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Pastor found 'purpose' in spreading God's Word
By Emily Ramshaw

This article originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News May 16, 2005. Used by permission.

 The Rev. Rick Warren muses on his ministry, best-selling book

The Rev. Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? and pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., spoke at Sunday's Global Day of Prayer event at Dallas' Reunion Arena.

Beforehand, he talked with The Dallas Morning News. Here are excerpts:

What surprised you most about the response to The Purpose Driven Life?

If you'd asked me 2 1/2 years ago, I'd say that it instantly zoomed to the top of the [best-seller] list. The biggest surprise now is that I got to be the one to write it. This is such a fundamental issue -- the "What on Earth am I here for?" There is nothing new in this book. I happened to see it in a new way, a fresh way, a simple way.

You've become a very popular public speaker. As you've traveled, have you noticed any local differences in how your message is received?

Not at all. I was recently in Africa, working in orphanages and meeting with presidents. And I recently spoke at Harvard. I got there expecting a debate, and instead I found, "Tell me more." It's cross-cultural -- I get letters from Hindus, from Muslims. [The Purpose Driven Life] didn't get niched as a religious book.

How difficult is it to continue to lead your own church congregation while ministering to millions of people around the world?

This church outgrew me a long time ago. I've added lots of staff -- 14 pastors, 9,000 lay ministers. We have 2,600 small groups. I'm not an evangelist; I'm a pastor and a theologian. I've watched an entire generation of people grow up [at Saddleback], and that stability keeps my feet on the ground. I don't enjoy travel. But I'm addicted to changed lives.

The phrase "purpose-driven," as well as your formula, have reached deep into American culture. How do you practice quality control and prevent your message from getting diluted?

It's not my message. One of the reasons why the book works is that I quote over 1,500 Bible verses. For the last 20 years, I've been training pastors -- 400,000 from around the world. I trust them, and I believe they do a great job. I love these guys, and they genuinely love their communities.

As with any self-help book, some people will find it useful and some won't. How do you help people who try and try again but still can't find a place for Christianity in their lives?

The reason we fall off the bike is because we try too hard. The message of Christianity is grace. To somebody who keeps falling off, I'd say, "You're not losing God's love." God is going to love me on good days and bad days. But you also need a community. You need a family, a spiritual support. We're not meant to go through life alone. Find a church. Get a small group -- four or six friends who really are with you. God hates loneliness because God is love. We need people with us in those times.

If you weren't a pastor, what would you have been?

A rock musician, probably. Growing up, I played guitar. I had shoulder-length, blond hair. I was always interested in government. But you don't change society through laws. You do it through individual lives. If you want to affect culture, you have to start with people's hearts and lives.

Last month at the 25th anniversary of Saddleback, you announced you were starting an international movement -- a Peace Plan to "plant churches, equip servant leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick and educate the next generation." When will dirt start to fly?

There are five problems that are the biggest on the planet, that affect billions of people. They are: spiritual emptiness, a lack of servant leaders, poverty, disease and education. The church of God is the only thing that's big enough to fix them. We have to set up small groups. And we have been quietly testing a prototype. Once we get it figured out, we're going to pass it out to other churches.

Prestonwood Baptist Church and Potter's House are two of the most prominent churches in Texas, if not the country. And one of the things that made Sunday's gathering significant is that it was a rare coming-together for these mostly white and mostly black congregations. What progress do you see in bringing together Christians of different ethnic backgrounds?

The spiritual answer is, when the love of God is in me, and the love of God is in you, we're not going to fight. One place they can come together is the church. [Saddleback] started off a white church in the suburbs. Now it's multicultural. Our church started 19 Spanish-speaking churches.

What is your next project?

My goal is the second Reformation of the church. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther tacked his 95 theses to the door. The first Reformation was about creeds. This one is about deeds. This reformation needs to be about behavior, about what we should do. It's about the church's mission. I intend to give my life to this.

E-mail eramshaw@dallasnews.com


©Copyright 2005 The Dallas Morning News. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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