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Eleven (Plus 2) Characteristics of Purpose Driven Churches

This week’s Minstry Toolbox, a weekly publication written by Rick Warren (and/or his staff) is entitled “11 characteristics of a PD church.” I thought this would be an interesting document to examine. You can read each of the characteristics below. Each one is followed by a few words of commentary. I will speak of the “traditional” church as the opposite to Purpose Driven churches.

1. They have a purpose statement that describes (in their own words) their commitment to building the church around the five New Testament purposes: worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry.

I had never seen a purpose statement before I came to understand Purpose Driven principles. I think having a statement of purpose can be a good thing for a church. I do not advocate having this statement drive the church, nor do I believe it is something that the church should hold up as the standard for making decisions. However, having a clearly defined purpose is helpful in reminding church members what the purpose of the church is and what their responsibility is towards that purpose.

2. They use a purpose driven strategy to fulfill their purpose statement. While using a variety of terms, a purpose driven strategy brings people to Christ and into membership in his family, builds them up to maturity, equips them for ministry in the church, and then sends them out on a life mission in the world in order to bring glory to God. The PDC strategy is based on two vital assumptions: (1) People grow best when you allow them to make gradual commitments. (2) You must ask for commitment in specific ways, such as using covenants.

I would like to think that a purpose driven strategy is unnecessary when a church is guided by the Holy Spirit, through the living Word of God. The strategy for reaching the community and building up the body of believers is laid out within Scripture. Our strategy should be to ensure that we are people of the Word. People certainly do not need to constantly agree to covenants in order to be faithful to God.

3. They organize around a purpose driven structure, which insures balance and gives equal emphasis to all five New Testament purposes. PDCs are team-based, rather than hierarchical in structure. They organize around purpose-based teams (at least five — one for each purpose) composed of lay leaders and staff, with each team responsible for a specific purpose and target group (such as the community, the crowd, the congregation, the committed, and the core).

This is one of the primary shortcomings of the Purpose Driven model. The model gives too much leadership to the laypeople. While it is easy to make laypeople excited for a period of time, and while it is wonderful to have them involved in ministry, the primary ministry of the church belongs to the pastors and elders – those whom God has specially called and gifted for that purpose. Removing church hierarchy is not only dangerous, but is also unbiblical.

4. They program by purpose. They have at least one program for fulfilling each of the five purposes and each of the corresponding constituencies. They evangelize the community, gather the crowd for worship, fellowship in the congregation, disciple the committed, and equip the core for ministry and mission.

The underlying premise of this statement, and several that follow, is that churches which are not Purpose Driven do not have purpose. In this case, the assumption is that they do not program on purpose. Instead they allow the programs to drive them. This is a false assumption. The churches may not deliberately organize programs around each of the five purposes, but almost every church (and every church I have been part of) worships, evangelizes, fellowships, disciples and equips. There may not be a complete balance in this, but neither does the Bible dictate that there must be.

5. They staff by purpose. Every purpose has its own champion. PDCs begin by finding volunteers to lead and serve on each purpose-based team, and they develop full-time, paid positions as needed.

Most churches staff by need, not purpose. However, I do not see how this differs from staffing on purpose. When a need or opportunity arises, a church makes appropriate decisions about adding staff members.

6. The pastor preaches by purpose. Messages and series are planned to insure that the congregation receives a balanced emphasis on each of the purposes.

A great concern of those who do not agree with Purpose Driven philosophies is the lack of solid, biblical exposition. In fact, it seems almost impossible to reconcile the Purpose Driven philosophy with expository preaching. Furthermore, traditional pastors do preach on purpose, even if they do not preach by purpose. Traditionally pastors have preached to equip their congregation and convict unbelievers, believing in the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts. One does not need to preach series geared towards meeting felt needs in order to be effective in the pulpit. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

7. They form small groups on purpose. The purpose driven DNA is implanted in every cell of the Body of Christ. Each small group helps the members fulfill each of the five purposes in their lives. The goal is to help every believer live a purpose driven life.

Small groups have spread to almost every type of church. While small groups, in and of themselves are not a bad thing, they can become problematic when too much of what constitutes the church’s responsibility happens within these groups, away from proper structures of authority and accountability. It is wonderful to meet with a small group, where the Word can be studied, prayers can be said, and people can be honest and transparent. But it can be damaging when too much of the church happens away from the larger body.

8. They calendar by purpose. The purposes are the determining factor in deciding what events are scheduled. Every event must fulfill at least one of the five purposes or it isn’t approved.

I don’t know of any church that holds events just for the sake of holding them. Every event is done towards some purpose.

9. They budget by purpose. Every expenditure is categorized by the purpose to which it relates.

That must make for difficult accounting. But again, most traditional churches do not budget according to whim and fancy. Instead they budget responsibly according to need and income.

10. They build by purpose. Buildings are seen as ministry tools, not monuments. They must serve the purposes and never become more important than the purposes.

I think this is a fantastic point and one many churches would do well to heed. Buildings are to be used, not honored. Buildings ought not to be the primary goal of a local church.

11. They evaluate by purpose. They regularly ask: Are we balancing all five purposes? Is there a better way to fulfill each purpose?

I agree with the value and importance of evaluating programs. Too many churches have programs that are in existence simply because they always have been. At the same time, many Purpose Driven churches have programs in place just because the other church does. We should evaluate by Scripture, not by purpose. And as I mentioned earlier, I do not see Scripture placing equal emphasis on the five purposes Warren outlines. He would do well to show in Scripture where balance is demanded.

Having examined Warren’s eleven marks of a Purpose Driven church I would like to suggest a couple more:

12. They value youth over age. Purpose Driven churches are generally built around thirty-somethings or younger. They ultimately want to target the youth, but need the professionals to pay for programs, staffing and buildings. The elderly are hardly a consideration.

13. They are driven by pragmatism. The pragmatism may be in full evidence or it may be just below the surface, but it is there. “Does it work?” is a more important consideration than “Is it in the Bible?” Notice that none of the first eleven marks had to do with faithfulness to Scripture.

I will stop there. If you have been wondering about the distinctives of Purpose Driven churches, Warren’s list will help. As has been shown time and again, there is a mix of good and bad, but the underlying assumptions are troubling. There is an emphasis on unbelievers over believers, youth over age, and purpose over Scripture, pragmatism over the Spirit’s leading.


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