Dec 16, 2005

gladwell (part 3)

"Are you purpose-driven?"

That's a question I often hear from prospective churches I'm interviewing with. Kind of like a religious identity check, only this one has less to do with my fingerprint and more to do with my leadership DNA. In any event, it all goes back to a guy named Rick Warren.

Malcolm Gladwell did a very thoughtful snapshot of Warren, Saddleback Church, and the Purpose-Driven movement. Here's one of my favorite insights from the article:

Churches, like any large voluntary organization, have at their core a contradiction. In order to attract newcomers, they must have low barriers to entry. They must be unintimidating, friendly, and compatible with the culture they are a part of. In order to retain their membership, however, they need to have an identity distinct from that culture. They need to give their followers a sense of community--and community, exclusivity, a distinct identity are all, inevitably, casualties of growth. As an economist would say, the bigger an organization becomes, the greater a free-rider problem it has. If I go to a church with five hundred members, in a magnificent cathedral, with spectacular services and music, why should I volunteer or donate any substantial share of my money? What kind of peer pressure is there in a congregation that large? If the barriers to entry become too low-and the ties among members become increasingly tenuous-then a church as it grows bigger becomes weaker.

One solution to the problem is simply not to grow, and, historically, churches have sacrificed size for community. But there is another approach: to create a church out of a network of lots of little church cells--exclusive, tightly knit groups of six or seven who meet in one another's homes during the week to worship and pray. The small group as an instrument of community is initially how Communism spread, and in the postwar years Alcoholics Anonymous and its twelve-step progeny perfected the small-group technique. The small group did not have a designated leader who stood at the front of the room. Members sat in a circle. The focus was on discussion and interaction-not one person teaching and the others listening-and the remarkable thing about these groups was their power. An alcoholic could lose his job and his family, he could be hospitalized, he could be warned by half a dozen doctors--and go on drinking. But put him in a room of his peers once a week-make him share the burdens of others and have his burdens shared by others--and he could do something that once seemed impossible.

When churches--in particular, the megachurches that became the engine of the evangelical movement, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties--began to adopt the cellular model, they found out the same thing. The small group was an extraordinary vehicle of commitment. It was personal and flexible. It cost nothing. It was convenient, and every worshipper was able to find a small group that precisely matched his or her interests. Today, at least forty million Americans are in a religiously based small group, and the growing ranks of small-group membership have caused a profound shift in the nature of the American religious experience."

That said, I don't know your spin on Rick Warren, and I won't tell you mine. But I will say this... you have to admire the choices he made with the millions of dollars earned on his top two selling books, The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church:

In the wake of the extraordinary success of "The Purpose-Driven Life," Warren says, he underwent a period of soul-searching. He had suddenly been given enormous wealth and influence and he did not know what he was supposed to do with it. "God led me to Psalm 72, which is Solomon's prayer for more influence," Warren says. "It sounds pretty selfish. Solomon is already the wisest and wealthiest man in the world. He's the King of Israel at the apex of its glory. And in that psalm he says, 'God, I want you to make me more powerful and influential.' It looks selfish until he says, 'So that the King may support the widow and orphan, care for the poor, defend the defenseless, speak up for the immigrant, the foreigner, be a friend to those in prison.' Out of that psalm, God said to me that the purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence. That changed my life. I had to repent. I said, I'm sorry, widows and orphans have not been on my radar. I live in Orange County. I live in the Saddleback Valley, which is all gated communities. There aren't any homeless people around. They are thirteen miles away, in Santa Ana, not here." He gestured toward the rolling green hills outside. "I started reading through Scripture. I said, How did I miss the two thousand verses on the poor in the Bible? So I said, I will use whatever affluence and influence that you give me to help those who are marginalized."

He and his wife, Kay, decided to reverse tithe, giving away ninety per cent of the tens of millions of dollars they earned from "The Purpose-Driven Life." They sat down with gay community leaders to talk about fighting AIDS. Warren has made repeated trips to Africa. He has sent out volunteers to forty-seven countries around the world, test-piloting experiments in microfinance and H.I.V. prevention and medical education. He decided to take the same networks he had built to train pastors and spread the purpose-driven life and put them to work on social problems.


Anonymous said...

Great post. A lot of the Protestant churches in our area (Front Range of Colorado) seem to have the 40 day thing going on, and I had wondered a bit about the impact of success on the man at its center. It's inspiring to see him turn the "prosperity gospel" on its head and preach, by example, that our blessings are not just for us.

Sometimes it seems that the message of social justice is borne along joylessly, out of a sense of duty that belies an unrepentant heart. It's exciting to see someone who "gets it" (as I hope I do, more and more, each day) and who rejoices in the message.

Erm, we Roman Catholics do the 40 day thing in our own way. Every year. We call it "Lent" ;-)

Katie said...

I wonder which will have more of a longstanding impact, the book and its message or the money and how Rick has used it in the community that the book will most likely never reach? Just a thought.

Frank Martens said...

Here's another thought...

Why is the money going towards temporal fixes in this world and not to support those who take the gospel to millions?

I would think giving it to Missions orgs would be more important then anything else. Not that giving to those other orgs is bad, but wouldn't you want MOST of your resources going into spreading the gospel?

I know I would

Tony Myles said...

I think you can give money to a missions organization... or you can try to be a missionary. Maybe both?

Katie - interesting thought. I love seeing what God does with the gifts of generous people, but I imagine one day I'll see the other side of what I never got to see because of the secret givers.

Patricia - I laughed out loud at the lent comment. Nice one!

I heard that the Warrens paid back the church every bit of salary they ever received, not to mention no longer get paid by Saddleback (they live off a small percentage of the book royalties)

Katie said...

and what exactly is the definition of a missionary? does that mean going to a different country or maybe just a different culture within your own country, if Rick is working within the gay community to do something about AIDS that sounds like a mission trip to me, he might not have had to travel far in distance but he went a long way outside the scope of his church home

Thurman8er said...

I'm glad to know Rick Warren's purpose. That people have asked you whether you are purpose-driven cracks me up. What an obnoxious question.

I think I would say something like, "Well, watch me drive for a while and see if that doesn't show my purpose."

Pooh said...

It's good to see our brother Rick portrayed in a positive light.

Mark D said...

I didn't know that about Rick Warren. That is absolutely awesome! I like what Patricia said about blessings not being just for us. God wants to bless us - not only to supply our needs but so that we can "have an abundance for every good work." I'd say Rick is a good example of that principle. I would also predict that because he is faithful with this level of success, God will heap even greater blessing upon him.

derek bethay said...

"Why is the money going towards temporal fixes in this world and not to support those who take the gospel to millions?"

Look back through the NT miracles of Jesus... an overwhelming majority of them are Jesus meeting a physical (temporal) need... in order to ultimately meet a spiritual need.

Michelle said...

Agreed, Derek. James 2 urges us to demonstrate our faith by meeting such temporal need. The Gospels would look a lot different if Jesus had done nothing but talk.

Good post, Tony. I never knew much about Rick Warren. I've never been particularly interested in reading his books, but it's good to know the huge profits they've amassed are being used well.