Rick Warren: Man on a Mission (page 2 of 2)


Images from this article
Photographed by Michael O'Brien
Warren, millionaire minister and bestselling author: "To whom much is given, much is required."
Photographed by Michael O'Brien
Star power: Warren with then-candidate Barack Obama at a Saddleback forum last August.
Rick Warren
Photographed by Michael O'Brien
Star power: Warren with then-candidate Barack Obama at a Saddleback forum last August.
Image Image
Working with such big numbers on such an ambitious agenda has made Warren famous-and controversial. Anyone who didn't recognize his name before last August probably did after he invited Senators Barack Obama and John McCain to Saddleback for a highly publicized forum during the presidential campaign. He drew protests when he supported California's ban on gay marriage and again when Obama chose him to give the invocation at his inauguration. "The rage against Rick Warren has come from both liberals and conservatives," says Steven Waldman, cofounder of the religious website beliefnet.com. "But actually, he's playing a pretty significant role in changing the face of evangelical Christianity in America on issues from the environment to world poverty. And he's more open to engaging with opponents, which is how this friction started."
Warren changed a great deal as he progressed from a preacher who wanted to "build a church for people who hate church" to worldwide religious leader. He spoke with Reader's Digest—whose parent company recently launched his new magazine, Purpose Driven Connection—twice in recent months. Here are excerpts from those two interviews:

Q. Were you surprised when you were selected to give the invocation?

A. I was humbled and honored to have a tiny part in a history-making day. The invitation was completely unexpected. I could name several dozen wonderful pastors who would have done a better job.

Q. Why did you invite the two candidates to Saddleback last August?

A. I'd known both senators before they decided to run for the presidency, and I happened to like them both. They are both patriots, they both love America, they're both good leaders.

Q. What did you hope to accomplish with the event?

A. I wanted to try to tone down the rhetoric—one of my goals is to restore civility to our society.

Q. That goes beyond preaching the Gospel.

A. As a pastor, I'm for the good news and the common good. The good news is about Jesus Christ. The common good—whether you believe in Jesus Christ or not—is that we're all on this planet. We're all a part of humanity.

Q. How did you choose Southern California to start spreading your message?

A. It was a total move on faith. I had graduated from the seminary, and Kay and I were living in Fort Worth, Texas. I remember telling her, "I think we're supposed to go to Southern California and start a new church. What do you think?" She said, "Well, it scares me to death, but I believe in God and I believe in you, so let's do it." So we got in the car and dragged a U-Haul behind us. We arrived here on January 1, 1980, in the middle of rush-hour traffic—I grew up in a village of about 500 people—and I said, "God, you got the wrong guy. What am I doing here?"

Q. How did you find your answer?

A. I pulled off the highway, and we walked into this real estate office and met an agent named Don Dale. I said, "My name is Rick Warren. I am 25 years old. I'm here to start a church. I don't have any members. I don't have a building. I don't know anybody here. I don't have any money, and I need a place to live." Within two hours, that guy found us a condo. He convinced the owner to give us a free month of rent and nothing down.

Q. Did Don join your church?

A. We were driving to the condo with him and I said, "Hey, Don, do you go to church anywhere?" He said, "No, no. I hate church." I said, "Great. You're my first member." We started with my family and his family. Our first service was on Easter Sunday in 1980, with 200 people. For Easter in 2008, we had 14 services back-to-back, with 45,000 people. Don is still a member here.

Q. When did you decide to expand beyond Lake Forest?

A. In our second decade, we said, "Okay, now we're going to go national, and we're going to help others." I cared about the little churches with 50 or 75 members. Maybe they couldn't afford to pay someone full-time to be their pastor, and I said, "Let's help these guys." So I started training pastors, and in the '90s, I trained about 250,000 people all over America. After that, we reached out globally.

Q. What have your travels around the world taught you?

A. I have seen the quick jump from political division to hatred in too many countries. All of a sudden, the guy you disagree with is evil, and you demonize him. In Rwanda you call him a cockroach and you create this mentality that can lead to genocide. It's one step from dehumanizing people who have a different view on a value that you hold dear to depersonalizing them so they are no longer human—and then you have a right to just get rid of them. Hitler did it. I don't think we want to go down that path.

Q. How do we ensure that we don't?

A. The idea of tolerance has to come back into style. Tolerance means I treat you with respect even when we totally disagree on a particular issue. You're a child of God. You're worthy of dignity. We may disagree, but we're going to tolerate each other, and even more than that, we can be friends.

Q. You've said it's important for evangelicals to be more about what they're for than what they're against. When you came out against gay marriage, Saddleback was picketed. One woman, a lesbian who attends Saddleback, said how disappointed she was in you.

A. You're never going to please everybody. I don't need to agree with somebody in order to love them. I don't need to agree with somebody in order to help them either. I hope they feel the same way about me.

Q. What's your advice for someone who wants to live a more meaningful life?

A. Love God and other people with all you've got! Living a purpose-driven life means making an intentional shift from self-centered thinking to other-centered thinking. Ask yourself, "What should be the contribution of my life?" By knowing your combination of gifts, abilities, and experiences, you'll see where you can make a difference.

From Reader's Digest - March 2009
  • Del.icio.us Del.icio.us
  • Digg Digg
  • Reddit Reddit
  • Facebook Facebook
  • StumbleUpon StumbleUpon
Must Read Should Everyone Read This? Yes! I vote for this story

Your Comments

See all


Post your comment

You will be asked to sign in or register to post a comment

Characters Remaining

Oh give me a b r e a k ...when you start giving away 90 percent of your income to help others...thenBy auntieninno, on Mon Feb 09 04:35:59 EST 2009

This a hateful man that actively worked to take away constitutional rights from a significant, althoughBy celdd, on Sun Feb 08 11:38:58 EST 2009

Related Links