In 2005, Time Magazine listed Rick Warren among the 100 most influential people in the world. Now he’s among the top 20 most influential individuals on Twitter; 750 million followers. He pastors America’s biggest church, Saddleback, and a decade ago wrote ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’, which has now sold 32 million copies in 50 languages around the world.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the book, it’s been retooled and rereleased with two significant new chapters. For all the notoriety, all the achievements, Rick Warren humbly, sincerely applies one of the key themes of ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’ to himself, many times a day; that it’s not about him. Rick Warren, welcome to Open House.
Pastor Rick Warren talks to Leigh Hatcher about the tenth anniversary re-release of The Purpose Driven Life and the new chapters on Envy and People Pleasing.
Leigh: It’s a great privilege to speak with you. Rick, to write a book like this in the first place, it assumes there’s something missing in the world, and in the Christian community. What would you say that was before ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’?
Rick:Leigh, I think that there are 3 fundamental questions of life that everybody has to deal with, regardless of our age, our race, or even our faith.
The first is the question of existence: Why am I alive? The second is the question of intention: Does my life have a purpose? The third is the question of significance: Does my life matter? These are so universal that I thought I need to study what God has to say about them. The book actually took me about 20 years to write because I was thinking through this for nearly 20 years, and then when I actually started writing it, took me 7 months to write it all down. Those are universal questions that everybody has to deal with.
Leigh: Yes. As I said, the story of this book is a phenomenal one, measured even just in numbers, and no doubt, way beyond than that in the lives of so many people. As the impact of it became evident in those early days just after its release, what was your response to that?
Rick:My first response to the success of the book was, “Why me?” because I’m not even a professional writer, I’m simply a pastor. The biggest surprise was that I got to write the book. I later came to believe that God allowed me to write the book because He knew what I would do as a result of it.
We used all of the money that the book brought in, all of the income, to start an international program called The PEACE Plan, which stands for Plant churches that promote reconciliation. E is Equip servant leaders. A is Assist the poor. C is Care for the sick. E is Educate the next generation.
These are 5 things that Jesus did in his ministry and they attacked 5, what we call ‘global giants’; giant problems in the world. I am happy to say that the PEACE Plan is now being done in all 196 nations of the world. The book ended up founding a major ministry around the world that has blessed even more people probably than even the book.
Leigh: It’s a wonderful story. How much were you surprised by the impact, the reach even just as you said the sheer numbers sold of ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’?
Rick: When I was writing the book, my standard day was this: I would get up at about 4:30 in the morning; I wouldn’t shave, shower, or eat. I would go to a little study and arrive there at about 5:00. I would sit down and I would just start typing. I would type until about noon on a computer. Then I would feel a little antsy, my ADD would kick in and I’d think, “I’ve got to get with some people,” and really, that’s what it was. One of my staff would come up and I’d eat lunch with them. I’d walk around a little bit, shower and shave, go back to writing until at 1:00, and type until about 5:00. Then go home, eat dinner, play with the kids, and get in bed by about 8:00.
I did that for 7 months, and during that time, many times as I was writing the book, I never knew that the book was going to be a best-seller. I did know that the book was anointed, because many times as I was writing it, tears would be flowing down my face as I was writing the book. I would be reading what I was writing and I would think, “I’m not this good. I don’t think this way.” I knew that I was being guided, that I was being lead by the Spirit to write it. Many times I would write something, I’d think, “I need this. This is for me. This is what I need to hear.” I had many holy moments over those 7 months writing that I was actually being guided.
Leigh: I’m not at all surprised. To mark 10 years of ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’, there’s this retooled, rereleased version with the addition of two chapters, Rick: ‘The Envy Trap’ and ‘The People-Pleaser Trap’. What have you learned or heard since writing the book? What have you experienced that you thought, “I have to address these two traps,” the envy trap and the people-pleaser trap?
Rick:Leigh, in America, they’ve done some surveys, and they found out that on the Gallop poll and another poll the Baylor poll found out that about 20% of America had read the book; that’s about 60 million people. When you have that many people read a book, you’re going to get literally thousands, tens of thousands of letters. I don’t exaggerate in saying that maybe we received over the last 10 years, ½ million emails, letters, notes. I sure haven’t read all of those, but I read a lot, and many readers would read them for me. I began to sympathize with the problems that people were having as I read these stories. When I decided to expand the book and add in other features, I thought, “I’ve got to come back and do two more chapters, at least on what I consider to be now that two biggest barriers to fulfilling your life’s purpose.” As you mentioned they are envy and people-pleasing.
I define envy as, “I must be like you to be happy.” People-pleasing is, “I must be liked by you to be happy.” These are two barriers that if you worry about what other people think, you’re never going to fulfill God’s purpose for your life. I talked to many people who said, “I know what God wants me to do. I know what I’m called to do. I know what my purpose is, but I’m afraid my husband, my wife, my boyfriend, or my parents wouldn’t approve.”
If we fear that disapproval of other people, it can keep us from fulfilling our purpose in life in a major way. Then envy is the other barrier that when I’m trying to be like other people, I can’t be who God made me to be. If I listen to all the advertisements that are on the television and radio and I think, “I’ve got to look like her. I’ve got to have as much money as she does. I’ve got to do what she does. If I try to be somebody else, then I can’t be the unique person that God made me to be.” I saw these two as the two most common barriers: I have to be like you and I have to be liked by you in order to be happy. Both of them are lies, both of them are myths, and both of them will keep us from living a life of purpose.
Leigh: Without giving too much away, what would you say the answers to those are? I think those two chapters in particular are well worth deeply reading. What’s your overarching solution, or way forward, from those two traps; envy and people-pleasing?
Rick:It goes back in the first chapter, the first sentence says, “It’s not all about you,” and the title of the chapter is ‘It’s All About God’. If I focus on God, then I’m going to live for what I call ‘an audience of one’. I’m not worried about what other people think. I know that if I please God, it doesn’t matter whether I please anybody else. If I please God, it I will always be doing the right thing. It simplifies life when you say, “I’m not going to live for a bunch of people. I’m going to live for one approval, and that is the approval of God, so that one day when I stand before him, He’ll say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant. You made the most of your life.”
Leigh: Rick, of all the responses that you mentioned to the book, can I get you to recount one in particular for us; that of a hostage situation in 2005?
Rick:In Atlanta, there was a criminal named Brian Nichols who was taken to court to be sentenced. While he was in court, this criminal grabbed the gun of the guard who was guarding the judge in this courtroom and shot and killed 4 people and escaped. There began to be a massive manhunt across the city of Atlanta to find Brian Nichols. He was being searched for, for an entire weekend.
One night, he broke into a house and took a young woman named Ashley Smith, hostage. Tied her up and put her in the bathtub. Ashley Smith was at that time a drug addict trying to break a habit, but she had been going to a church and she had been given the book ‘The Purpose Driven-Life’. As she was reading it, it was changing her life. As she was reading it, when Brian Nichols tied her up, they began to talk one time about a conversation, and she said, “God has a purpose for your life. I’ve been reading about this.” He said, “Really?” and they began to talk about it. She said, “Can I read this to you?” She read ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’, to this man who was her captor, she was the hostage of. She convinced him to set her free and turn himself in to the police because he read the book.
Leigh: It’s a simply stunning story of many I’m sure you’ve heard. Can I also take you back much further to one other particular moment in your life, way back when you’re a 19-year-old Bible student, and you and a friend of yours drive about 500 kilometers to hear one particular speaker.
Rick:Yes. I was in college, I was going to a Baptist college, and that day, Dr. W.A. Kriswell, who was the pastor for 50 years of the First Baptist Church of Dallas was speaking in Northern California, about 300 miles away. I had always been amazed by this man who spent 50 years in one church; it was the largest church in America at that time, and Dr. Kriswell was the most respected pastor in America at that time. My friend and I cut school, from college, and we played hooky and we drove to Northern California, about 350 miles, to hear this man of God preach. While I was there, I heard him tell the story of how he made a commitment to spend his entire life pastoring one church. I made that same commitment that day. I said, “Lord, give me the privilege of spending my entire life in one church.” I made that commitment that day.
Then what happened was after the service was over, I went up to meet him, just to shake hands with this spiritual giant. As I walked up to him, he looked at me with very kind eyes and he said, “Young man, I feel led to pray for you.” I said, “Great.” He put his hands on my head and began to pray. He said, “Lord, I ask you to bless this young man and may his church grow to twice the size of Dallas.” Tears were falling down my eyes at this point. When I walked away, I said to my friend, “Did he say what I thought he said?” My friend Danny confirmed it. Little did I know that actually would be like a prophecy, it would actually come true, because today, Saddleback is more than twice that size. There are actually about 100,000 names on our roll of attenders. They have about 20,000 people who come to services every weekend. We have about 6,000 small groups that meet in Bible study, and about 32,000 people in those Bible studies. We’re the only church in America, Lee, that has more people in Bible study, in small groups, than has on the weekends. 20,000 on the weekends, but 32,000 in small group Bible study during the week.
Leigh: Yet, like so many big things, great things, it under God had humble beginnings. Can you paint us a picture of what it was like in those very early days?
Rick:Very humble beginnings. When I began to pray about finishing up the seminary, I was going to school. I said, “Lord, I’ll go anywhere in the world if you’ll give me the privilege of spending my entire life in one location. I don’t care where you go.” We got out a map of the world and my wife and I began to pray about being a missionary somewhere in the world. Actually, we were feeling called to move to China as missionaries and we really had our hearts set on that. This was in 1979. In the 1970’s, China was going through the Communist cultural revolution and the doors were closed to missionary work. There was no way they were going to let an American come here and do missionary work in China. We were told, no, we can’t come. That was the biggest disappointment in our lives, because I didn’t understand at the time when I was willing to go why God wouldn’t allow us to go. I later learned, God said, “I’m going to make your church. You won’t get to be missionary, but I am going to make your church a missionary-sending church. The members will go out.” Lee, that’s exactly what has happened.
When we started this PEACE plan 10 years ago, we were reading where the scripture says, “Go and make disciples of every nation.” I challenged our people. I said, “I wonder if any local church has ever gone to every nation? In 2,000 years of Christian history has there ever been one church that actually went to every nation? Why don’t we set that as our goal? By the end of 2010, we will be the first church to have sent our members on mission to every nation in the world.” I didn’t know how many nations there were, so I had to look it up. There are 196 nations in the world. There are 194 that are a part of United Nations. The only two nations in the world not a part of United Nations are, Kosovo and Taiwan. We said, “We’re going to do that,” and we did.
Over the next 10 years, we sent out 14,869 of my members, Saddleback members, to go plant churches, equip leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, and equip the next generation in every nation. On November 18th, 2010, we went to nation 196, the last nation; a little island in the Caribbean called St. Kit’s, only 35,000 people. For our next decade, we’re going after what we call ‘the unreached tribes’. There are 3,600 unengaged tribes which have no church, no Bible, no [inaudible: 15:35]. They’re very small tribes, and we want to help raise up churches from around the world to make sure by the end of this decade there’s a Bible and there’s a church in every one of those tribes.
Leigh: Can I ask you this question? To what would you attribute both the phenomenal growth in Saddleback and that kind of mission? What’s going on here with that?
Rick:I think we intentionally built a process from the very beginning that would move people through deeper and deeper discipleship. Most churches believe in discipleship, but they don’t have a plan. They don’t have a plan that moves people from immaturity to maturity; an intentional, systematic plan. I wrote another book about this plan called ‘The Purpose-Driven Church’. Moving people from come and see, to come and die. The first words of Jesus to his disciples were said when he met his first disciples when John the Baptist told Andrew and John, “There goes the lamb of God, follow him.” They asked him the first question, “Where are you going Lord?” The very first words of Jesus public ministry was, “Come and see.” That’s where we begin our ministry. We tell unbelievers, “Come and see.”
There’s no commitment required. That’s as low a commitment, you say, “Just check us out. You don’t have to say anything, sign anything, sacrifice anything, serve anything.” Jesus starts where people are with a very low commitment; “Come and see.” Then over the next 3½ years, he continues to move them to deeper and deeper levels of discipleship to where he moves them to what we call, ‘come and die’. Over the next 3½ years, Jesus begins to say 14 times, “You’re my disciple if you continue in my work. You’re my disciple if you love one another. You’re my disciple if you bear fruit.” At one point he says, “You’re my disciple if you take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me.” If you take up your cross meant are you willing to come and die?
We’ve had this process we call ‘the purpose-driven process’, helping people from membership, to maturity, to ministry, to mission. We move them from knowing and loving God, to loving his family, to growing in God, to serving God, to sharing God. That’s the process we’ve use, and we’ve moved thousands of people through this. We move them from new believer, to maturity, to minister, to missionary. I’ll give you an example: In the last 10 years, I’ve baptized 22,000 new believers; that’s bringing them in the front door. Then we move them into small groups where they grow for maturity. Then we move them in the ministry, where we have about 20,000 involved in laying ministries, and then we send them out on mission, which we call ‘the commissioned’, to go all around the world.
Leigh: Does all that under God has happened around you? Can I ask you this: How have you kept your head through this all?
Rick:It is by constantly repeating the first sentence of the book. When I wrote that first sentence, “It’s not about you,” I honestly didn’t know, Lee, how many times my own life would be tested with that verse. Now since that book came out 10 years ago, I find myself having to say that to myself quietly as a prayer, sometimes 5 or 10 times a day. When I’m criticized I say, “It’s not about you.” When I’m praised I say, “It’s not about you.” When things get tough, slow down, and we have the inevitable difficulties, delays, and dead-ends, I say, “It’s not about you.” When we have defeats I say, “It’s not about you.” When we have victories I say, “It’s not about you.” It’s all about God. I didn’t know I was going to be tested on that verse every day for the rest of my life.
That’s the key, is to walk humbly before the Lord in dependence, where humility is not denying your strengths, humility is being honest about your weaknesses. The more honest you are about your weaknesses, the more authentic you are. The more humble you are, the more God’s grace you get. The more God’s grace you get, the more power you have.
Leigh: Can I ask you this perhaps unusual question, but it’s a big issue in our world today, especially in ministry. How important are your days off, breaks for you from your work and ministry?
Rick:It’s very important if you want to last. Ministry is a marathon, not a 50-meter dash, it is a marathon. You have to pace yourself. If you study the ministry of Jesus, 7 times in his ministry he pulls back for times of retreat. 7 times he pulls back for times of rest. He would go out and he would have a campaign of strong ministry and he’d pull back for prayer and relaxation. Then he’d go out again and he’d pull back; 7 different times. The Bible says in the 10 Commandments, “6 days you labor and on the seventh you rest.” If you aren’t taking a day off every week, you’re breaking the 10 Commandments. It’s not just an optional idea. If you don’t take a day off every week, you are violating the 10 Commandments. The Bible says, “The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.” God considered rest and relaxation so important that he put there in the Big 10 right there with don’t murder, don’t commit adultery. He says, “Every 6 days you take a day off.” That’s how important rest is.
Leigh: My final question is this: Back in 2005, Time Magazine judged you to be among the top 100 most influential people in the world. How do you desire Rick Warren to use that influence?
Rick:When I began to get more notoriety because of the book, I had to begin to pray about what I call ‘the stewardship of affluence’ and ‘the stewardship of influence’. The easier part was to deal with the money; we just gave it all away. My wife and I are reverse tithers, which means we actually give away 91% of our income and we live on 9%. We didn’t start there. 37 years ago, we started giving 10% away, and each year we’d raise it by at least 1%. Now after 37 years of marriage we give away, 91% of our income and live on 9%. That was the easy part; the stewardship of affluence. The hard part was the stewardship of influence.
I don’t think God gives you influence or power just so you can be famous, just so you can be prideful or arrogant, or things like that. In Psalms 72 which is Solomon’s Prayer for Influence, the Bible teaches us that the purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence. I committed to use whatever affluence and whatever influence God has given me to help people who have no influence, and that’s how I have used that, to manage it. It’s not for our benefit, it’s not about you, it’s to be used for people who have no influence, so we speak up. We have ministries to orphans because they have no influence. We have ministries to the sick because they have very little influence. We have ministries to the poor because they have very little influence. If you follow the ministry of Jesus, you will use your influence to help those who don’t have it.
Leigh: Rick Warren, as I said, I’m honored that you’ve joined us on Open House. Thank you so much, indeed, for your time.
Rick:Leigh, it’s good to talk with you. I hope to come back to Australia very soon. I love that country from the bottom of my heart.