Purpose-Driven Church Movement

What are the philosophical roots of the Purpose-Driven Church movement? Who is the real 'father' of the movement?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
It is the product not of the wisdom of God, but the mind of an unsaved management theorist named Peter F. Drucker.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

This is the third in a series of articles about the Purpose-Driven Church movement.

The Purpose-Driven Church movement is a product not of the wisdom of God, but of the philosophies of an unsaved business management theorist named Peter F. Drucker. Humanly speaking, he is the true "father" of the movement. But as we look at Scripture, we find that ultimately the movement has an even more dangerous father.

In our last article, we found that the Purpose-Driven church movement's spiritual roots are in the words and wisdom of man, placed in authority over the Word of God. In this article, we shall examine the philosophical roots of the Purpose-Driven Church, which are not in the pages of the Bible, but in the thinking of postmodern business management theorists.

Peter F. Drucker: Management by Objectives

While Rick Warren cites Donald McGavran, C. Peter Wagner, and Robert Schuller as strong spiritual influences, the man he constantly refers to as "my mentor" is management theorist Peter F. Drucker (1910-2005). At a 2005 conference of the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, Warren stated:

I spoke at Harvard last month. I did a series of lectures for the faculty in the Kennedy School and also in the law school. I spoke to several groups of faculty and several groups of students and I started with this quote from Peter Drucker: "The most significant sociological phenomenon of the first half of the 20th century was the rise of the corporation. The most significant sociological phenomenon of the second half of the 20th century has been the development of the large pastoral church - of the mega-church. It is the only organization that is actually working in our society."

Now Drucker has said that at least six times. I happen to know because he's my mentor. I've spent 20 years under his tutelage learning about leadership from him, and he's written it in two or three books, and he says he thinks it's the only thing that really works in society.1

Drucker was born in Austria and grew up in a liberal Lutheran family. After college he moved to England and then to the United States in the 1930s, and later became a Episcopalian. Drucker was a disciple of the 19th century philosopher S??????¸ren Kierkegaard.2 Kierkegaard was one of the early fathers of postmodernist thinking. His major contribution to postmodernism was his assertion that there is no such thing as objective truth, and he therefore denied that the Bible is a book of truth.

Drucker is perhaps best known in secular business management circles for his theory of "management by objectives" in which both management and employees agree on a set of business objectives created through a "shared vision," and focus all activities toward achieving them. In Drucker's theory, there are no transcendent truths or moral absolutes, only objectives or purposes as defined by the thinking of visionary leaders and agreed to by the larger group. Related theories such as outcome-based education, the focus of the United States' No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, have sprung from Drucker's thinking.

Drucker taught management theory in a number of colleges and universities, and conducted a highly successful business consulting practice whose clients included General Motors, General Electric, Intel, Proctor and Gamble, Toyota, and the Ito-Yokado Group, the world's second-largest retailing giant whose holdings include Seven-Eleven stores and Denny's restaurants.

Management by Objectives Becomes The Purpose-Driven Church

In later years, Drucker turned his attention toward applying his philosophy to religious and charitable organizations. Churches and parachurch organizations involved in the church-growth and Purpose-Driven Church movements have paid Drucker and his associates tens of thousands of dollars to learn how to behave more like big business corporations. Drucker's "management by objectives" for big business has morphed into "purpose" for churches. Drucker's objectives-based, there-are-no-absolutes "self-assessment" tools for businesses have been transformed into "health assessment" and "skills assessment" tools for churches.

In a column he wrote for Forbes magazine in 2007, Rick Warren made it clear that he has fully bought into Drucker's philosophy and has applied it to Saddleback Church and the Purpose-Driven Church movement. Warren said, "The Church, in all its expressions - Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Protestant and many others - has 2.3 billion followers" and he called it the largest global management network. He spoke of the church as a "civil institution."

Later in the same Forbes column, Warren said this:

As Peter Drucker, my mentor for 20 years, used to tell me: "Businesses ought to be learning from churches!"

What can business learn from churches? How to the spread the word. My church has, in conferences and DVD training, taught 400,000 pastors around the world. I have also shared my thinking with chief executives. Effective churches know far more about motivating volunteers, organizing by small groups, assimilating new people, casting vision, managing conflict, releasing talent, adopting innovations and communicating widely than most business people imagine. The most difficult leadership task is leading volunteers, because you don't have the wage incentive or the threat of firing. Volunteers only do what you inspire them to do with values and vision...government and business must consider it [the church] as an equal partner....It's time to lay aside our prejudices and work together.3

It is noteworthy that "spreading the word" in Warren's vocabulary has nothing to do with spreading The Word - the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ as found in the pages of Holy Scripture - but rather with "spreading the word" about how to manage people to achieve objectives.

If you are familiar with the ideas and philosophies promoted in contemporary business books, you will easily recognize the same ideas in a pseudo-Christian wrapper in the pages of Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Church. Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine, wrote an article that glowingly praised the Purpose-Driven Church movement.4 "Were it a business, Saddleback would be compared with Dell, Google, or Starbucks," he said. "Whatever you think about Warren or his religious beliefs, he has discerned a consumer need out there."

Karlgaard went on to say that The Purpose Driven Church is one of the greatest entrepreneurial books he has ever read, and that if you "substitute the word 'business' for 'church' and see what Warren has to tell us" it is a guidebook that can be easily and effectively used in a secular business setting.

Karlgaard then cited these lessons, among others, from The Purpose-Driven Church: "Don't be afraid to make it up as you go along" - "Sell big!" - "Nothing should precede [get in the way of] the purpose of your business."

The Ultimate Father of the Movement

The Lord Jesus Christ was unequivocal in His condemnation of those who follow the wisdom of the world, and He identified its source - Satan himself:

"If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it." (John 8:42-44)

As the Apostle John wrote under inspiration,

all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:16-17)

In other words, we are on firm Biblical ground when we say that the Purpose-Driven Church movement is not the work of God, but the work of the devil. He is the father of it.

Authentic Christianity in Contrast

The Scripture-driven church must follow a different course. The Apostle Paul, also by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote that Christ sent him to preach the Gospel,

not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent."

Paul said that the church's focus should never be on secular wisdom or human philosophy, but on "the foolishness of God" -

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Furthermore, Paul by the Holy Spirit has this to say about true purpose -

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God - and righteousness and sanctification and redemption - that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord."

And Paul didn't "make it up as you go along" or try to "sell big" or think that nothing should get in the way of a man-made "purpose" -

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

But Paul said that understanding these things requires the indwelling and illumination of the Holy Spirit:

However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For "who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16)

Clearly, the mind of the Purpose-Driven Church is not the mind of Christ. Its spiritual and philosophical roots are in the wisdom of those "who are coming to nothing." In our next article in this series, we shall see this even more as we answer the question, "What is the Purpose-Driven approach to building a church?"




1. "Myths of the Modern Megachurch," a transcript of Rick Warren's remarks to the Pew Forum's Faith Angle Conference on Religion, Politics, and Public Life, May 23, 2005, Key West, Florida, as viewed on 10/6/2008 at http://pewforum.org/events/index.php?EventID=80.

2. In 1949, Drucker wrote an essay praising his spiritual mentor titled "The Unfashionable Kierkegaard" which is reproduced at http://www.peterdrucker.at/en/texts/kierke_02.html (as viewed on 10/6/2008).

3. Rick Warren, "Special Report: The Power of Parishioners" in Forbes magazine, May 7, 2005, as viewed on 10/6/2008 at http://www.forbes.com/leadership/forbes/2007/0507/210.html.

4. Rich Karlgaard, "Purpose Driven," Forbes online, February 16, 2004, as viewed on 10/6/2008 at http://www.saddleback.com/flash/s_pdfs/forbespurposedriven21604.pdf.


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