Book Review: Purpose Driven Church
In his book The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren sets out to distinguish principles that transcend time, geography, and culture. He delineates what it means to be a health church versus the perfect church which is only hypothetical possibly not a conceptual reality. Debunking myths of larger churches, he wants those who are preparing to build God’s kingdom through different means to come to the understanding of healthy, local church ministry and what that may look like. It seems that what Warren is offering is not some new semantic exercise but rather giving practical answers to questions that he and many other pastors have dealt with in the past. It is the ministry philosophy that a church today in this postmodern culture or any other culture can grow without compromising the message or wisdom. I believe that one of the greatest redeeming qualities of this book is that it is freeing for pastors to hear that working harder does not necessarily translate into growth. Today this workaholic mentality is pervasive in the church. Often the results are pastors who have a broken or unhealthy family life not a strong or larger church.
Today in the church we award faithfulness not innovation. I can remember countless services decided to someone who served faithfully for years. While this is an important facet to church growth and Christian life, one wonders where are those who are awarded for innovation. To be a successful, healthy church Warren shows that one must know the needs of your people, essentially the demographic of the area of people, and have ever changing and innovative ways to meet these needs. Warren purports that faithfulness is not continuing to do things that are ineffective, including communicating in an outdated style, faithfulness means accomplishing as much as possible with the talents and resources that are God-given. Quintessentially, faithfulness is also equated to fruitfulness.
Warren’s methodology proves very useful because it is not persona driven; it is more a systematic programming which is inclusive in its approach. This raises the philosophical question of continuation. While this methodology will work well for the boomer generation it is now seeing its limitations. Churches like Saddleback and Willowcreek have the corner market on reaching their target group: Saddleback Sam. This group of people is the well educated, skeptical of religion, and usually has a higher economic status. One wonders how the purpose driven church of the future will look like. However what is great is that principles that Warren has set forth are translated into being purpose driven for targeting any new type of God-seeker.
Here is what I think the future church will need to do in order to continue being purpose driven: Postmodern churches will need to be specific in their outreach because of the distinctions that the each group will associate with. These concept churches are already becoming very popular. The Pentecostal church emphasizes experience, but this is limited to many traditions and past movements’ thoughts on how God moves as well as how we are experience him. This may hinder the growth of the postmodern Pentecostal church. The new church will require a fresh move of God’s spirit with different emphasis or we will continue to lag behind in this area. Pentecostals have excelled in reaching post-moderns with our musical experiences. We have led the way in offering the vehicle of music to touch God. However, all too often this is the only part of a church service that is experiential. While the modern church has remained typically audience based; primarily, visually simulated in the church service. The postmodern experience will need to integrate other senses in their “church services.” One sense that will be a vital component to this future “service” will be the strongest sense, the sense of touch. Sociologists have explained that the modern mindset that followed the Enlightenment era was focused on avoiding contact and thus the average American stands quite the distance from those they interact with. Some would say that phenomenon this has contributed illicit sexual behavior that many have tended to suddenly get involved in. It has been documented for example that babies will die if they are not being touched often. Many today have a malnourished sense of touch; the business world uses this to its advantage. Advertisements are linked to love, sex, touch, and experience. Most of these advertisements have nothing to do with the illogical connection they draw with the sense. For example, Chrysler uses the “love equals drive” motto at the end of every commercial about his or her cars as if an inanimate object can help fill the void of love in someone’s life. Yet people remember it because it links the experience of driving the car with the nostalgia of some impure love. The fact of the matter is that modernism has left the world with many people who have never bonded and these are people seeking assurance, affection, and the experience of love.
Therefore the church cannot go about telling people the gospel of love and acceptance, without living the gospel of love and acceptance and living in front of those who are craving the real transforming power of God’s love and forgiveness. Since the postmodern’s mind is full of information that they find hard to validate and quantify it seems obtuse to tell them what they need to do to join the community of believers rather we need to show them what real community looks like. These communities will become some sort of mutation of the current “cell” or small groups structures. They will probably become more intimate possibly even living together as a small community of Christian families.
Warren delineates on this process when he discusses “Bring in the Crowd.” Warren illustrates that Jesus began with people’s needs, hurts, and interests. While this is a seemingly obvious and redundant answer that many scholars in the area of evangelism have restated on many occasions, Warren brings a little different perspective. He makes clear what a postmodern or simply an unbeliever is looking for not simply truth but rather relief. Warren explains that seeker services are designed to meet those unbelievers desire to have relief from every day life. Church services are going to be somewhat like relief centers where unbelievers feel like they can open up. When believers do this then the gospel can be shared. Ultimately, Warren has been able to help many pastors affectively minister on different levels and the Kingdom of God is growing because of the ministry of this book.
 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan: 1995, 65.