"It's not about you." Those are the first four words in a book you may have heard about—The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. While that sentence alone is a much needed tonic for a culture that's become increasingly me-centered, it also has come to describe the ministry vision of Warren himself.
He readily admits he's had to change his assumptions about doing mission in the world. He no longer promotes his "church in a box" concept. He's learning from his mistakes, because mission is not about him, or even his ideas.
The future of the church, he now suggests, lies in its latent power as a global network. And he's not afraid to lift up that network, even if it means directing influence away from himself. During a recent meeting with 250 international church leaders, Warren told them, "you must increase, and we must decrease, because networks are poly centric."
"We don't want to be the Vatican," Warren insisted. "I couldn't care less if anybody uses the term purpose driven. All I care about is shooting the DNA of the five purposes into the body of Christ so that every cell, every church, and every life is doing Worship, fellowship, discipling, ministering, and evangelizing."
Christian Vision Project editorial director Andy Crouch met with Warren at the triennial Urbana missions conference to talk about these and other changes affecting the global church.
What do we need to learn in order to participate in what God is doing in the world?
First is humility. The focus of world Christianity going forward is not going to be centered in North America. The centers of power are going to be Africa, South America, and Asia—not North America and definitely not Europe.
So how can we learn that humility, do you think? It's not something that comes naturally to most Americans.
The American church as a whole needs to move from selfish consumerism to unselfish contribution. Those are poles apart. To start with a woman who's most interested in how many diamonds she's got in her tennis bracelet, and move her to sit under a banyan tree holding an AIDS baby—that's a giant leap. People in this culture are trained to think about me, me, me; I've got to do what's best for me.
Even when we go to church, we have this consumer mentality. We say things like, "I didn't get anything out of the service today." Well, sorry. It wasn't for you; it was for God.
So in order for us to learn humility, we've got to unlearn our basic consumer mindset.
What's to unlearn about the task itself?
We need to reinvent the way we do missions. There are about 435,000 professional missionaries in the world, and they're doing a great job. My parents were missionaries. I would never downplay the need for full-time, professional missionaries—or the work of relief and micro-financing agencies. It's great work. But it's a drop in the bucket. We've got to make it exponential somehow.
Specifically, three things need to change: (1) who does missions; (2) where it's done; and (3) how it's funded. And I fundamentally believe the answer for all three is for missions to go back to the local church.
What do you mean "go back"? Haven't churches been involved in sending and sponsoring missionaries and workers?
Yes and no. For the last 60 years, most of the great progress in American Christianity has been done through parachurch ministries. Every the church failed in a task, God would raise up a parachurch ministry to take it on. When the church ignored high school students, God raised up Youth for Christ and Young Life. When the church neglected college campuses, we got InterVarsity and Campus Crusade. When the church wasn't connecting with the military, along came the Navigators.