Last October 31, I featured a post on a woman and a few of her fellow church members who were asked to leave their congregation, which was being revamped to become seeker-friendly.

Rick Warren also has thoughts about dissenters, those who do not accept his Purpose-Driven programme.  In his eyes and those of his supporters, those who do not wish to change are people who must be driven out.  As we have been hearing so often in the workplace over the past 30 years, ‘Change is good!  Embrace it.’  That isn’t always true and only serves to give licence to fixing what isn’t broken just because one manager doesn’t like the way things are done.  This attitude does not necessarily work in the business world and even less where church is concerned.  SoundWitness.org describes what generally happens:

In moving a congregation to a more seeker-sensitive “model,” many things are thrown out the window. Out go the pulpit, hymns, and the Old Testament Lesson, out go doctrine, unity, and your grandpa’s confession. Out goes the name on the front of the building, and possibly even the cross on the wall. They are replaced by a sermon series on how to solve your problems, praise bands, coffee bar, consultants, and vision. The Gospel is twisted into Law.

Next comes the push for a re-engineered church “management” structure, Constitution, and By-Laws. The senior pastor becomes a manager, and you, the parishioner, become the minister. Your church starts looking like the “evangelical” community church down the road..

These kinds of “hostile takeovers” are not pretty. If you’re one of those people who think that the main focus of your congregation should be Word and Sacrament ministry instead of meeting the felt needs of unbelievers, and you dare to voice your opinion, watch out! You might just get the left foot of fellowship. At the very least, you’ll be labeled as “divisive” and ostracized.

I mention this because it’s happening now in a church near you – possibly even in the pew you’re currently occupying.

I hear the word ‘divisive’ applied locally in our group of churches when someone politely and objectively brings up differences between the denominations.  ‘Why would someone mention our differences?’  Why ever not?  We may have variations of observance but we all worship One Lord, Jesus Christ.  Yet that’s small brew compared to Rick Warren and those borrowing a leaf out of his books. 

Berit Kjos, for Crossroads Ministries, explains the Warren method for a congregation’s involvement in ‘Small Groups and the Dialectic Process’.  Some of this may sound familiar to you, even if you do not attend an Evangelical church (emphasis in the original):

“Encourage every member to join a small group,” says Rick Warren. “… Not only do they help people connect with one another, they also allow your church to maintain a ‘small church’ feeling of fellowship as it grows. Small groups can provide the personal care and attention every member deserves no matter how big the church becomes…. In addition to being biblical, there are four benefits of using homes: 

    • They are infinitely expandable (homes are everywhere);
    • They are unlimited geographically (you can minister to a wider area);
    • It’s good stewardship (you use buildings that other people pay for!) releasing more money for ministry; and
    • It facilitates closer relationships (people are more relaxed in a home setting).”

Kjos warns us that we are not talking about working to New Testament precepts or to gain a better understanding of the Gospel (emphasis in italics mine):

… now people dialogue until they reach an emotional form of unity based on “empathy” for diverse views and values. Dr. Robert Klench gave an excellent description of this process in his article, “What’s Wrong with the 21st Century Church?

“Total Quality Management [TQM] is based upon the Hegelian dialectic … Briefly, the Hegelian dialectic process works like this:  a diverse group of people (in the church, this is a mixture of believers (thesis) and unbelievers (antithesis), gather in a facilitated meeting (with a trained facilitator/teacher/group leader/change agent), using group dynamics (peer pressure), to discuss a social issue (or dialogue the Word of God), and reach a pre-determined outcome (consensus, compromise, or synthesis). 

“When the Word of God is dialogued (as opposed to being taught didactically) between believers and unbelievers… and consensus is reached – agreement that all are comfortable with – then the message of God’s Word has been watered down ever so slightly, and the participants have been conditioned to accept (and even celebrate) their compromise (synthesis).  The new synthesis becomes the starting point (thesis) for the next meeting, and the process of continual change (innovation) continues. 

“The fear of alienation from the group is the pressure that prevents an individual from standing firm for the truth of the Word of God, and such a one usually remains silent (self-editing).  The fear of man (rejection) overrides the fear of God.  The end result is a “paradigm shift” in how one processes factual information.”

In the past, God’s unchanging Word was the ultimate test of right and wrong and our goal was knowing God’s will and aligning our thoughts to His truth. Now the goal is to bond diverse people into a “family” that must “respect” all kinds of Biblical interpretations and contrary opinions—even when conclusions clash with the Bible. The old guidelines for discussion were based on God’s call for agapeo love, kindness, patience and scriptural integrity. Today’s ground rules are based on humanistic psychology and manipulative guidelines for social transformation, “relational vitality,” emotional unity and collective synergy.

That’s a startling thing to read, isn’t it?  Yet, I find it going on in my area quite frequently.  And, yes, the message is watery and becomes self-congratulatory.  And there is always the question to the churchgoer, ‘How we can we get you involved?’  Recently, I seem to have inadvertently shocked one of my readers on this blog — and, apologies in advance — for saying that, if your church is teaching error, you may have to look for another congregation.  All being well, that may be one within your denomination, or, if not, perhaps outside it.  Mooting a call to leave should not come as such a surprise, given the distorted theology and churchmanship on display today.  We may wish to be prepared for this possibility.  But, I digress.

Because that article generated so much mail from readers recognising their own situation, Berit Kjos wrote another one, also for Crossroads Ministries, entitled, ‘Dealing with Resisters’.  Kjos explains (emphases mine):

The popular church management manual, Leading Congregational Change (LCC), promoted by Bob Buford’s Leadership Network, offers a well-used plan. “This is a book you ought to read before you change anything,” said Rick Warren in his hearty endorsement. Ponder its definition for resistance and the tone it sets:

Address Specific Pockets of Resistance. Resistance is the ‘opposite reaction’ to change…. [It] can come in many different forms—confrontational or passive-aggressive, from known troublemakers or loyal supporters, as a result of a specific change or of an incorrect perception.” [3, pages 90-91]

Since change agents must be totally committed to their strategic mission or purpose, they must also view dissenters as wrong. While some issues can be negotiated, this is not one of them. Successful transformation depends on persuading the vast majority to share their single-minded focus. Those who disagree with their manipulative strategies are viewed as intolerable barriers to the ultimate goal: a new way of collective thinking, being and serving.

We’re not even talking about Christ’s holy Church here, we’re talking about changing society.  And this is how the modern church does it (excerpts from Kjos’s article follow):

Identify resisters: The same methods that are used in state schools and with educators today with regard to controversial programmes –

Rick Warren is … subtle, and his references to health versus disease cloak his hostility toward “unhealthy” members who resist his agenda. In The Purpose Driven Church, he writes:

“When a human body is out of balance we call that disease…. Likewise, when the body of Christ becomes unbalanced, disease occurs…. Health will occur only when everything is brought back into balance. The task of church leadership is to discover and remove growth-restricting diseases and barriers so that natural, normal growth can occur.” 

Assess resisters and determine the degree of resistance:

‘Negative or uncompromising attitudes will be tracked using the sophisticated data systems that monitor each member. “Continual feedback” from these high-tech systems (made available to many large churches through Bob Buford’s Leadership Network) provides the data needed to make necessary adjustments. It’s all part of Total Quality Management. As we read in [educator Ronald Havelock's] The Change Agent’s Guide, “Resisters should be judged for relative sophistication and influence.”‘ 

Befriend, involve and persuade borderline resisters:

The most effective solution is friendly persuasion. “For unity’s sake, we must never let differences divide us,” wrote Pastor Warren. “We must stay focused on what matters most — learning to love each other as Christ has loved us, and fulfilling God’s five purposes for each of us and his church.”[6, pages 161-162]

That sounds good. But how can concerned Christians embrace a unity that involves compromising the truth? Only if our primary focus is fixed on Jesus and His Word can we truly share His agape love in a darkening world. For His name’s sake, we can’t let a human vision of unity force us to minimize His truth.

Precisely, but this Church Growth Movement isn’t about truth — it is about man.  Even worse is this (emphases mine):

Change agents have little tolerance for such an uncompromising Biblical position. It gets in the way of total and continual change. Therefore, LCC warns its readers to remain vigilant, keep promoting the vision (or purpose) and build congregational support. Notice that the strategic vision, not the Holy Spirit, must guide the process:

“Never stop. The change process never truly ends. … The art of leadership is knowing when to pause and when to press forward….  It is easy to be lulled into a premature feeling of victory after the first round of implementation … “There is no ‘next stage,’ but the change process is never-ending. The eight stages of the change process need to be revisited often. This cycle becomes a part of the congregation’s culture and way of life.”[3, page 94]

Why this constant change when God and His Word never change?  Man’s desire for power, manipulation and control. 

Marginalise more persistent resisters (emphases mine):

They obstruct progress and undermine the needed unity, momentum and passion for change. That’s why pastors often suggest to “divisive” members that they might be happier elsewhere. When the unhappy members leave, they usually, out of obedience to their Lord, follow the pastor’s request that they not speak to anyone about their reasons for leaving. The congregation will be told not to ask any questions. Thus the change leaders avoid potential conflict

Actually, Matthew 18:15-17 shows God’s way of dealing with an actual sin — a violation of God’s law or guidelines — not someone who, in obedience to God’s Word, takes a stand. Yet, in spite of the enforced tolerance toward moral and spiritual sins within the Church Growth Movement, there is little tolerance toward those who appear to disobey the top-down mandates of this manipulative management system. Sold out to pragmatism, it often turns a blind eye to Scriptures such as Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than man.”

Pastor Warren is more subtle, yet he models an attitude that breeds intolerance and judgment toward individuals who violate his politically correct guidelines concerning unity and relational synergy. As you saw earlier, he equates sincere Christians who question the adoption of the world’s methodology with germs and disease within the body. And he calls on the church leadership to “remove growth-restricting diseases and barriers so that natural, normal growth can occur.”[1, page 16]

What are those barriers? Are they the thoughts and actions that the Scriptures call sins, or are they attitudes and values that clash with psychological criteria for a politically correct “healthy church?”

Vilify those who ‘stay and fight’: This type of rhetoric is all too frequent today.  You hear it in the pulpit and you read it online (emphases mine in italics) — 

At this stage, negative labels, accusations and slander are permitted, if not encouraged, to circulate. Resisters — now labeled as divisive troublemakers — are blamed for disunity, for slowing the change process, and for distracting the church body from wholehearted focus on its all-important vision, mission or purpose. Ponder the subtle suggestions and negative labels Pastor Warren attaches to individuals who question his purpose-driven management system:

“The Bible knows nothing of solitary saints or spiritual hermits isolated from other believers….”[6, page 130]

“Today’s culture of independent individualism has created many spiritual orphans—’bunny believers’ who hop around from one church to another without any identity, accountability or commitments. Many believe one can be a “good Christian’ without joining  (or even attending ) a local church, but God would strongly disagree.”[6, page 133]

“A church family moves you out of self-centered isolation.”[6, page 133]

Isolation breeds deceitfulness.”[6, page 134]Emphasis added in each item

Notice the derogatory implication in each statement … Those who have searched long and hard for a Biblical church with solid teaching and edifying fellowship may identify with what Rick Warren mocks as “bunny believers.” And the “isolation” of a faithful Christian who obeys God’s call to separation from worldliness and unbiblical fellowship produces purity, not deceitfulness. [2 Corinthians 6:12-18]

Establish rules, regulations, laws and principles that silence, punish or drive out resisters: This, too, is off-putting, to say the least.  It is happening more often.  Again, note the manipulative rhetoric (emphases mine in italics):

At [Warren's] Saddleback, every new member must sign a “Membership Covenant.” It includes this innocuous promise: “I will protect the unity of my church… by following the leaders.”

This covenant is backed by Scriptures such as Ephesians 4: 29 (“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths….”) and Hebrews 13:17 (“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority….”)

But taking a stand on God’s Word is hardly what the Bible refers to as “unwholesome talk.” And, if church leaders followed the world’s management system rather than God’s way, the command to “obey your leader and submit….” would be overruled by other relevant Scriptures …

Some of the following rules or principles also reflect a collective ideal.  Violations open the door to various disciplines:

God blesses churches that are unified. At Saddleback Church, every member signs a covenant that includes a promise to protect the unity of our fellowship. As a result, the church has never had a conflict that split the fellowship….”[6, page 167] Emphasis added

“Rick’s Rules of Growth…. Third, never criticize what God is blessing, even though it may be a style of ministry that makes you feel uncomfortable.” [1, page 62]

Who determines what God is blessing? Does the growth come through the Holy Spirit or through the latest strategies in behavior modification?  The assessments that measure progress toward pre-planned outcomes don’t discern spiritual influences — whether from God or other forces. Like public schools, they measure personal change toward collective thinking and readiness to cooperate, but they can’t test the heart or measure obedience to the promptings of the Spirit. So the question remains: are new members added because they were seeking God or because they liked the feel-good fellowship, the sense of belonging and the unconditional respect?

Sarah Leslie, co-author of The Pied Pipers of Purpose, a vital document that makes the complexities and connections behind the new management systems understandable, wrote:

“We’ve come across numerous references in the Purpose-Driven literature to a concept called ‘abandonment.’ It is a Peter Drucker concept that has to do with businesses abandoning parts of their business that don’t make money. In the private sector (churches) it translates into churches abandoning projects that don’t produce pre-defined ‘results’ (the measurable kind, ‘outcomes,’ etc.). This also means abandoning people who don’t go along with the flow — the ‘laggards’ who won’t participate in the transformation. A church split is seen as a good thing, in that it gets rid of those people who are blocking progress towards church restructuring.”

If someone were to rewrite the parable of the Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to search for the one that was lost, do you wonder if he would check to make sure the one lost sheep would fit the new management standards?

Some months ago, I concluded a post along the lines of, ‘Which do you prefer — pleasing man or pleasing God?’  Again, who is your ultimate judge — a wrong-headed pastor or God?  If obeying your pastor and congregation in the face of error means more to you than doing God’s will, I shall pray for your soul

In the meantime, for those who walked away and found a new church, it took some time. One lady — a Mrs Johnson — wrote Kjos to say she found comfort in deepening her faith and focusing on her family.  She says God helped her in the following ways:

  • For teaching me to have more confidence that I am His child and am able to hear His voice
  • By teaching me about His providence
  • By lovingly revealing my own sin in response to being shunned
  • By pruning away my self-pity
  • For giving me encouragement from believers on the Internet when I had no one else to turn to that understood the dynamic of controlling churches/church leaders
  • By showing me that there is no other way but through humility
  • By freeing me from the dangerous practice of pleasing man (a life-long sin)
  • The thing I am grateful for the most is the first thing I started with: He has never left me or forsaken me (though many have).  This, to me, is mind-boggling and requires a faith that has only come from severe rejection by those I have loved and trusted
  •  

    Kjos refers us to an excerpt from A W Tozer’s The Loneliness of the Christian:

    The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share his inner experiences he is forced to walk alone.

    The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way…

    It is this very loneliness that throws him back to God.  His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else.

     

    Let us remember in our prayers those who are going through a process of decision-making and discernment about their church affiliation.  It’s not an easy time, particularly for people whose lives have been wrapped up with their church, who have attended in faith regularly, who have served on committees, who have built friendships.

    To these friends in Christ, please do not despair.  God, in His infinite mercy, will help you find inner peace and a new congregation.  To those of you who have lived the Purpose-Driven ‘experience’ and have had to search for another church, please feel free to leave a comment.  My readers and I would appreciate hearing from you.  Thank you in advance.

    For more information, please see:

    ‘Spirit-Led or Purpose-Driven? Part 4: Dealing with Resisters’

    ‘Small Groups and the Dialectic Process’

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