Yeah, But To What Purpose?
There's a story on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal about churches adopting Rick Warren's best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life are their new Bible--well, kinda. These congregations across the country are using the tome to fill up pews that are becoming increasingly empty as their congregants die off and move on; hey, adapting best-sellers works for Hollywood, why not try it for holy services? But as the Journal points out, in its subscription-only online piece, "the 'purpose-driven' movement is dividing the U.S.'s evangelical population," to the point where worshippers from one church are moving to other locations in order to avoid the the market research, "modern management tools" and "simplistic Bible teachings" they claim are ruining their sanctuaries.
The paper uses a local story to tell a national one, highlighting the rift taking place at Valley View Christian Church, which is Harriet Miers' house of worship when she comes back to Dallas. Here's the Journal's take:
"Last summer, the evangelical church of onetime Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers split after adopting Mr. Warren's techniques. That church, Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, wanted to increase membership and had built a huge sanctuary several years ago to accommodate hundreds of people. Church leaders adopted a strategic plan built around Mr. Warren's five 'fundamental purposes': worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. One goal was to make sure more than 19 percent of the church's members were adults in their 20s and 30s, says the pastor, the Rev. Barry McCarty.
The Rev. Ron Key, then the senior minister, says he objected to the church's 'Madison Avenue' marketing. 'I believe Jesus died for everybody,' Mr. Key says, not just people in a 'target audience.' He says the leaders wanted church that was more 'edgy,' with a worship service using modern music. Mr. Key was demoted, then fired for being divisive and insubordinate.
About 200 people, many of whom had left the church earlier because they thought it should give more money to mission work, began worshiping in a Doubletree Hotel, and later in a college gym, with Mr. Key as pastor. Ms. Miers, the White House counsel, worships with them when she comes to town, a White House spokeswoman says."
I will leave it to Unfair Park's Bible Girl to debate the finer points of "edgy" worship services; me, I still can't listen to Saved-era Bob Dylan. And I have no idea what a purpose-driven life is. Just ask my parents, who asked me only an hour ago precisely what my purpose is. Although, I do know what my special purpose is. --Robert Wilonsky
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.