of the gospel. Leadership need to be firm in discipline as this is an expression of love to the congregation.
  8. Promotion of Church Discipleship And Growth - We need to recover true discipleship – discipleship that causes Christians to live lives of increasing holiness. The emphasis on growth needs to be directed at holiness rather than membership. True discipleship producing strong, committed Christians will present a clear witness to the world.
  9. Biblical Understanding of Leadership - Until recent times, almost all Protestants agreed that in church government there should be a plurality of elders (which means that there should be an office of elder and not merely one or more pastors in positions of leadership). This is a Biblical and practical model that has fallen out of favor in modern times.

Dever presents a convincing argument that a return to each of these nine principles would do much to restore the church to what God intends her to be. He dedicates twenty or thirty pages to each of them, usually tracing how they were understood in church history and showing the effect they would have on today’s church. Perhaps what I appreciated most about this book is that, while he is willing to share from his own ministry, this is not a “do as I have done” type of book. Never once does he tell us how many people attend his church, trying to woo us with human credentials. All we learn about the numbers in his church is that membership decreased, but attendance increased as a result of his pastorate. Very rarely does he portray himself as the model other church leaders are to emulate. Needless to say, this stands in stark contrast to other books written to address the same topic.

So while this book left me a little bit disappointed, I realize that it was my unrealistic expectations that made it so. This is a very well-written and thoroughly biblical book. Dever expounds God’s wisdom on the church and in that way does exactly what he set out to do - he provides godly insight into what makes a healthy, vibrant church that pleases our Lord. I highly recommend it.

11 years 10 months ago
Though I have never met him, Garry Gilley has had a signficant impact on my life. He was one of two people who was most influential in my decision to begin this web site and to review books. His many book reviews were very helpful to me and made me realize that if he could review books and post them on the web, I could too. I have long wanted to read his books and just recently was given a copy of This Little Church Went to Market.

This book is a damning indictment of the market-driven churches that are so popular today. Having extensively studied the issues Gilley writes about in this book, I am comfortable saying that this is the best introduction to “the church in the age of entertainment” that I have read. Gilley contends that the church has sold out to our culture so that the influences of the culture have become the influences in the church. The most significant forces pressing against the church are entertainment, market driven philosophies and psychology. These three are largely absent from the Bible, yet are startlingly prevalent in evangelical churches. The leaders and issues he concentrates on most are Rick Warren and his book The Purpose Driven Church, Bill Hybels and Lee Strobel.

Having discussed the forces that are impacting the church, the author spends several chapters examining how these forces have impacted evangelical churches. He quotes extensively throughout the book from other believers who have covered this topic such as John MacArthur, Os Guinness and Michael Horton as well as from unbelievers such as Neal Postman. Finally he concludes that churches built on seeker sensitive model will be built on the wrong foundation, will teach the wrong message, will focus on the wrong need and will misunderstand preaching and worship. In other words, these churches will bear little resemblance to a New Testament, Christian church.

Through this book Gilley manages to approach the topics in a rational manner and never comes across as being obnoxious or blinded to the heart of the issues. He truly does understand both the New Testament model and the new evangelical model and is able to adequately compare them. The back cover tells us that the book “is a call for the Church to return to its scriptural roots” and that is right on the mark. This book examines contemporay issues and calls the church to return to the source to discover what God would have us be. I highly recommend this one.

12 years 9 months ago

I finished this book almost ten days ago and have not yet been able to write a satisfactory review of it. I began several times, but each time found I was missing some important aspect of it. I believe the source of my trouble is that I read this book only after reading many others that came after. If I had read this book when it was published (1986) I would seen it as groundbreaking. But today, when we are surrounded by books on the principles of church growth, this book does not seem to have much new to add.

One thing that is unique about this book is that it was written by a Presbyterian pastor who also taught at Westminster Theological Seminary. Though church growth and large churches are generally associated with evangelicalism, this book details the rise of a large Reformed church. Also, this book deals with outgrowing an existing church whereas many newer books that discuss church growth do so from a church-planting perspective.

The book traces John C. Miller’s growing awareness of the problem of ingrownness in his calling as a pastor. Naturally his church was only as good as its leader and it also suffered from ingrownness. We see the discoveries the pastor made that led him to outgrowing his ingrown church. The author’s journey began with a breakdown as he grew frustrated with his church and with being a pastor, so left the ministry. During a time of searching he came to realize that as pastor he was the source of the problem and to build his church into one motivated to carry out the Great Commission he would need to make changes. He details this journey and in so doing challenges others to discover the power of God rather than attempting to abide in their own power and with their own resources.

Though a good book full of solid teaching, I believe it would best serve as an introduction to church growth and to outgrowing a stagnant church. If you have read other books on the subject this many not excite you very much. Those wary of evangelicalism may also find comfort in the fact that this is written from a Reformed perspective. When it comes to specifics about church growth there have been many books written since this one that will prove more useful.

Author: John C. Miller
Title: Outgrowing The Ingrown Church
Published: 1986

13 years 1 week ago

Thom Rainer is president of Rainer Group Church Consulting as well as founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As such, we would expect him to have many interesting insights into church growth. He does not disappoint. In Surprising Insights From The Unchurched Rainer presents the results of a fascinating study he performed over two years. He decided that perhaps the best way of learning what principles of church growth work best would be to interview people who had only recently become Christians and begun to attend church on a regular basis. He and his team spent thousands of hours interviewing 353 of these people. And the results, as is obvious from the title of the book, are quite surprising. In the second half of the book, the focus turns to pastors of successful evangelical churches and seeks to understand what they do to bring success to their churches.

The interviews performed by Rainer were focused on members of “effective evangelistic churches.” Rainer defines these as churches with at least twenty-six conversions per year and a conversion ratio (membership/annual conversion) of less than 20:1. The average ratio in American churches is approximately 85:1. The two criteria eliminate 96% of churches. This leaves the elite 4% as the focus of the study.

Through about 125 pages, Rainer reveals the results of his study. He begins by shattering myths about the unchurched. For example, his study found that the name of the church had almost no influence on the unchurched as they chose a church to attend. The pastor does not need to be a dynamic and charismatic leader for the church to reach the unchurched, and deep and complex Biblical truths do not turn the unchurched away. These insights seem to fly in the face of many principles associated the church growth movement. The factors that led people to choose a church were primarily the pastor and his preaching followed closely by solid, Biblical doctrine. Those two factors rated far ahead of any others. Once again, those would seem to contradict much of the church growth movement. Doctrine is so important that Rainer devotes an entire chapter to it.

The second part of the book is devoted to insights gleaned from approximately 100 ministers who pastor effective evangelistic churches. The insights gained from these pastors are also fascinating. Perhaps the most interesting element of this section of the book is “Fifteen Lessons from the Leaders Whose Churches Reach the Unchurched.” In this section, Rainer outlines fifteen lessons he learned in interviewing these men. He speaks of authenticity, the imperative of person evangelism, the need to retain strong doctrine and many other critical points. He also devotes attention to their leadership skills and preaching style.

If ever I feel I have done injustice to a book in a review of it, this is it. Honestly, there are so many important principles in this book that they simply cannot be narrowed down to a few short paragraphs. This book is a treasure trove of information about the ways the most successful churches reach the unchurched. I unreservedly recommend this above any others regarding church growth.

13 years 4 months ago

There is little doubt that many modern churches are failing to grow and flourish. New churches are planted only to wither and die while established churches are stagnant, growing only from within. Rick Warren, pastor and founder of one of America’s largest churches, Saddleback Valley Community Church, wrote The Purpose Driven Church to address the failures of today’s churches. The book outlines the principles he used to establish his church and seeks to apply these principles to all churches, whether they are established or newly planted. Since it’s publication in 1995, this book has served as a manual to thousands of other churches and Warren’s model has been used across the globe to start a whole new breed of church. Terms you may hear in association with this model are “Purpose Driven” and “church growth movement.”

Warren’s approach centers on something that is startling in its simplicity. Every church needs to be defined by a purpose. Warren states, “Until you know what your church exists for, you have no foundation, no motivation, and no direction for ministry.” (p. 81) Without a clear purpose statement a church is just drifting. This statement of purpose is something the church must devote time and attention to as they seek to find a direction that will steer them. The purpose statement should always be made to fulfill The Great Commission and should be concise and result-oriented. Once formulated, this purpose statement will be the guide to future decisions about the church. When faced with a tough decision, perhaps about a new program or a new ministry, the church leaders need only look to the purpose statement. If the new program or ministry will fulfill one of the purposes, “…do it. If it doesn’t, don’t do it.” (p. 88) Anything in the church that goes against one of those purposes is to be immediately removed. Essentially, the church is like a business. The church has to be molded to appeal to and be relevant to the consumer (the unbeliever).

Once a church has a defined purpose it is time to reach the lost. To do this it is crucial that the church remain relevant to society. This is done by meeting the felt needs of the culture and community. Purpose Driven churches are well known for studying demographics and performing surveys. By understanding their potential audience and knowing the needs of these people, the church can create programs and ministries that will address the specific needs around them. Warren states that it is his “deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart.” (p. 219) After you discover the key to a person’s heart he or she will be drawn to your church. Once that person is attending, it is the pastor’s job to preach to his or her felt needs. This is based on “the theological fact that God chooses to reveal himself to man according to our needs! Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with examples of this.” (p. 295).

A large portion of the book is devoted to the process of moving people from the community (unbelievers) to the crowd (church attenders) and to the congregation (believers) and ultimately to the core of the church where they are leading or participating in one of the church’s ministries. The author lays out many principles that will lead and mentor new believers and help them grow in the their faith and commitment.

Overall, I found this book both inspiring and disappointing. Warren has many, many things to say that are of great value. I have spent many years in churches that had no purpose and no direction. Certainly a purpose has to be of great value. The view that preaching should be relevant and apply to our lives is critical. In the end, though, I believe the book to be predicated on some false and potentially dangerous ideas.

Many of Warren’s ideas are imported directly from the business world. Time and again he refers to concepts found in the marketing and business world. His view is that the church needs to be run like a business. There is a danger here, though, in that in the world of business and marketing the customer is always right. Whatever the customer desires or demands is what we have to give him. In Christianity the exact opposite is true. It is God, not the consumer (unbeliever) who is sovereign. We need, then, to be careful how far we go in shaping our church, as God’s commands have to come before the demands of unbelievers.

Warren is a pragmatist. As such he believes and teaches that the result is more important than the method. Probably the most startling statement in the entire book is “never criticize what God is blessing.” (p. 62) He makes several such statements in The Purpose Driven Church but fails to provide a system to properly discern what God is blessing, other than the results. To place ultimate importance in the results is a grievous error. Numbers are not necessarily indicative of God’s blessing. We need to refer everything to God’s Word. Only by using the Scripture as the ultimate test can we have complete confidence in God’s will.

Finally, the author continuously states that the Bible gives many examples of Jesus and the apostles relating to our felt needs. I see little evidence of this. It seems to me that anytime Jesus preached towards a felt need it was that one great need; namely, the need for us to believe in Him for our salvation. In preaching a gospel based on our needs we need to be careful that we don’t turn the gospel around and make it about us when in reality the gospel is about God whom we have all rejected.

In the final analysis I would recommend this book to any discerning Christian. For a believer who is able to read it with discernment and see beyond the dangerous and false presuppositions there is much to learn. Just do not blindly accept Warren’s formula for a successful church.

Title: The Purpose Driven Church
Author: Rick Warren
Published: 1995

Also Recommended:

  • The Upside Down Church by Greg Laurie
  • Surprising Insights From The Unchurched by Thom Rainer

Key Words:

  • Church growth movement
  • Purpose Driven