Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Purpose Driven Church Review - Part 1

Over the next few posts, I intend to review several aspects of Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church. Having read it recently with the ability to reflect on the book 19 years after it was written, there are many things about the book worth discussing in today's context.

How has the Purpose-Driven Model fared?

The most natural question to ask of a pragmatic book is, "Has it worked?" Saddleback Church has certainly grown* in the past twenty years, more than doubling its average weekly attendance (~10,000 to ~22,000), but that doesn't really answer the question. As much as Rick Warren would like to credit his Purpose Driven method to the growth Saddleback has seen, it is entirely possible that a personality as strong as Warren is the primary driver for what happens in his church.

The true way to test would be to look at the hundreds or thousands of churches through the country that have modeled their ministry after PDC. Unfortunately, there is no central database that keeps track of these statistics, but a few observations can be made:

1. There has been some success. Rick Warren is happy to point out examples of churches that have grown by hundreds in attendance because of his insights.
2. Not every church that subscribed to PDC has succeeded. Pastor John Dickau of First Baptist Church of Lakewood (Long Beach, CA) saw his congregation size drop from 700 to 550 between 1998 and 2006 while trying to model the Purpose Driven method. He was no longer the pastor in 2008. Surely this was not the only such congregation that struggled.
3. Trying to switch ministry methods to become Purpose Driven has caused many church splits in this country [Christianity Today Article].
4. No church has attainted to the status of Saddleback over these 19 years by using the PDC ideas. Saddleback stands alone in its implementation of Purpose.

Stepping back for a moment and observing that there is some success and some failure using the PDC model, it becomes evident that there is nothing inherently special about Rick Warren's methods. Several churches have flourished and failed using other ministry models, just like PDC.

This doesn't mean that we cannot learn from Rick Warren's book. There are many practical issues that Saddleback has thoughtfully worked through, and as long as a local church remembers to apply each method to the filter of God's Word and to their local context, The Purpose Driven Church can be a helpful guide.

However, nobody should pretend that it is the panacea for church growth. The brightest and most godly minds could work tirelessly for decades and see little observable fruit. On the other hand, the clumsiest and decidedly average pastor could witness explosive growth, if the Lord is with him. In the end, it's not our methods, our wisdom or even our effort that causes church growth--it is God himself [1 Cor 3:7]. The church is God's church, and he will build up and tear down according to his will.

*Caveats apply when talking about church success and failure. I personally do not believe that the health and success of a congregation is tied to its numbers. Revelation 2 and 3 make it clear that Jesus' definition of a church's success or failure is tied to their following him and remaining true to his Word. Yet the goal of Purpose Driven Church is numerical growth, so it will be evaluated on its own merits.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Music in the Church

There have been several wonderful blog posts recently that think through musical worship in the church. For those so inclined, these articles edify and help clarify much that's misunderstood (for leaders as much as anyone).

1. Five Ways to Improve Congregational Singing by Keith Getty
Everything Keith says has been on my heart for a while. If there is only one link you follow, I'd heartily recommend this one.
2. Annoying Things in Worship Songs by Jeremy Pierce (reposted by JT)
The Psalms shouldn't be abused as carte-blanche justification for any bad song, but this helpfully shows how we must be thoughtful in evaluating whether a song is good. One thing I can definitely say about any song written after 100 AD or so: it was not inspired quite the same way the Psalms were.
3. I Love a Church that Sings Badly by Tim Challies
I agree with everything Tim says but want to take it further: good or bad musicians, mature or young believers, old hymns or songs so contemporary they're not quite ripe, I would love to hear the church sing its heart out because they're singing unto the Lord. 
4. Nine Marks of a Healthy Worship Leader by Alex Duke
This is slightly more on the technical side, but it may open your eyes to the part music and the music leader play in the service. The church should hold the music leader to a high standard of character as much as it would hold him to a high standard of musical ability.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Doxological Dictionary

I've twice had the opportunity to teach on atonement recently, and I've found that many of the terms that pastors use in the course of preaching and teaching can be opaque for many Christians. Much of this vocabulary is biblical, but if you haven't attended Bible School or intentionally studied theology, words like propitiation can sound impressive but ring hollow.

So I attempted to create a relatively short list of definitions (one page) for words closely associated with atonement to help laypeople grasp their meaning. Brevity may be an enemy of precision here, but I've done my best to capture the essence of each term without launching into a full discourse. Perhaps that will lead to further conversation, which I would consider a positive outcome. Ultimately, I hope that as we more deeply understand what God planned and accomplished in the gospel that we will stand in greater awe of him and worship him all the more.

Atonement Vocabulary List

Atonement - A term used to describe all the means that God uses to accomplish our salvation--the way we become one with God again. Think of it as the way the gospel is applied to your life: you were estranged from God because of your sin, and God made a way to repair (atone for) that broken relationship. It’s an idea that centers on the cross. God chose to save us through the work of Jesus in his life and his death. It’s the way that God saves us that is entirely consistent with his character--fully satisfying his deep love and his perfect justice. {Lev 17:11; Rom 5:11; Eph 2}
Propitiation - The turning away of God’s wrath from us and the gain of his favor. This happens when God’s wrath is appeased through the sacrifice of Christ. This is the function of the atonement--the way it is accomplished. {Rom 3:21-25; Heb 2:17; 1 John 4:10}
Expiation - Sometimes it’s simply used as a synonym for atonement or propitiation, but it may also be used in the sense that more specifically describes the solution for sin. It means cleansing or purging from our sin, or the removal of our sin, or how our sin is covered over by Jesus’ blood. Expiation is the other side of the propitiation coin.
Salvation - The outcome of being spared from the wrath of God (eternal punishment, destruction, hell). A direct consequence of salvation is that the saved receive eternal life. {Matt 1:21; John 3:16}
Penal Substitution - Simply put, Jesus Christ took the punishment due our sin when he offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross, and we gain his perfect record (his righteousness) that he actually lived out. In a sense, in God’s mind, we trade places with Jesus. It is through penal substitution that we receive a legal declaration of “not guilty” when God judges our life (as Christ bore all of our guilt). {2 Cor 5:21}
Reconciliation - J.I. Packer calls this “the sum and substance of the gospel.” We broke our relationship with God by our sin, but God repairs that! As with the generic definition, reconciliation is the peacemaking restoration of a lost relationship, but here it happens by God’s initiative and efforts through atonement. {Rom 5:10-11}
Redemption - Our sin put us into slavery and debt, and the severity of that condition is great enough that we can never hope to get out. But God was willing to send his Son and pay the price to gain our freedom. Christ’s sacrifice satisfies our sin debt and frees us from bondage to sin and death. Christ is our Great Redeemer, giving his life to make us his. {Eph 1:7}
Ransom - This is actually a very similar concept to redemption (it’s the price of redemption), but it’s so easily confused because of modern connotation. Ransom has more to do with paying a debt to end slavery than paying a bribe to a hostage-holder. Christ was the ransom--paid to God the Father!--that secures our salvation. {Matt 20:28; 1 Tim 2:5-6}
Justification - Most commonly refers to our legal status with God. Salvation is possible because God declares us just or righteous (beyond “not guilty”). We are not actually righteous, but God accepts us because we are seen as justified when we put our faith in Christ. {Rom 3:20-30; Rom 5:1; Gal 2:16}
Sacrifice - The character of God (holiness and justice) requires that he separate himself from evil and punish sin. However, God allows that wrath to be directed to a substitute--a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices were the means God provided to restore a person’s relationship with Him that was broken by sin. Jesus Christ was the final, once-for-all sacrifice who became our substitute in bearing God’s punishment for our sin. {Heb 9:24-28; Heb 10:12-14}