Throughout his career as a pastor, Rick has had the amazing opportunity to reach out to numerous people through his books and his ministry, providing help and inspiration to the lost and the downhearted. Rick is one of the leaders in bringing America back to its Christian roots, and is one of the most vocal members of the Christian community that are promoting Christianity in the leadership.
In the modern American society where atheism and agnosticism are in rampant rage, affecting many of the government’s institutions, Rick’s influence is amazingly able to help the Christian community gain a significant foothold in the foundations of what made America great, by actively giving sound and wise guidance to the nation’s leaders. Rick has been a part of two of America’s spiritual advisors, both former president George W. Bush and incumbent president Barack Obama.
As a testament to how much Rick and his books have impacted the lives of millions of people not just in America but also in the world, Rick has been included in several lists of widely respected and popular publications such as TIME and Forbes Magazine. Rick has been named as one of the 15 World Leaders Who Mattered Most in 2004, 100 Most Influential People in the World, and America’s Top 25 Leaders.
One of the things that makes Rick a very extraordinary person is his love for people. His very work as a pastor proves this, as he has spent much of his life counselling, encouraging and empowering people to overcome their problems. Rick has also been a significant figure in helping the less fortunate and generally unheard members of society by speaking for them.
In an interview, Rick says:
“The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence. The reason I've been silent in the media most of the last four years, I was overseas in little villages nobody ever heard of. And I was literally trying to help people who nobody ever heard of. The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence.”
Rick is a successful author, as proven by the success of his books such as “The Purpose Driven Life,” “The Purpose Driven Church,” and “The Power to Change Your Life.” The first on the list, The Purpose Driven Life, is not only a worldwide bestseller, but has sold so many copies that it was named the ‘Most Successful Christian Book,” second only to the Bible. Not only that, but The Purpose Driven Life also has one of the longest reigning periods of top spots in the New York Times Bestselling List, proving that Rick has this amazing ability to connect to the hearts of people at such a time as this.
A lot of Christian pastors and leaders are often criticized for distancing themselves from the so called ‘sinners’ and ‘outcasts’ of society, often condemning these people for not believing the same things that Christians believe. As such, the people who are supposed to be the ones drawn to churches go away because of the hateful spirit that they sense from these denominations.
Rick, however, is very different, and this is what makes him extraordinary. Rick is not focused on the sin; he is focused on loving the person. This is what he explains in an interview made with him:
“Sin is real. There's no doubt about it. And I believe that everyone has sin in their lives, but I believe the scripture tells me to focus on my own sin and to focus on loving you. A lot of times we get that reversed. I'm always focused on your sin and loving myself.”
This is why it is no surprise to find that the church Rick pastors, Saddleback Church, is being attended by over twenty thousand people every weekend. Every Sunday, Rick and his team at Saddleback provide an atmosphere of acceptance to every person who steps in the halls of the church, encouraging them to come back and receive more of God’s word. There is no segregation—whether you are a Christian, Muslim, Hindu—whatever religion you have, you are always welcome to Rick’s church.
Having said these things, Rick is not beyond compromising his convictions just to accommodate his guests, whoever they may be. This is why his members greatly honor him as their pastor—Rick defends the word of God and what it says, but he loves people and welcomes them. Rick says in an interview:
“Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate. Building a bridge has nothing to do with compromising your beliefs. It's all about your behavior and your attitude toward them. It's about genuinely loving people.”
Rick has a very strong sense of evangelism, and this is reflected in his church. Following the ‘Great Commandment’ of the Bible, Rick believes that every member of the church is called to disciple others and as such encourages and empowers his members to go out and reach to the people outside the church. Rick himself is no exempt to this—he leads by example, spending a lot of time with non-Christians more than he does with fellow believers.
When he was interviewed regarding the explosive growth of Saddleback Church, Rick said:
“Because Jesus commanded us to take the Gospel to everyone, I spend much of my time with groups of people who completely disagree with what I believe. I'm constantly trying to build a bridge of love to nonbelievers, to atheists, to gays, to those I disagree with politically, and to those of other faiths. We don't wait for these people to come to church; we go to them and share with them on their turf, not ours. Every member is a minister and a missionary.”
Finally, Rick does not just speak on the pulpit every Sunday—he practices what he preaches. Rick supports a wide array of ministries and organizations, and has even co-established several others so that he could reach the poor, the desolate, the needy and the hopeless. Through organizations such as ‘Acts of Mercy’ and the ‘Celebrate Recovery’ program, Rick is able to show those who are in need of the love that God has for them.
Rick Warren was born in San Jose, California as the younger son of the two children of Jimmy and Dot Warren. It really was not a surprise that Rick would later on become a minister himself, as he comes from a family of laymen and missionaries. Rick’s great-grandfather and his father Jimmy were both pastors of the Southern Baptist Convention, and thus became inspiration for Rick to follow. His mother Dot worked as a high school librarian, which developed Rick’s interest in reading and later on writing books.
Jimmy was one, if not the most important role models for Rick as he was growing up. This was because of the way that Jimmy raised both of his children—both Rick and his brother Jim were not only taught by their father about the principles and doctrines of Christian living, but they saw their father live the very things he taught to them. Jimmy was a gracious and respected member of the community, and always gave help to anyone that needed it.
Sometime later, Rick and his family moved to Ukiah, California, where he attended the Ukiah High School to study. As a student, Rick made many friends due to his kind and warm personality. He was also a talented and intelligent student, able to quickly catch up with his studies. Overtime, Rick got more and more interested in ministry, and upon his graduation from Ukiah in 1972 he decided to study in a seminary to become a pastor.
And so, Rick applied at the California Baptist University to study theology. He was around nineteen years old at this time, and was deeply excited with the notion of becoming a full-time minister. It was during his stay at CBU that Rick claims to have been called into full-time ministry—in November of 1973, when Rick and a fellow classmate skipped their class so they could attend a preaching of W.A. Criswell at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco, he was surprised when Criswell told him, “I feel led to lay hands on you and pray for you,” while shaking hands with him. A few years later, Rick graduated from CBU and earned his bachelor’s degree.
Afterwards, Rick went on to pursue his studies at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. During his time at the seminary, Rick started working in one of the ministry facilities of Billie Hanks, Jr., the Texas Ranch for Christ, as a writer. Rick eventually co-wrote two books at the Texas Ranch for Christ; “The Victory Scripture Memory Series,” and the “Twelve Dynamic Bible Study Methods for Laity,” with Billie Hanks, Jr. and Wayne Watts, respectively. Rick then went on to graduate and earn his master’s degree in divinity in 1979.
It was also during his time at SBTS that Rick met Elizabeth (nicknamed “Kay”), whom he became friends with. In time, their relationship developed, and they eventually fell in love with each other. They married in 1979, and had three children eventually: Amy, Josh and Matthew.
After graduating from SBTS, Rick went to study his doctorate at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he was honoured as one of the best students. He personally met Billy Graham and Peter Drucker, both of which became his mentors. He graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary and earned his doctor of ministry degree in 1981.
Not long after Rick finished his theological studies, both and his wife Kay felt a calling on the inside to reach out to people that did not attend church. Living in the fairly wealthy suburbs of California, Rick noticed how in spite of the wealth that the people living there had, most of them were still on drugs, depression and alcohol, which proved that financial wealth did not solve their problems.
Rick saw this as an opportunity to be able to introduce God to people, and as such he invited some friends and neighbors to do bible study at his home. During their first bible study session, Rick and Kay were joined by one other family. As time went on, other families started to join, and it was not long before the group grew so quickly that by the Easter of 1980, there were 205 people (mostly unchurched folk) that attended the bible study sessions, and thus the Saddleback Valley Community Church was born.
The Saddleback Valley Community Church Grows
Rick held the early services of Saddleback Church mostly in school theaters such as the Laguna Hills High School Theater during their first public service. From an attendance of 205, the church quickly grew in number as more and more people were pouring in not just from Saddleback Valley, but also from the neighboring areas who heard of the things that Rick was preaching about. The rapid expansion was simply amazing, that by the mid-1990s, Saddleback Church was a home to no less than ten thousand people.
There were three reasons why the church exploded so much in growth: evangelism, the message, and the atmosphere of love that people felt whenever they attended worship services.
From the very moment Saddleback Church was founded, Rick and his team devoted their lives to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone. When he was interviewed about the goals of the church, Rick simply answered:
“To know Christ and make Him known! To live out Jesus' Great Commandment and Great Commission! In fact, this has been the motto of Saddleback Church since we started it in 1980: "A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great church." Everything we do comes out of these two great texts.”
Because of this, Rick greatly emphasizes on evangelism and always encourages the members of Saddleback Church to participate in bringing the gospel to everyone they have a chance to. This is one of the main reasons why the church has grown so quickly—causing the church to move from place to place because the facilities could not hold the rapidly growing numbers of disciples that were pouring in. When Rick was interviewed about his stance on evangelism, he said:
“We don't wait for these people to come to church; we go to them and share with them on their turf, not ours. Every member is a minister and a missionary. Saddleback was a missional church 30 years before the term became popular. We just called it being ‘purpose driven’.”
Secondly, people are drawn in by the kind of message that Rick preaches about God. Compared to most of the churches that preach ‘hellfire and brimstone’ (the slang term for the kind of preaching that causes fear into the hearts of its listeners in the hopes that they would be scared into accepting Christianity), Rick’s messages are filled with love and acceptance, often involving him telling people to accept Jesus Christ into their lives not because they are going to die tonight (which is the common question being asked by a lot of evangelicals when they go and reach out to the unchurched), but because they are going to live tomorrow and Jesus offers them a better life than the one they already have.
Rick’s preaching can be summed up in the statement he made in an interview:
“I often tell people you're living a good life. And but If there was a better life, wouldn't you want to know about it? See I'm not one of those pastors or preachers who say I'm trying to scare you out of hell and into heaven. I say you need the Lord in your life, not because you're going to die tonight, but because you've got to live tomorrow. You've got to live tomorrow. And you need not the good life. You need the better life.”
Finally, Rick encourages everyone in Saddleback not to criticize sinners, but to love and accept them wholeheartedly. For Rick, accepting sinners does not mean that you have to compromise your beliefs and throw in your lot with them—it’s about making them feel that ‘there is someone who wants to help you get out of that struggle you are dealing with.’
This is exactly the reason why Rick is never ashamed to hang out with people from different religions. He said in an interview:
“For years, we have invited Muslim friends to attend our Easter and Christmas services, and they have graciously attended year after year. Some have even celebrated our family's personal Christmas service in our home. So when they have a potluck when their month of fasting ends, we go to their party. It's a Jesus thing. The Pharisees criticized him as 'the friend of sinners' because Jesus ate dinner with people they disapproved of.”
In 1991, Saddleback Church bought the Lake Forest campus so that they could start building their own worship facility. Completed in 1995, the three-thousand five hundred-seater auditorium became the home of Saddleback Church from that time onward. Aside from this, other buildings and facilities were constructed to house the children’s church, the staff offices, and the missions center, where people are trained to disciple other people. Today, Saddleback Church is the eighth-largest church in the United States, averaging more than twenty thousand people attending its services every week.
The Purpose-Driven Campaign
In 1995, Rick wrote and released his book titled “The Purpose Driven Church.” The book, which talks about how pastors and church leaders should base their ministry on the plan that God has instead of their own ideas about what a church should be, immediately became a bestseller, so much so that it has become the most successful Christian book until it was surpassed by Rick’s “Purpose Driven Life.”
With the success of his book, Rick started the “Purpose Driven” campaign, which aimed at helping pastors and church leaders from all over the world grow their churches and bring more people into Christianity. Since its founding, more than four hundred thousand pastors from across one hundred sixty countries around the world have attended Rick’s speaking engagements on this campaign, thus proving just how influential he has become. Until now, Rick sees this as a privilege given to him by God, and in no way boasts of the influence that he carries.
In 2002, Rick released his second widely-known book, “The Purpose Driven Life.” Becoming a greater financial and critical success than its predecessor (The Purpose Driven Church), The Purpose Driven Life talks about the purpose of why one exists, and has described itself to be a ‘blueprint’ for Christian living in the 21st Century. Since its release, The Purpose Driven Life has sold more than thirty million copies around the world, as has been the most translated book in history, second only to the Bible. During its time of release, many churches all over the world based their sermons from the book, causing a great ‘Purpose Driven’ phenomenon.
Due to the phenomenal success of his books (more specifically The Purpose Driven Life), Rick and his wife Kay decided to give back twenty five years of salary to the church and stop receiving salary in 2005, believing that there were much better areas where the money can be put to good use. From that time on as well, Rick and Kay started to become ‘reverse tithers,’ living off ten percent of their income and giving away ninety percent to the ministry.
During an interview with Rick in 2005 about the success of his book, he said:
“It brought in a ton of money. The first thing we decided was that we wouldn't let it change our lifestyle one bit. I stopped taking a salary from the church. Then I added up all the church had paid me in the previous 25 years and I gave it back.”
Rick Preaches in Politics
The success brought in by Rick’s ministry and books have launched him into international spotlight like he has never thought of or imagined. Since 2002, Rick has been invited to speak in multiple globally-known events and conferences so that he could share his wisdom, experiences, and most of all, the gospel. Rick has been invited to speak in the World Economic Forum, the Council on Foreign Relations, the African Union, Kennedy’s School of Government, the TIME Global Health Summit, and TED. In spite of being a sought-after speaker, Rick remains active in his duties to the church, and believes that his first and foremost priority is to his family, after God.
As Rick matured in his walk with God, he also witnessed the spiritual degradation that was growing rampant in the United States and realized that if Christian leaders did not do anything, the country would be given up to atheism and agnosticism. Because of this, Rick became active in politics, and has been one of the most outspoken Christian leaders in the political arena.
Milestones and Criticisms
In 2008, Rick hosted the Civil Forum on the Presidency, a church event he described that aims to ‘restore civility in our social discourse.’ Inviting both presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, the forum not only increased Rick’s popularity but it also marked the first time that the two contenders for the highest position in the United States government had their first joint appearance.
After Barack Obama won the presidential elections in that same year, he appointed Rick to give the invocation at his inauguration ceremony. While it did spark protests from groups that supported LGBT and abortion, President Obama defended Rick by stating, ‘there should be room for dialogue on such difficult social issues.’ Rick was again criticized when he was chosen as the keynote speaker of the 2009 Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Commemorative Service, but was later on praised for delivering a positive and inspiring message.
The P.E.A.C.E. Plan
With all of the success that Rick and his church has attained, he still continued to give to society as a means of showing people that God’s way works. Supported by his wife, Rick launched The P.E.A.C.E. (Promote reconciliation - Equip servant leaders - Assist the poor - Care for the sick - Educate the next generation) Plan at Saddleback Church, which involved encouraging and inspiring Christians around the world to serve people by actively being involved in the area of society’s greatest needs and fight against the five global giants, which are: poverty, disease, spiritual emptiness, pride and illiteracy.
Tragedy fell the Warren family when Rick’s youngest son, Matthew, took his own life in April 2013 after struggling with severe depression that was caused by his mental illness. The incident greatly devastated Rick and his family, and he had to leave pastoring for a while to take care of the issue. Several criticisms were raised against him, but Rick was defended by numerous church members and supporters that encouraged Rick in this tragic time. Rick returned to pastoring in late July of the same year.
Today, Rick continues to live out a life of purpose by pastoring his church, loving his family, reaching out to other people and most of all, being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Throughout his career as a pastor, author, father and a philanthropist, Rick has encountered numerous problems, criticisms and seemingly insurmountable challenges, but he never quits to do what he does because he looks to God as his one and only source. Through triumph and tragedy, success and failure, Rick is a wonderful example of what the Christian life should be like.
“It's all about your behavior and your attitude toward them. It's about genuinely loving people. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Before people ask 'Is Jesus credible?' they want to know if you are credible. Before people trust Jesus they must trust you.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Acts of Mercy
- RKW Legacy Partners
- Equipping the Church
- The P.E.A.C.E. Plan
- HIV & AIDS Initiative
- Celebrate Recovery
- Saddleback Church and its numerous ministries
Awards and Achievements
- 2004: Included in the 15 World Leaders Who Mattered Most
- 2005: Included in the list of America’s Top 25 Leaders
- 2006: Included in the 15 People Who Make America Great
- Included in the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America
- Holds the record for the Bestselling Hardcover Book of All Time (The Purpose Driven Life)
- 2008: Honorary Doctorate from Gordon College