My Church Is Better Than Your Church

Rick Warren, one of America’s most popular pastors, tweeted earlier today to his 130,296 Twitter followers, “I challenge any church in America to match the spiritual maturity, godliness & commitment of any 500 members of Saddleback.” This tweet came on the heels of two earlier tweets:

RickWarren: Mary, it’s true. Over 10,000 Saddleback members have now served in missions overseas through our network & P.E.A.C.E. plan.

RickWarren: For 30 yrs our plan was to turn spectators into participators, consumers to contributors, an audience into an army. It worked!

The final tweet was later deleted, but managed to get quite a few responses from the Christian twittersphere. Here are a few:

ScottyWardSmith: I challenge any church in America to show me 500 of their members who need the gospel more than we do in Christ Community Church.

timmybrister: Re: @rickwarren twitter hype – It’s a good thing that no one else has a better gospel than I do, because that’s all I have to vouch for.

stevekmccoy: Yo @RickWarren, I’m happy for Saddleback & I’mma let you finish, but Corinth had the most mature Christians of all time!

jaredcwilson: I challenge any 500 Saddleback members to compare their commitment & godliness to Christ, whose righteousness belongs to every believer.

LaneChaplin: Rick Warren challenges us to make his congregation our standard for godliness, maturity, and commitment. http://bit.ly/bv6j44 #GospelFail

erikraymond: @RickWarren Looking to self to vindicate or validate shows the gospel’s been forgotten—especially ur sinful state.

Some thoughts on the situation:

  1. It’s not clear whether Warren was making a statement about the superior spirituality of the least spiritual 500 in his church or trying to stir others up to love and good works (He 10:24). When you have only 140 characters, you need to choose your words carefully.
  2. Is there biblical warrant for this kind of competitive statement? Paul discouraged comparison (2 Co 10:12; cf. 1 Cor 1:12; 3:4), but he also talked about outdoing each other (Ro 12:10) and encouraged others to immitate him (1 Co 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17; 4:9; 1 Th 1:6; 2 Th 3:9). Is all comparison bad? Is there room for healthy competition in the pursuit of godliness? Scripture often commends the behavior of certain Christians to others (e.g., Mt 8:10; Ac 17:11; He 12:1).
  3. There’s seems to be an appropriate kind of pride one can have in those he shepherds (1 Co 15:31; 2 Co 7:4; 8:24; 9:2; 1 Th 2:19).
  4. It’s not necessarily a denial of the gospel to encourage others to follow the example of those who are modeling godliness. Christ is our ultimate example, but there are other lesser examples that point to Him. Christ is our perfect righteousness, but others can model the righteousness of life that God calls us to pursue.
  5. What you say on the Internet has potential to reach far more people than you may intend. Warren has more than 130,000 Twitter followers, but the reach of his comment far exceeds that number when you take into consideration the hundreds of people who retweeted it or tweeted about it to all of their followers (not to mention those who blog about it, share it on Facebook, etc.). Keep in mind that the potential audience of what you say online numbers in the hundreds of millions.
  6. The fact that Warren later deleted his tweet probably means that he had second thoughts about posting it. We all make mistakes and say things we wish we could take back. But there’s a good lesson to be learned here. Once you put something online—especially if the content gets syndicated or cached (e.g., Twitter, RSS, automated emails, Internet Archive)—it’s virtually permanent and can’t be easily or entirely undone.
  7. Twitter lends itself to expressing your thoughts before you’ve taken time to stop and ponder them. That’s often not a good thing.

Update: Warren apparently defends his tweet yesterday—or at least responds to his critics—with these follow-up tweets:

RickWarren: Paul COMPARED the Macedonia church’s commitment to Corinth’s & challenged them to MATCH it 2 Cor. 8:1-8. Wise teaching tool

RickWarren: “I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” — Paul 2 Cor. 8:8

RickWarren: BIBLICAL leaders use themselves as examples to challenge others. Paul often did. See David’s courageous model! 1Chron 29:2-5

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8 Responses to My Church Is Better Than Your Church

  1. JonathanandSarah Albright August 12, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    great thoughts – thanks Phil

  2. Thomas Black August 12, 2010 at 4:13 am #

    Well said Phil. I took the tweet to be from a pastor who was caught in the moment of loving his church. Was it wise and proper, perhaps not. But at least instead of grumbling he was loving his church.
    My $0.02

  3. Mark Van Dyke August 12, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    It almost seems like the tweet was prompted by some frustration. If I were Rick Warren I would be pretty frustrated at how some Christians view me. He is often lumped into the same pool as Joel Osteen because they're probably the nation's 2 most popular pastors right now. Enter the "spiritual maturity" comment.I agree with your assessment Phil. Thanks for posting this.

  4. Paul D. Adams August 12, 2010 at 5:17 am #

    “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”

    or

    “the tongue [tweet?] is a small part of the body [internet], but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”

    These are wise admonishments, Phil. No doubt Warren, if it did indeed come from him, would likely do otherwise on second thought. We cannot overestimate the importance of what we say, whether on the internet or silently in our hearts to ourselves. James’ warnings still stand. Words are tools of thought and thoughts reflect the condition of our hearts. Recently I posted an open letter to pastors and their churches recounting a specific worship experience. Since the experience was indicative of so many of our visits to churches that seemingly fall short of honorable, biblical worship, I felt it necessary to make a special plea. Sadly the post created a firestorm of unfriendly private email exchanges from the leadership of that church. Yet we fail to realize that email, twitter, blogs, et al. are mediums for which we all, myself included, will be held accountable.

  5. Ron Miller August 12, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Rick Warren ….. hmmmmm …… I don't know enough to judge, just hearsay from those who like and dislike him, so not sure how I interpret this. In the hear and now, it is good for us to find a righteous standard and try to emulate it, but to hold ourselves to others as the standard makes me a little wary – probably because I fall so short most of the time.

  6. Samuel Sutter August 12, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    i really really hate to agree with Rick Warren on anything, but the New Yorker in me appreciates some gospel-promoting trash talk. I wish more pastors spent time bragging on how great their churches are. It’s kinda like kids – every parents should think their kid is the best in the world. Maybe some people feel insecure at the thot of some other dad having “the world greatest dad” mug… but they do make them in bulk, typically bought by mothers who want to encourage their husbands.

  7. Ryan Burns August 12, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    Best reply to Rick’s tweet has to be Andy Stanley: Just ordered 500 jerseys. Not sure what the next step is.

  8. Tom Sturch October 4, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    Words are powerful and in the hands of powerful people can have far reaching consequences. There is a fine line between Warren’s spurring to good works and advancing his own celebrity. My sense is that those who seriously pursue “spirititual maturity, godliness and committment” would do better to avoid it and thus its temptations. Even Stanley’s tweet is only cleverly concealed hubris. All of this cheapens the seriousness of our mission.

    Paul encourages us to imitate Christ’s suffering work and in this way carry out the ministry of reconciliation. Warren’s challenge is plainly from pride and wouldn’t qualify as characteristic of those admonitions. Perhaps I go to far, but his brand of perfectionism seems only a test away.

    More to the point, words become flesh all the time taking on lives of their own as in the present example. Or worse, misguided words and/or words rendered in less than a spirit of humility may seduce those whose spiritual processes might not be sufficiently mature to examine the difference. Warren would do better (as would we all) to cover his tweets in pre-tweet prayer. We’d all gain far more wisdom and understanding.

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