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Pointers for Pastors: What Is a Purpose Driven Church?

PointersWhat exactly is a ‘purpose driven’ church? In this Pointer for Pastors, I’ll tackle that question and explain what it means to focus on God’s eternal purposes for the church, rather than pretty much anything else.

Click play to listen in…

God’s Five Purposes for Your Marriage

Brandon and AngieAngie and I are approaching our 17th wedding anniversary. I’d love to say that we’ve always been happily married, but that kind of dishonesty wouldn’t help you much. Happiness rises and falls, for all of us, married or not. And happiness isn’t the real goal of life anyway. Every day, I pray a prayer over my children that says, “God, help them to first be holy (set apart for You), and then to be healthy (physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially), and finally to be happy.” I want all three for them, but I want them in the proper order. So hoping to be married “happily ever after” will leave most people frustrated by unfulfilled expectations.

If you just read that and thought, “Man. The guy sounds pretty UNhappily married…” you’d be way wrong. I would just say it this way… I’ve been married to the most awesome woman for nearly seventeen years. In the seasons of our marriage where holiness has been my first priority, and when I’ve been healthy on multiple levels, our marriage has experienced joy that goes deeper than mere surface or self-fulfilling happiness. But in moments or seasons where holiness has slipped to some lower priority, when feeling the fun feelings of happiness has become my goal, or my god, or whatever, our happiness together has faded and struggled.

Overall? I’m really, really happy to be married to Angie! (And I’m thinkin’ she would say the same.)

When Angie and I are mutually committed to being God’s people for each other, our marriage soars. Right now, I feel that we’re stronger and more blessed than ever. But that’s partly because we’ve been in the fight of our lives, recovering from the discovery of some very deep, real sin and pain in each of us. Selfishness always destroys because it’s rooted in pride, works in the opposite manner of love, and can never be satisfied. But when we exemplify the very nature of the gospel (the self-sacrificing love by which Jesus went to the cross and laid Himself down for us to have and to hold us forever), then healing comes. And along with it, joy and happiness and fulfillment and intimacy and oneness and all the other things we know marriage ought to bring.

I’m a big believer that God is a God of purpose and He has five purposes for every one of us. These are elaborated upon in Pastor Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, which has helped to lead a generation to an understanding that it isn’t about me, or you. It’s about God. It’s about His plans and desires. And those five purposes are:

  • He has planned us for His pleasure and wants everything about our lives to be worship.
  • He has formed us for fellowship and desires that we develop deep relationships within His family.
  • He has created us to be like Christ and gives us every spiritual resource necessary to pursue that goal.
  • He has shaped us to serve Him and we serve Him by serving others.
  • He has made us for a mission and wants to use us to share the good news with everyone in the world.

God has these five purposes for your life as an individual believer. He also communicates these five purposes to the church, and every local church that focuses its work and ministry on fulfilling these five purposes in the world will be healthier for it. And as I’ve devoted plenty of thought to it, these five purposes wonderfully express God’s design for marriage too.

God planned our marriage for His pleasure. That is, the primary goal of the oneness that my wife and I develop is ultimately designed to reflect His glory to the world as we worship. This is why we grow when we pray together, sing together, attend worship services together, read or study together, and talk about spiritual things together. Our marriage is not simply a relationship in which we get to pursue our personal agendas of feeling good. Our marriage is an opportunity to glorify God and show the world what He’s all about.

God formed our marriage for fellowship, with each other and with Himself. I say at weddings that a strong marriage is really a marriage of three, not two, because God is always the invisible third member. That sounds pretty, but we forget it about six minutes after the bridal kiss. But it’s true. God wants spouses to be one, which means to intimately know and to intimately be known by each other. That’s why secrets destroy marriages – not just the scandalous secret sins but the secrets of our hearts – our pain, our temptations, our inadequacies.

Few things are more important to a thriving marriage than honest, open, real, raw, heart-exposing conversation. And He desires for us, as a couple, to know Him intimately. And intimacy is either nurtured by intentional pursuit, or it is stagnating, but it’s never neutral. Intimacy happens as we make time to be with each other, to talk to each other, to show physical affection and to enjoy physical intimacy with each other. God wants us closer to each other and closer to Himself.

God created our marriage to make us more Christlike. I am, by nature, a selfish dude. My wife has made an enormous dent in my selfishness. She challenges me to be God’s man, to be more like Jesus, to root out sin, to keep praying, to stay in the Word, and to love Jesus fully. And my responsibility is to present her to Jesus someday more mature, more Christlike. That doesn’t happen by controlling or bullying or dominating. It also doesn’t happen accidentally or unintentionally. God’s purpose for marriage is that we each look more like Jesus because of each other.

God shaped our marriage to serve Him by serving others. One of the most difficult seasons of our marriage hit us when we moved from serving together to doing life a bit separately. Church was great. The weather was awesome. The opportunities to be adventurous and to experience a new place were wonderful. And the friends we made are lifetimers, especially within our small group. But, we made a painful transition.

For thirteen years, we had been the Pastor and Pastor’s wife who put on Vacation Bible Schools, hosted families in our home, and sat together at potlucks. We were always in the trenches together doing ministry alongside each other. Suddenly, I left early for the office to carry on my pastoral ministry while Angie served in ministry at home – homeschooling and changing lots of diapers.

Neither is more or less ministry, but we were doing ministry separately and differently than we had experienced. Since planting Grace Hills, we’ve relished the opportunities to get back to serving people beside each other while also valuing our uniquely individual ministries as well. Few things will bring you closer as a couple than doing something together to serve other people.

God made our marriage for a mission. Our marriage, itself, should show the world what it meant for Jesus to love the church like a bride, to lay down His own life for her (“church” comes from a feminine Greek word), and to redeem and wash and cleanse her for Himself. So our love should be such that people see us and are taught something about God’s love. And we should show each other the kind of grace that teaches people how God forgives. And we should see our marriage as an opportunity to witness to the world about Jesus together. That means opening our home to the hurting, counseling couples and individuals together, and living on mission together.

I fell in love with Angie in high school. I wanted to be around her all the time. I couldn’t wait to marry her. I loved starting a life with her and I wouldn’t trade any of those earliest memories together for anything in the world. I get the warm fuzzies thinking about it. But while I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, I also don’t want to go back.

I’m loving “the now” with Angie. I’m grateful for all that we’ve discovered and are still discovering about what it means to be married, to glorify God together, to find community and oneness in each other, to serve others and share Jesus together. And with all of the painful discoveries and difficult conversations we’ve had, I’ve never felt more blessed and gifted with a girl who makes my heart melt.

I’m thankful for the virtuous woman God has given to me to be my wife. Her price is far above rubies. And I’m even more thankful that He has clarified His purposes for our marriage, and now, I look forward to each new day of seeing those purposes fulfilled in us.

A Scalable Model for Making Disciples in Small Churches

Church In a Theater

“The New Testament is the only model we need!” There, I went ahead and said that for you. It’s out of the way. For those pastors and church leaders who highly value the New Testament AND actually want to accomplish something meaningful, read on…

Every church follows a model. Most of the church leaders who criticize following a model follow a model that tends to criticize models. Follow that? There are traditional models with an age-graded Sunday School, a morning worship service, evening worship service, and a midweek prayer meeting, plus some other programs. W. A. Criswell (one of my biggest heroes) was a pioneer in this model in the 1940’s. Back then, grading ministries by age was innovative.

Other churches follow the “simple church” model. They have weekend worship, small groups, and that’s about it. The ministry and mission is carried out by the groups and the individuals in them. It works well for those who do it right. There are also house churches, and still a few quarter-time churches that only have a Pastor once per month. There’s the Amish and Mennonite model – very community-centric. You get the picture.

We started planting Grace Hills in the summer of 2011 and launched in January of 2012. Since the beginning, we’ve experienced slow and steady growth. We’ve never had a quarter of a million dollars to spend on advertising, so we’ve never done any. The new people who show up come because of relationships, word-of-mouth, and social media. So to what do I attribute our growth so far? Well, to please the “New Testament is all we need!” crowd, God is responsible. We affirm His sovereignty, the Spirit’s work, and the fruit of the Word of God. But here’s a reality check… tons of Bible-believing, Christ-honoring churches are dying. Maybe it’s the model?

Before I reveal our model, let me explain the concept. A “model” is simply a paradigm or framework through which we accomplish the work of the ministry. And yes, the New Testament is our primary model. Jesus sent the apostles in the book of Acts to launch a movement that started in Jerusalem. Within a decade, churches were all over the place being led by people who were considered apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists (see Eph. 4:11) and their responsibility was to equip the whole body for the work of the ministry (see Eph. 4:12).

We learn from the New Testament how to make disciples like Jesus did, how to handle church messes like Paul did, and how to go about the work of missions the way the church at Antioch did. And plenty more. But God didn’t stop working at the end of Acts 28. He has continued to move and work and bless churches for two millennia.

In 1998, I ran across a book entitled The Purpose Driven Church which changed the way I thought about church. It’s an eighteen-year-old book now, so people either have the assumption that it’s outdated or that it’s new-fangled. I’ve met plenty of people on both sides. But the book provided a model, a paradigm, a framework through which our church could accomplish ministry in a scalable way. It’s not a book about how to build a megachurch. It’s actually a book about how to make disciples.


I want to write more about the purpose driven model in the coming weeks, but here I wanted to offer a short synopsis to demonstrate why I think it’s a scalable model for churches. Briefly…

1. Being purpose driven is biblical.

The basic idea is that God has five intentions for the church – worship, ministry, evangelism, discipleship, and fellowship. You can re-tool that list to be four or six or maybe seven, but the point is, God has given us a great pattern for organizing all of our ministry around His purposes. These purposes are rooted in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, which still serve to grow great churches 2,000-ish years later.

2. Being purpose driven provides a simple disciple-making process.

If you believe, as I do, that spiritual growth is incremental and measurable, then the purpose driven model provides a great way to help people grow in an incremental, measurable way. This year, we’re implementing our “class” structure which we call a series of conversations about four words: Love (what it means to be loved by God, to love God, and to love other people), Grow (the personal habits/disciplines for growing), Serve (discovering your unique shape for ministry), and Go (what it means to “live sent” and how to share Jesus).

Aside from that series of conversations, we gather on the weekends for corporate worship and we scatter during the week in small groups. So we’re simple, but not so simple that there’s no definition or direction for what it means to be a follower (disciple) of Jesus.

3. Being purpose driven is scalable.

It’s not a megachurch model. We watched our church in Kentucky grow from 45-ish to 100-ish, and most of that growth was people meeting Jesus for the first time (70% of our additions were baptisms). Then I was part of a church in southern California that has grown to the tens of thousands (it helps that the author of The Purpose Driven Church is the Pastor).

What really intrigues me is how many churches I see that are purpose driven and don’t even know it. I’ve run across independent fundamental churches whose prupose statement reflects the five purposes very well, and other churches that are charismatic, mainline, or even non-evangelical that follow a class structure to mature people spiritually. Like Criswell’s age-graded Sunday School model, I think Rick Warren’s purpose driven model has become a norm among today’s growing churches.

At the end of the day, every church is driven by something – money, tradition, politics, fear, etc. – but I want to lead a church driven by God’s eternal purposes!

Spiritual Maturity Is a Pathway We Walk Together

PathwayGod created you to be like His Son, Jesus Christ, and He has a pathway for you to walk on the way to spiritual maturity. Nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus formed a community of people who could walk this pathway together and He called it a church.

Today, spotting the globe are hundreds of thousands of churches walking the pathway to spiritual maturity together. Why? Because God never intended you to walk the pathway to being like Jesus alone.

Far too many people consider Christianity a mere ticket to heaven, a sort of eternal life insurance policy. But Jesus wasn’t just a teacher, figure, or religious leader. He came to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life – the one and only pathway to the Father (John 14:6).

So what does it look like to walk toward spiritual maturity, a process we call discipleship? People disagree over the specifics of what discipleship includes and how it needs to be done, but we’ve thought about discipleship a lot within the leadership of Grace Hills. One of our core values focuses on it:

We walk with people through the next step on their journey to be just like Jesus, and we keep the pathway clear.

We don’t use the word discipleship but walking with people on their journey to be like Jesus is the very essence of discipleship. As we understand it and define it, here is what discipleship is to us and why it’s vital to our very existence…

  • Discipleship IS the mission of the church. It’s not either evangelism or discipleship, and it’s not about which is more important. They are one and the same. The mission of making disciples is the primary reason we planted Grace Hills.
  • Discipleship happens in the context of a community called the church. It’s not a process anyone was meant to go through alone.
  • Discipleship is a broken, crooked, twisted pathway that includes far more than church attendance and Bible reading. It includes suffering, repentance, persecution, sacrifice, and self-denial.
  • Discipleship is incremental. That is, there is always a next step for every disciple (follower) of Jesus.
  • Discipleship is a life-long process. None of us have arrived until the final, grand conclusion of all of history. If you’re alive, you’re still a work in progress, just like the rest of us.
  • Discipleship is intentional. It doesn’t happen automatically. Real spiritual maturity is not merely the default result of attending church. It takes an investment of our intellect, emotions, and will.
  • Discipleship is not something accomplished in a classroom. You can’t lecture disciples into existence. Granted, a deeper knowledge of God and His word are essential, but they are merely the foundation that must be built upon with life experience in the trenches.
  • Discipleship includes, by its nature, multiplication. Part of following Jesus is fishing for others. Disciples go find others, else they are stunted in their growth.

The reason we worded our seventh core value the way we did was to communicate a couple of commitments. One is that we will work, as a church, to be a community of guides for the pathway to spiritual maturity. That means we’ll create kicking-off points such as our Life Matters classes as well as ongoing opportunities to study the Bible with a small community of other believers (and non-believers are welcome too) through our Grace Groups.

Our second commitment is to keeping the pathway clear. This stems from our church’s DNA as a purpose driven church that de-emphasizes programs and crazy event-filled schedules and instead focuses on a process for growing people. In other words, we don’t want anyone to feel that in order to become spiritually mature, they need to attend three worship services, two Bible studies, a committee meeting, and a potluck each week. Instead, gather on the weekend in our weekend service, scatter during the week with your small group, and spend the rest of your time living out the values of a disciple, serving the world for Jesus’ sake, and taking Jesus to a world desperately in need.

Spiritual maturity is God’s goal for you, and He has a pathway for you to walk to get there, and He never meant for you to walk it alone. If you’re not a believer in Jesus yet, God wants you in His family! And if you’re a believer who is going it alone, you’re being robbed of a community that can help, and you’re robbing others of the contribution you can make into their lives.

So let’s walk this pathway together.

Photo by noahg.

Mourning with Rick and Kay Warren and Family

Brandon Cox and Rick Warren

Pastor Rick and I in his study behind his stage at Saddleback on the night he gave me his blessing and many words of wisdom for planting Grace Hills Church.

I’ve started to write this post quite a few times, and each time, I’ve deleted it. It’s hard to know what to say when someone you admire and love goes through something as tragic as what Rick and Kay Warren have endured the last few days. Their son, Matthew, ended his own life at the age of 27 after battling severe mental illness for many years. I have heard Rick speak of this behind closed office doors, asking for prayer and pouring his heart out concerning his love for his son and his trust in his God in spite of not understanding all the reasons why Matthew suffered so terribly.

I believe that Rick and Kay, their other two children, and all of their loved ones will battle an array of emotions for quite some time. But I also believe that the message of hope that Pastor Rick has shared for the last three decades has come from the deep conviction of his heart. Rick believes that “God never wastes a hurt,” and Matthew’s life and death will prove this, perhaps in ways we cannot fully see just yet.

I love the Warren’s and believe that now is a time when God’s people should pray for them fervently. It isn’t that they somehow deserve prayer more than others because of their success and popularity. Rather it is that Rick is a man who has surrendered himself and all that he possesses completely to God, and God has blessed him by using his life to change the world. And because God has given him such a public platform, his private pain is perhaps amplified. Not only do the Warren’s have to suffer through the loss of their son, but they must do so somewhat publicly by virtue of their influence.

There is little that I can personally do to alleviate their pain. In managing the website and community, I’ve sought out some voices that deserve to be heard, such as Beth Moore, Geoff Surratt, and Greg Laurie. I’ve received and answered dozens of emails to Pastor Rick sent via, all of which have been positive and encouraging. And I’ve also read some of the most cold and heartless comments on the web from people who have decided to use this moment of pain to pounce on the Warren’s.

What I can do is pray, and I believe that prayer is powerful, effective, and meaningful. And I’m inviting you to pray with me as you read this. As we pray for Pastor Rick Warren, for Kay, and for their family…

  • Let us pray that God gives them a peace that passes all understanding – that is a peace that is present when it doesn’t seem possible.
  • Let us pray for the heart of a Dad, a Mom who lost a son as well as a brother and a sister who lost a brother.
  • Let us pray that others who struggle with mental illness in the shadows would seek help in the light and find churches that will look beyond the stigma of mental illness to offer real compassion and healing.
  • Let us pray for gospel-empowered change in the hearts of accusers and cold, calloused critics who would use a moment like this to spit venom on the devastated and broken.
  • Let us pray for a church that hurts for her shepherd and a global community of church leaders that hurts for its mentor.
  • Let us pray that all that Pastor Warren has taught about the trustworthiness of God and the hope we have in Jesus be all the more believable to a watching world as the Warren’s continue to boldly proclaim their faith.
  • Let us pray that in their understandable weakness, God’s grace would be sufficient and God’s glory would be spread.

I can’t imagine their pain. I was in Pastor Rick’s office one day a couple of years ago when he was asking a few of us to pray for Matthew who was at that time hospitalized because of a severe bout with depression. As Rick became transparent and asked a few trusted friends to guard Matthew’s privacy and to lift him before the Father, he also taught a powerful lesson. He explained that life is not a roller coaster with up’s and down’s, but rather a set of railroad tracks where we endure suffering and blessing simultaneously. Pastor Rick never claimed to fully understand the reason for the existence of mental illness. But he did testify to the faithfulness of God in spite of it. Even through tears of hurt for his son, he was teaching powerful truths.

There are only a small handful of men on the planet that I consider to be my pastors, and Rick Warren is at the top of the list. So I’m praying for my Pastor and his family today, and I’m inviting you to pray with me.