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Rick Warren

Read Becoming a Purpose Driven Church, Part One

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Becoming a Purpose Driven Church, Part Two

By Rick Warren -- Walker: Saddleback has no committees. Im wondering can you be a church and not have committees? (Laughter)

Warren: Thats funny. Its true that we have no committees, but we do have lots of different lay ministries. Whats the difference? Committees discuss but ministries do. Committees argue while ministries act. Committees maintain while ministries minister. Committees talk and consider while ministries serve and care. Committees make decisions that they expect other people to implement.

At Saddleback, the implementers are the decision-makers. The people who do the ministry get to make their own decisions about that ministry. We do not separate authority from responsibility. We trust people with both.

Heres a radical question: What do these words and phrases have in common: majority rule, parliamentary procedures, ballots, boards, board meetings, business meetings, elections, voting, and committees.

None of them are found in the Bible. Yet how many churches do you know that are formed on committees, boards, voting, and majority rule. What we have done is taken an American form of government and pressed it upon the church. The result is often the church is as ineffective and bureaucratic as the government is.

We must remember that the church is a body not a business. It is an organism not an organization, and so God intends for it to operate on the basis of spiritual gifts, not elected offices. There is not a single example of voting to elect a pastor or any other church leader person in the New Testament. Voting was so foreign to the New Testament mind that when they chose Judas replacement, they cast lots. They were more likely to draw straws than vote.

Walker: It took you a long time to get a building erected at Saddleback and its an unusual one at that. Tell us about your building philosophy.

Warren: First, buildings are to be instruments, not monuments. We would never build a building we couldnt tear down if we needed to in order to reach more people because people are the priority not buildings.

Winston Churchhill once said, We shape our buildings and then they shape us. Most churches build too soon and too small. Then a permanently small building shapes a permanently small future. Thats why we postponed our building as long as we could. That meant, in order to keep growing, we used 79 different buildings in 13 years. We often joked, Were the church that, if you can figure out where we are this week, you get to come.

Walker: You also have a strong opinion that churches should not try to mix traditional with contemporary worship styles.

Warren: Absolutely. If you try to please everybody you will end up reaching nobody. You have to figure out who your evangelistic target is and focus on it. I do not recommend that established churches try to radically change the style of their existing worship services. Instead, I suggest that they start a second, alternative service or, better yet, start a new mission designed to reach people not being reached by the traditional style.

If they try to change the existing service too much theyll lose some people who are already there. You dont necessarily have to stop what youre already doing. Its like when youre fishing. Instead of just using one line, throw another hook into the water. You might have four or five different worship styles, if thats whats needed to reach different generations that live in your community.

I'm not against any traditional method that is still reaching people for Christ I'm just a proponent of adding new ways and services to reach those who will never be reached by the way weve traditionally done it.

Walker: Most evangelical churches would say theyre trying to reach everyone. Why do you think that wont work?

Warren: The church that claims to reach everyone is only fooling themselves. No style of church can possibly reach everyone. Take a close look and youll find that every church has a culture. This culture is determined by the predominant kind of people who make up the congregation. Whoever your church has right now is who youre likely to attract more of whether you like that fact or not.

What is the likelihood of a church full of retirees reaching teenagers?

What is the likelihood of a church full of urban professionals reaching farmers?

What is the likelihood of a church full of military personnel reaching peace activists?

Highly unlikely. Thats why we must start all kinds of services and churches. Jesus modeled evangelistic targeting in the Bible. He said, I came for the house of Israel, and when He sent out the twelve and the seventy, He gave them a specific target. Was this to be exclusive? No, to be effective.

Likewise, Paul says, I am the apostle to the Gentiles and Peter is the apostle to the Jews. Why do you think we have four gospels? Because they were written to communicate the good news to different targets. Matthew wrote for Jews and Mark wrote for Gentiles.

Walker: Some critics say that to be seeker sensitive requires the gospel to be watered down.

Warren: Seeker sensitive doesnt mean you compromise the message. It means you take into consideration peoples culture in order to communicate that message. Making a service comfortable for the unchurched doesnt mean changing your theology; it means changing the environment of the service such as changing the way you greet visitors, the style of music that you use, the translation you preach from, and the kind of announcements you make in the service.

The message is not always comfortable. In fact, sometimes Gods truth is very uncomfortable. Still we must teach, the whole counsel of God. Being seeker sensitive does not limit what you say but it will affect how you say it.

Imagine a missionary saying to a tribe, I have the best news in the world, but to hear it, you must first learn my language, start wearing my kind of clothes, sing my songs, and come to my building at a time convenient for me. Wed call that a strategy for failure. But we do it in America all the time. We say, You have to hear the good news in our language and through our tunes.

Walker: You started with a clean slate at Saddleback, but what if a pastor in a traditional church wants to make changes. Where would you suggest he start?

Warren: What you should do is change the easiest thing first and the things that make the greatest difference. Dont worry initially about the issues that cause the greatest disagreement. The easiest thing to change is the preaching. Any pastor in any church could update his preaching style for the 21st Century and see a dramatic improvement. In many churches, were still using an oratory style that is pre-television.

Another simple improvement is to change the way your church welcomes visitors. We dont realize that the traditional way of welcoming newcomers actually makes them more uncomfortable. Studies show that the three greatest fears that people have are, one, the fear of speaking in front of others, two, the fear of being singled out, three, the fear of being different. Yet we welcome visitors by saying, Stand up, tell us who you are, and put on a sticker that says youre different. Welcome to your three greatest fears.

There are a lot of simple, practical changes that any traditional church can make in order to be more sensitive to the needs and the fears of their unchurched visitors.

Walker: John Maxwell has said something like, In the New Testament, Jesus was so human that people had trouble believing that He was divine. Yet, there are a lot of pastors who are so formal people have trouble believing that theyre human. You also champion informality. Tell us about that.

Warren: I think one of the biggest barriers to effective ministry is that we take ourselves too seriously and dont take God seriously enough. The most important confession in the New Testament is Peters confession when he says, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, but the second and most important confession is Pauls confession when he says in Acts 17, We are but men.

You have to decide in life whether you want to influence people or impress them. You can impress people from a distance but you can only influence them up close. We desperately need authentic leaders today, who are real and vulnerable. Our greatest life messages actually come out of our weaknesses, not our strengths.

I dont think its by accident that the words, humor and humility come from the same root word. Self-deprecating humor is the quickest way to turn a hostile audience into a friendly one. It endears people to you. Anyway, if you learn to laugh at yourself, youll always have plenty of material. People like being around someone who isnt trying to put on airs or act pompous.

Ive got three doctorates, but I never let anybody call me doctor. In fact, my people just call me Rick. And I sign all letters to visitors with just Rick, not even Pastor Rick.

Why? Because I want them to feel they can relate to me on a first name basis. None of my degrees are hanging on the wall. Instead, Ive got pictures of my kids up. That's what people relate to Oh, youre normal.

Walker: Does that contribute to an openness with the congregation where people are willing to share their struggles?

Warren: One unique part of our service every Sunday is a testimony of someone working through a real life problem with Jesus help. Some churches are now using drama to illustrate the message but I thought, Why write a fake story, a drama, when Ive got a real live story sitting out there in the congregation?

So, every week, in the middle of my message, I have a person or couple share a five-minute testimony. These are never Thank God Ive never sinned stories, but gut level stories about over coming adultery, mental illness, alcoholism, promiscuity, abortion, abuse and relatives dying of AIDS. Weve covered every issue you could think of.

These testimonies have brought about two wonderful results. First, they have created a climate of authenticity and openness in our fellowship. People realize its ok to have problems now. You dont have to talk about them only in past tense.

Second, it has mobilized hundreds of people for lay ministry. As it says in 2 Corinthians, God allows us to go through these problems and then comforts us so that we can have a ministry of helping others.

Walker: Youre known as a visionary. What do you see as the number one challenge facing churches over the next few years?

Warren: The greatest challenge churches will face over the next five years is developing and adapting our ministry methods to the massive needs of the 21st century. We cant just keep on doing it the way weve always done it. The world has changed permanently and we are never going back to the 1950s.

We must start thousands of new churches and services. It will take new churches to reach a new generation. But more than that, we must develop a clear practical strategy that helps all our existing churches through what I call the four types of renewal: personal renewal, corporate renewal, mission renewal, and structural renewal. If we dont, thousands of churches are going to be closing and boarding up for good. Thats sad, because it doesnt have to happen.

All it takes is leadership with the vision and courage to make tough decisions. I have never seen pastors more open to learning and growing. Weve had thousands of pastors and church leaders attend the Purpose Driven Church seminars.

I'm a big fan of pastors, especially bi-vocational ones who support themselves while serving a church. I think pastors are the most underrated change agents in America. Anything we can do to strengthen their families, encourage them personally, and equip them with new skills necessary for ministry in the new century will be the wisest use of our resources we can possibly make.

Read Becoming a Purpose Driven Church, Part One

If youd like to know more about this, please read my book, The Purpose Driven Church (order your copy at Shop CBN).

This article originally appeared in Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free, email newsletter available from Used by permission.

The Ministry ToolBox is for ANYONE serving Jesus Christ. For a free subscription, you can sign up at

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA., a congregation that now averages 16,000 in attendance each weekend. Rick is also author of "The Purpose Driven Church," and founder of, a global Internet community for those in ministry. You may reprint this article in your publication with the following attribution: From Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for those in ministry,

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