There and Back Again…A Pastor’s story

Chapter XII: Inside Information

If I could make something of an observation, I would say that Saddleback has really got their act together. They’ve got a phenomenal marketing program. I need to back up.

Intentionality. It’s a good thing. We should be intentional in ministry. Ministry isn’t simply a “what.” It’s also a “how” and a “why.” And so intentionality is called for. We do this all the time in the choices that we make when we preach. For example, a given illustration will either help or hinder us in the proclamation of Law and Gospel according to a given text in Scripture. And so I am intentional about the illustrations I choose to implement, considering theological implications and considering the hearers. Certainly intentionality is not limited to preaching, but the example serves.

Relationships. These are also important. Ministry is relational. There is a sociological aspect to ministry. The church is comprised of human beings, each of whom is a social creature. So there are going to be social implications and considerations in a congregation. Those are important.

I don’t think I fully appreciated the push behind the Purpose Driven ™ machine before I experienced the Purpose Driven ™ immersion that I’m in currently. It’s deep. It’s very, very purposeful. And it’s frankly a little scary to me.

I don’t want to mischaracterize it, so I will speak in terms of my own visceral reaction. That said, in my last post I wrote about the sheer vastness of the campus here. It’s representative of the machine. To look at a shelf in a bookstore and see Purpose Driven ™ this and that, it’s easy to write it all off after a fashion; kind of a, “Yeah, this stuff is bad theology, and now look at the different vehicles they’re using to milk this goldmine theme for every penny they can get.” At least, this is what I found myself doing. And I watched it sweeping through churches, thinking that it was just the churches that were latching onto the next big trend in Evangelical America. I missed it. This is a push—a purposeful push. This is a movement. And it’s bigger than I had originally appreciated.

This conference is billed as a youth ministry conference, but at the end of the day it’s about marketing and moving the Purpose Driven ™ purposes into your youth group. It’s about recreating the Saddleback culture in your setting and mine. And it’s spreading.

It’s the Macintosh method. Back in the day, the marketing wizards at Apple decided that they were going to get people hooked on Apple products. So what did they do? They made sure that as many elementary schools, as many middle schools as possible, were well and truly stocked with Apple IIc’s and Apple IIe’s and even the odd Macintosh. Kids grew up on a steady diet of Apple classics like “Oregon Trail” and “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” And then what happened? These kids grew up and became adults who make choices about how to spend their money. And fifteen years later the groundwork that Apple laid in these schools began to pay off. And the rest is history.

It’s an effective plan. And it’s happening again through the Purpose Driven ™ machine (I’m a PC guy, but hey, I really have no moral or ethical problems with Mac). They’re selling youth workers a silver bullet secret to success. And while a great deal of it is a lesson in adolescent sociology, it comes with a healthy dose of Saddleback theology. I wish I had a dollar for every time I was exhorted to push “God’s purposes” or something very like that. They’ve taken Scripture and reduced it to these five purposes:

These are the diagrams that decorate the stage in the main worship center. The arrows tell the whole story. Which direction are they going? And as that’s the case, where’s the Gospel? It’s simply not there. And you can read the book and know enough about this theology from that book alone. It’s pretty transparently laid out there.

But here’s the thing. They understand the criticisms that people have with this stuff. Their answer? “If they’re criticizing us, all it means is that they don’t get it.” That’s the response. It’s the stock answer around here. If you’re not on board with this, all it means is that you’re not enlightened enough (Sound like Seminex, anyone?). Teach this to a room full of youth pastors (the common qualifications for such a title being desire and maybe a stint at a bible college) and you’ve got yourself movement.

The experience continues…

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