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5.4.2 Assumption Determines Approach.

Because Warren promotes the concept of developing the church from the outside–in, which immediately contrasts with the traditional churches view of developing the church from the inside-out, his assumption determines his method of approach.Robert Schuller promotes the idea that, “the church’s problem is that it has had a God centred theology for centuries, when it needed a man centred one, man’s not bad merely badly informed as to how really good he is”.[1]

To have a God centred religion it is necessary to think in terms of how God sees things, whereas in Schuller’s case and also in Warren’s the church must begin to think in the way the unchurched think. So the unchurched indirectly determine how you serve them as the visible church of Jesus Christ.

Warren talks about “Saddleback Sam” as his church’s target or as the CGM teaches the need to use HUP (homogeneous unit principle), Warren’s target area is people who are the Saddleback Sam, “a Southern Californian, well educated, loves their job, likes where they lives, believes in health and fitness, sceptical of organised religion, likes the big events, contemporary music, likes to be casual, but over extended in time and money”.[2]

Lee Strobles, a Saddleback pastor, argues for the need to devise a workable strategy to reach your target group, that entails understanding their felt needs and in so doing, “adapt your style to fit you audience”.[3] Warren goes on to say, “the ground that we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible but our common needs”, so ministry begin with the felt needs of the consumers.Is this identification and knowledge of people’s needs the real key to effective evangelism?

Warren certainly thinks it is, but is it? Is knowing what the unchurched want to hear the Biblical method for communicating the Gospel? Is the church built by the Spirit of God, or is the visible reaction to statistics concerning its target community ultimately more important? It is interesting that in the early church, (from whom Warren discovered his five principles) the gathering of the people from all sorts of different backgrounds must to some degree defy modern church growth ideas and research.

The early Jerusalem church’s formation contradicts the CGM, the MCM, HUP model and Warren’s own understanding of the development of the local church, for it is clear even after a first reading of the Acts of the Apostles that God’s grace and not social marketing delivered a vibrant and powerful first century church.Warren` s idea of thinking like the unchurched is truly foreign to New Testament thought.

Paul reminds his listeners, that you should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts.[4] Instead of thinking like the unchurched Paul suggest the direct opposite, he uses even  stronger words when he writes his Epistle to the Romans, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God.

It does not submit to God’s Law, nor can it do so”.[5] The outcome of the teaching is `be you not conformed to this world but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind`. Let this mind be in you that was in Christ.If we would communicate with the world around us according to Paul, then we must influence that world and not allow ourselves, no matter how much we care for that world, to be driven by their felt needs.

The assumption that people can be lead to Christ through felt needs is very presumptuous, only God’s Spirit can create in the sinful heart a desire for Himself and not the visible church through a variety of marketing activities no matter how well intentioned  their use may be.

5.4.3 Process Persuasion.

The assumption that it is necessary to think like an unbeliever creates a seeker sensitive service that suggests that through slick marketing, polished and entertaining worship services that people can be somehow or other persuaded to become Christian.Is Warren creating a visible church without the invisible Spirit empowering it?

Warren suggests that he is building the church from the outside in, so maybe his continual use of the word church is confusing the issue, when in fact he is still in the early evangelistic stage with his unchurched people! Lawson is quite scathing about the seeker friendly movement,A new way of doing church is emerging.

In this radical paradigm shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics. The pulpit, once the focal point of the church, is now being overshadowed by a variety of church growth techniques, everything from trendy worship styles to glitzy presentations to vaudeville-like pageantries, in seeking to capture the upper hand in church growth, a new wave of pastors is reinventing church repackaging the gospel into a product to be sold to consumer. 

Whatever reportedly works in one church is being franchised out to various markets abroad. As when gold was discovered in the foothills of California, so ministers are beating a path to the doorsteps of exploding churches and super hyped conferences where the latest strike has been reported. Unfortunately the newly planned gold often turns out to be fool’s gold. Not all that glitters is actually gold.[6]  

When evangelism takes priority over worship and discipleship an ill balance is formed in a fellowship and the long term repercussions is theological ignorance and eventual spiritual decline. The process of delivery of the Gospel to the seeker has to be according to Warren to have three vital ingredients in it, the evangelist needs to be a good story teller, able to communicate clearly using language devoid of theological terms, while keeping the message simple.

The core of the message must relate to the felt needs of the people, the preaching should be supplemented with good entertainment and basic comfort. The outcome should be decisions to go a little further in their spiritual experience.Warren would argue that this approach is not pandering to market forces or consumer needs but in fact dealing with people in a caring and loving manner as their particular needs are dealt with, Warren would argue that Jesus used the same methods.The key issue here for Warren is that Jesus does not sacrifice truth for the sake of relevance.

Truth is given to direct life’s purpose and highlight sin’s error. It is not the church’s task to make the Gospel more appealing but to honestly deliver it message in a compassionate, loving, caring way without compromising its power by de-emphasising its meaning.

5.4.4 Felt Needs.

While Warren is a believer in the Sovereignty of God, it could be suggested that he identifies with George Barna who when assessing the modern mind suggests, It is a fundamental principle of Christian Communication, that the audience, not the message is Sovereign. If our advertising is going to stop people in the midst of hectic schedules and cause them to think about what we’re saying, our message has to be adopted to the needs of the audience. 

Felt needs become a high priority for Warren, given the fact that 23000 people worship in Saddleback on a given Sunday Morning, one would wonder, how the preaching and teaching staff begin to collate the felt needs of these people. Surely the variety and differences in need would be so great that it would be almost impossible to begin to deal with people on such a level to carry out an effective ministry.

While it is admirable that Warren and the Saddleback staff go to such lengths to meet the felt needs of those who come through their doors.Certain questions need to be asked, “Is focusing on the needs of the crowd a legitimate evangelistic exercise? Why should human need be the authoritative directive for ministry to the unsaved?” The New Testament would indicate that this approach falls short of  acceptable practice, in that while felt needs may well be addressed those needs are fundamentally secondary in importance to the word of God.

Timothy was exhorted by Paul to “preach the word of God without compromise”.[7]Titus is directed to deal with the Cretans who are seen as “lazy and gluttonous” (felt needs) and do so by reproving then with sound doctrine that they might be sound in faith and practice.[8] In Galatians, Paul poses some strong questions, Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men?

If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of God. He goes on to say, “The Gospel that I preach is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ”.[9] When it came to evangelism Paul went straight to the heart of humankind’s need and that was the sinner’s need for salvation.

The seeker sensitive approach engenders the desire to focus on felt needs of the audience and this creates consequences which removes the possibility of direct impact with God’s word. This is surely a real weakness in this type of approach. So beginning with assumption, approach, persuasion, felt needs, the development of an artificial atmosphere needs to be created.

5.4.5 Atmosphere.

The atmosphere is developed through making sure the audience is physically and mentally comfortable and secondly contextualising the message through the use of drama, story telling, music, etcetera. The psychology of Schuller would have greatly enhanced Warren in the development of the atmosphere.

Subtle preparations which would help develop atmosphere, mood and prepare the audience emotionally for easy reception of the message on felt needs is recommended.  [10] Warren suggests that, “if you don’t purposely determine the type of atmosphere you want to create in a service, you are leaving it to chance”.[11] This is an amazing comment given the fact of his “supposed” total commitment to conversion, commitment, guidance, the Sovereignty of God, the Holy Spirit, the Word, Revelation, worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry and evangelism.

The very heart of the Warren’s seemingly non negotiable beliefs seem to be set aside while the Saddleback team create an environment for “Saddleback Sam” to be moved emotionally to make a decision on the basis of human manipulation.  Could it be that that human emotional response is only the first step on the ladder towards spiritual conversion?

This activity is a long way from the early comments of Warren when he eagerly reminded his readers that, “only God makes the church grow, only God can breathe new life into a valley of dry bones, only God can create waves-waves of revival, waves of Growth and waves of spiritual receptivity”.[12]

It is argued that because of the nature of the seeker sensitive church that the opportunity for Christian worship and ministry is a secondary consideration. The writer in Hebrews[13]  indicates that the church meets for the edification of the saints  so that they may be equipped to go back into community to be witnesses. The first gathering of believers was designed for spiritual instruction.

Their meeting together was for edification so as to be scattered in evangelism, Saddleback’s ecclesiology promotes the opposite. In reversing this process vital teaching and Christian worship opportunities are lost and biblical teaching becomes diluted and compromised as the unchurched are the centre of attention.

5.4.6 Assessment. The CGM, the MCM and Saddleback understand their progress in terms of numbers, if your congregation is numerically large, then the supposition is, that your programmes are succeeding and God is blessing. This conclusion which Warren, Hybels, Schuller and many other MCM pastors hold is very much a CGM principle.

Klassen suggests, that “today the term church growth is used almost exclusively to mean numerical growth”.[14] The success of market driven ministry determines form and content of services and as its numbers increase the argument is that the methodology must be right. That’s why Warren suggests that we never ask, “what will make our church grow, but what is hindering our church from growing?”[15]

Remove the growth restricting diseases and growth will happen. This movement emphases numbers at the expense of real and vital spiritual experience ends up seeing its numerical success through the eyes of the methodology it uses. Seldom does the New Testament invest time considering the numbers game; success in New Testament times was measured in discipleship which both Warren and Hybels confess to be extremely difficult to achieve.

The logic behind the numerical growth could be a multiplicity of wrong reasons why people attend in such numbers i.e. music, comfort, felt needs etcetera. A Mega Church could be highly successfully numerically but be a failure when it comes to spiritual growth in the lives of individuals. While quantitative growth is important, it can also be very deceptive, “it can be Christendom in the making but not Christianity breaking through”.[16]

“A change of religious affiliation had taken place but hearts had not been changed”.[17] The eventual outcome “when lives are not transformed by God and as soon as the pool of resources and relationships has been exhausted the body begins to wilt and decay”.[18] Warren has seen some 80000 people pass through his doors in 25 years of ministry in Saddleback 23000 remain while 57000 have moved on in their religious adventure.

Maybe Peters is correct in his assessment of mass movements like Saddleback. When ministry is developed from a sociological and psychological movement all indications are that failure will eventually follow. An ecclesiastical establishment with contemporary post modern principles for design and development may attract masses of people but if it does not deliver the invisible church made visible, then failure must be conceded.

In many ways the development of the MCM and in particular Saddleback may well in the thinking of some, have come into being at the expense of the purity of the gospel and true Christian order and life. The Purpose Driven Church’s historical journey and the amazing impact it has had on countless millions of people worldwide must be viewed through the eye of caution. God does work in strange and marvellous ways.

When we see Saddleback as an expression of Warren’s own spiritual journey, his non negotiable doctrines and his discovered biblical principles, of necessity we must hold fast to the desire to be opened enough to believe that God is creating a new church for a new generation.                 Warren has done a great service for the church in that his ecclesiology initially calls us back to biblical purposes that God has designed for the church.

His submission to the scriptures is very challenging. His desire to experience conversion growth, membership programmes of quality, and discipline that bring order and direction to Saddleback church is admirable. His desire to remove anything from the fellowship that would hinder a person coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is virtuous.

When we examine his methodology, problems arise giving out warning signals to those who had hoped that his ecclesiology is the God send that they have been waiting for. His hermeneutical approach to scripture is such that he offers interpretations unacceptable to the Evangelical church he professes to belong to. While he has a heart for evangelism his methods would tend to make real and lasting repentance doubtful and his de-emphasising of the Gospel doctrines would extract the possibility of the seeker really coming to a full understanding of his own position as a sinner before God and ultimately finding a clearly defined way via the cross to God.

Purpose, seems to have taken over from the gospel itself and that has great implications for the church. Liberalism suggests that the gospel won’t work unless the message is changed, some evangelicals suggests that the gospel won’t work until the method is changed. Biblical Christianity would suggest that the Gospel will work and that God has given us both the message and the method. The conclusion is less promising than first thought, for the purposed driven ecclesiology is  a paradigm change that may well be restricting real church growth. It will take time and continuous reflection to see if that is really the case.

As has already been stated the Saddleback ecclesiology is loved and hated by many but one thing is sure at our peril we ignore it. This thesis is an analysis of the Purpose Driven Church, and it is fitting that Warren should have the last words. Being contemporary without compromising truth has been our objective at Saddleback since we began.

With every new generation, the rules change a little. If we always do what we have done, we’ll always be where we’ve always been. The past is behind us. We can only live in today and prepare for tomorrow. We must live with the words of Lowell Mason’s poem. A charge I have to keep, a God to glorify, a never dying soul to save and fit it for the sky. To serve the present age, my calling to fulfil, O may it all my powers engage, to do my master’s will.

[1] Schuller, Self-Esteem : New Reformation, 115.
[2] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 170.
[3] Warren, TPDC, 294-5.

[4] Eph.4:17-18.

[5] Romans, 8:6-7.

[6] Steven J.Lawson, The Priority of Biblical Preaching:An exposition of Acts 2:42-47, BSca, 158/630 April 2001,198.

[7] 2 Tim. 4:2-3.

[8] Titus ch.2:1f.

[9] Galatians 1:10.

[10] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 270.
[11] Warren, TPDC, 270.
[12] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 14.

[13] Hebrews 10:25.

[14] Ron klassen & John Koessler, No Little Places, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1996, 24.
[15] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 16.
[16] Peters, A Theology Of Church Growth, 23.
[17] Peters, ATOCG, 23.
[18] Peters, ATOCG, 23.
[19] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 397.

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