5 Theological errors to learn (and avoid) from the purpose driven church

Confession: I once took one of those leadership development profiles and learned (or in my case confirmed) that I have an Entrepreneurial leadership style. Which basically means that I like to start things. It also means that once the shiny cool thing becomes routine and process-oriented, I'm ready to look for the next new thing.

Why share this with readers interested in biblical discernment? Because folks like me (and maybe even you) can be especially keen to try new leadership techniques in the marketplace. Nothing wrong with that. But it doesn't mean we ought to model our churches after a Fortune 500 corporation. I'm not saying we can't sharpen our skills to be the best and most effective leaders we can, but being a successful CEO and shepherding a flock of believers are two very different things. When we lose sight of that, we tend to feed the beast of the seeker-driven Emergent-pushing paradigm that has lead to a whole lot of hurt for the Body of Christ.

As seeker-focused trends come and go, Michael Acidri over at A Twisted Crown of Thorns has written an excellent article on some things we all need to watch for, mark and avoid.  (Be sure to add his site as a favorite discernment resource!)

5 Theological errors to learn (and avoid) from the purpose driven church

Do they want bigger hot dogs? Flavored water or cushions for their ankles the customer is king. This is the approach to successful entrepreneurship. It is sometimes no different when it comes to modern day church marketing only that it is called being ‘purpose driven’. Long gone are the days of preaching the gospel and teaching sound doctrine. It’s not uncommon to hear pastors talk and ask questions like ‘what’s the vision for your church?’ or ‘how is your church going to grow?’ By ‘vision’ they usually mean ‘a purpose driven plan’ or pragmatic approach to church growth.

You see, the purpose driven church movement makes several assumptions but here we will look at 5 common errors and how they deviate from scripture.

1. A pragmatic church assumes that the primary purpose of Sunday morning church services is to reach out to unbelievers who are some times erroneously referred to as ‘unchurched Christians’. In the New Testament, however, the reason the church gathers is for worship and equipping (Eph. 4:11-16; Acts 2:37-47). Evangelism is to primarily take place in the believer’s life context (“as you go”—Matt. 28:18-20) rather than being the main focus of the Sunday worship service.

2. Pragmatism also assumes that unbelievers are “seeking,” yet Scripture says, “There is none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11; Ps. 14:1-3). An unregenerate sinner is at the same stance towards God as a thief is towards a police man -not desiring to see him in the least and at best at war with him for he is dead in sin. Dead men don’t seek.

3. Purpose driven pragmatism assumes that the gospel can be made inoffensive to unbelievers if presented correctly. Yet, Scripture teaches that the gospel is, by its very nature, offensive to those who hate God (1 Cor. 1:18, 21, 23, 25; 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:7-8). But if it were not for the Holy Spirit’s role in regeneration and applying the effectual call of the gospel in the life of a sinner, then all would be in vain. Pragmatism makes the Holy Spirit an ‘excess of requirement’ guest to their bait and switch party. Salvation becomes a man dependent gimmick.

4. Seeker sensitive pragmatic method assume that the style of music a church uses is one of its most important keys to reaching the culture. Interestingly, the New Testament is silent regarding this “critical” element of church growth.

5. Many people including corporate executes believe that large numbers indicate true success. The purpose driven church makes the same assumption. They are always the first to assert, “Never criticize any method that God is blessing” and interprete the “blessing” as that which draws a crowd. But what about the prophet Jeremiah’s ministry? He faithfully proclaimed the truth his entire life and yet saw no fruit. According to this man centred church growth model, Jeremiah was a sore loser and failure. Is it better to appear successful in the eyes of men or faithful in the eyes of God?

The purpose driven approach seems to be driven by the wrong purpose -namely, a man centred desire for acceptance and influence rather than a God centered affinity for truth. It is no surprise that after a short while Christians dearly seeking after sound doctrine and bible study are usually pushed out and replaced by a new demographic who prefer entertainment, fun and folly.

A word of encouragement to those who still long for church as it used to be:

You are not selfish for desiring what every true Christian desires. I know that many of you have a hard time finding a church. The reason for that is the success of the church growth movement in convincing pastors to “transition.” When every Bible church in town has been converted to “doing church for the unchurched” there is no church that is there because God added people to it through conversion and the church leadership feeds those people the pure milk of the word. Nevertheless, seek the remnant and gather with them. – Critical Issues Commentary

For further reading please see:

How church growth movement drives the gospel out of churches by Critical Issues Commentary.

The purpose driven church by Nathan Busenitz

Related articles