Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose-Driven Life, will be preaching to a global audience over Christmas thanks to Rupert Murdoch and the U.S. Defense Department.
Over Christmas eve and Christmas day, Murdoch's Fox News Channel will air "The Purpose of Christmas with Rick Warren," a program based on the first of 13 weekend services at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. The Armed Services Television Network will air a similar message from Warren, potentially reaching 800,000 servicemen and their families stationed in more than 177 countries. A website ( www.thepeaceplan.com ) will direct viewers to local churches.
Last week, Tim Morgan, ct's deputy managing editor, spoke at length with Warren from New York City about his recent controversial trip to Syria, his commitment to fighting global poverty, and his plans for the new 40 Days of Vision to be launched in September 2007. This is an edited transcript.
World Net Daily columnist Joseph Farah has been hugely critical of your trip to Syria and your explanations, suggesting that you exhibit behavior "bordering on sociopathic." What's your reaction?
This is a fellow who's hooked his star to criticizing somebody. There's so many over-the-top things about it. There are lots of churches in Damascus [Syria]. I asked one person. He said maybe two or three hundred in Damascus. Most of them are the traditional churches. There's Syrian Orthodox and there's Greek Orthodox. But I met with the head of the evangelicals. He said they're getting ready to go into the building program because the Presbyterian church he leadsthey've run out of space.
I will go anywhere in the world if I'm allowed to preach the gospel without hindrance. I'd go to Iran; I'd go to Syria; I'd go to North Korea. A lot of the criticisms have come from people who politicize the Christian faith. To them, politics is more important than winning people to Christ. In fact, I think one of the greatest damages to the church in the last 20 years has been the politicization of the church. I'm also tired of the church being known simply as a political tool and being co-opted by politicians.
Is the local church being asked to do too much to save the world from poverty and disease?
Noif everybody does their part. One drop of rain makes no difference at all, but a million drops of rain can turn a desert area into a garden. Is the Great Commission for every believer, or do you believe it's only for missionaries? We live in a world where we are the first generation that can actually to go into all the world. When Jesus gave that commandment, it was physically impossible for the disciples to go into all the world. If anybody had a right to be discouraged, it would be a group of Middle Eastern disciples who had no planes, trains, automobiles, fax machines, internet, cell phones, and were quite poor. Yet they accepted the task: We are to go into all the world. They didn't say, "Mission board go into all the world." They said, "All of us should go into all the world."
We are the wealthiest church in history. We are the most technologically advanced church. The option is not an option. For 50 years or even longer, missions have been, where you either completely commit your life and move to Zanzibar and live there and serve there the rest of your life, or you don't do anything. As you know, the PEACE plan is about everybody doing something. If every Christian went on one single mission trip in their life, how would it change them? How would it change the church? How would it change churches around the world?
Should local churches have saving souls as "job 1"?
I don't believe that. I believe saving souls is one of five jobs that the church has. That's the whole idea of the Purpose Driven paradigm, that balance is what creates a healthy church. God has not called us to do one thing. He's called us to do five things. He's called us to worship, he's called us to fellowship, he's called us to disciple, he's called us to serve, and he's called us to reach out and share the gospel. Now we can't say, we're only going to do two of these, because we're tired. Or I think we're only going to do two of these because we're over-committed. They're all important. Para-churches are allowed to specialize; the church has to do them all.
In what ways has your focus on fighting HIV and global poverty changed you?
I cannot care just about my community anymore. For too long I did, and I really believe that in my heart God has called me to care about the whole world. When Wesley said the world was his parish, something in that resonates with me. Once you go overseas, you see how much the church is doing with so little and yet how much more they could do if they were just given some encouragement, or some training, or some love, or some funding. In terms of my own personal life, my heart gets more and more broken. The more I see, the more I am overwhelmed by two things. First is the enormous size of the task. Second is the enormous potential of ordinary people filled with God's spirit and letting God use them.
I genuinely believe that it is possible to take the gospel to every person. The timing? I have no idea. I've already told my staff that when I die, I want four words on my tombstone: At Least He Tried. We may not reach all the goals that we're setting out for, but that is irrelevant. The issue is: Do we love enough to even make the effort? Do we love enough to care? When people say to me: "Who do you think you are?" My response is, "That's the wrong question. The right question is: Who do you think God is?" Let your vision of God, your perception of God determine your vision, and what's possible. Look at God, and all of a sudden a whole lot gets easier when we think of the enormous number of people that are doing nothing and the enormous potential of ordinary people empowered by God, making a difference together. That's what the PEACE plan is all about.
I'm not in a hurry. I may be one of the most patient people. The biggest problem, I think, with many leaders today in the area of faith is we set goals too low and we try to accomplish them too quickly. What we need to do instead is the exact opposite. We need to let God expand our vision, our dreams and we need to take longer to do that, give our lives to do it.
When you heard for the very first time about the whole Ted Haggard scandal, how did you react?
First was grief for that family. I can't imagine what it was like for the children and the wife of Ted Haggard to be put under all of that pressure. One thing that put fear into me to maintain my own integrity was to think about, what the look of my children would be, or the look of my wife, that pain. To imagine that in my mind was almost unbearable, to think of how that would hurt my kids and hurt my wife. Second, I love Jesus Christ and [I wondered] how would that hurt Jesus? Third, I love the church, and how would that hurt the church?
Nothing surprises me anymore. I have been around long enough to know that given the right situation, I or you or anybody is capable of any sin. The moment you don't think that, you're already in trouble. The moment you say, "Oh that could never happen to me," you've already taken a step down that slippery path toward immorality. Since I was ordained to ministry, which was in 1975, 31 years ago, I have kept in my file cabinet a file called "the warnings file." Every time I read an article about somebody in ministry who has messed up it is either with their finances or with their ego or with their sex life, I cut it out and put it in that file. About every 6 months, I open up that file, and I just read through the wreckage that Satan has wreaked and the havoc of lies, just to put the fear of God back in me. That file is now more than two inches thick.
How would you describe your most challenging setback in this past year?
The most challenging setback was the transitioning of the Purpose Driven [organization] back into Saddleback Church. God had to hit us with a hammer on that one and say, "I don't want you becoming an organization. I want this to be about my kingdom not about another parachurch organization." And he made that clear as he often does, through finances and through direction.
You are putting emphasis on the Purpose Driven conceptual framework and its value to local church leaders.
It's not only valuable, it's now going to the next phase. One thing that I learned from Peter Drucker is a concept that he got from Joseph Schumpeter. He talked about systematic abandonment. Systematic abandonment means you intentionally stop stuff in order to start something new. The way Jesus would say it: You've got to prune the branches so there's more fruit. Anybody who has roses, and I grow roses, knows that you have to cut the roses back or they can't grow for the next season. You have to cut back and then they grow to the next phase.
We've been doing that for years and years at Saddleback. That's why we continue to keep growing. One year for instance, probably six years ago, I told our staff and my key management team, I said, "Guys, let's cut $1 million of staff out of the budget this year." Now we didn't need to do that, it was just seeing what we could do without it because we want to do something else. And one of the things you have to do is cut something off before it starts sliding down.
What is on your ministry horizon?
Saddleback is going to be doing this fall: 40 Days of Vision. I'm taking The Purpose-Driven Church, and I'm going back into writing mode on January 1. I'm going to revise that book, including what have I learned in the past 11 years. I wrote that in 1995. I wrote the first book for pastors. This one I'm going to write for every Christian. What is my role in the church, because I'm committed to the local church. What is my role, and what is God's purpose for me in my local church? I'm going to put it in the 40-day format. The next wave is going to be huge, and it's going to be next fall. The fourth one is 40 Days of Peace. That's moving people into the last campaign, which is deployment.
Is the Warren household still giving a 90 percent tithe?
Well, we can't go back on it. I actually set it up legally.
What's the text you're going to be preaching on during Christmas services?
This year, I'm going to preach on the purpose of Christmas. The three purposes of Christmas are in the three statements that the angel made at the very first Christmas. First, he said, "Fear not for I bring you good news of great joy." Then he said, "For unto you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord." Then he said, "And peace on earth, goodwill toward men." Now that's the three purposes of Christmas. The first purpose is celebration, the second purpose is salvation, and the third purpose is reconciliation. At the end, I'm actually going to talk about the PEACE plan and how to keep Christmas going all yearjust do the 5 things Jesus did. There's peace of God and there's peace with God and then there's peace with Man, once you have the first two.
Christianity Today's special section, Rick's Rwanda Road Map on his PEACE plan.
Other Christianity Today coverage of Rick Warren includes:
Quotation Marks | Comments on same-sex marriage, Syria, Twinkies, and the Republican defeat. (December 19, 2006)
Painful Decline | Saddleback Church assumes Purpose Driven, scales back programs. (November 21, 2006)
Evangelical Leaders, Bush at Odds Over North Korea | Franklin Graham opposes sanctions, Land and Cizik encourage broader focus from White House. (August 8, 2006)
Warren's North Korea Trip Delayed | Stadium event still planned for next year. (July 7, 2006)
Forget Your Bliss | The success of The Purpose-Driven Life reveals a cultural opportunity. A Christianity Today editorial (March 9, 2004)
Saddleback's Social Capital | The author of Bowling Alone discovers Evangelicals can be trusted at the civic table. (March 2, 2004)
A Regular Purpose-Driven Guy | Rick Warren's genius is in helping pastors see the obvious. (Nov. 8, 2002)