Concerns about the book entitled

The Purpose Driven Church

by Rick Warren


1.) The principle of pragmatism.

Rick Warren uses a surfing illustration to demonstrate how church leaders should operate. He says pastors need to learn to recognize a "wave of God’s Spirit and ride it" or "catch a spiritual wave of growth". His advice is to learn how to recognize a wave in which people are getting saved (a successful method). He also suggests that we learn to get off dying waves. (Methods that do not seem to be producing fruit.) This is be nothing more than a modern illustration of an old principle New Evangelicals have been teaching for decades, namely, "if it works, it must be right"! His advice seems to boil down to this - look around at different methods used by other churches, and if it seems to bring people in - jump on the bandwagon - ride the wave! His updated illustration of surfing is nothing more than a new and pretty face covering an old monster - the unbiblical principle of pragmatism. This is the principle that serves as a foundation to his whole approach to church growth. The fanciest structure built on a faulty foundation is unsafe.

2.) Ridicule of the "old fashioned".

Warren mocks churches which "seem to think that the 1950’s was the golden age, and they are determined to preserve that era in their church." He later makes it clear what he means by this. He encourages young pastors to leave behind that old fashioned church music in favor of jazz or rock or whatever turns your people on! He encourages churches to imitate the culture and "dress down" for church. To his credit he states that "there are those who, fearing irrelevance, foolishly imitate the latest fad a fashion. In their attempt to relate to today’s culture they compromise the message and lose all sense of being set apart." While Rick Warren may have maintained the same doctrinal statement, yet he and those who follow his methodology practice exactly what they say is "foolish." He is desperately trying to be relevant, and in the process has lost all sense of being "set apart." Walking into church with food and drink, dressed down as if at the mall, and hearing rock and jazz music may be relevant, but it is NOT much different from the world. If wearing dress clothes into the house of God and expecting conservative, Christ honoring music makes me an old fashioned, cultural relic, so be it! On page 62, Warren attempts to shelter himself from criticism on this issue. He says, "Never criticize what God is blessing, even though it may be a style of ministry that makes you uncomfortable." (This phrase is repeated on pg.156) In other words, the new rock music, the new dress down look, and all the "cultural changes" which make many fundamentalists uncomfortable should be overlooked IF IT WORKS!

Of course we should not try to preserve the styles of the 1950’s. But we could learn a lot from that generation. Churches in the 1950’s would never have imagined women coming to church in mini-skirts. The idea of bringing rock music into the church would have shocked even the liberal denominations of that day. There is no question but that standards are falling all around us today. Fundamentalists who long for the "old fashioned" standards of decency in church is should be praised, not ridiculed!

3.) Enamored with success.

Fundamentalists have for years made "faithfulness to the written word of God" their hallmark. Many fine sermons have been preached in which it was declared that God has not called us to be successful, but to be faithful. This principle is well documented in the Word of God. Noah faithfully preached for many decades, and yet seemed to have precious little fruit to show for it! While he may have only won his own family, yet he was successful in God’s sight. Missionaries around the world have sown the precious seed of the gospel for years and have not seen much fruit for their labors. Yet Rick Warren strongly disagrees with that principle. He argues that God HAS called us to be successful. He cites an example from the gospel in which the Lord Jesus judged the unfruitful tree (Matt.21:19). He states that the nation of Israel lost its privileges because of unfruitfulness (Matt.21:43). He concludes from that that God HAS called us to be fruitful and that God is not pleased if we are not successful. But in those examples he cites, the lack of fruit was the proof that Israel was an apostate, unbelieving nation. It had nothing to do winning souls for Christ.

Fruit for the Christian is not measured merely by attendance records or the size of the buildings. (If so, the Mormons are quite fruitful!) Fruit is often not seen by men. The fruit of the Spirit is the kind of fruit the New Testament encourages, and that is not easily measured. Warren states that "God expects to see results." He also states that God "has called us to be effective." His point (based on his philosophy of pragmatism) is that if a ministry is not successful and fruitful (winning many souls), then it is not faithful. Strong objections would be raised by Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and hundreds of missionaries around the world who have sacrificed all to serve Christ in places that seem to bear little fruit. God does not measure "success" in the same way men do. Warren and many other church-growth promoters seem to demand tangible fruit that men can see and touch and measure. Men can easily become intoxicated and enamored by the kind of success which is measured in bodies and buildings and bucks. God’s measuring stick is quite different. He sees fruit where human eyes cannot (I Cor. 4:5). He sees failure where some men see success (II Tim.2:5).

4.) A church ministry based on a market-study of the unregenerate, rather than a study of the Scriptures.

When Rick Warren began his church, he started out using the very same methodology of Robert Schuller. Not surprisingly, Schuller praises the book inside the front cover! Warren spent twelve weeks going door to door and surveying the "needs" of the people. Therefore he offers what he calls a "full menu" of support groups for empty nesters, divorced couples, grief recovery, etc. In other words, offer the community/consumer what they want, and they will come. Perhaps the title "Market Driven Church" would suffice as well as "Purpose Driven Church." While he SAYS he is not "pandering to consumerism," his own words seem to contradict that. His market-driven mentality is well documented by his own illustration. On page 157 he writes, "Imagine what would happen to a commercial radio station if it tried to appeal to everyone’s taste in music. A station that alternated its format between classical, heavy metal, country, rap, reggae, and southern gospel would end up alienating everyone. No one would listen to that station! Successful radio stations select a target audience. They research their broadcast area… and then choose a format that reaches their target." He then applies that "market research methodology" to church growth. A church, in order to be successful, must target its audience, and then appeal to that audience. He even goes so far as to claim that Jesus targeted the audience of Israel "in order to be effective, not to be exclusive."10  Jesus’ choice of Israel as the focus of His ministry had nothing whatsoever to do with any desire on His part to be successful or effective. He ended up with only a handful of true followers. The nation as a whole chanted, "Crucify Him!"

Consider Rick Warren’s approach to selecting a style of worship. His choice of music styles not only demonstrates his lack of discernment in the area of music, but it is quite telling about his philosophy and methodology over all. On page 159 he says that a "small church must also make choices on tough issues. For example since it’s impossible to appeal to everyone’s taste in music style in a single service, and small church can’t offer multiple services, they must choose a target. Changing styles on alternate weeks will produce the same effect a radio station with a mixed format. No one will be happy." Several things should be noted in this statement. First of all, he promotes the concept of "appealing to everyone’s taste" in music if possible. [What ever happened to pleasing GOD with our music?] Secondly, he seems to suggest that alternate services would be an acceptable method in order to appeal to different groups - the older folks who want the old fashioned hymns, and the younger set who gravitate towards rock and roll or rap. The Bible teaches that the young should be able to LEARN from the brethren who are older and wiser. Separating them spells disaster for the church in the next generation! That next generation will know nothing about church but the "rock and roll" good-time church! Thirdly, his goal in all of this is clearly to be make people happy. Warren writes that one of the advantages of a larger church is that you will be "able to offer choices in program, events, and even worship styles."11  His real principle for church growth is clearly defined here. Ask the unregenerate community what they want in a church, and give it to them! May it never be that anyone should use these principles in starting up a church in Las Vegas or San Francisco’s North Beach!

This same philosophy is applied to dress. Warren has targeted his area, and discovered that people in his community do not like to dress up. (Who does?!) They prefer casual, informal meetings. Therefore Warren said, "I never wear a coat and tie when I speak at Saddleback services" (His home church). I intentionally dress down to match the mind set of those I’m trying to reach."

He states that Jesus used this methodology. He and His disciples "targeted people they were most likely to reach - people like themselves. Jesus was not being prejudiced, he was being strategic."12  To say that Jesus targeted Israel because He could relate them culturally and in order to be strategic (successful) flies in the face of prophecy, the real purpose of His ministry, and common sense. Jesus "targeted" Israel because He was sent there by His Father, not because He felt He would be more successful there than in Egypt! What does this say about missionary endeavors? Should missionaries target only those people who are "culturally similar" to the missionary? The Bible indicates that God’s Holy Spirit leads men to specific locations and to a specific place of ministry (Acts 13:1-3; 16:6-10). The apostles were not sent to Macedonia because they were "like" those people. Greeks and Jews were very much UNLIKE each other. Should Christian churches really design their worship services and ministries based on what the unregenerate people in their particular community like? Should the church attempt to be "like" the community? I think not. The Bible indicates that the church SHOULD be different from the community/world! The difference should be as obvious as the difference between light and darkness… life and death!

Rick Warren writes on page 190 that he read Robert Schuller’s book on church growth. Schuller went door to door in 1955 asking people the question, "What do you want in a church?" and "Why don’t you go to church?" Warren thought it was "a great idea, but felt the questions need to be rephrased for the more skeptical 1980’s." Therefore, he designed a church that would please men. I can’t imagine a method MORE contrary to the Scriptures. "For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal.1:10). Granted, the context of Galatians one is the MESSAGE of the gospel and not the METHOD of ministry. Warren may consider himself "orthodox" in this matter because he has not changed the message, only the methods. But when you start off attempting to please men with your method, it CAN lead to trying to please men with the message. This is exactly what Schuller has done. Read his book, Self Esteem: The New Reformation! He promotes a DIFFERENT gospel! It should not be surprising to see a shift in the message over time, if one’s real goal is to please men, make them happy, and give them what they want! In I Thess. 2:3-10, Paul again states HIS principle of ministry. His purpose was NOT to please men (vs.4). In this context, Paul speaks not only about the message, but also the method - the manner in which he ministered in their midst. In NOTHING was Paul trying to please men or make them happy. In fact, Paul made quite a few men UNHAPPY with him and his ministry! Paul certainly did NOT enter into a city, take a survey of what the ungodly pagans in the "community" would like to see in a church, and then design a church to please them! He did not suffer all he did (II Cor.11:23-29) because his ministry was designed to appeal to the "unchurched." His ministry was offensive to self righteous men. His ministry was different from the community. He was led by the Holy Spirit, not a market survey.

5.) Disdain for fundamentalism and separation.

Rick Warren’s distaste for fundamentalism is expressed subtly, yet distinctly. On page 236 he writes, "Must we choose between liberalism and legalism? Is there a third alternative to imitation and isolation?" Note what he considers to be the opposite of liberalism - legalism. The opposite of liberalism and modernism is in reality, fundamentalism! He knows that, but avoids using the term. Note how he refers to the doctrine of separation - isolation! After asking if we must choose between the liberals or the fundamentalists (which he calls legalists), he offers a third alternative… a new (?) method. Consider his words: "The strategy of Jesus is the antidote to both extremes: infiltration!" Rick Warren subtly refers to the fundamentalist as "extreme", "isolationist," and a "legalists." Rather than having to choose between the liberal and the fundamentalist, Warren offers a third alternative: "infiltration." His words sound strangely like a quote from Dr. Harold Ockenga. "The New Evangelicalism has changed its strategy from one of separation to one of infiltration."13  Rick Warren offers this "third alternative" as if it were his own idea. It may well be that he had the same thoughts running through his mind as did Dr. Ockenga a generation ago. Their philosophy and methodology are identical. It is thoroughly New Evangelical thinking.

Warren continues to point out the error of modern day "Pharisees" in the church today. He states with disdain that they are "more concerned about purity than people."14  Again, his argument seems aimed at the fundamentalist/separatist, who have for centuries fought for the purity of the church by practicing separation. On the next page he says that "some isolationists have been extremely judgmental of seeker-sensitive churches." I must confess that I am one of those fundamental separatists who find the entire seeker movement to be built on a faulty foundation. The Lord Jesus commands us to "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). Paul commands us to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil" (I Thess.5:21-22). Although it arrives in a slick, new cover, Rick Warren’s concept of church growth has every appearance of the old-time evil called New Evangelicalism.

6.) Man-centered philosophy

Examples of this philosophy abound throughout the book. His aim is obviously to please men. Consider Rick Warren’s own words:

· "Figure out what mood you want your service to project, and then create it."15 

· "We start positive and end positive."16 

· "We use humor in our services… it is not a sin to help people feel good."17 

· "Cultivate an informal, relaxed, and friendly atmosphere."18 

· "We used classical, country, jazz, rock, reggae, easy listening, and even rap. The crowd never knew what was coming next. The result: we didn’t please anybody…" Therefore, they changed their music to one style: rock! "We’ve often been referred to in the press as ‘the church that likes to rock.’ We use the style of music that the majority of people in our church listen to on the radio." (He determined that by another survey)19 

· "We made a strategic decision to stop singing hymns in our seeker services."20 

· "We have attracted thousands more because of our music."21 

· "Saddleback now has a complete pop/rock orchestra."22 

· "I sometimes wonder how many more people we might have reached in our early years if we’d had MIDI-quality music in our services." 23 

· "Use more performed music than congregational singing…"24 (emphasis on entertainment)

· "The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text…"26 

· "Make your members feel special"… "they need to feel special."26

Rick Warren’s church (and others like it) have attracted thousands. His methods do work. He says that the reason for the spectacular growth has been his emphasis on creating a "purpose driven church." It could be equally forcefully argued however, that the real reason for the spectacular growth is not at all related to his thesis. The real reason for the growth is because of the New Evangelical principle of pragmatism. He asked the people what they wanted, and he gave it to them. He provided the product the market demanded, and it sold like hot-cakes. If you please people, they will come and come again.

But what could be more contrary to the principles found in Scripture? Consider what God told the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek.3:4-11). Ezekiel was told that the people would not like his ministry or message, and yet he was to preach it anyway, regardless of the response. Ezekiel was successful if he did what God said. His success in God’s sight had nothing to do with the response of the people. It had to do with the faithfulness of the servant. They would know that a prophet was in their midst. He was not to ask the folks what kind of a prophetic ministry would most appeal to them. He was given a forehead harder than flint to stand for the truth against all opposition. "Whether they will hear or forbear" was not the prophet’s responsibility. His goal was not to get as large a crowd as he could. His job was to preach the truth, and he did (vs.11). That is success in God’s eyes. That was a fruitful and faithful ministry.

Of course our churches will grow faster if we throw out our standards. Of course our churches will grow faster if we please men and give them what they want. Yet, the BIBLE says we are to aim to please God, not men. If we are really concerned about learning how to "build a church," does it not make more sense to study God’s Word, rather than studying polls and surveys of popular opinion? Conspicuous by their absence in this book on church growth were any extended expositions from the pastoral epistles. Isn’t God’s opinion on the matter what we should really be seeking?

Rick Warren’s approach to church growth stems from his philosophy: a man-centered pragmatism. From that faulty foundation arises a ridicule of the old fashioned, and a disdain for the fundamentalist/separatist. Like so many in our age, being intoxicated by the sweet aroma of worldly success, he has stooped to building a church ministry based on a market-study of the unregenerate, rather than a Bible-study from the appropriate Scriptures. God help us.


Jim Delany
Salem Bible Church
11 Ermer Road
Salem, NH 03079
April, 1998





End Notes

 1 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), pp. 13-15.

 2 Ibid., p. 14

 3 Ibid., p. 55

 4 Ibid., p. 64

 5 Chrles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1989), p. 45ff.

 6 Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, p. 65.

 7 Ibid., p. 66

 8 Ibid., p. 139

 9 Ibid., p. 200

 10 Ibid., p. 158

 11 Ibid., p. 159

 12 Ibid., p. 187

 13 William Ashbrook, The New Neutralism, p. 4.

14 Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, p. 237.

 15 Ibid., p. 264

 16 Ibid., p. 271

 17 Ibid., p. 272

 18 Ibid.

 19 Ibid., p. 285

 20 Ibid.

 21 Ibid.

 22 Ibid., p. 290

 23 Ibid.

 24 Ibid., p. 291

 25 Ibid., p. 295

 26 Ibid., pp. 320, 323