Looking for life's meaning

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Area ministers and church leaders are looking for ways to transform their church, energize members and help people understand their purpose in life.

And they're doing it with the help of Rick Warren's book, "The Purpose Driven Life," plus Internet devotions and small group studies.

Churches in the region are beginning "40 Days of Purpose" campaigns in the coming days based on Warren's best-selling book.

La Croix United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau and First Baptist Church in Jackson kick off their events at services this weekend. Zion United Methodist Church in Gordonville will hold a kick-off banquet Sept. 25 and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jackson will begin its campaign Oct. 2.

Churches like Lynwood Baptist Church, Centenary United Methodist Church and St. Andrew Lutheran Church already have completed campaigns and are doing follow-up studies.

Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church in California and has written about "The Purpose Driven Church." Numerous conferences and books based on that leadership model have been used by churches across the country. His book, "The Purpose Driven Life," has received much the same attention. It's been at the top of the best-sellers list for two consecutive years, and has been used by more than 13,000 churches from 60 denominations.

The "40 Days of Purpose" campaign breaks down the principles of the book for small-group studies suitable for churches. Many pastors also preach theme sermons that correlate to the book's topics.

"We're hearing remarkable testimonials from other churches that have held a '40 Days of Purpose' campaign," said the Rev. Ron Watts, pastor at La Croix Church.

St. Paul hopes to form 100 study groups of eight to 10 people to go through Warren's book. "So many people today are longing for something more than what this world offers," said pastor Dave Johnson. "They have tried all the typical ways to find personal peace and happiness and still there is something missing. Our goal is to help them discover God's purpose for their lives as is it centered in Jesus Christ and what he has done for them."

The Rev. Carter Frey of First Baptist said the study will help both the individuals involved and the church as people seek direction in life and focus their attention on finding what God wants.

Even months after participating in a "40 Days" campaign, the effects are evident at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, where attendance grew and giving increased.

Pastor Paul Short said unified studies and a common focus really helped to solidify the congregation. People are always interested in finding out their purpose on earth. "When you can find a good, clear perspective on that, such as what comes out in the book, that gives you a level of confidence that permeates throughout all your life."

The study has helped the church move forward and created a "deeper foundation" for the congregation.

Now the church will begin a new series of monthly classes based on a model developed by Warren's church. The "Faith Walk" classes will talk about membership, spiritual maturity, ministry and mission, many of the topics covered in Warren's book.

"The classes will help us get down into low gear and dig into this for our own personal growth," Short said.

Short believes that the popularity of the "40 Days of Purpose" and its reach across denominational lines will help raise the level of spirituality in the community and place a greater emphasis on missions.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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