Purpose-Driven Conflict: churches split over the popular ministry model

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article discussing conflicts caused by pastors seeking to implement the popular Purpose-Driven Church model in their congregations. Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at North Park University in Chicago, and one of our favorite bloggers writes here about the WSJ article and asks some important questions about the Purpose-Driven philosophy of ministry.

The gist of the Wall Street Journal article is that some churches split or experience serious tension when pastors try to implement the Purpose-Driven Church model. The pastors who are trying to implement such changes seem to have good reasons: they want their churches to gain a clear mission and to grow, but it always comes at the cost of change for the parishioners.

The Purpose-Driven model focuses on these five elements: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. It also seeks to move people from community, to crowds, to congregation, to committed, and then to the core. Thus, it leads from knowing Christ to growing in Christ to serving Christ to sharing Christ.

Here are the questions that come to mind for me from this article about churches struggling over adapting the model, and I'm keen on hearing what you have to say.

And this "keen" comes with the bonus requests to behave yourself and to avoid calling people names.

Does the five-fold scheme of the Purpose-Driven model adequately reflect the central concerns of the New Testament's understanding of what the Church is all about? What would you do differently in coming up with five central themes?

Does the use of surveys to discern need and audience and strategy trouble you?

Is there an inherent marketing strategy in all of this, and what is wrong with "marketing" the Church? If the essence of evangelism is declaring good news and "persuasion" of its truth - both in dependence on the Spirit and in the use of everything we can muster - and if marketing is about persuasion, and if there are commonalities between all acts of persuasion, what is the distinction between Church persuasion and marketing persuasion?

Do the criticisms of the changes being made in some of these comments in the newspaper article suggest to you that some of these folks just don't want to see their church change? How do we deal with the older folks who simply don't like it that the younger Christians want changes in the churches?

September 14, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 20 comments

Mary Heathman

September 19, 2006  12:26pm

"Does the use of surveys to discern need and audience and strategy trouble you?" We have found it helpful to use surveys. It is important to get a read on what folks are thinking, how they are experiencing the programs and ministries of the church, what they might like to see different or what they want left as is. And it is our experience that people like to offer such opinions and thoughts. However, the survey data is not a substitute for prayer and relationship and community building. For example, if the data is reported in a reasonable time frame, used as a prayer guide, and to help the congregation understand how fellow congregants see the bigger picture of the ministry, then people see themselves as important in the broader scheme of things, ownership develops, vision is fed. On the other hand, if the information gathered from a survey is used improperly, or folks never see any good outcome from the survey, then the exercise damages credibility of leaders. In a nutshell; surveys are a tool; used wisely they can help build ministry; used improperly they could tear it down.

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Richard Dennis Miller

September 18, 2006  11:30am

worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism If those are in an intended order, they are in the wrong order and also confession and repentence are missing.

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Taylor Burton-Edwards

September 18, 2006  9:20am

Let me say up front that I'm not particularly an advocate for (or against) the Purpose Driven Church. I haven't read it, actually– so I have nothing to offer to analyze it. Still, a conversation about the value, validity, or importance of any given model for missional and ministry development at the local church is generally a good one to have– and it looks like it's been a good conversation here on a variety of issues. This conversation, however, appears to include a conclusion or perhaps even a premise or two that may not be warranted– namely, that the Purpose Driven Life may be splitting a good number of churches, or that large numbers of folks in congregations are resistant to the kinds of changes following that model would require. As I recall, the WSJ article covered a total of 4 congregations that had difficulty in connection with working with The Purpose Driven Church. It also did not address or seriously investigate the relational or missional dynamics of those congregations to identify with any certainty any causes or contributing factors to the difficulty these 4 congregations experienced. Was it the model itself? If so, what parts of the model were most problematic for the congregations, and why? Was it existing internal tensions in leadership? Was it overbearing leadership– whether lay or clergy? Was it stubbornness? Was it fear? If so, fear of what, exactly? Was it defensiveness? If so, what did some feel needed defending enough to respond in ways that led to conflict or splits? We don't know. The WSJ article doesn't tell us that. So really all that is learned from the article is that these 4 particular congregations had difficulties WHILE using the PDC materials. Again, I'm not trying to defend the Purpose Driven Church at all here. Many of the posts above have indicated a good number of reasons to find it more than a little assailable on some fronts. I suppose I'm just asking that we think critically before leaping to or even suggesting conclusions that may not be warranted by the actual data we have been asked to consider. Peace in Christ,

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Brother Bob

September 17, 2006  9:08pm

"That's not to say that it isn't good material. It's just that both of these churches are already so saturated with teaching without having put faith into action that it all seems to have inoculated the congregations from any conviction that they should become the hands and feet of Jesus to their communities or beyond." J.W., I don't understand the above statement. The very focus of the Purpose-Driven Life is to move believers into doing ministry and going on mission in their communities and beyond. That's the last two purposes. So why would you describe the Purpose-Driven material as inoculating congregations from doing the very thing that the Purpose-Driven material encourages believers to be doing?

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September 17, 2006  8:14am

I wonder if it wasn't this it would have been something else that split the churches. Process is often more important that content.

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J. W.

September 16, 2006  12:41am

My church went through the Purpose Driven series and I assisted another pastor in taking her church through it. The assistant pastor at my church resigned over the program and many of the old guard resisted it. It wasn't so severe at the other church, but there was no measurable visible benefit of the program at either. That's not to say that it isn't good material. It's just that both of these churches are already so saturated with teaching without having put faith into action that it all seems to have inoculated the congregations from any conviction that they should become the hands and feet of Jesus to their communities or beyond. In fact, many pride themselves in their Bible knowledge while making virtually no impact for the Kingdom whatsoever. I am becoming more convinced every day that most churches are drawing people to good marketing ploys rather than to the Lord himself. Great preaching, great music, great programs and great sanctuaries eventually become old hat and we will ultimately take it all for granted. It's human nature. To lure people with such temptations is to welcome them into our churches for the wrong reasons. Like all relationships, if we seek a church relationship for self-satisfication rather than choosing a church because we feel we can find fulfillment in serving its community and the Lord with our gifts and talents we will eventually tire of it. It is really no different than mistaking lust for true love. Since our culture has persuaded so many that it's all about lust and self-gratification, thus the reason for so many divorces, why would we expect church relationships to be any different? Until leadership begins to trust and believe in the potential of the congregants and decided to help them fulfill their vision for serving, rather than trying to manipulate them into ministries and programs that they have no passion for, even good material such as Warrens will produce little fruit.

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September 15, 2006  5:50pm

If we look at the five "pillars" of the Purpose Driven church we see "worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism." Each by itself stands as definitions of what we should be doing...worshipping G-d, fellowshipping with each other, discipleship means training new believers so that they know what their faith is all about. And being involved in a ministry is a good thing too. And of course, evangelism comes in all forms. So by themselves there is little wrong with the 5 "pillars" of Purpose Driven Church. But there is always the subtext for formulaic establishment of behavior in the church which, given the mental state of mankind and his desire to "bring order to the chaos" makes me think that perhaps all of us should be a bit more general in our applications of this process. For our Church, the goal is very simple, but no chiseled in stone: Worship G-d by fellowshipping with like minded believers. Get involved with a bible study, or small group which, oddly enough, is even more fellowship. Ministry can be many things, and it doesn't have to be formulaic to be G-d honoring. And of course, if someone asks you if you're a Christian, say yes. Who knows what will come after that. I think the problems arise when the pastors want to do something for somethings sake without giving it some serious thought as to how to implement this process into their church without steam-rolling everyone to get on board or feel left out.

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Paul Goddard

September 15, 2006  3:14pm

I see two sources of resistance to purposes driven ministry. First, what is often resisted is intentionality. There is a romantic notion that everything from the Spirit will "just happen." Such things as organizing, planning, and training are un-natural and therefore unspiritual and unbiblical. I see this as a disease of naiveté that can affect young and old. Second, pastors (myself included) try/tried to replicate Warrens success without his gifting or calling. As implied above, the gifts of Rick Warren are a huge part of his success. Pastors of lesser gifts cannot expect to see that impact. Trying to so is another type of naiveté, frequently infecting pastors. What is really explosive is a church in which the pastor thinks he can be another Rick Warren and the congregation resists any leadership that seeks to be intentional. Pity the pastor. Pity the people.

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September 15, 2006  2:19pm

I wonder how much our complete devotion to the doctrine of the Purpose Driven Church is in essence a manifestation of that same spirit that drives some pastors to plagiarize other's sermons. There appears to be a real dearth of wisdom, discernment and understanding when it comes to many in ministry today. We grasp out at anything new that comes along that may resuscitate our dying congregations. The question I have is, are we truly hearing from God, or are we in a last ditch effort trying to justify our own existence as pastors? You may think that I view this Purpose Driven approach to be from the depths from Sheol. The truth is, as a secondary resource it may serve a 'purpose'. The problem, it seems to me, is that it has become 'the primary resource' in many of our ministries. In its extreme we see this in those who wear armbands that read WWRD? (What Would Rick Do?). A derivative of this is that the Purpose Driven model has taken on a whole life of its own. 'It' has become the catalyst and means of change in the local church, not the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I wonder if we have attempted to fill the God shaped vacuum in our lives with mere tools like the Purpose Driven model. The means we use to communicate the gospel should always be, at the most, secondary to the moving of God. It is God who draws us to Himself. The problem is that we often end up worshipping the means by which He does so, leaving Him out in the cold. Remember the bronze serpent that Moses made for the people's healing that later had to be destroyed because they started to worship it (Numbers 21:6-9 cf. II Kings 18:4)? Or how about the letter to the Ephesians in Revelation 2:1-7? That said, the leadership in our church recently led the congregation through the "40 Days of Purpose" and are just gearing up for the "40 Days of Community". As a home group leader I will happily comply. My primary focus, however, will not be on what Rick says etc. but on trying to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church. My hope is that the two will line up.

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Steve McAlpine

September 15, 2006  9:33am

The key question for me is: In what way is the Purpose Driven Life actually change? I have no problem with it, having been involved in a campaign during my time as an associate pastor, but will it usher in the change that is needed? It failed to address, in fact it probably added to, the busyness of the average attendee that is grinding the joy out of lay ministry. In our church no one who is not a Christian joined the congregation on the basis of it, but I suspect those under forty would have been loathe anyway to invite their non-Xn friends to what is essentially a very boomer style of church. Rick's honesty was certainly refreshing, as was his commitment to the Bible, however his use of the Bible completely subsumed the narrative under the five points of the course. Most people I suspect are "over" the five purposes of this, or four laws of that approach to the Bible. We need a big story that makes sense of the little stories and quite frankly the five purposes weren't quite up to it - especially in the all important area of eschatology.

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