Peter Drucker’s Key Role in the Corruption of Evangelicalism

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 a case of the West having 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.)

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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 of parishioners 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.

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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.

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It must be emphasized that the seeker-sensitive movement is not simply seeking to attract more people to attend church. It is, to use 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.” Once the vision has been revealed, the senior pastor must convince the other church leaders to follow this vision; that’s the “casting” part. The elders and other members of the congregation have, according to Warren, a godly duty to support the pastor’s vision—for it allegedly comes from God—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.

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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.

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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 which man must base his life and the organization of his society.

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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.

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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.

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25 thoughts on “Peter Drucker’s Key Role in the Corruption of Evangelicalism

  1. Chris Rosebrough, one of today’s best watchdogs for orthodox Christianity, did a wonderful lecture which he posted on his daily internet radio Fighting for the Faith. The lecture is called, “Resistance is Futile: You Will Be Assimilated Into the Community”. It takes the reader from Kant to Schopenhauer to the Fascists to Drucker to Warren.

    It is WELL worth the listen. I have listened to it several times, because it is so interesting (and horrifying) and there is so much there. Listen here:

    http://www.fightingforthefaith.com/2012/05/resistance-is-futile-you-will-be-assimilated-into-the-community.html

    Enjoy, cringe, and learn!

    Eric ex Cathedra

    • Amen to that! Rosebrough is one of the best (internet) radio apologists. Now that you mention it, I’ll listen again to “Resistance is Futile…”.

      • I’m listening, and he’s pushing the Enlightenment, even John Locke. Thomas Jefferson, individual rights, “self-evident truths.”

      • I can only take so much cheerleading for the Enlightenment. It will take someone stronger than me to get through it.

      • Look at it this way: Rosebrough is setting up “modernism” (Enlightenment, Republicanism) in order to contrast it with “postmodernism,” in this case, Fascism, with its emphasis on community rather than objective truth. In the case of the Enlightenment, he’s not endorsing it per se, but rather contrasting its understanding of objective truth (a view which modernism shares with premodernism, at least Western premodernism) with the postmodern view that truth is community-dependent and therefore non-objective.

      • Another thing: Rosebrough is politically naive, but theologically astute. So his statements about modernity are to be expected, and are not important for the subject at hand, which is to understand the seeker-sensitive church movement, and the underlying forces which it instantiates. I recommend that you keep listening, through gritted teeth when necessary.

      • OK, so now I have to filter and interpret all the bilge about the Enlightenment so I can then interpret what really is the counter-Enlightenment?

        When I hear such praise for The Enlightenment I release the safety on my Bible.

      • To make your comment useful, you have to identify what’s wrong with the talk. And it is not “superficial.”

      • I’m sorry your understanding of the subject was superficial . . . here’s some vindication of Alan’s thesis from Singapore’s liberal City Harvest Church, whose leaders are being convicted of misappropriating 20 million dollars from the Church’s coffers.

  2. It wasn’t just the Evangelical churches. My father was an Episcopal priest. Back in the early 70’s, he brought home some huge Drucker books that really impressed me (I still have a couple on my shelves). He and his friends – not just Anglicans, but a study group formed from all the denominations, including Orthodox and Catholic clergy – were reading Drucker, and had started to think in terms of results-based marketing, that measured things really possible and easy to measure. In other words, not catechetical adequacy or spiritual development, nor charitable works or evangelization (“outreach,” as Anglicans then began to call it), but attendance, collections, donations, planned gifts (bequests, gifts of life insurance policies, etc.), participation rates (in the various guilds and clubs), and that sort of thing. They looked up to Bob Schuller.

    This was contemporaneous with the effort to make church “relevant to modern life,” so that it would have more sex appeal, and to make it less intellectually and morally demanding, and thus easier to market. It was then that all talk of sin, death, hell, miracles, the difficult bits of the Creed, or anything at all otherworldly or laborious vanished from the sermons. Everything in the Bible was interpreted in terms of “broken relationships” and “community.” It was also contemporaneous with the abandonment of ad orientem, the new Prayer Book and Hymnal, and the whole burlap and tambourine disaster.

    By then I had already been exposed to the spooky old high religion, and this all struck me as a complete evisceration of the faith. It was dry as dust in my mouth. Looking back, I now see that it was just then that my own crisis of faith began. Thank God for the last relic of the Oxford Movement, my cathedral choir of men and boys, in which I sang throughout those years. If it had not been for that tradition, esteemed and beloved in the cathedral parish and the whole diocese, I am sure I would have fallen away altogether.

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  4. Kristor: agree it was not just the evangelical and free churches. Saw it in the Presbyterians — but like the Anglicans, they soon saw it for what it was.

    The irony is that the faithful churches are becoming more liturgical — in the hope they will find the spooky high religion.

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  8. Thanks for posting this interesting perspective on Peter Drucker’s contribution to the mega church movement. It’s very different than the one I’ve been exposed to via Mr. Drucker’s writings and a PBS documentary on him. If I may, I’d like to share a few points for your consideration.

    Peter Drucker started his career as a journalist in Europe for financial publications. In 1939, his first book – The End of Economic Man – a detailed account of and warning about Totalitarianism. The book put Mr. Drucker on the literary map – it was praised by Winston Churchill. He fled Austria/Germany to Britain, then setting in his new home – America. his second book – The Concept of the Corporation – was the result of a study he did of General Motors Co. at the request of its CEO – Alfred Sloan. Doing this type of study was something Mr. Drucker pursued for a number of years without luck. He became interested in how organizations operated and there were in the 1940s…only 3 books in print about organizational management. Mr. Drucker played a big role in defining organizational management practices of modern organizations…hence the catch phrase – the father of modern management. His 1954 book – The Practice of Management – is still the best book on managing organizations of people. It outlines key principles and practices from which a person in a role of authority/responsibility can apply if he/she so chooses to do so….to develop their own practice of managing an organization. The core principles interrelated principles are:

    1. Leadership is figuring out what the rights things to are. And to have the courage to act on these right things. Leadership = Being Effective

    2. Management is about enabling performance. This leads to a series of questions: First, what performance is desired/needed? What is needed to get that performance – people wise and work systems etc….and a few other more detailed questions.

    3. Administration is about doing things well. Administration = Being Efficient.

    Mr. Drucker’s upbringing in Austria – he was born in 1909 (a decade before WWI) – made him quite sensitive to the importance of and keenly interest in cultivating pathways for people to have meaningful lives and a sense of belonging with communities of their choosing. From the 1950s to early 1980s he thought that by helping organizations establish management practices rooted in the 3 above principles that citizens would not only be productive economically for the organization but, through meaningful work and collaborations people would reestablish a sense of belonging to a community. Mr. Drucker saw the lack of self-worth and belonging to a positive community.

    He gave up on this idea in the 1980s and turned his attention and hopes to the “Third Sector” of society — non-profit organizations as the place where people would find their sense of belonging to a community. Mr. Drucker split his professional time as such – 1/3 teaching (mostly organizational management), 1/3 writing (articles and 39 books) and 1/3 of his time consulting with organizations. He split his consulting time 50/50 with corporate clients and non-profit organizations…with non-profit groups, he donated his consulting time.

    So, the social renewal you mentioned in this blog post that Mr. Drucker targeted was a sense of community belonging. In the documentary about him, Mr. Drucker talks about this aim and not supporting the apparent aim of Warrenism you mention – to church the unchurched. He also mentions the mega church in this documentary as being an example of an organization that is enabling his desired aim – people have a sense of belonging to a community.

    Mr. Drucker consulted with, not seeked out and mentored the pioneers of the mega church movement. He consulted with many leaders/managers of non-profit organizations in the later part of his career. Most notable in the same documentary – The Girl Guides of America – which Mr. Drucker called the best managed organization…period. And Frances Hasselbein – the CEO of the Girl Guides – America’s best CEO. I’m quite sure he didn’t set out to specifically develop the mega church organizational model. Seems that the pioneers of the mega church movement were open to hearing and applying Mr. Drucker’s ideas about organizational management.

    The second core principle listed above – the primary function of Management is to Enable Performance seems simple but, is still rarely practiced. Command and Control is the comfort zone for most organizational managers. I raise this point because through his consulting career, particularly at the front end of the two phases – 1950s with corporations and the 1980s with non-profit orgs, Mr. Drucker had few takers for his ideas and concepts. He ended up working with organizations who were open and receptive to trying out his ideas.

    His first corporate clients were not even in America. He was invited by Japanese companies to consult with them. Toyota’s famed production system – Lean Manufacturing that is the organizational improvement fad across North America and Europe is based on the Drucker management principles listed above…adapted for product manufacturing environments. Likewise, when his focus shifted in the 1980s to the non-profit organization sector, he consulted with clients that were open and receptive to trying out his ideas.

    I don’t know enough about the mega church movement or the leaders you mention in your article. It appears from the information you’ve shared that the choices made for the 3 core management principles by Warrenism are:

    On Leadership: The right thing to do is to focus on “churching the unchurched”.

    On Management: The desired outcomes aka results is increasing the size of the ‘flock’

    On Administration: A Command and Control franchise-esque model is being used.

    I don’t have an opinion/judgement that these aims are good or bad. They are choices made by mega church members not Mr. Drucker. If true, your comments about Mr. Warren seeks worldly glory and assimilation of all into Protestant churches is very troubling. That sounds like a form of totalitarianism. A totalitarian regime is something Peter Drucker would never knowingly support.

    In closing, please accept my thanks for expressing your views here. It was a very interesting perspective and article. If I may, I would also suggest to you and your readers that the organizational management principles and practices brought to light be Peter Drucker can be employed to restructure, improve and operate most organizations that involve people as a major aspect. I can say, very confidently, that if your organizations were to think through and apply his leadership, management and administration principles in a way that helped you achieve your group’s unique aims, his spirit would be quite happy. If the sense of belonging to community of your congregations was greatly increased…Mr. Drucker, if still with us, would be smiling from ear to ear.

    All the best.
    Steve

    • My essay was not intended to criticize Drucker’s method as applied to businesses or other organizations in general. It most definitely was intended to criticize how Rick Warren and others like him apply the Drucker method (or something very much like it) to churches. As I pointed out, the fundamental flaw in applying “management science” to church administration is that the religious customer must never be treated as king. The church has a message that she is commanded by her Lord to preach to all, regardless of how unpopular it may be.

      Of course, by claiming that Drucker had, even if indirectly, a key role in the corruption of evangelicalism, then I am of necessity doing some harm (albeit probably very minor) to the Drucker brand.

      You said,

      If true, your comments about Mr. Warren seeks worldly glory and assimilation of all into Protestant churches is very troubling. That sounds like a form of totalitarianism. A totalitarian regime is something Peter Drucker would never knowingly support.

      I don’t make that claim about Drucker and neither does the documentary, in my recollection. Rick Warren most definitely does desire worldly glory, and the purpose-driven franchise has been so successful as to result in something like the assimilation of a very large number of Protestant churches into one loose system. It’s rather like the system of secular fashion: tightly controlled, but not formally so, by an efficient system for publicizing products and making them desirable to the customer.

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