One of the chief causes of the end times apostasy we see all around us today is the Purpose Driven Church model. Rick Warren wrote the book in the 1990s and it seems every up and coming pastor since has been taught all of the purpose driven tenets. The result is a church that is focused on those that do not come to church while the sheep of the Lord are starved methodically. The individual churches become cult of personality silos that worship the CEO Pastor-Dude instead of God.
An outgrowth of this phenomenon is the emergence of “Christian” leadership gurus who hock their wares to pastors just dying to grow their church into a book deal, I mean for Jesus of course – wink wink. One such guru which we routinely review is Carey Nieuwhof; whose teachings are breathtakingly carnal but many obviously flock to. The link above is to his latest offering on five questions a pastor should ask themselves if their church is not growing. This promises to be an utter train wreck so let’s strap ourselves in and reason once more together beloved:
“Chances are you didn’t get into leadership to see your church stop accomplishing its mission. One of the primary missions of the local church is to reach new people with Christ’s love, which, naturally, implies growth. But almost every church (and almost every organization) faces seasons in which growth stops. Some haven’t seen growth in years… or decades. I was on a call with some leaders recently from a large growing church who told me that last year was the first time in 15 years they hadn’t grown. They’re addressing it and are back on track, but it was a tough year. I can relate. I have been in church leadership for 19 years. We have seen growth almost every year (the majority of which has been from previously unchurched people), but there were two periods in which we stalled out. Those are tough seasons for leaders. What was effective before has stopped being effective now. A malaise sets in that’s difficult to describe. As a leader, you’re not exactly sure how to get things back on track. Ideally you’d be asking questions before you hit a slump, but life isn’t that simple, is it? So if you’re in a slump or see one coming, what do you do? One of the best things any leader can do when they’re in a tough spot is to stop making assumptions and start asking questions. Our assumptions got us to where we are, but they won’t necessarily get us where we need to go. Here are 5 telling questions every leader can ask when their church stops growing:” – Carey Nieuwhof
This is a brilliant summary of one of the foundational errors of the Purpose Driven Church. Rick Warren falsely teaches that one of the primary missions of the church is to grow the individual church. This is of course couched with Christianese terms such as “reaching people for Christ” but the reality is a very bottom line metrics of attendance and tithing. If attendance is up and tithing is up then the church is considered “growing.” The cold hard reality Warren never understands is it is not up to the pastor to grow his church horizontally – that is God’s job! The key verses summarize the New Testament model for churches and it reveals they were designed for the saints, not the goats. Church is where we break bread and fellowship. It is where we corporately worship God and get fed His word so that we might grow in our faith. What about the lost preacher? What about them? The Bible says the things of God are utter foolishness to them so why in the world would you cater your church to them? Do we want them to visit our church? Of course because it might be the only place they can hear the Gospel and the Bible teaches us only the Gospel has the power of God unto the salvation of man.
We must understand the pressure this puts on pastors today. When horizontal growth is not achieved the pastor feels responsible and that is a God-sized burden because only He decides the number that gets added every day. We read more and more about failing pastors and burnt out pastors and is it any wonder? If you were trying to do God’s job you would get burned out too! I know a local pastor who is faithful to the Gospel. He pastors a church of about 200 people and has so for the past 20 years. In speaking to him one day he lamented the lack of “growth” because this megachurch mindset is drilled into our heads. I told him if God gave you 200 and the majority end up in heaven you will hear well done my good and faithful servant but if you pastor 5000 and 20% get into heaven? Not so much. Pastors are responsible for the vertical growth of the sheep they have been entrusted with. Let’s reason now together through these five questions from Purpose Driven leadership guru Carey Nieuwhof.
“1. Is our sense of mission white hot? - Effective churches have a white hot sense of mission. It’s far more than a piece of paper on a wall or something the board recites at annual meetings, it lives daily in the soul of countless people in the congregation. It motivates all the action in the organization. It consumes people. Often a church that has stopped growing has lost the urgency behind its mission. This is doubly sad in the case of a church because our mission is actually Christ’s mission…it’s the spread of the Gospel into the world for which Jesus died. Leaders and congregations that are effective in accomplishing their mission are consumed by their mission. It always burns white hot.” – Carey Nieuwhof
Yeah that sounds like a lot of carnal gibberish. The core “Christian” points he has wrong as well. Under the Purpose Driven paradigm there is no care for the actual sheep. Everything is about the church to come. So the services are geared toward the lost. The sermons are watered down so the lost are not offended. Is the Great Commission important? Of course but it is not the end all. The church is not supposed to go into all the ends of the earth beloved, individual disciples are supposed to. It matters not however if your doctrine is messed up. Africa has some of the worst false teaching churches on the planet and guess why? Because America evangelized them! This is one of the woes Christ spoke over the Pharisees. They traveled across the world to make a single convert and when they do they make him twice the son of hell that they were. The mission of the church is the accurate presentation of the Gospel and it is a mission they are failing at every single day.
“2. Are we focused on unchurched people or on ourselves? So there’s a tendency you and I have as human beings. Our natural drift is to focus on ourselves. Not on Christ. Not on others. The gravitational pull of any church is toward insiders, not outsiders. Left unattended, your church will become a place where the preferences of the members trump passion for the mission. There are two primary ways to address this drift: In every decision, focus on who you want to reach, not who you want to keep. Commit to losing yourself for the sake of finding others. I completely understand that people automatically respond with “well what about me and my needs (or the needs of our faithful members)”? I believe Jesus said something about finding your life in the process of losing it. People who focus on helping others and honouring Christ soon discover that their needs are met far more deeply than they ever experienced otherwise.” – Carey Nieuwhof
Wow, that is really bad. The verse about losing our life does not mean we should be neglected in our pursuit of others. It means that our old life, pre-Christ, is buried with Him and we emerge a new creation in Him. Denying ourselves is in relation to Him, not some purpose driven drivel about finding unchurched people. This is yet another of the foundational errors of the Purpose Driven movement. We used to seek the lost, the wretched, the unsaved. People like Carey Nieuwhof have corrupted these terms into a cute catch all that doesn’t offend anyone – the unchurched. The problem of course is when you are seeking the lost you understand their actual state of being- they are lost. When you seek the unsaved you keep salvation as their primary need. When you warp that into looking for the unchurched your new focus is not on their salvation but on whether they come to your church. No big deal? Consider that when writing to pastors to give them tips on bringing their Easter visitors back the following week, Rick Warren said the following:
"Let them know about your next sermon series. Always either begin a sermon series on Easter or the next week -- and make sure it's a series that meets the felt needs of an unchurched person. Yes, they need the Gospel and a relationship with Christ. You and I both know that's their foundational need, but most people will come to your church because they have a need for friendship, want a better marriage, want to be a better parent, want to feel they're living a life of significance or there may be some other need. When you do a series like that, let Easter visitors know in your letter. It'll give them a reason to come back to your church." -- Rick Warren 2014
This is what happens to the Gospel under Purpose Driven theology. It becomes relegated to something negative that will drive people away. It is true that the Gospel offends and divides but it is still the only mechanism for someone getting saved. The Carey Nieuwhofs of the world however are not one bit interested in saving anyone. They just want them churched. If you want to see what happens to unsaved churched people read Matthew 7:21-23. The pull inward is not gravitational, Carey – it is spiritual because that is how God designed His church.
“3. Has our strategy or approach become dated? What got you here won’t necessary get you there. While the mission of the church is eternal, strategy should shift from generation to generation. This day it needs to shift even faster than that. Identifying a dated strategy is easy if you’re a new leader who has taken over from someone else. It is much harder when you’ve led in a context for more than 5 years. The challenge in long term leadership is that the changes that you introduced may have been novel and effective when you introduced them, but it’s not 1995 anymore, or 2005 for that matter. How do you tell if you’re strategy is dated? When it stops being effective. When you see very few people in the next generation adopting the approach or strategy in question. The mission of the church is eternal. The method is temporary. The challenge, of course, is it’s easy to love the method more than the mission. But in the future church, churches that love their method more than they love the mission will die.” – Carey Nieuwhof
No, no, a thousand times no. Our “strategy” is preaching the Gospel, for the reasons already outlined. It does not need to change from generation to generation that is biblically illiterate and woefully ignorant. The same Gospel that saved a fourth century peasant is the same that saved a 17th century poet and the same that saved me. People in the Purpose Driven Industrial Complex will swear that this generation is different and that is nonsense. Andy Stanley recently abandoned the surety of scripture for carnal reasoning with youth because he saw so many go off to college and return atheists. The reason for this abandonment of faith however has nothing to do with this generation and everything to do with not preaching the Gospel. If you send this generation off to college without the indwelt Holy Spirit because you watered down the real Gospel then do not act surprised when the world captures their thinking.
Salvation is a supernatural act of God. It cannot be strategized beloved. It is ridiculous leadership trainings like this that lead to pastors preaching about spiritual lessons from Avengers Endgame or following the Rick Warren strategy of not preaching the Gospel for fear of people not coming back the following week.
“4. Are we on top of the constant change in our culture? While you’re studying your strategy, you might also want to study culture. It’s changing, radically and quickly. I believe when historians look back on our generation, they will see it as a crack in history. We now live in a post-Christian, post-modern world. That’s true in Canada. It’s increasingly true in the United States. In my experience, many of us in church leadership don’t really grasp the enormity of the change going on around us. Change is hard. But irrelevance is even harder. Unimplemented change becomes regret.” – Carey Nieuwhof
Perhaps it would be better if we studied scripture instead of strategy and culture? What kind of God do you think you serve? Was God unaware of the cultural shifts through time? The Gospel is no respecter of culture. It transcends culture. How arrogant are we that we think God needs our help in massaging His word for this generation? It is true that culture is changing, as it always does. The Depression of the thirties led to the expansion of the forties. That led to the beginnings of youth rebellion in the fifties and then the drug culture of the sixties. The Gospel however did not need to change through any of it and it sure doesn’t need to change today. The church is a shining city on a hill because it does not change in the face of cultural tsunamis.
“5. When was the last time I personally invited someone to church? This is a tough one. The reality is many Christians, for a variety of reasons, don’t actually spend time with that many non-Christians. Sometimes it’s fear based. That’s a shame, because Jesus seemed to like outsiders even better than insiders. He had no problem hanging around people who didn’t want to hang out at church. Jesus had no problem loving people who didn’t yet love him. Sometimes it’s calendar based. The church runs so many programs that Christians are at church 5-7 nights a week. You don’t have time to build relationships with anyone outside, let alone be a family. That’s why at our church, we only do community group one night a week. For the rest, we want our people to be home with their families as well as involved in local sports leagues, involved in their local schools and active in the community building friendships with people Jesus loves but who never attend church. Sometimes it’s just a practical issue. If you’re on church staff, unchurched people rarely ask you for time. Churched people call you all day long and ask for your time and attention. And so you find yourself so absorbed with the work of the church that you miss the mission of the church. If almost no one at your church knows any unchurched people, it’s no mystery why your church isn’t growing. So why not go build some real friendships? And before you say we should be ‘in the world but not of it’, please read the Gospels again.” – Carey Nieuwhof
First off the comparison to Jesus here is offensive. He disliked the false leaders of His religion, not “insiders.” This final point however is a typical staple of Purpose Driven teaching which turns the sheep into the bad guys who are just selfish and are thwarting the efforts of the vision casting CEO Pastor-Dude. There is a reason why God used the imagery of sheep and a shepherd. The shepherd is not usually looking for another flock – he tends to the one he has. Sheep are not dispersed to go find other sheep – they need to be tended to. Perhaps the most amusing thing of all is Carey Nieuwhof admonishing people to read the Gospels again after writing yet another carnal leadership piece that is devoid of anything biblical to begin with. God is our leader. The Gospel is our vision. Everything else is just Purpose Driven Noise.
Reverend Anthony Wade - May 24, 2019
Here’s a great little video from Messed Up Church contributor, Brian Zagnoli, on a related topic:
Here’s a great video from Chris Rosebrough’s Fighting for the Faith Youtube channel:
Speaking of Carey Nieuwhof…
Want to understand the Purpose-Driven stuff a LOT better? Check this out:
Anthony Wade is the minister for 828 Ministries devoted to the purity of doctrine