The writing was on the Banner. I just didn’t immediately notice it.
I pulled into the church parking lot one bright Sunday morning, going through my normal routine. I delivered my kids to their various classes and sat down in our gym-turned-auditorium. Service began as usual, with our pop-star praise and worship leader grooving and crooning to the beat. I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes and attempted to worship God despite the distractions. When our pastor stepped up to the pulpit he declared, “Welcome to XXXX XXXXXXXXXX Church.”
Excuse me? What did he just say? I looked around, first to assure myself I had not taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque. Yep, it was the right place. Next, I gauged the reaction of the congregation. However, nobody blinked an eye at his calling the church by a different name.
‘Miss one week of church and see what happens’, I thought bemusedly. I suddenly recalled an odd dialog exchange I had with a friend earlier that week. He had asked me when our church had changed its name. I looked at him funny and replied “What are you talking about? You must have our church confused with someone else’s.”
Ooops. I felt a little sheepish. Even outsiders were more aware of church goings-on than I was.
I didn’t pay close attention to the message pastor preached that day, I mused over the possible reasons behind the change. Why would he do it? Our church has unashamedly been an Assembly of God congregation for nearly 50 years. What purpose does changing the name serve? I was itching for the service to end and when we were finally dismissed I rushed over to a friend seated at the back, demanding answers.
He informed me that the name change issue was brought up at the monthly meeting for members and deacons, where various issues are discussed and voted on. Out of the blue, pastor brought up changing the church’s name to XXXX XXXXXXXXXX and immediately asked for a vote – with hardly any discussion. Taking advantage of the chaos & confusion of the moment, pastor managed to pass the motion. Only four dissenters spoke up and said ‘whoa! wait a minute. Let’s talk about this.’
The very next day a banner with the church’s new name was draped over our old sign. The so-called vote was a foregone conclusion. Pastor was not going to be deterred, so he implemented a corporate bullying tactic in order to strong-arm his will and sidestep opposition. I wish I had been there, but alas, I was neither a deacon nor a member and I would not have had a voice in the matter anyway.
I asked my friend, “So, did he give any reason for the name change?”
He shrugged, “Pastor said it would bring in more people.”
I slumped in my seat. Reality hit me square in the chest and took my breath away. Our church had been utterly seduced by the lure of the Church Growth/PDL movement. I could no longer deny that we were now a franchise outlet. The era of sound biblical teaching and reverence to our Lord and Creator had officially come to an end. The sheep were hungry and now I knew they would starve. The goats’ ears were itching and they would soon be tickled. Soon the sanctuary would be overrun by them.
As these realities sank in, I recalled some of what the pastor preached on that day. He compared ‘natural born citizens (longtime churchgoers) to immigrants (people new to the church). He effectively scolded the citizens as cold, institutionalized do-nothings who had lost their zeal for service, while he fawned over the immigrants, who would infuse new life into the congregation.
The old guard is being pushed out, the new guard is being ushered in. I knew my time here had just about come to an end. I began planning my family’s exodus from Babylon even before I had left the parking lot. As I passed by the sign on the way out I noticed for the first time the banner draped over it. It was a fitting metaphor. The veil of darkness had fallen completely over the church and its end as an assembly of God’s people was nigh at hand.
I told my wife as we drove off. ‘You watch, if he is following Rick Warren’s blueprint, the next things to go will be the cross and the steeple.”
Almost prophetically, several weeks later the steeple came down. I asked one of the members why it was removed. He replied, “There was a leak underneath it so they just got rid of it.”
Hmm, well maybe I jumped the gun a bit… then he added, “And also it looked a little retro”.
Ahhh, the truth surfaced. I understood those weren’t really his words, they were the reasonings of the newest purpose-driven pastor in town. That same day, I noticed a scaffold suspiciously placed right under the cross which hangs on the front of the building. I just knew it was coming down – but it never did. I don’t know if it was too difficult an endeavor or if the scaffold was only placed there there for storage, but the cross remains up to this very day, which, frankly, surprises me.
So why did the name change upset me so much? Let us count the ways:
1. The name change signified that our pastor was stealing plays directly from the Purpose-Driven playbook. Rick Warren and his fellow church-growth gurus advocate creating a seeker-sensitive environment in the church by eliminating religious symbols such as crosses, steeples, paintings and the like as to not offend the ‘unchurched’. They believe changing the church name to veil denominational affiliations will also aid in luring in coveted seekers.
2. As a result, I believe if a church is willing to cover up their denominational heritage for the sake of numerical growth they will also sacrifice their doctrinal distinctives for the same reasons.
3. Once church doctrine is sidelined, life enhancement and self-help messages will rush in to fill the void. After all, the preachers need to talk about something, don’t they? Unchurched people love to hear about themselves, so, by golly give them what they want. Unchurched people love to be entertained. Let the bread and circuses commence! Come watch the spectacle!
4. The gospel message is sacrificed at the altar of relevance. When man-pleasers work so hard to create an environment friendly to the unchurched, it logically follows that they will not preach any hard messages that may make them squirm in their seats. The gospel is a hard message. it offends, creates controversy and stirs malice in unregenerate hearts. Therefore, it is off-limits for a seeker-sensitive pastor to speak to the conscience of man concerning his guilt before a just and righteous God. It would be unthinkable to inform the unchurched that in their current state, they are condemned to an eternity of misery and suffering in a place called hell. A substitute gospel is thus championed. Jesus Christ is not presented as the atonement for our sins nor the propitiation of God’s wrath but as the great life-enhancer. He is our buddy who helps us make it through the tough times. He is the genie who grants us all our deepest desires -if we’ll just believe upon him. True repentance is circumvented and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins is obscured. Charles Spurgeon once said,
Sometimes we are inclined to think that a very great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father’s house, and never making him say, “Father, I have sinned.”
Marketing another gospel is the greatest offense of all. Woe unto them who preach a false message of hope that sends multitudes of happy seekers blindly down the broad road of destruction.
In good conscience I could no longer support our church’s ministry. I started thinking about what church I would move our family to, but none readily came to mind. Nearly every one I inquired about had been involved with PDL in one form or another. I couldn’t envision us jumping from one PDL train-wreck to another. So, I stayed a little while longer… and I must say I’m glad I did, for I made some more startling discoveries.
Read Part 4 HERE
Thank you for sharing what you have gone through. I truly thought I was the only one until one day I decided to enter “seeker sensitive” on Google and found so many wonderful sites that have confirmed so many of the things I have been feeling. Looking back at the five years I have attended this church, I can see times when I felt somethng was “off.” There was baptism in a hot tub, communion that was always joyful with no time for examing ourselves or no instruction from the pastor to do so, songs by secular singers every week, including Eric Clapton, Led Zepplin (Stairway to Heaven!), etc. For a long time, I thought church was just fun, light, and yay, no guilt! That worked for me for a while. But just last year we bulit one of those shiny new buildings. You know the kind; a huge auditorium complete with movie-theater seats and cup holders, gourmet coffee served in the lobby, and not a cross or anything like that to be found. The sound system was over the top. The pastor said he wanted the audience to “feel” the bass, and boy, can you feel the bass. It’s pretty bad when your pastor’s daughter gets married in the lobby of the church because the auditorium looks too much like a rock concert hall.
Anyway, those things bothered me, but God just recently opened my eyes. Where is the talk of sin and repentence? One day last fall the pastor mentioned the forbidden word, hell, and he said he hated to bring it up, but that hell was real. It was then that I began to see what hadn’t been being said in church, thus, my internet search. I had never ever known anything about the Purpose Driven Church or it’s model before. I had read the PDL, of course, since my church did the whole 40 days thing, but I could not believe that my church was part of a model created by Rick Warren or Bill Hybels. I also found sermons that my pastor had purchased from Willow Creek. It was like a lightbulb finally went off in my head.
I am still at that church, for now, but I grow more and more disgusted every week. I keep trying to find sound reasons to stay, because the search for a new church has been pretty bad so far and I detest change, but I am only finding more reasons to leave. Nobody that I talk to about it understands what I am feeling. They look at me like I’m nuts. I suppose before my eyes were opened, I would not have listened to this stuff either.
Anyway, it’s so great to read your experiences, and Ilook forward to the next chapter. It gives me strength to know I am on the right path. 🙂
I fully understand those lonely feelings. But when I left, I discovered a great number of people had left for the same reasons. While we were still in the church we kept our thoughts to ourselves because – how dare we oppose the work God is doing in our midst! People are coming in through the doors and hearing the gos.. that’s when I had to stop and consider. Just what is it they are hearing? Is it truly the gospel being proclaimed or a sugary sweet guilt-free substitute? When I focused on that aspect I grew stronger in my convictions, then all these events I chronicled only reinforced them.
I m surprised your pastor brought the subject of hell up. It’s obvious he detested it but I guess in the battle between his PDL philosophies and his conscience, the conscience prevailed. There may be hope for your church yet. Continue to pray for him and all the leadership. Pray for God to guide you in your decision to stay or go. If it becomes obvious he is not willing to repent I feel you must eventually ‘come out from among them’. But perhaps for now God desires for you to be His means for opening the eyes of those in the congregation and in the leadership to the devastating effects of PDL/CGM.
I have seen the same thing happen in my area. The funny/sad thing was that just prior to me leaving for the war (bomber pilot) in Afgan/Iraq my church hosted the 40 Days of Purpose. I did not know who Rick Warren was or what it all meant. When I got back 7 months later there was a new sanctuary (modern design) set up like a massive theater with stadium seating and bad sound. Although the people had doubled the good ones were gone. I tried to fit back in but it was no use. Luckily God was calling me to ministry at that time and I now pastor a small church in the area. When I first got there I quickly hid the unopened 40 Days of Purpose box in the pastor’s study where it remains to this day.
You had the advantage of being gone for an extended period then coming back and seeing how radical a change had occurred. Sometimes changes are implemented slowly over time so as to not rock the boat. Our church did it this way, which is why it took some time for me to identify it.
I pray God blesses your ministry and I’m sure your congregation is ample evidence that a church can survive without Rick Warren’s philosophies (despite some of his recent comments to the contrary).
QUOTE: “When I first got there I quickly hid the unopened 40 Days of Purpose box in the pastor’s study where it remains to this day.”
Whatever you do, don’t open it!!!!! You remember the story of Pandora’s box, don’t you?
I’ve found myself praying a lot lately for the sleeping church to wake up. I speak as someone who was previously sleeping (well, maybe not completely asleep … but I was severely distracted by some serious life issues for several years). Without meaning to, I sort of lost touch with and ignored many developing trends in the Church at large. One day — not that long ago — I had a definite feeling like I’d woken up from a spiritual “nap” … and while I’d been napping, the Church had changed. When I’d gone to sleep, it was still a good thing to be a Bible believing Christian who believed that Jesus was THE way, THE truth, and THE life. But when I woke up, I suddenly found myself marginalized, called a “Fundie” (and worse), and just generally feeling out of step and at odds with the whole Purpose-Driven / Emerging / Contemplative / Inclusive “movement” that had completely immersed the evangelical Church with compromise. My faith, which had previously been pretty representative of the norm in the Christian circles I traveled in, suddenly — and I mean SUDDENLY! — was considered outdated and even “dangerous.” All that to say, I’ve been praying often that others out there like myself will wake up in time to shake off the effects of sleep and prepare themselves, their families, and their church communities for what may be just around the corner.
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Interesting that you say words like “mine” and “our” when referring to “your” church but yet according to this post, you were not a member??? Hmmm.
…and your point is…