Purpose-Driven Church Movement

What is the Purpose-Driven approach to worship?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
In worship as in everything else, the guiding principle is pragmatism: If it draws a crowd, it must be right.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

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



In worship as in all other aspects of the Purpose-Driven Church philosophy, the key guiding principle is pragmatism: If it draws a crowd, it must be right.

If It Draws a Crowd, It Must Be of God

In his preface to The Purpose-Driven Church,1 Rick Warren uses a surfing illustration to describe how the church should operate. Just as "when surfers see a good wave, they make the most of it," he says, church leaders need to learn "to recognize a wave of God's Spirit and ride it." He says that "church leaders should stop praying, 'Lord, bless what I'm doing' and start praying, 'Lord, help me to do what you are blessing'."

But how does the Purpose-Driven Church movement define "a wave of God's Spirit" or "what God is blessing"? The one infallible indicator, according to the Purpose-Driven Church philosophy, is not what God's Word says about His purposes for His church, nor the evidences of the fruits of the Spirit according to Scripture. The one sure indicator is numerical growth: If it draws a crowd, it must be of God. The Purpose-Driven Church philosophy places pragmatism driven by numerical response in authority over God's Word. As we have seen previously, this means that churches following the Purpose-Driven paradigm use surveys to ask unbelievers what the church should be, how it should function, how it should worship, and what it should preach. And then the Purpose-Driven Church spares no effort or expense to deliver it.

Purpose-Driven "Worship" Is Not Worship At All

How does the philosophy of pragmatism influence the worship services of the Purpose-Driven Church? Honest comparison of how the movement's churches "do worship" against the principles for worship set forth in the Bible, leads to the firm conclusion that the Purpose-Driven service is not a worship service at all. God is not the audience, and His people are not coming before Him to worship and adore Him. The focus of the Purpose-Driven service is the worship and adoration of man made comfortable in his sin.

As we read the movement's literature, we find that the Purpose-Driven service is a carefully-crafted, skillfully-packaged product - an event that has been designed to satisfy market demand. And the "market" the Purpose-Driven Church seeks to satisfy is not God, not even believers within the church, but unbelievers.

On the movement's flagship website, Rick Warren says that one of the "Seven Myths of the Purpose-Driven Paradigm" is that "It's a seeker-sensitive approach." But this is a flat-out contradiction of Warren's own handbook for the movement. He devotes one of the longest chapters in The Purpose-Driven Church to the subject of "Designing a Seeker-Sensitive Service". He says that the Purpose-Driven church service is all about creating a mood and atmosphere in which unbelievers will be comfortable:

"Figure out what mood you want your service to project, and then create it....We summarize the mood we want in our seeker services with the word celebration."2 [And this raises the question: What is it that the unbelieving can celebrate in church?] "Have you ever seen a sign over a church auditorium that says 'Enter in Silence'? That is the last thing you want in a seeker service....We've noticed an interesting phenomenon: The louder you play background music, the more animatedly people will talk" [before the service, and that's what you want]3

"Cultivate an informal, relaxed, and friendly atmosphere."4

"Improve the pace and flow of the service."5 [Warren then gives examples for the church to emulate from Monday Night Football and the music videos on MTV].

In the next chapter, titled "Selecting Your Music", Warren says that the music of the Purpose-Driven church service must be designed for unbelievers. Neither God's commandments concerning worship, nor the Scripture-driven judgment of mature believers within the church, count for anything:

"You must identify who you're trying to reach, identify their preferred style of music, and then stick with it. You're wasting your time if you're searching for a style of music that everyone in your church will agree on." [It seems that the Purpose-Driven Church's answer to believers who protest the de-Scripturalization of church music is, in a word - "Tough!"]6

"If you use hymns, this sometimes requires major editing. 'Here I raise mine Ebenezer,' 'Beulah land,' 'terrestrial ball,' 'cherubim and seraphim,' 'angels prostrate fall,' and 'washed in the blood of the Lamb' are all confusing phrases to the unchurched."7

"We made a strategic decision to stop singing hymns..."8

"We used classical, country, jazz, rock, reggae, easy listening, and even rap. The crowd [and Warren continually refers to the 'crowd' not the congregation] never knew what was coming next. The result: we didn't please anybody" [and therefore, they changed all of Saddleback's music to one style: Rock.]... "We've often been referred to in the press as 'the church that likes to rock.' We use the style of music that the majority of people in our church listen to on the radio." [This decision, Warren says, was determined by yet another survey of unbelievers.]9

"Saddleback now has a complete pop/rock orchestra."10

"Don't force unbelievers to sing. Use more performed music than congregational singing... Unchurched visitors often feel awkward during the congregational singing portion of your service. Since they don't know the songs, and the songs speak of praise and commitment to Jesus, they are forced to stand there while everyone else sings. This is especially embarrassing...On the other hand, [the unchurched] feel very comfortable listening to performed music, if it is in a style to which they can relate. So focus on performed music..."11

"We have attracted thousands more because of our music."12

The Purpose-Driven church service is designed to focus on man instead of Jesus Christ; to provide a comfortable environment for unbelievers rather than a nourishing place for the flock of God; and not merely to dumb-down the message of the Bible, but to obscure it beyond recognition. We shall examine this last point further in our next article, as we see what The Purpose-Driven Church has to say about preaching.

Authentic Christianity in Contrast

The key to understanding the nature of Biblical worship is to understand this principle: Since God is the One who is being worshipped, our worship must be acceptable to God. Biblical worship is God-centered and God-defined, not man-centered and man-defined. Only that which God has expressly prescribed in Scripture is acceptable, not human invention. That which He has not specifically prescribed is excluded. There are many things that are not wrong in and of themselves (for example, drama and entertainment that do not violate God's moral law). But because these things, and many others, are not specifically prescribed by God as parts of worship, they have no place in worship that is acceptable to Him.

Scripture applies this principle (sometimes called the "regulative principle") not only to worship. God also stated it in regard to the Jewish legal system (Deuteronomy 4:2); Israel was to add nothing, subtract nothing, and observe everything. God also established a regulative principle of Scripture (Revelation 22:18-19) - we are not to add or subtract anything from the words of Holy Writ.

Passages stating this principle include Exodus 20:4-6, 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:29-32; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 30:6; Matthew 4:9-10, 15:9, 28:18-20; Acts 17:25; Romans 1:25, 13:14; Colossians 2:23; and Revelation 22:18-19.

Furthermore, in applying the regulative principle of worship in the present dispensation, we must keep in mind that many of the practices of Old Testament worship were fulfilled and done away with in Christ (e.g., the lamps, the vestments, the altar of incense, the altars of sacrifice). Passages stating the regulative principle of worship and the elements of proper worship include Exodus 20:4-6, 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:29-32; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 30:6; Matthew 4:9-10, 15:9, 28:18-20; Acts 17:25; Romans 1:25, 13:14; Colossians 2:23; and Revelation 22:18-19. The normal parts of worship for the church under the regulative principle include:

  • Reading of the Scriptures
  • Preaching of the Word - central to worship
  • Singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
  • Administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper
  • The offering
  • Prayer
  • Special occasions of thanksgiving or fasting

Application of the regulative principle of worship by definition excludes such things as incense, priestly vestments, processions, icons, images, use of an altar, and any form of sacrifice from New Covenant worship; it also excludes such human inventions as dance, drama, and so-called worship teams.


1. Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message or Mission (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995), pages 13-22.

2. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 264

3. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 259

4. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 272

5. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 255

6. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 280

7. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 288

8. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 285

9. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 285

10. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 290

11. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 291, emphasis in original

12. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 285


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