Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Book Review - "A Life With Purpose" (George Mair)

Title: A Life With Purpose (Rev Rick Warren, the most inspiring pastor of our time)
Author: George Mair
Published: NY: Berkley Books, 2005 (211pp)

Despite the runaway success of the Purpose-Driven Life book, there are still many quarters in the Christian neighborhood that frowns upon anything related to Warren or purpose-driven-ness. The word 'purpose-driven' has become almost synonymous with the Rick Warren name. This book alone has generated more money for its publisher, Zondervan, than any other book by a single author. Amid the success of the book and the hypergrowth of Saddleback Church in California, there have been many negative opinions about the whole movement. The author of this book, George Mair came from that background ready to find fault with Warren and his work. Instead, after hearing Warren for himself, Mair was pleasantly surprised, and wrote this book as a defense for Rick Warren and his church ways.

Rick Warren is more misunderstood than understood. Mair does the Christian world a service by sharing with us the inner story of this soft-spoken and pastor who prefers to keep a low profile lifestyle, in spite of his successes in his Saddleback church and in the book publishing industry. (Warren is currently working on a sequel to the Purpose-Driven Life.) This book is biographical and instructional in terms of understanding the heartbeat of Rick Warren. From growing his own Church at Saddleback to a mega-church of thousands of members, he has adopted a strategy of sharing best practices and training other church leaders so that they too can grow.

I know a lot of people are critical of the Purpose-Driven life, and skeptical about Warren's methods. Yet, I think those are results of hearsay and misunderstandings. For some, there might also be feelings of sour grapes. Putting all these prejudices aside, it is honorable to God, that before we criticize him, let us make an honest attempt to understand him and his methods. Let us not judge him.

If there is any critique about George Mair's work, it might be an overwhelmingly rosy depiction of Warren and his ministry. There are many other valid critiques which were not detailed. Nevertheless,this book is very informative about Rick Warren's ministry. You can read the details below.

In Chapter 1, "The Church in America," Mair gives an overview of the history of the Christian movement in America, aptly pointing out the background of Puritanism and mega-church-mania environment during Warren youth days.

In Chapter 2, "Planting the Seeds," the author highlights how parents Dot and Jimmy Warren Sr's faithfulness in church helped lay the foundation of Warren's current ministry. The secret lies in not simply growing churches, but growing the youth ministry (39).Rick's effusive personality of helpfulness also drew in many capable people who subsequently became a vital part of church growth.

In chapter 3, "Preparing for Ministry," Mair writes about how Warren went to seminary to be equipped for ministry. Interestingly, Rick did not settle for mere head knowledge, but constantly sought after a clear picture for ministry. Eventually, he clarified his vision as follows:
Evangelize: seek the unchurched and bring them to discipleship
Build a growth church and stay with it: churches that change pastors don't grow. (69)

In Dec 1979, armed with this vision, Rick Warren and his wife Kay, left for Southern California to start a new Baptist Church, what is now known as Saddleback.

In chapter 4, "Doing the Lord's Work," Mair credits the phenomenal growth of Saddleback Church to Warren's role in inculcating an 'entrepreneurial spirit' within the church organization. He begins with an intention of reaching the 'unchurched' instead of attracting members from other churches. Essentially, his way of growing the church is via evangelistic outreach, and having done that, to give them a reason to build the church through them. This births the idea of seeking the unchurched by creating a warm and welcoming climate. People were drawn to Warren because of his very down-to-earth personality. At the same time, Warren did not travel alone. He sought out the advice of other leaders such as Robert Schuller of Crystal Cathedral and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek. Warren did not stop at perspectives only from Christian leaders. He learned from external organizations such as Southwest Airlines's entrepreneurial culture. He adopts a culture of 'keeping things hungry' where the organization does not get fat and bogged down by riches. Rolling up the sleeves, getting one's hands dirty, and being hyper-frugal are marks of Warren's entrepreneurial attitude. To cap it all off, he vigorously kept in touch with the changing environment.

In chapter 5, the "Church Growth Movement," Mair discusses the background before Warren's famous book, the Purpose-Driven life. At that time, personalities such as Norman Vincent Peale tries to articulate a positive-sounding message that appeals to the masses but were accused that it comes at the expense of diluting the Good News. Mair noticed that while Warren's method and strategy resembles Peale's attempts, the Church-Growth-Movement is nothing new, as people like John Wesley, Donalid McFavran, even the Apostles of the early Church have adopted such ways. Part of Warren's attraction lies in it being able to highlight the power of positive thinking, a much needed aspect of the highly stressed and driven society. Rick Warren soon became the bearer of the Church Growth Movement.

In Chapter 6, "The New Paradigm Church," the modern churches are like shopping malls, with small groups appearing like 'shops' within the church 'mall.' Against the accusations that these churches are 'merchandising' the counter argument is that the churches are helping to 'mediate deeply felt religious needs' (117). An interesting quote attributed to an idea from Donald Miller was:

".. that mainline churches must give the church back to the people so that people can improve their lives." (117)

Some of the merits of Warren's strategy:
  • When responding to the God-in-a-Mall idea, the defense is: "create a spiritual presence amidst materialism" (119)
  • "They are willing to take risks, to challenge the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' crowd." (123)
  • TV: Using TV is a way to encourage the unchurched to come to church, those who will otherwise never enter the church.
  • "One of the most important aspects of the new paradigm church movement is the reduction of church bureaucracies."  (125)
  • "Saddleback attends to consumer demand by fine-tuning their worship and organizational style to today's culture, not the cultures of the past." (125)
  • "A key difference between older churches and new paradigm churches like Saddleback is that the older churches tend to 'focus on Sunday' operations, whereas the newer churches spread Sunday out over the entire week. They hold meetings, seminars, bring in guest speakers, do charity work, and run community outreach programs throughout the week." (126)
  • Defending the Mega-Church, George Barna says: "Jesus didn't die on the cross just so we could fill up buildings. He died so people's lives could be changed, so they would be more like Him, more than God, and live a more holy and proper way." (132) Barna also made an important critique of the mainline church in that they talk about programs, members, buildings and money to the point that they fail to address how members' lives can be changed through the faith.
In other words, the modern environment reeks of an anti-bureaucratic, anti-establishment bias. Warren's is primarily trying to address this new sentiment.

In Chapter 7, "Purpose Driven" book was described as providing guidance to the question why we are on earth. The reader learns.
  1. We were "planned for God's pleasure"
  2. We were "formed for God's family"
  3. We were "created to be like Christ"  
  4. We were "shaped for serving God" 
  5. We were "made for a mission." 
Mair then points out how the book has impacted the various aspects of society.
  • Thousands of churches were impacted with renewed interest in Christianity;
  • The unchurched start coming to church
  • Prison reforms were given a boost with sharp decreases in riots, violence and assaults
  • Its popularity has led many to equate Warren as the Lee Iacocca of the world of business.
In Chapter 8, "The Warren Method," Mair summarizes Warren's three strategies for growing churches through reaching the unreached and unchurched.

Using the baseball analogy, the four levels represent the four bases of a baseball diamond. The purpose is to help people connect, grow, serve, share and worship.
  1. First Base - Class 101 MEMBERSHIP (structure, strategy, statements, salvation)
  2. Second Base - Class 201 MATURITY (small group participation, tithing, daily prayer)
  3. Third Base - Class 301 MINISTRY (active participation in church, at least one ministry)
  4. Fourth Base - Class 401 MISSION (members join in evangelism)
  5. PITCHERS MOULD in middle - MAGNIFICATION (glue that binds the rest)

Five Concentric circles that relates the the CLASS program. In descending order:
  1. COMMUNITY - the world, people outside church
  2. CROWD - people who attend Saddleback church
  3. CONGREGATION -Believers in the church
  4. COMMITTED  - mature believers in the church
  5. CORE - those ready to evangelize

He uses as a resource for church leaders around the world. The Internet is also a teaching tool for people to download discussion materials.

D) PEACE PLAN (tackling the 5 biggest global problems)
  1. Millions don't know Jesus (Solution: PLANT Churches)
  2. Shortage of Leaders (Solution: Equip Leaders)
  3. Plague of Poverty (Solution: Assist Poor)
  4. Widespread Illness (Solution: Cure sick)
  5. Illiteracy and Ignorance (Solition: Education)
The final chapter pulls everything together. Chapter 10, "Putting Purpose to Work" reveals Warren's 3 part formula for success:
  1. Simplify your message
  2. Rely on your close friends
  3. Stay true to your mission.
 In summary, Mair's autobiographical book paints Rick Warren as someone true to his beliefs, as conveyed in his bestselling book that "It's not about you."  We can criticize all we want about Warren's methods, strategies, even his theology. However, let us not forget that not only is he humble about it all, not only his methods do work, many unchurched people has been reached. I am reminded of Paul's message.
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, (Philippians 1:18)
As far as Rick Warren's ministry is concerned, I give thanks.


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