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Alex Tang



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Knowledge and Wisdom: Finding a Balance in Pastoral Care

Rick Warren and Eugene Peterson


by Dr Alex Tang



1.      Introduction

                       The cosmo is full of opposites : Light and dark . Black and white . Yin and Yang. Our knowledge and belief systems are also full of opposites : Faith and reason. Art and  technology. Creativity and analysis. Humour and seriousness.

                        Even in our Christian  theology there are opposites. Opposites can have the effect of threatening to split the church, causes social upheaval and loss of life. The classical example is that of Augustine and Pelagius.  Augustine believed that man in incapable of obedience and hence can only be saved by the work of God alone. Pelagius believed that man is capable  of obedience and can be saved by good works. This lead to divisions and strife and was only partially resolved at the Council of Trent in the sixteen century.[1] 

                    Pastoral Theology is defined as ‘the study in application of the philosophy and spiritual sources from the Old Testament, New Testament and the Total Christian Thoughts of the pastoral calling, life and craft integrated with the ongoing changes in life.’[2] Like all food, it must be chewed upon, digested and assimilated before it is of us to us. Hence pastoral theology is the guiding framework which determines the way a pastor thinks, live and has his being. Even in pastoral theology there are opposites. One end of the spectrum is the ‘ Let God and Let Go “ school of thought ( which for the purpose of discussion in this paper will be called ‘Wisdom”) and the other end is the “God Help Those Who Help Themselves’ school of thought ( which will be called ‘Knowledge’).  Both groups are evangelical and share the same belief system.

                     The Wisdom School taught that the pastor should put aside self and allow the Holy Spirit full control. The keywords in their ministry are ‘soul care’, ‘space for God’ and ‘spiritual direction’.

                    The Knowledge School will use any human knowledge to help them in their pastoral work. They would ‘sanctify’ secular management skills if they find it useful . This school is also known as the Method school. The keywords in their ministry are ‘mission statement’, ‘strategic planning’ and ‘goal planning’.

2.      The Scope of the Paper

                      The scope of this paper will be to study the pastoral theology of the Wisdom School and the Knowledge School and to learn lessons from them so as to apply it into our own pastoral ministries.

                     The representative case study for the Wisdom School will be the pastoral ministry of Eugene Peterson. Eugene Peterson was the pastor of  Christ Our King Presbyterian Church, Bel Air, Maryland, United States of America and presently is the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

                       For the Knowledge School, we shall study the pastoral ministry of Rick Warren, senior pastor of  Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, California, United States of America.

                       The sources for our study are from various book of  Eugene Peterson     (   Appendix 1 ) and  Rick Warren ( Appendix 2 ). This paper do not pretend to be any in depth analysis of the pastoral  theology and  ministry of this two great servants of the Lord, but to present a brief survey of their published thoughts, motivations and application of their understanding of  their pastoral theology in their respective  ministries.

3.      Biographical Background

                      Eugene Peterson was the pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland for 29 years before moving to Regent College in Canada.  With the 1980 publication of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Peterson has earned a widespread reputation as a thoughtful, articulate pastor who understands the spiritual disciplines and can communicate their practice. He pastors and writes from a scholarly background, having mastered the biblical languages and done doctoral-level work under the magisterial William F Albright.[3] When he was young he worked in his father’s butcher shop which he said had a good influence on his attitude towards work and life. In 1991, he resigned from being a pastor to devote more time to his writings.[4]

                    Rick Warren graduated from Southwestern Baptist Seminary  in Fort Worth, Texas. In his student days he was very impressed by Donald McGavran and W.A. Criswell. From McGavran, he was inspired to search for biblical, cultural and leadership principles that will produce healthy growing churches. Warren regarded W.A. Criswell as the greatest American pastor of the twentieth century. Criswell was the pastor of First  Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas which was the largest Baptist church in the world. Warren not only regard Criswell as a powerful preacher and leader but also as an organisational genius. Warren even recorded a prayer by Criswell when he laid hand on him (  Warren ) and  prayed that the church he will pastor ‘ will grow to twice the size of the Dallas church’.[5]

                        Both the pastors come from different backgrounds. Their spiritual foundations have been different. Peterson was deep into biblical studies while Warren was influenced by the church growth movement of McGarvan and the large church of Criswell.

4.      The Pastor and Culture

                       In a market economy, the company with the brand name, the best product, the best service and the price gets the customer. The bigger the company, the more successful it is. Every company dreams of being listed in the Forbes 500. This market economy is the culture of the twentieth century. As the latest monster movie “Godzilla” proclaim – “Size does matter”.

                      Unfortunately, many pastors are also caught up in the culture of the age. They want to pastor megachurches. Success in ministry is equated with large church membership.

                       Peterson has started as a counter culture pastor. He decided early in his ministry that he will not pastor a church composed of more people than he could remember by name. His congregation averaged about 300. Peterson do not believe that a pastor should ‘run a church’. In fact he did not like the term. He believed a pastor should be unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic.[6] A pastor should be concern about the cure of souls than in the size of the congregation. In fact, a large congregation will be impossible for him to exercise the three angles of pastoral care – prayer, scripture and spiritual direction.[7]

                         Warren wanted a large church. He planned for it. In the summer of 1979, he ‘practically lived in university libraries doing research on the United States census data and other demographic studies on four areas ( Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County).He quoted Proverbs 13:16[8] as the basis for this marketing research. He finally decided on Saddleback Valley in Orange County, California because it was ‘ the fastest-growing area in the fastest – growing county in the United States during the decade of the 1970s’.[9]  After starting his church in Saddleback Valley, he spent the first twelve weeks going door-to-door talking to people. He said “I wanted to listen first to what they thought their most pressing needs were.” In his first sermon on March 30, 1980, Warren outlined “The Saddleback Vision” which included a dream of inviting 20,000 members into the fellowship of the church family.[10]

                       Both Peterson and Warren have a different view of the pastoral ministry. Peterson believe in the small church where a pastor can give spiritual direction on an individual or small community basis. He liken a church to a small rural American town.

                      Warren believe that God is gloried in a large church. Since its beginning in 1980, the church has grown to over 14,000 in attendance and has sponsored 24 new “daughter” churches. Nearly 70% of the members of Saddleback church found Christ and were baptized there.[11] On December 31, 1997, Saddleback Valley Community Church baptised the 5,000th person to be baptised since the church moved onto its own land five years earlier. The congregation is now the second largest in the United States.[12] Warren approached his church planting like a company marketing plan( Figure 1 ). He has utilised marketing research, strategic planning, resource management and total quality management (TQM).


Collect Information

Capture the Vision


Identify and Marshal Resources

Create the Plan

Implement the Plan


Gain Feedback on the Process


Revise and Implement

        Figure 1 : The Marketing Process[13]


The Wisdom School build deep while the Knowledge School spread wide.


5.      The Pastor and Spiritual Formation

                         Central in the role of a pastor is the spiritual formation or Christian growth of our congregations. The five cardinal activities of pastoral care as outlined by Henri Nouwen in his book, Creative Ministry all work to create spiritual growth in the congregation. These activities are teaching, preaching, individual pastoral care, organising and celebrating.

                         Peterson’s approach is very simple. In his most recent book, he wrote:

                       " Christian growth ( spiritual  formation ) is, in fact, the easiest thing in the

             world. This is God’s work in Christ through the Spirit in our lives. Grace. We don’t

             have to do anything. As a matter if fact, whenever we do get it into our heads to do

             something, it is usually the wrong thing – we start taking over, running the show,

             being gods for ourselves and others.

                        On the other hand, it is the hardest thing in the world, because we are constantly

             having to get out of the way, to “let it be done unto me according to your word.”

             The faithful, daily return to childlike receiving and obeying, neither of which we initiate,

             is the Christian life.

                        The troubling thing about so much Christian instruction-for-sale today is that it is

             little more than self help psychology with a little holy water sprinkled over it; or the old

             entrepreneurial American dream fortified with some energizing cheerleader texts.

                        Much better than trying to summarize steps or stages of Christian development is

            to immerse ourselves in the grand narratives of our Scriptures – Abraham, Jeremiah,

            David, Jesus. As we live imaginatively  into these lives we start to get the hang of this

            unique life of the Spirit in which we do less and less so that the Spirit does more and more.

            The paradox is that we do less and less, more and more actually gets done through our

             hands and feet and speech. More energy, less guilt; more of God, less of us".[14]


                       Rick Warren’s approach is train his congregation into spiritual growth. He has a clear objective for his church which he has summarised as the “Saddleback’s Purpose Statement”:


          To bring people to Jesus and membership in his family, develop them to Christlike maturity, and equip them for their ministry on the church and life mission in the world, in order to magnify God’s name.


In this clear statement Warren outline five keywords for his church:

       Magnify :          to celebrate God’s presence in worship.

       Mission  :          to communicate God’s Word through evangelism.

       Membership :    to incorporate God’s family into their fellowship.

       Maturity :          to educate God’s people through discipleship.

       Ministry  :         to demonstrate God’s love through service.

                       With this Purpose Statement, Warren went on to identify where each people who attends his church stands in relationship to their spiritual development. He developed the Fives Circles of Commitment. ( Figure 2 ).    The aim of the church is to move people from the outer circle ( low commitment/maturity ) to the inner circle    ( high commitment/maturity ). He called it ‘ moving people from the community into the core”.














Figure 2 : Circles of Commitment[15]


                         The next step after identifying their spiritual development is to fit them into the teaching ministry of the church, which Warren called ‘The Life Development Process”. ( Figure 3 ).  This is a very structured program in which there is a fixed syllabus and members of the congregations are move from one level to another after completing the training required.



Figure 3 : The Life Development Process[16]



        C.L.A.S.S.  101  :  Discovering Saddleback church membership

                                      Membership Convenant


       C.L.A.S.S.  201  :   Discovering Spiritual Maturity

                                       Maturity Convenant

        C.L.A.S.S.  301  :   Discovering My Ministry

                                       Ministry Convenant

       C.L.A.S.S.  401   :   Discovering My Life Mission

                                       Missions Convenant

For each program, there are teaching notes, tapes to listen to, evaluation and on achieving the level, the members are given a small credit card sized certificate. The church has a program of Bible studies, classes, topical seminars, and annual conferences.

                    Here we see two very different approach to developing the spiritual maturity of the congregation. Peterson do not have any specific teaching program but prefer to use life situations to impart spiritual direction and to emphasis the role of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit.

                     He looks to the bible giants for contemplative exergesis.  His books reflect his thoughts. Leap Over a Wall ( David ).Reversed Thunder ( John ). Answering God and Long Obedience( Psalms/David and others).Run with the Horses  ( Jeremiah ). His approach is personal. He did not have any full time staff aside from himself. He relied a lot on his elders which are all laymembers[17]. This is a very effective approach as it goes deep into the life of the faithful. It offers modeling and guidance. But it is very dependant on the spiritual guides. Not everybody has the spiritual understanding of Peterson. One could wonder what is happening now at the Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air when Peterson is no longer there. Is spiritual guides reproductible ?

                     Warren has a fixed program that is not dependant  on him. He is senior pastor and has a large staff of 12 pastors working under him[18]. Any of them can teach the programs. There is a large collections of tapes of his sermons and teachings.

 His church makes good use of modern technology and resources. The advantage of this program is that it is not person dependent. The life development process will still go on without Warren, as it is doing now. Warren is often on a lecture/seminar circuit. Large numbers of people can benefit from the program. They know exactly where they are in their spiritual life process. But it is like a school program. Does it produce lasting spiritual growth ?

6.      Conclusion : Finding the Balance

                         Finding a balance in his  pastoral care do not mean that a pastor must side with either the Wisdom or Knowledge School of thought. As discussed, both schools have their strengths and weaknesses. What it does mean is that the pastor should look into his own ministry and to seek how to apply what he has learnt in his own spiritual development into his work.

                        Peterson and Warren did not arrive at where they are today overnight. It took them long years of studies and preparation. Long years of spiritual development and obedience to the Lord. It took them years to decide where they want to stay in regard to their culture.

                         The current cultural measure of success is high profile ministry, large church  buildings, large church membership and being invited to give seminars and lectures. The pastor must seek to measure success as in the Kingdom of God. The pastor must not give in to the cultural perception that size is all that matters.

                  According to church consultant , Lyle Schaller , a recent study of 116,000 churches in the United States showed that 35 was the most common  number in attendance.[19]  Pastor Craig Brian Larson shared his experience in pastoring a 35 members Lakeshore Assembly of God in downtown Chicago, Illionois:

                                  I am still sensitive to the fact that when I preach, it’s like an audition.

                    People are shopping, and if they don’t see something they want this week,

                    they’re not going to return next.

                                  But there is no comparison to the sense of joy and fulfillment  I feel in

                    ministry  now compared to how I felt fifteen years ago. Then I was driven;

                    I felt if we didn’t get the church over a certain number, I was a failure.

                    Today, I don’t feel that way.

                                   For first fifteen years of my ministry, I was so focused on the corporate

                    aspect of getting bigger, I couldn’t find joy in what was happening in individuals.

                    Today, I’m trying to balance  those two better.

How do you measure success now ?

                                  Critical for me is,  Am I preaching the truth to people ?

                                  Am I where God wants me to be, doing the best I can for God ?

                                 Am I trying to bring that spiritual vitality to others ?[20]

Here is a pastor who has found the balance in his ministry. He is not measuring his success by the size of his ministry but the quality of spiritual development in his ministry. As Peterson said, ‘ Ministry is organic, growing out of who we are and where we are in the circumstances in which we know and serve Jesus ‘.[21]

                                                                                                                                                   Soli Deo Gloria


1.          R.C.Sproul, Willing to Believe : The Controversy of Free Will ( Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 1997 )

2.          Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor ( Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 1989, 1993 )

3.          Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Michigan, : Eerdmans, Regent College Publishing, 1994, 1997 )

4.          Eugene Peterson, Working The Angles : The Shape of Pastoral Integrity ( Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987, 1993 )

5.          Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church ( Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1995 )

6.          Information from the Saddleback Valley Community Church website 


7.          George Barna, The Power of Vision ( Ventura CA : Regal, 1992 )


8.          Eugene Peterson, The Wisdom of Each Other (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998 )

9.          Leadership Forum, Pastoring with Integrity in a Market-Driven Age   ( Leadership,  Summer 1997 )

10.      Information available on the Saddleback On-Line.


Appendix  1

Selected Bibliography of Eugene Peterson

1.      The Wisdom of Each Other : A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends  ( Zondervan)

2.      Reversed Thunder : The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination  ( HarperCollins)

3.      Leap over a Wall : Everyday Spirituality for Everyday Christians (Harper)

4.      Subversive Spirituality (Eerdmans/Regent )

5.      Take & Read : Spiritual Reading – An Annotated List ( Eerdmans)

6.      The Message : Proverbs (IVP)

7.      The Message : Job – Led by Suffering to the Heart of God (NavPress)

8.      Praying with the Psalms (Zondervan/Harper)

9.      The Message : The New Testament in Contemporary Language ( NavPress)

10.  Travelling Light; Modern Meditations on St.Paul’s Letter of Freedom ( Helmers & Howard)

11.  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction; Discipleship in an Instant Society.(IVP)

12.  Run with the Horse : The Quest for Life at its Best ( IVP )

13.  Like Dew Your Youth (Eerdmans)

14.  Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (Eerdmans)

15.  Where Your Treasures Is ( Eerdmans)

16.  The Contemplative Pastor ( Eerdmans )

17.  Answering God ( Harper )

18.  Working the Angles : The Shape of Pastoral Integrity ( Eerdmans)

19.  Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans)

Appendix 2

Selected Bibliography of Rick Warren

1.      The Purpose Driven Church ( Zondervan )

2.      The Purpose Driven Life

3.      Personal Bible Study Methods.


[1] R.C.Sproul, Willing to Believe : The Controversy of Free Will ( Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 1997 )

[2] Lecture notes. Rev.Loh Soon Choy. M.Min program –Pastoral Theology & Ministries,            Malaysia Bible Seminari, 7-10 July 1998

[3] Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor ( Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 1989, 1993 ) p. 2

[4] Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Michigan, : Eerdmans, Regent College Publishing, 1994, 1997 )

[5] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church ( Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1995 ) p. 25 - 30

[6] The Unbusy Pastor, the Subversive Pastor, the Apocalyptic Pastor, Curing Souls :  The Forgotten Art was discussed in his book, The Contemplative Pastor.

[7] Eugene Peterson, Working The Angles : The Shape of Pastoral Integrity ( Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987, 1993 )

[8] Proverbs 13:16 “Every prudent man acts out of knowledge”

[9] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church ( Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1995 ) p. 33 - 34

[10] Ibid p.43

[11] Information from the Saddleback Valley Community Church website 


12  Information available on the Saddleback On-Line.


[13] George Barna, The Power of Vision ( Ventura CA : Regal, 1992 ) p. 176

[14] Eugene Peterson, The Wisdom of Each Other (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998 ) p. 73-74

[15]  Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church ( Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1995 )

[16] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church ( Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1995 )

[17] Eugene Peterson. Subversive Spirituality ( Grand Rapids,MI/Regent Publishing: Eerdmans, 1994, 1997)

[18] Rick Warren is Senior Pastor. The other 12 are a Executive Pastor, Pastor of Ministry, Pastor of Spiritual Maturity, Pastor of Membership, Director of Seminars & the Purpose-Driven Network, Pastor of  Magnification, Pastor of Missions, Pastor of Life Development, High School and College Pastor, Junior High Pastor, Children’s Pastor and Early Childhood Minister.

        Saddleback On-Line

[19] Leadership Forum, Pastoring with Integrity in a Market-Driven Age ( Leadership,  Summer 1997 ) p.  108 - 114

[20] Ibid

[21] Eugene Peterson, The Wisdom of Each Other (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998 ) p. 93



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