Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Purpose-Driven Church – Rick Warren

Here’s the book that started it all, at least for leaders and congregations in my denomination. Others had approached the topic of building congregations with a reasonable outcome in mind, moving away from the tradition-driven model, and moving into an era where all the church members see themselves as viable parts of Christ’s Kingdom work, but Warren, the lead pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California, drew a blueprint that struck at the heart of church-goers all over the nation.

I must admit that I first read the book with a critical, if not skeptical, eye. I had misgivings about anything that seemed to explode into a movement overnight. But the more I heard about what was going on in the movement, the more curious I was about the book that reported it. So I picked up a copy and found an adaptation of the author’s doctoral background study, filled with practical examples from the real-time laboratory that is Saddleback Church. I discovered principles for growth that are grounded in biblical teaching and everyday use. I found language and illustrations that would speak not only to vocational ministers, but also to grassroots, volunteer ministers that line the pews of my church.

I must admit that I still am not ready to accept the premise under which Warren decided to build the church, while at the same time I can’t argue with the success he’s encountered. My beef is the questionnaire used in the initial polling of the community where Saddleback was to be planted. The object was to seek out non-believers and the unchurched, ask them what would be the ideal church for them, and then pattern the new church on the results. I continue to have difficulty with going to those who are not church to determine what church ought to be. Perhaps the greater issue, though is that church members of long-standing don’t really know what church should look like either, because we’ve attached our traditions and trappings to the original in such a manner as to hide what real church really is.

Having said that, can I use the principles marked out in the book? Of course. Should I try to develop a target and implement activity directed toward that target? Without doubt. Is this a resource that will gather dust on my shelves? I pray not. Do I recommend this book? Most definitely; for pastors, teachers, leaders, and church members everywhere. This is the kind of book that will challenge you to be more than you can be. With Rick Warren, I caution the reader, “Don’t try to duplicate, or even imitate what has happened at Saddleback. Apply the principles and see what kind of church God wants to grow in your garden spot.”

—Benjamin Potter, March 28, 2007

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