• Mike

    I just read this post again after reading “Pagan Christianity” by George Barna and Frank Viola.

    I’m curious to hear how you would respond (Rick and staff) to the idea presented that your organization and positions therein do more to muzzle and pacify the body of Christ rather than empower it.

    • Mike, according to Ephesians 4, the role of the leaders of a church is to equip others for leadsership and service.

      Saddleback is a prime example of what is wrong with total anti-institutionalism. Most people know about the weekend attendance numbers of 24,000-ish. But what gets less press is the almost 40,000 in small groups and the 17,000+ who have gone on Saddleback mission trips literally to every nation.

      The weakness of organic-only movements is not only that they overlook some major leadership principles, they also lack the strength and structure necessary to mobilize the body for ministry and mission. There is a happy, biblical, functional medium that avoids excessive institutionalism and grants freedom for leaders to be empowered and to empower others.

      • Mike

        What does equipping mean?

        In my 38 years of attending institutional church services, I’ve spent that time performing music and listening to the senior pastor speak, all choreographed to the agenda of the senior pastor.

        I’ve come to the conclusion that the institutional church exists to serve the leaders, not the other way around.

        I heard Rick make a big deal about giving back his entire salary to Saddleback from the his book proceeds. But he still seems to be the draw and focal point of the Sunday gathering. He may not be benefitting monetarily from Sunday, but it certainty feels like he is benefitting socially from Sunday.

        Can you truly deny that Sunday is a passive, spectator sport?

        • Mike, I understand where you’re coming from. But I also know that some of today’s largest and fastest-growing churches in America are highly relational.

          As for equipping, it’s starting, building, and sustaining relationships with people, inviting them to spend their life on kingdom concerns, giving them the opportunities, showing them the way, and empowering them to lead others. It looks like an alcoholic named John whose family kicked him out of the house. Tired of sleeping on his office couch, he went to AA, which helped, but something was missing. He wound up starting Celebrate Recovery which now empowers thousands of CR groups, raises up regional leaders, is used in 17 state prison systems, etc. It looks like Jeremiah, leaving the main campus to launch a new one in a run down school, inviting others to join him, empowering them to lead groups, leading them to serve the Anaheim community. It looks like a worship leader named Neil who is awesome with a guitar but spends countless hours doing coffee and auditions with musical hopefuls, planting seeds in their hearts and minds about being part of the mission of planting new churches around the world.

          Equipping is relational. It’s a Senior Pastor who so encourages his staff that they will tackle huge projects passionately, inviting volunteers to join in and make it great. It’s Kelly, volunteering at a local food pantry and now on staff running the whole local peace center. It’s Larry, your average success-pursuing American middle-ager, going one time to help feed some homeless people in Compton and a year later preaching to them every Saturday morning over breakfast.

          As for Rick, yes, his personality is large. But when his son, Matthew, took his own life, he took four months off, stayed away from the pulpit and didn’t meet with the staff. The result? The church had its greatest growth in its history.

          Rick has so engrained into his church a culture of intentional, relational discipleship that every area of ministry runs strong even in his absence. Yes, he’s the primary motivator, but that’s leadership. That’s influence.

          Trust me, what happens on Sunday is still the icing. Real community, real ministry, real life change happens in living rooms and coffee shops and out on the streets.

          I was burned by institutionalism myself. I spent fifteen years doing traditional ministry, trying to keep people happy and the bills paid. Then I joined the staff of Saddleback and I’ll never be the same. For the first time in my life, I found authentic community, shared my innermost struggles with my small group, and started healing. I’ll never do church the same way again.

          So, I get where you’re coming from. Your story is common. But there are churches that are thriving, both small and very large, that are counting more than heads. They’re counting the stories of lives turned around by the gospel, made possible because of the effect of relational, multiplying ministry.

          Is Saddleback perfect? Nope. I once made a big mistake that probably embarrassed Rick with the public. Know what he told me? “That’s your mistake for this week. Now go make another one next week. It’s how we learn.”

          Like I said, it all changed my life, and I wish for many more Saddleback-like churches to rise up.

          • Mike

            I wish that were the case, too.

            Personally, I’ve never attended a Saddleback service, but I have been a part of a “mega-church” local to northern California. It’s probably unfair of me to equivocate and lump all organizations into one category.

            All the examples you give sound great. They just don’t match the narrative of my life so far.

            My wife and I lost a child 5 years ago and had to walk through grief, together and separately. A couple years afterwards I found myself at a retreat where God dumped His love on me, telling me that He delights in the small, the mundane, and the ordinary. God loves the mighty Elijah, and also the humble Enoch.

            When I returned to try and explain what I experienced I was given the exact opposite narrative. Numbers are dropping and we need to be loud, big, and expressive. The world is going to hell and low attendance means less souls in the kingdom. Spice it up!

            Now I don’t know who to believe, the impression I received from the Holy Spirit or the church leaders. The pain I’ve felt from church leadership robbing me of my identity as a quiet child of God threw me into huge bouts with depression and one suicide attempt.

            If God cares about people and wants to have relationship with them and also cares about community and wants them to have relationship one to another (i.e. through the church), why would He elevate people to places of authority and influence that seem to have the least ability to listen or empathize with hurting people?

            And to my specific situation, why does God appear to be hiding true church from me? I’m seeking but I’m not finding.

          • Brother, I wish that were true for you as well, and I’m so sorry it hasn’t been.

            As for why church leaders may seem this way, I think it has to do with the variation of shapes of leaders. Some guys are type-A drivers who think about tasks more than people and numbers more than stories. Those guys are given to the body to help move things forward, but they have a weakness – they often forget to stop and listen and put the hearts of the broken before numerical success.

            Then there are leaders who couldn’t care less about numerical success and just want to pour into individuals, build relationships, and minister to the hurting. They are shepherds. And they are given to the body to remind us that souls matter more than anything else on earth. They have a weakness, too – they sometimes forget to keep going to new places and reaching more lost people.

            There are also the cautious bookkeepers who tend to focus on keeping everything organized and the finances in order. And there are wallflowers and social butterflies too. There are dreamers and cheerleaders who motivate but don’t get much done and there are missionaries who leave the ninety-nine to go out after the lost sheep.

            With this kind of diversity in the body, it’s vital that churches work to allow everyone to have a voice, to balance one another. It’s one of the reasons we’re so passionate about the purpose driven model. We’re here for worship AND evangelism AND ministry within the flock AND relationships and community AND discipleship and spiritual growth.

            So, what you heard from God is absolutely right!! God loves the one AND the many, while we’re so limited that we tend to only focus on one OR the many.

            And, at the end of the day, I love what Craig Groeschel said the other day on Twitter. “People aren’t looking for a church that is cool. They’re looking for a Savior that is real.”

            So, be frustrated, and turn that energy into positive change if at all possible. You can do that under authority in your current setting or you can gracefully find a way to go elsewhere, but don’t give up! The local church – the body of Christ – is the hope of the world. We just need to get better at being who we were meant to be.

            As for losing a child, I am SO, so sorry! I haven’t been there. But you’re not alone. Rick has been there. Greg Laurie has been there. My pastor / father-in-law has been there. And I’m praying for you to somehow find your way into a group of friends, formal or informal, that can encourage you!

          • Mike

            Thanks for the encouragement, Brandon.

            I wholeheartedly agree with Craig’s tweet: People aren’t looking for a church that is cool. They’re looking for a Savior that is real.

            Losing a child is ugly and painful, and rightfully so. What was most painful for me was the feeling of being pushed out of my community because my pain didn’t reflect the victorious life Christ is told to bring.

            Pain without purpose is the most painful. My hope is that one day the church can handle ugly better rather than hide it behind lights and smiles.

          • Robin

            Mike- I’m sorry this happened to you- I truly am. I suggest you pray about this every night and seek the answer. After all, as I am a Mormon, that is how the Mormon church was re-established into the earth since biblical times. You would be surprised at what you can learn by praying. Mike, speaking as a full member of the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, I have a testimony that you WILL see your child again. I know that, and I know that all family’s will be together forever. Mike- even children go to Heaven, and I know that each and every one of us on the earth is a Child of God, and that he loves us and knows us all by name. If you are interested in learning more about the LDS church, find your local Mormon missionary’s.

          • Mike

            Thanks for the kind words, Robin.

            Many of my neighbors belong to the LDS church and they are some of the kindest people I know. I’ve spent 6 months studying with some missionaries. I have some views that would prevent me from from becoming a member, but those are more of my issues than the church’s.

            While we agreed to disagree on some things, I absolutely consider them my spiritual family. They once paid me the best compliment I ever heard: You sure don’t sound like an evangelical.

            Keep on encouraging those around you, Robin. And share the love of Heavenly Father!

      • Brandon: See my response to Mike above. Also, the word “organic” is meaningless today so I no longer use it and haven’t for a very long time.

    • Mike, PC was written in 2008 and it is NOT a stand-alone volume. In fact, reading it alone will lead to all sorts of misunderstandings as we point out in the book itself. That first volume raises questions about certain accepted practices and then looks at them in the light of history, leaving the reader to ponder and apply them. But the follow-ups books are the constructive sequels that build on the deconstructive questions put forth in PC. To get the whole picture, I encourage you to read the rest of the series of books, so you have the full picture. They are all listed here: http://ReimaginingChurch.org. Rick has graciously even promoted some of the follow-up volumes on this website. btw/ I typically don’t comment on blogs, so if you have any further questions about this, please email me at TheDeeperJourney@gmail.com – Cheers, fv, Psalm 115:1

  • Hola es posible traducir los mensajes en españolgracias

  • Mike

    Maybe a pastor can help me here. I’m having a difficult time with points 5 and 7:

    5. The Church provides the highest motivation.
    7. The Church provides the simplest administration.

    I’ve attended and participated in 4 different fellowships from the time I was born until my late 30’s. There are two conclusions I have drawn from my experiences with the American institutional church:
    – They appear to driven by the highest primal motivations: fear and greed.
    – They have a simple administration and decision-making strategy: whatever the senior pastor says goes.

    Here is what I mean. The marketing face or primary characteristic of an American institutional church appears to be the weekly gathering for worship (usually on a Sunday morning) and the highlight or culmination of the service is usually the sermon. Forty minutes of listening to the same person or select group of people week after week bringing their same opinions and perspectives without any room for questions, discussions or disagreement. If you have a different opinion and speak it you are labeled a heretic or back-slidden.

    All the churches in my local area have the typically the same 14 to 16 points to their statement of faith usually encompassing some theological concepts about the nature of the Bible, God and salvation. I want to help hurting people which for me encompasses loving people where they are and meeting their most pressing needs. Group think and being preached to does not seem to meet the need of intellectual or spiritual growth. I would rather donate to organizations like World Vision or the Heifer International and leave the local church to people that like their spiritual food pre-chewed.

    While I don’t agree with Bart Erhman’s (professor at University of North Carolina) conclusions I do agree with his observation that churches do not educate, they indoctrinate. The role of an educator is to provide information, challenge assumptions and stimulate critical thinking so one can draw their own conclusions. But it appears the role of the pastor/teacher is to cast a vision that falls in line with the statement of faith and then do everything possible to avoid distraction and get people in line with the vision and embrace group-think.

    If the church wants to be a force for good, that’s great! Let’s role up our sleeves and find ways to help the hurting. But don’t pretend the church’s job is to bring the wisdom of God from the ivory tower of the pulpit.

  • Rose Jepchirchir

    Thank you for the encouraging word of God. I thank God for this ministry given to you. You are called of God. The world is full of diseases currently. However as wrote in the message, if Christians come together in unity of the Holy spirit, all things are possible with God. Thank you God bless you & keep you.

  • This is very encouraging to know that as pastors, missionaries, evangelists etc, we are a part of a global movement under the Lordship of Jesus Christ that cannot be destroyed by evil forces and it will last for eternity. Upon this Rock I’ll build My Church and even the gstes of hell shall not prevail against it. Yes, I am glad I am a part of the family of God. Glory 2 GOD .

  • Kevin Thomas

    Thanks for the encouragement

  • Unfortunately many churches are not aware of this and they look down upon themselves.They think their their mandate on earth is to preach and not transform the world.But believe you me if every church read this,the world would be no longer the same again

  • Samir Tiruwa

    Praise The Lord pastor Rick.
    I just want to say Thank you for this massage..
    Its true and encouraging..
    Again thank you
    Yours in Christ
    Samir

  • Rassal Khakha

    Thanks a lot for this inspiration. I really needed to hear this at this moment as was going through a very discouraging & dry time in my ministry.

  • Shem Otinga

    It is a blessing to here this. God does not sponsor flops. since he auhtorized the church to begin, the church can never faith.

  • Hortense

    Thank you so much Pastor Rick Warren,you are a blessing to our generation.

  • Personally, I would like to thank you for reflecting the importance of church. When I returned from the United Kingdom after 2 years back to Nepal that is what I have been thinking. And, based on this thought I have taken responsibility of a small NGO called Console Mission. Through this mission we are focusing in the development of the churches.

  • Aubrey McNutt

    My awesome friend, Pastor Rick Warren, I have not had the honor of meeting you in person, but what you’ve done for me in explaining GOD’s Word has helped me tremendously for many years !

    I have been dealing with stage-4 cancer for over 4 years now, and it has been the greatest blessing of my life as I can so easily see how GOD is using me to share this amazing peace and complete confidence I have, simply because of our Lord and Savior, JESUS CHRIST !! I know my salvation is sure and oh what a joy it is to glorify Him using this STAGE ( 4 ) that He has blessed me with to inspire others !!
    And I cannot thank you enough for this exciting and obviously absolute truth of just how powerful is His body, the Church ! I can’t wait to share these 8 reasons why His Church is the beautiful answer to these seemingly doomsday fears that are running rampant in the world today.
    Thank you deeply for your amazing love for The Lord and for His Gospel message ! And I thank GOD for blessing you with the talents and resources you have been so effectively been sharing for all these years !

    I cannot even begin to adequately express my gratitude to you and to the Lord for what you are doing to grow The Kingdom !!

    • Hortense

      Dear Aubrey,

      Thank you for your testimony,i’m encouraged by how your faith is strong during those hard time,Jesus is giving you many many years to serve Him.

      With love.

      Ps Hortense

  • Jenne Carroll

    Very well said, an inspiration in this troubled world. You are so right in saying with God all things are possible. I count my blessings everyday and thank God for all he has given me. My pastor once said people wish for world peace all the time, when if everyone would just believe in our Lord and follow His ways you would have that and so much more. So now I wish for people to come to our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you.

  • Yvonne Matthyssen

    Thank you. Very inspiring and motivating for me personally as I struggle with the situation I am facing at the moment.

  • Joseph Powell

    An excellent assessment of the church’s position in the world today, and very timely as we are besieged daily with discouraging news from the media. Thanks, Pastor Rick!

  • Gbolahan Akinola

    Thank you so much for this encouraging piece, “the church is the strongest force on earth”. More Grace to you sir.

  • Bernie E.

    Very encouraging; thank you so much; we need to remember these things to raise our vision

  • Turanzomwe Johnson

    This is good
    Thank you for being a blessing in our time

    • Alice

      This concept is exactly what the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church has thought since its inception.

      Which is why the portrait of the Pope shows him holding a globe.

      So how has the Roman Catholic Church been doing these last 1700 years or so?