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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Monday, April 24, 2006

40 Days of Purpose and Artificial Fruit

I can remember like it was yesterday. It was during a massive flood in my hometown and everything was shut down. I went into a meeting with the staff to meet with a minister of one of the "pilot innovator" churches in Alabama. They had just went through the 40 Days of Purpose Program that had taken the country by storm. We watched a video that stressed the "law of exponential thinking" and all that jazz that worked for Saddleback. So the leadership bought into, and the price tag was exceedingly great. We had everything from interactive CD's to huge banners to commercials to drama. Books were bought for free, and by the time the 40 days were over, over $10,000 was spent. I must say that there was tremendous excitement and a whole lot of hype, but it didn't even take until a couple weeks into this deal that it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. Several years have passed and thousands of dollars (in my opinion) have been wasted. The gospel according to Warren was woefully inadequate, and the only real outcome that came of this program was the catapulting of this book to being the greatest hardback ever sold in the U.S. Over the next couple of years, just about every church I knew went through with the program and I would cringe when I saw the billboards or markee signs. The euphoria is over now, and I wonder how many pastors and churches would say that all that money and effort was really worth it. I say all this because this post was triggered by a recent question posed by Mark Dever on the T4G blog. He asked:

My pastor friend, how much of what we've done will continue to impact our town 50 years after our ministry is completed?

How much of what we've done will continue to impact our CHURCH 50 years after our ministry is completed?

How much of what we've done continues to impact individuals in our church 50 days after our ministry is completed?

I think these are great questions to ask, especially when we find ourselves buying into the next trend or novelty that glimmers in pragmatism and promises more artificial fruit in finely wrapped packages. Our churches are pressured by the immediacy of results and numbers so much so that the seed they sow is reaping a harvest of souls whose soil is shallow ground and never take root. Our church members should not be considered as Chia-pets; we should long for redwoods. When the storms of life come for us, what will be found tumbling with the wind? Dever concludes with a quote by George Whitefield about the ministry of Richard Baxter. Whitefield says, "I went to Kidderminster where I was kindly received. I was greatly refreshed to find what a sweet savour of good Mr. Baxter's doctrine, works, and discipline remained to this day." Dever remarks that this was written over 80 years after Baxter had completed his ministry in Kidderminster. It is to the glory of God that we should have fruit that would remain, and it is my prayer that when our churches faces the fires of adversity or the temptations of prosperity, what will be found is people who are abiding in Christ more than committed to a formula.


Blogger R. Mansfield said...

My parents (divorced from each other) were both tremendously impacted from Warren's Purpose Driven Life.

For my mother, she began to look at the daily care of her parents (in their eighties) not as drudgery, but as something she is called to do. It is her purpose for this stage in her life as she recognizes it. She finds great joy in serving her parents in the last stage of their life, although it is often a very difficult task.

For my father, the book was a gift. He travels during most weeks as a salesman. And now this book and his Bible go with him on every trip along with other devotional and study materials. I know for a fact that he never carried his Bible with him on trips in the past. He has read through the book multiple times. For years he did not attend church. I saw through Warren's influence in this book the return of my father to church, and then to Sunday School, and now he acts as a greeter--something that might seem significant to many, but something he is very good at. He sees this kind of ministry as his purpose in the church.

For me, it was 2003. My church was initiating the 40 Days of Purpose like a lot of other churches. I wasn't overly interested. In fact, at the time, my life was in shambles, for reasons that I won't go into here. I was not interested in the book, and jokingly said to my small group leader that whatever purpose God had for my life was probably already past.

Regardless, I read the book along with my church. It was that book and a conspiracy of other divinely appointed events that put me on a road to spiritual renewal and recovery, allowed me to reconcile with my wife, and ultimately led to my return to SBTS to finish up the doctoral program that I had abandoned years earlier.

My wife could give you a similar testimony. So could a large number of other people I know.

If that's not the case for you and your church, it may be because many of our churches make a big deal out of these kinds of campaigns, and rather than sticking with them and providing follow-up down the road, merely go on to the next big thing.

Maybe there was some unnecessary hype associated with 40 Days of Purpose. But try to look beyond that and realize that there was more than "artificial fruit."

The transformation in my life and the lives of others I know is certainly not artificial.

Be careful of being unnecessarily judgmental.

4/24/2006 08:23:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


I take it by the tone of your comments that you were offended by my post. If that is the case, let me first say that I am sorry.

The 40 Days of Purpose (campaign and book) may very well serve as a providential means to bring people back to God as in the case of your parents and yourself. I am not denying that. Furthermore, I would not be surprised if there were some churches that genuinely profited from the campaign.

What I am affirming, however, is that there are serious problems which have been well-documented with the 40 Days of Purpose, not the least of which is the elevation of a book over Scripture, the threat of false conversion, and the unbalanced perspective of the purposes of God.

I praise God that your parents, yourself, and your wife were impacted by Rick Warren's book. My critique is not simply based on my experiences, but a broad and general consensus compiled of numerous experiences and testimonies. I realize that many view Warren and his book in a very positive light and what I say can be controversial, but inasmuch as I respect your testimony, I ask that you respect mine. It is not a matter of judgment in my opinion, but one of discernment. Thank you for your heartfelt comments and critique of my post.

4/24/2006 09:55:00 PM

Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I truly appreciate your response. Thank you.

There is much truth in what you say in your blog entry about churches buying into the latest trend. Our churches are WAY TOO event driven. I don't think the problem is the event of campaign itself. But the problem often lies in the perceived necessity of going from one event to another to keep people at artificial highs or even thinking the high points are the ideal. I would freely admit that some of the greatest lessons God has taught me have come in the lowpoints.

If I took offence at anything, it was the label "artificial fruit." That was what I considered to be unnecessarily judgmental. Therefore, I endeavored to give you examples of real fruit stemming from PDL/40 Days.

I am not a huge Warren fan, but I don't consider myself a detractor either. I confess I didn't want to read his book, but I'll be the first to admit that God used it (among other things) to bring me back to the path he had set me on to begin with.

Are their flaws in the book? Sure. I could show them to you from where I noted them in the margins. But that's not a huge deal to me. I mean, let's be honest, no human serving God does so perfectly, let alone inerrantly. Take any figure from church history--Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley--and you'll find great truths and unfortunately great errors in all of them.

I look at myself as a teacher. I want desperately to teach the Scriptures correctly in a way that gives honor to God. But why is it then that I always revise my notes when I teach something a second time? Why is it that I sometimes cringe when I read old sermons that I preached? I do that, you do that, Rick Warren does that. But in doing that we grow.

50 years from now, Warren will more than likely have impacted more lives than me. However, I am called to minister where God has placed me, and where he leads me. I can't compare myself to another. But I don't want to unnecessarily detract from good that someone like Warren is doing either.

4/24/2006 10:37:00 PM


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