Purposeful Interference – An Update

Some time ago I wrote an article entitled Purposeful Interference in which I claimed that Rick Warren and his representatives within the Purpose Driven organization had suppressed the publication of the book Pyromarketing: The Four Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep them For Life by Greg Stielstra. The article coincided with another brief article dealing with the same subject that was published by Publishers Weekly. The article was widely-read and talked about within other blogs.

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Here is a quote which summarizes the article:

“Following the success of The Purpose Driven Life and other phenomena that displayed the value of PyroMarketing, Stielstra decided the time was right to publish a book explaining his philosophy of marketing. Without claiming credit for its success, he sought to explain the success of the book through the principles of his marketing philosophy. HarperCollins Publishers agreed to publish the book, which was to be titled PyroMarketing : The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life and was expected to reach store shelves by mid-2005…Not long afterward, it appears that Rick Warren contacted Zondervan’s President, Doug Lockhart, and demanded that all references to The Purpose Driven Life be removed from PyroMarketing. Apparently this demand stemmed from a concern that this book would make a clear connection in the mind of the reader between The Purpose Driven Life and marketing technique. Lockhart returned to Stielstra, suggesting that he remove all references to Warren’s book and that he find examples of his marketing principles from the 2004 Presidential campaign. He declined. To this day Stielstra has refused to edit those portions of his book. HarperCollins has not published PyroMarketing and will give no indication as to when or even if they will do so.”

I later posted an update to say that HarperCollins had suddenly decided to proceed with publication with no reason provided as to the change of heart.

Since Then…

When I first published the story, it was conservative Christians who were most interested. Many of the conservative (and perhaps fundamentalist) blogs and information sites commented on the story. In the past few days the story has seen a resurgence of interest, but this time the epicenter seems to be the Emerging Church blogs. And this makes sense, doesn’t it? The Emerging Church is as opposed to “corporate Christianity” as are conservative Christians.

At the time I published the article Rick Warren had not commented on the situation. But in the middle of last month Rick Warren sent a letter to Christian Retailing in which he addressed the situation. It was only recently published. Here is the full text of his statement:

Statement by Dr. Rick Warren Regarding “Pyromarketing”

NOTE: I approve the use of this statement by “Christian Retailing” as long as it is printed in its entirety, and not edited. Rick Warren

I was serving in Africa, in the middle of a 35 day road trip with no opportunity to respond, when “Publisher’s Weekly” mistakenly reported that I oppose the publication of a book by Greg Stielstra. That is flatly untrue.

My only concern was that no one, neither Zondervan Publishing nor myself, claim credit for the astounding success of “The Purpose Driven Life” (PDL) book. The worldwide spread of the purpose driven message had nothing to do with marketing or merchandizing. Instead it was the result of God’s supernatural and sovereign plan, which no one anticipated.

Both Zondervan and Purpose Driven will confirm this. None of us feel we are smart enough to figure out how to make a devotional book by a pastor sell 25,000,000 copies — especially since there’s not a single idea in PDL that hasn’t already been stated repeatedly in historic Christianity over the past 2000 years!

I usually sign books with Proverbs 19:21 (NCV): “People can make all kinds of plans, but only the Lord’s plan will happen.” Or as Proverbs 16:1 (TEV) says “We may make our plans, but God has the last word.”

In fact, my plan for a 40-chapter book, a 40 Days of Purpose program, and my request to sell the book at a discount to participating purpose driven congregations was initially rejected and denied by the Zondervan marketing team due to fears that it would dampen CBA sales. Our friends at Zondervan acknowledge that they had nothing to do with creating the format of the book, the 40 day program, or enlisting the churches involved.

After the success of the first 40 Days of Purpose, Zondervan did offer to help our church with the logistics of serving thousands of more churches. We declined that gracious offer explaining that we wanted the 40 day program to remain ministry-focused, and not appear to be a publisher’s marketing ploy for a book in any way. The leadership of Zondervan agreed wholeheartedly with us and did nothing to enlist the 30,000+ churches that have used the program so far. We built a wall between the congregations and the publisher to maintain credibility as a local church-to-church program.

My request to Harper Collins was simply that Greg’s forthcoming book not use “The Purpose Driven Life” as example of “pyromarketing,” since that would be inaccurate. The effectiveness of 40 Days of Purpose spread from one pastor to another through word-of-mouth endorsement, not through anyone’s marketing plan. That doesn’t mean “pyromarketing” doesn’t work. It just means that it didn’t create the PDL worldwide phenomena!

In all of this I’ve had two overriding concerns; first, that everyone involved would humbly admit that we could never have planned or organized a phenomena of this size. We are all just small cogs in the giant wheel of God’s purposes. “For promotion comes neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. God is the sovereign judge: he puts down one, and sets up another,” Psalm 75:6-7 (KJV). When you write a book that begins with the sentence “It’s not about you,” you want to be careful to not attribute the work of God to human methods, marketing, or plans.

My second concern is that skeptics would attribute the amazing miracle God has done to mere techniques or gimmicks. Newspapers and magazines do this all the time because they don’t understand the power of a life transformed by God’s grace so they look for naturalistic explanations such as advertising or marketing. God warns us of this tendency, “I feared that others would grab the chance to take credit for all of it, Crowing, “Look what we did! God had nothing to do with this.” Deut. 32:27 (Mes)

God will not share his glory with others. So my prayer is that all us involved will say, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory,” Psalm 115:1 (NIV).

Rick Warren

August 16, 2005

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Malcolm Gladwell, columnist for The New Yorker published an article about Warren in last week’s issue of the magazine. While I have been able to find only excerpts of the article, from what I have read it makes many of the same points as Stielstra makes in PyroMarketing.

The accounts I have read seem to show Warren at his most typical, acting as humble as he knows how, all the while dropping as many big names he can muster. “‘I had dinner with Jack Welch last Sunday night,’ he said. ‘He came to church, and we had dinner. I’ve been kind of mentoring him on his spiritual journey. And he said to me, ‘Rick, you are the biggest thinker I have ever met in my life. The only other person I know who thinks globally like you is Rupert Murdoch.’ And I said, ‘That’s interesting. I’m Rupert’s pastor! Rupert published my book!'” (see here). The article states as well that prior to its publication Warren predicted the book would sell one hundred million copies.

Flatly Untrue?

In his letter to Christian Retailing, Rick Warren flatly denies that he opposed the publication of PyroMarketing. “‘Publisher’s Weekly’ mistakenly reported that I oppose the publication of a book by Greg Stielstra. That is flatly untrue,” he said. Yet he goes on to say, “My request to Harper Collins was simply that Greg’s forthcoming book not use “The Purpose Driven Life” as example of “pyromarketing,” since that would be inaccurate.” It seems to me that Warren says, “I did not oppose the publication of the book. But the reason I opposed the publication of the book was…” Little wonder that people are beginning to accuse Warren of Clintonesque speech.

It is clear that Warren opposed the publication of the book because it contained material he felt was going to prejudice people against The Purpose Driven Life. His motives may have been pure. He may have genuinely desired that all the glory go to God. But no matter the motives, it is beyond dispute that he and the people within his organization opposed the publication of PyroMarketing.

It is painfully obvious that the success of The Purpose Driven Life did come, at least in part, because of marketing. This is beyond dispute. It is documented fact. While word-of-mouth marketing may have been the key to the book’s success, this word-of-mouth advertising was carefully manufactured by the marketing minds at Zondervan and Purpose Driven. Viral marketing is still marketing! “The effectiveness of 40 Days of Purpose spread from one pastor to another through word-of-mouth endorsement, not through anyone’s marketing plan.” That is untrue. The effectiveness of 40 Days of Purpose spread from one pastor to another because of a word-of-mouth marketing campaign engineered by Purpose Driven.

God Will Not Share His Glory

I find it strange that Warren refuses to admit that marketing played a key role in the success of The Purpose Driven Life. I do not see that this is anything to be ashamed of. As a Christian I see nothing inherently wrong with marketing. It can be an honorable pursuit, like most other pursuits, provided that it is done to God’s glory and in a way that brings honor to Him. Anyone who has been part of a church plant knows that God blesses advertising or marketing ventures, whether that be door-to-door visits or advertising in a local newspaper. We give our best to God, that He might be glorified through what we do.

Warren is correct when he says that God will not share his glory with others. But the presence of marketing does not negate the ability to give God the glory. We give God the glory when He blesses our efforts, whether or not they include advertising.


Here are a few of the sites that linked to the story in the past few days.