Last week I attended a conference in Atlanta conducted by Rick Warren and his staff from Saddleback Church. The purpose of the conference was to bring agencies in and inform them about the efforts that Saddleback is taking to mobilize churches for mission. It was a great couple of days and a bit of an eye opener for me.
If you read this blog you will know that I don’t care too much for “Rock Star Pastors” (RSP’s). RSP’s, from my perspective, put evangelicalism at great risk. Ted Haggard is but one of many examples. The culture at large is looking for somebody to be the “microphone guy” for evangelicals and RSP’s are only too happy to oblige. The problem with this is that evangelicals don’t want or need anybody speaking on their behalf. That’s the job of good works.
BUT… I was positively impressed with Rick Warren. What I liked about him is hard to write up. It was a feeling that he is genuine in his efforts to serve the church by bringing them into greater obedience to the Great Commission. It was also the way he articulated his vision with candor and honesty.
Now, that’s not to say that all he shared was cookies and cream. One statement he has made before, and repeated this past week, gets my blood boiling. He says, “Mission organizations, when they look at the church, have said, ‘Pay, play, and get out of the way.'” Wow – that’s either 1) incredibly stupid, 2) incredibly and purposefully misleading, or 3) he has experienced rough treatment at the hands of organizations on a scale that is too sad to believe. I think we have to give him the benefit of the doubt and go with #3, but I really think this is just “pastor’s talk” when they bristle at the success of organizations.
Another comment I dislike is this talk about the local church owning mission. That’s a load of hooey. The Kingdom of God theme in the New Testament is never limited to the local church. Furthermore, the New Testament model clearly shows that the apostolic teams of the 1st Century never subjected their strategy or plans to a local church. If I am wrong, please write me and show me otherwise. What I believe is happening is that the mega-church movement is giving large churches the opportunity to have the kind of resources that in the past were the domain of denominations and larger para-church organizations. This is great – but let’s not use this kind of trumped up rhetoric to sanctify our plan.
The model that Rick & Co. are proposing is based on short-term teams going to work with unreached people groups in partnership with culturally-close reached people groups. In other words, they will partner with national churches abroad to work in people groups with few to no Christians.
From a missiological standpoint the most significant shift here is that they are not going to focus on the “incarnational model” which has been the hallmark of missions for the past 100 years or so. Nobody will be expected to learn language or culture – that’s the job of the “culturally close national church” with whom they will partner.
I like the model! It’s fresh and should give the church a definite advantage in some areas. It would be wrong to say that it will work everywhere but I never once heard the Warren Team say that it would.
They also shared about a large computer project they will be introducing for churches to use. It was fantastic and an idea whose time has certainly come. I am very excited about it. They aren’t ready to disclose details yet, so I won’t write about it here, but rest assured that you will be hearing more about this in the future.