I recently watched a fascinating two-hour online video titled Church of Tares: Purpose Driven, Seeker-Sensitive, Church Growth & New World Order. [On the linked page, scroll down a bit to find the embedded video.] It describes the so-called “seeker-sensitive” (or “purpose-driven”) movement within Evangelicalism. If you have the time, or can listen while doing work which will not be disrupted while you listen, I highly recommend the video. It helps make sense of much of the foolishness and apostasy that plagues Evangelicalism.
I want here to focus on one part of the documentary: the decisive role played by Peter Drucker. [Drucker’s contribution is discussed beginning at the 1:04:00 mark.] Drucker, born in Vienna in 1909, moved with his family to America in the 1930s and became a professor and public intellectual. But, unknown to most people, Drucker played a key role in the seeker-sensitive church movement.
That movement, under the name Church Growth, was started independently in the 1950’s by pastor Robert Schuler and seminary professor Donald McGavran. The Church Growth Movement focused on identifying sociological factors which attract people to (or repel them from) churches, and promoting the knowledge of these factors.
But in the 1980’s Drucker gave a profound boost to the movement by choosing Evangelical leaders Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Bob Buford and mentoring them in the application of his management theories to church government. The seeker-sensitive pastors added Drucker’s marketing and organizational-management genius to the basic Church Growth game plan of using secular wisdom to increase the size of congregations.
A nominal Lutheran who openly admitted that he did not see himself as a Christian in any meaningful sense, Drucker was influenced far more by Søren Kierkegaard, Zen Buddhism, Confucianism and Martin Buber than by Holy Scripture. But why would a nominal-at-best Christian have so much interest in American Evangelical Christianity that he would deliberately instigate what has become (after Pentecostalism) the second-most widespread and influential Protestant movement of the last several centuries? Because, according to the documentary, of his deep desire for Western social renewal. Drucker wanted, most fundamentally, to counter modern alienation by a restoration of community and “spiritual values.”
The documentary’s basic narrative about Drucker’s influence is as follows.
As a young man, Drucker witnessed the rise of Nazism and communism and concluded (correctly) that the West was fundamentally sick. Nazism and Communism, Drucker concluded, were not simply bad luck, but instead indications of a fundamental disorder in Western societies. He therefore decided to dedicate his highest efforts to finding and promoting the means of social renewal.
In the first part of his career, says the documentary, Drucker devoted himself to thinking and writing on politics. In the second part he dedicated himself to creating what has become the modern theory of management out of a belief that corporations could spearhead social renewal by providing man with the community he needs. But Drucker came eventually to the belief that churches, not corporations, were the key to social renewal.
It must be emphasized that Drucker did not come to this conclusion because of his belief in the traditional Christian message of man’s sinfulness and his salvation only by repentance and faith in Christ. In Drucker’s view, most churches had only been giving individuals a “religious experience” that, however valuable, could not restore society. What fascinated him were the “megachurches,” the churches that were able to attract a mass following by catering to people’s felt needs. Drucker came to believe that the megachurch, regardless of the doctrine it preached, was the key to influencing society for the better.
As a result, Drucker chose three talented young Evangelical church leaders and intensively mentored them in the application of his business theories to church management. These three spearheads of the purpose-driven movement were Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Community Church and author of the second-best selling book of the Twenty-First Century (after the Bible), The Purpose-Driven Life, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, and Bob Buford, founder of Leadership Network, which identifies and promotes leaders in the seeker-sensitive and emerging church movements.
(The documentary does not say it, but we may presume that Drucker concluded that Catholicism was too weak in America to make a significant difference, and too controlled from the top down to want to implement his ideas.)
Rick Warren’s vast work and influence are not easy to summarize, and the documentary correctly spends more time on him than any other individual. Warren, more than anyone else, has instigated and led a massively successful worldwide campaign to redefine (mostly Protestant) Christianity. In its place, Warren’s religious product offers, inwardly, self-esteem and self-improvement via Christian-sounding slogans and outwardly, a campaign of secular go-gooderism (fighting aids, poverty, “ignorance,” etc.) covered with a Christian veneer.
To implement his system, Warren has created and massively promoted what is in effect a “franchise” system for running outwardly successful Protestant churches. [“Outward” success meaning large numbers rather fidelity to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.] The word “franchise” is appropriate because in a franchise, the owner of the business does not need to know very much either about general business practices or the product his business offers. The “Home Office” provides all of the information that the owner needs, and the owner / senior pastor only needs to be diligent in the application of a system that somebody else set up.
And in business, the customer is king. The heart of the “seeker-sensitive” church franchise method is to offer the religious customer just enough Christianity to attract him and keep him once he has made a commitment, but not so much Christianity that he is repelled by difficult or upsetting doctrines. Purpose-driven churches rarely mention sin, damnation, or the need for man to repent and have faith in Christ.
Instead, these churches keep their parishioners / customers satisfied by offering a myriad of programs and activities and by creating worship services based on principles of entertainment rather than theology. They have created a massively popular pseudo-Christian religious product, with just enough Christianity to win the approval of all but the most discerning Christians.
It must be emphasized that the seeker-sensitive movement is not simply seeking to attract more people to attend church. It is, in the words of the title of Bob DeWaay’s analysis and exposé of the purpose-driven movement, Redefining Christianity. In order to justify their market-savvy system, Warren and his minions have had to rethink church from the ground up. But at the same time, in order to deflect criticism and prevent alarm, they have done all they can to make it appear that they are faithful to traditional Evangelicalism. It is this combination of radical change coupled with the appearance of conservatism that makes the seeker-sensitive movement so destructive.
Here is one example of how “Warrenism” redefines Christianity: “vision casting.” According to Warren’s theory, a senior pastor who is obeying God will, if he searches for it, receive his own private revelation from God of exactly how his church ought to conduct its business in order to appeal to the “unchurched” in the local area. This (alleged) revelation is the “vision,” and the pastor’s seeking to induce God to favor him with a revelation is “casting” the vision. [Update: My mistake. Vision "casting" is the leader pitching his vision to his subordinates, in order to assemble a team that will implement his vision.] Once the vision has been revealed, the elders and other members of the congregation have, according to Warren, a godly duty to support the pastor’s vision, even to the point of expelling troublemakers who question the imposition of a new regime. Warren’s new system includes detailed instructions for how purpose-driven leaders can incrementally take over a traditional church, and then consolidate their power by expelling uncooperative members. Warrenism is like liberalism: an explicitly revolutionary doctrine that is usually (and dishonestly) presented as nothing more than making reasonable accommodations to modern times.
And Warren is not simply aiming to renew society by the general influence of his megachurch and the tens if not hundreds of thousands of other congregations large and small which have been influenced by Warrenism. He also has a specific plan for worldwide social renewal, led by Warren and his lieutenants. In what he calls the PEACE Plan, Warren, in effect, commits the worldwide church to an attempt to eradicate so-called “global giants” such as poverty, disease and illiteracy. Warren’s ambition is so great that in 2008, as reported in Time magazine, the President of Rwanda announced his intention to make his country the world’s first “Purpose Driven Nation.” But nowhere in the PEACE plan is there any reference to doing what the church should do, namely proclaim the Gospel. Warren is after worldly glory, and he knows how to gain the world’s attention and admiration.
In the memorable words of the documentary [see 1:25:20]:
Certainly Peter Drucker meant well in his quest for optimum community. But his worldly business management philosophies in the megachurch and emerging church movements have acted like steroids being injected into the body of Christ, causing unnatural, monster growth from which the consequences will be severe, and fatal.
What lessons can we take from the foregoing? Like Drucker, the authors and many readers of Orthosphere desire fundamental social renewal. But beware of a social renewal movement based on the wrong premises. Drucker, in common with many liberals of the Twentieth Century, saw generic “religion,” regardless of its theological content, as a socially useful phenomenon, and he promoted it. But because it is not based on fidelity to the actual teachings of Christ and the Apostles, the seeker-sensitive movement he helped spawn has done more harm than good. And aside from its theological infidelity, the seeker-sensitive movement has done nothing to oppose the liberalism that has infected society and is in fact the fundamental cause of the social disorder that Drucker wanted to oppose. In fact, since it seeks to attract large numbers of unbelievers from a society that is now overwhelmingly liberal, the seeker-sensitive movement has no choice but to endorse the poison of liberalism, at least implicitly, and often explicitly.
Ironically, the American and (non-Nazi and non-Communist) European societies of the 1930’s that Drucker saw as corrupt and in need of renewal were, by today’s standards, highly traditional and functional, albeit containing the liberal seeds (or perhaps the recently-sprouted seedlings) of their destruction. The purpose-driven movement that Drucker created has not only done nothing of fundamental importance to renew society, it has made the rate of corruption worse, by helping to hollow out the Western church, the only organization whose charter is to teach openly and comprehensively the true principles upon man must base his life and the organization of his society.
Here is another important lesson. In order to attract “the unchurched” (i.e., unbelievers) to church, the seeker-sensitive pastor / businessman has to tell his audience what they want to hear. By telling people what they want to hear, rather than the truth that Christ commands His pastors and teachers to teach, a pastor who is talented and marketing-savvy can attract a very large group of customers / parishioners to his church.
But once they are in the habit of attending his church, the seeker-sensitive pastor dare not tell his parishioners / customers the truth. If he were to begin telling them the truth about their sin, their inability to save themselves from the wrath of God, and their need to repent and to have the kind of faith in Christ that comes only a personal commitment to Christ and from hearing the whole Word of God expounded and taught accurately week after week, most of them would leave. And if they were to leave, they would take with them their money, their volunteer work, and their sheer numbers, all of which the seeker-sensitive pastor / entrepreneur has come to love and crave.
And a great deal of contemporary politics also consists in telling people what they want to hear. For the Democrats, it is telling people that the good society can be had by fighting discrimination and by redistributing the wealth that certain selfish people gain unjustly and refuse to share. For the Republicans, it is by telling people that liberalism is dying, and that society can be made better by promoting freedom and by deleting a few laws and regulations that the liberals are foolishly holding on to. Neither group can afford to tell its constituents the truth.
Beware of seeking glory by telling people what they want to hear. We must, of course, not be unnecessarily offensive, as some people seem to enjoy being, when we seek to spread our message of the falsehood of liberalism and the need for a new, non-liberal society. And we must seek to make our message as understandable and as appealing as possible. But we must never come to depend on the worldly glory that can only be had by telling people what they want to hear rather than the truth they need.