I know that such remarks do not do justice to the admirable missionary efforts of several Catholic communities and movements (the Charismatic Renewal, Catholic Christian Outreach, the Neocatechumenal Way, the Emmanuel Community, NET ministries, the St. Andrew Schools of Evangelization, the Parish Cells of Evangelization System, the Anuncio Festival, S + L Television, etc). But even when you know what is being done most boldly in terms of evangelization in the Catholic Church, you get the impression that Catholics are lagging far behind in this regard after reading The Purpose Driven Church, a book by Baptist Pastor Rick Warren published in 1995.
The most notable characteristics of the book are undoubtedly the biblical foundation of the argumentation, constantly and intelligently based on Scripture, and the systematic treatment of the missionary challenge, which proves the breadth and maturity of the reflexion. Indeed, the apostolic and pastoral synthesis presented by the author commands admiration, so much so that each of the main missionary challenges facing evangelizers today seems to have been identified, reflected upon and overcome, through a double effort of understanding and applying the most essential principles of evangelization.
After affirming the primacy of grace and the importance of the docility to the Spirit through a kind of parable on surfing and an account of the events that preceded the founding of his church in California, Warren laid the groundwork for a missionary practice aimed at the unchurched. He does so by putting forward a classical conception of the mystery of the Church, understood as an institution founded on the five pillars of Christian life (cf. Acts 2:42-47): prayer (worship), community life (fellowship), study (discipleship), service (ministry) and mission (evangelism).
The rest of the book aims to transmit the wisdom (i. e. the knowledge, know-how and interpersonal skills rooted in the example of Christ) required in our time to communicate, embody and bring to completion in the everyday life of the community this biblical vision of the Church oriented towards the "health of the community" and based on the idea of an integrated development of the five pillars guaranteeing the balanced growth of the body of Christ. This development, the author tells us, always involves, in one way or another, an missionary strategy, that is, a deliberate effort to reach out to people without ecclesial affiliation (an effort that is often lacking among Catholics today).
Once the contact has been made and the invitation sent, the missionary community must offer a Church experience centred on welcoming not only practitioners, but also seekers of God in search of meaning, fraternity and fulfilment. For in a context of founding or rebuilding community life, it is this welcoming experience, combining human warmth, musical emotion and meaningful preaching, that will arouse in them the desire to belong to the community. Now, this desire to belong is, with their commitment to follow Christ, the sine qua non condition for their subsequent Christian formation and their participation in the life of service and mission to which all Christians are called.
Without being an unsurpassable masterpiece, The Purpose Driven Church is certainly an indispensable piece of work. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, authors of Rebuilt, James Mallon, author of Divine Renovation and Jean-Philippe Auger, author of Tous disciples-missionnaires! have recognized Warren's exceptional contribution to the understanding and overcoming of contemporary missionary challenges. A contribution that quickly makes us forget the few misconceptions that the Baptist Pastor cannot help but propagate about Catholicism, which he obviously doesn’t know as well as the topic of missionary outreach.
Another criticism that could be made, and has been made, on the Protestant side this time, is that the growth model adopted by Warren is too directly inspired by models from the business world. With the consequent flaw, namely that it puts a lot of pressure on those in charge, at the risk of exhausting them. Taking Warren as a counter-model, some pastors have put forward more balanced, "holistic" pastoral projects. While these more recent approaches are relevant and the criticisms directed at Warren are sometimes well-founded, it should not deter us from reading The Purpose Driven Church, whose scope of reflection remains impressive (1).
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, Zondervan, 1995, 400 pages.
(1) This is the translated, adapted and slightly expanded version of a text originally published in French in Le Verbe, a Quebec Catholic magazine.