Impact of Church Growth on Self Esteem Movement

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Originally from the Reformed Church in America, Pastor Robert Schuller, founder of Chrystal Cathedral, is often given credit as the pioneer of what has commonly been referred to as the Church Growth Movement.  He began Garden Grove Community Church, which would eventually become Chrystal Cathedral and hosted a weekly television program Hour of Power.  During his ministry he developed an identity for only preaching encouraging and inspiring messages.

Schuller’s philosophy of being non controversial on Sunday mornings was often the subject of much controversy.  His approach of only emphasizing sin, repentance and discipleship to Christians through education programs is widely utilized to this day[1]

Like Schuller, prominent church leaders Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, both influenced by Schuler’s Institute for Successful Church Leadership, are widely known for the popularization of a movement that has been said to water down the gospel with the secular teachings of psychology.

The Self Esteem Movement- Psychologizing the Gospel?

Born out of the Church Growth movement, the self esteem movement in the church has been said to be part of an effort bring more people back to church;  the gospel being compromised in an effort to preach to people’s felt needsand to be a positive and relevant force in people’s lives.  Today many of the arguments have changed and yet the attacks remain the same.  Its defenders would argue that good self esteem is indispensible for daily living, healthy relationships, and even holiness.  Furthermore, some would advocate the pursuit of self esteem above other Christian attributes.  Among the many arguments, this movement, with their views on self- esteem and psychological need, has been criticized as being non- biblical, self serving and dismissive of sin.   Certainly these criticisms question the “truth” of “secular” ideas of self esteem.  Perhaps, the question that should be asked is what does the Bible teach about self worth?  Is there really any difference between the secular ideas on self worth and what is taught in many churches?

What does Self Worth or Esteem even mean?   

In a day of cliché and misinterpretation, it is important to note just what is intended when talking about self esteem.  Is self worth something that man gives himself, does it come from God or some combination of both?  What does it mean to have self worth?   Many definitions and ideas of self worth exist.   For our purposes self worth is used to denote man’;s unique ability to discover one’s identity and attach a sense of worth to it. [2]

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[1] Brockelman, Wildred.  The Pros and Cons of Robert Schuller. The Christian Century August 20-27, 1975, 732-735

[2] Mathew McKay and Patrick Fanning.  Self Esteem.  New York City: New Harbinger Publications, 1987. P 1


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