“Be willing to let people leave the church. And I told you earlier the fact that people are gonna leave the church no matter what you do. But when you define the vision, you’re choosing who leaves. You say, “But Rick, yes, they’re the pillars of the church.” Now, you know what pillars are. Pillars are people who hold things up … And in your church, you may have to have some blessed subtractions before you have any real additions” – The Purpose Driven Church
This quote by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the bestselling books ‘The Purpose Driven Church’ and ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ exemplifies why I left the only church I have attended in the eleven years since embracing Christ as my Savior. I count myself as one of these ‘blessed subtractions’ for the simple reason that I don’t share Warren’s vision for the postmodern church. Unfortunately, I appear to be in the minority, as thousands of churches nationwide have adopted the principles he espouses in his books, which many have exalted to near canonical status in laying ecclesiological foundations.
The church I attended has been involved in what is frequently termed ‘the Church Growth Movement’ (henceforth referred to as CGM) for several years. However, I have been blind to it and the devastating effect it has had on us spiritually. At least until late 2005, when God lifted the blinders from my eyes.
My old church has a history of chasing the latest spiritual fads of the last decade including ‘Promise Keepers‘, ‘Prayer of Jabez‘, John Maxwell leadership training and of course Warren’s ‘The Purpose Driven Life’. Fads fade in due time, but the CGM train is only gaining steam. This qualifies it as more than just a fad. CGM has become a full-blown movement in world-wide Christendom. Rick Warren is this movement’s CEO. Oh, there are other prominent names such as Bill Hybels of Willow Creek fame, but because of Warren’s phenomenal success with ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ selling more than 30 million copies world-wide, he is the undisputed Prince of Purpose, riding the CGM beast.
CGM gurus have a distinct vision of the church and how it should operate. The church is likened to a ‘corporation’ with the Pastor as ‘CEO’, Christ as the ‘product’, the congregation as the ‘consumer’ and the fruit of a Christian life as the ‘marketing gimmick’. The better the product is marketed through various worship styles, entertainment venues from the pulpit, life-affirming feel-good messages, and a strong emphasis on product benefits, the more customers the corporation will bring in. It doesn’t matter if the customer has bought the product being hawked. As long as he has been lured into the store, he gets free samples of a life with purpose and is made to feel as if he belongs just as much as those who have already made the ‘purchase’.
In other words, the gurus of growth are focused on people they generally refer to as ‘seekers’. That is, people who are apparently seeking out God but have not yet made that life-changing commitment to Christ. Nevermind that the scriptures clearly refute the idea of seekers apart from regeneration. The Apostle Paul said:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. Romans 3:11
But I digress.
Building upon the CGM’s devotion to marketing strategies, Rick Warren and company believe that the ‘felt needs’ of the unchurched (unregenerate) sets the agenda for the church. He encourages pastors to send out surveys to find what people are looking for in a church and cater to those needs.
Feed the flesh, stimulate the lust of the eyes and stroke the pride of life. The following list of enticements help man-pleasers lure people into the seats.
- The smell and taste of fresh donuts and specialty coffee perk up droopy countenances as families stagger into the church cafe first thing on a bright Sunday morning.
- Once in the seats, the senses are bombarded in order to keep the consumer’s attention. Worldly music is cranked up to jet engine level decibels tickling the ears of its hearers. The music itself is varied according to the surveyed demographics of the crowd. The crowd’s tastes define how God is worshiped. The lighting is purposely set to influence mood, The video screen dazzles you with crisp graphics aimed to amuse and inform.
- The feel of comfortable movie theater seating replete with convenient cupholders fill the ‘auditorium’ that also includes a high tech ‘stage’ built to accommodate everything from upscale drama presentations to pyrotechnic-laden rock concerts.
- The messages gear towards the ‘felt needs’ of the crowd touching on such important biblical topics as improving finances, principles of success, and building relationships. The biblical doctrines of sin, repentance, the atonement, faith in Christ, judgment and wrath are either downplayed or eliminated altogether in favor of feel good messages targeted at sensitive ‘seekers’ in order to make them comfortable and more apt to ‘make a decision for Christ’ somewhere down the line.
- The invitation to salvation is quick and easy, sort of like the drive-thru at McDonald’s. In the best circumstances, the Pastor leads the congregation in a repentance free, Gospel-lite sinner’s prayer. The pastor will even guarantee your salvation if you ‘meant it in your heart’.
Once your in the club you get to experience all the bountiful benefits of membership.
- Acquire health, wealth and prosperity.
- Receive a free pass through the pearly gates.
- Discover a life with purpose.
- Obtain insights into the marriage bed
- Get keen financial advice from – the Pastor?
- Learn corporate leadership principles to manipulate the sheep.
- Become savy in marketing techniques to reel in the suck- err, the seekers.
- Indulge guilt free living.
- Absorb life-affirming, ear-tickling messages that motivate towards a happy, successful life.
- Gain free admission to all ‘evangelistic’ entertainment extravaganzas.
- Whatever else the vain imaginings of the carnal mind can conjure.
If your church suffers from even just a few of the above mentioned maladies it may be time to flee for the mountains. The Church Growth cancer may have achieved malignant status, and only the power of God can halt its advance. Don’t take this movement lightly, for it is subtle and deceptive. It has ensnared many a pastor and congregation alike, just as the fruit of the tree appealed to Eve in the garden. If you recognize its fruit, then I believe God has specific instructions on what action to take.
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” 2 Cor. 6:17