Are you familiar with the tale of the pied piper?
The story goes that a small German village called Hamelin suffered from a terrible rat infestation. A man calling himself a rat catcher boasted he could rid the town of every single rodent. The villagers promised the man, (known around those parts as the pied piper) a great sum of money for accomplishing this task. He played his flute, mesmerizing the entire colony, leading them to the nearest river, and drowning them all in the rushing waters. However the villagers weren’t as thankful as they ought to have been. Like many of us would do in the midst of a desperate situation, they made a wild promise they could not possibly hope to keep in order to rid the town of its plague. But once they were relieved of their burden they had no intentions of paying the man his due.
After all, the problem wasn’t all that bad in the first place, right? It’s similar to how quickly a sailor’s fear of drowning fades after the storm subsides. The pied piper did not take the villagers’ snub very well, so he plotted revenge. One day, while the adults were all gathered together for church service, he came into town and spellbound all the children with his soulful tunes. He led them away to a dark cave. All of the children entered without hesitation, but none of them ever walked back out.
Without attempting to draw parallels on every point of the fable, let me just say the pied piper of purpose comes into our churches promising to rid God’s house of the vermin that plagues it; such as preaching the gospel, speaking on God’s holiness, his wrath, judgment and of the eternal miseries of hell. Dry, boring services full of musty old hymns and verse-by-verse expository preaching are a disease keeping the church and the community from growing healthy, wealthy and wise. He leads these undesirables to the river and rids the church of all its hindrances to success. The pied piper of purpose has seduced our leadership with his melodiously alluring notes of success, fame and fortune. The music may be sweet to the ears, but as in the fable, the piper is happily leading the children of God down into a dark abyss. We, the mature in Christ, cannot simply warm our pews in blissful ignorance while the children are lead astray. That is part of the reason I am journaling my experiences. I feel compelled to help bring discernment and conviction to some of the thousands, perhaps millions of befuddled Christians throughout the country that have helplessly watched their churches metamorphosize from gospel preaching houses into corporate franchise outlets of self-worship.
I thought I walked alone in my resistance to the sweet melody of Purpose Driven drivel. As I walked out those doors for the final time I had no idea that I was treading down a well-worn trail. I soon discovered many others had left the church – for very similar reasons to my own. In fact, some had left months and even years before I had.
I was stunned. Just how long had pastor been pulling the wool over our eyes?
It hit me that this transformation process may have been happening ever since he arrived at the church in the early ’90s. I recalled, with new perspective, him telling us how he came in and ripped the hymn books from the pews and established a contemporary worship service from the start. Upon reflection, I realized his sermons have always been based on the scriptures but were not often truly about the scriptures. They served as a foundation for him to preach messages about a great variety of things – some biblical, some not. This trend became much more apparent as time went by. When I started comparing his messages to other respected bible teachers, I discovered how different the content was. I initially chalked it up to the difference between teaching and preaching and let it be. I had always thought preaching was simply life application of biblical principles. All this is solid evidence that the church growth movement has influenced his ministerial philosophies for many years. Enough people have departed that the resistance is now recognized as a church split. And according to some who remain, ‘good riddance!’ – That’s a quote from a long-standing member.
I made mistakes in the process of departing that I regret. I should have confronted pastor with my concerns but I remained silent during the times of revelation and anguish. As I prepared to leave, I heard from a few members that every attempt to discuss the issue with him ended badly. He intimidates people with his extensive knowledge and ability to articulate. He has an ironclad counterpoint for every argument. I was told to not go alone to argue with him because he would chew me up and spit me out. Well, I wanted no part of that! So I just let it be. None of my poor words would deter him from his path. Of course, this demonstrates a total lack of faith in the absolute truth of my convictions and in the power of the word to cast down vain imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. I allowed myself to be intimidated, doubtful that I could convey my arguments articulately enough to do them justice. I flat chickened out. I can’t deny that.
The Lord in his graciousness gave me opportunity to make up for my failure. Several weeks after my last service, I received a phone call one evening at home. My heart just about stopped when I saw pastor’s name on the caller ID. I almost couldn’t muster enough nerve to push the ‘talk’ button – but I did. I was completely unprepared for a confrontation. Many others who had left the church, even members who had been there longer than me had never been contacted by any of the leadership, asking why they had scattered.
‘Why me?’ I muttered under my breath as I answered. I don’t recall the entire conversation, but he started out by bluntly asking me why we had left. To be totally honest, I lost my nerve for a couple of minutes. I stuttered and stammered, hemmed and hawed, muttered and murmured and altogether cast my dignity to the wind. I could not get out what I wanted to say! He found my antics amusing, chuckling at my ineptitude.
Finally, By God’s grace, I drew a deep breath and hit him with all the ammo I had in my arsenal. We exchanged blows for about 20 minutes. He justified his methodologies with vigor and sound (human) wisdom. I responded with scripture and threw in a few on-target Spurgeon quotes for good measure. The debate was even-handed, tempers never flared, insults were not traded. It was a surprisingly amicable conversation. In the end, I stood by my convictions with passion and resolve. Pastor gave up the fight to win me back and prayed a blessing over my family and let us go. I must say I appreciated that, it was unexpected, but welcome.
In the months since that phone call, several more pillars of the church have voluntarily removed themselves from the congregation, including, most recently, one of the deacons. The deacon preceded the pastor in office, and his wife’s father was actually a founding member of the church. The sacrifice they made to stand up against these heresies I can’t possibly fathom, but they counted the cost and decided forsaking Christ and his word was not worth the price. I commend them for that. They have my upmost respect and admiration. God bless them!
As for us, we have settled into a baptist church – one that has escaped the grasping tendrils of Warren’s influence. Although, interestingly, when first inquiring into the church, I asked if they had studied ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’. One of the church members said that they had. My heart sank and I mentally crossed them off my list. However, this same member went on to say they had rejected part of the material while applying some of the more practical teachings. That encouraged me a little, but in my mind there were several strikes already against them. First, they had subjected themselves to PD teaching without thoroughly rejecting it. Secondly, they were a large church that I had pretty much prejudged to have a ‘mega-church mentality’. With over 1,000 attending weekly in a town of only 14,000-15,000 people, I was completely convinced they must be a seeker-sensitive type church.
However, despite my misgivings I felt compelled to attend a service. See, every time I went to the Lord in prayer for direction, this particular baptist congregation always came to mind first. I attempted to ignore the promptings for awhile, but they persisted. When I decided to go on my whirlwind church tour, I visited there first. Of course, they had a guest speaker that week (a common occurrence for me in the church tryout process). I moved on to a couple of other churches, then finally I came back to the ‘mega-baptist’ assembly. The preacher impressed me immediately. He’s an older man of about 50 and his messages are all centered on the cross of Christ. I looked hard for signs of PD influence and found some minor things, such as small group structures, spiffy Powerpoint presentations and some contemporary music mixed in with the cherished hymns. No big deal, all things considered. The important issue is, the gospel has not been compromised.
I was startled at the large number of older people in the congregation, a demographic largely scorned and alienated by the Church-Growth Movement. As I listened closely to the pastor’s messages I heard no pitiful appeals to the flesh to keep seekers interested, nor did I find any easy-believism type altar calls. Oh, he has altar calls, but he doesn’t lead a sinner’s prayer or try and use any kind of emotional or psychological manipulation to bring people down the aisles. In fact, he sounded suspiciously like a Calvinist. I heard clues that led me to think he believed in the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation, but somehow doubted a preacher of an SBC church could possibly be a Calvinist. He came to visit me at work one afternoon and I made it a point to bluntly ask him. To my amazement he is indeed a five-point Calvinist – and the youth minister too!
I am beside myself with joy. God has given me favor with this man of God and we have a really good relationship. We have much in common and I feel at ease talking with him about anything and everything. God has been very kind to us. We have found a good church home where the undiluted gospel is proclaimed week in and week out.
For those out there who are struggling against the Purpose-Driven/Church Growth transformation in your own church, please learn a lesson from my story. Don’t be afraid to boldly stand for convictions founded upon the sure word of God. It will cost you, that I can guarantee. Yet, the rewards for well-doing will be great for those who do not grow weary. God is faithful to His own. Psalm 1 states,
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”