why i choose to think highly of rick warren

recently my church did a preaching series covering a handful of parables, called “think different”. i was able to attend church during one of the weeks (a great sermon on grace, based on the parable of the workers in the field). they always (or, usually) have some kind of “dressing” on the stage that connects with the series (though sometimes it’s only different lighting or whatever). for this series, i was surprised when i entered the space, to see a handful of portrait photos up front.

my initial response was negative: i didn’t like having other people to look at while in church.

then i noticed who some of the photos were: einstein, bill gates, mother teresa, MLK, anne frank.

and i was simultaneously pleased (that my church would include some of those people, not only “christian heros”), and started to “get it”: these were people who thought uniquely, and whose unique thought left an indelible imprint on humanity. and — my “getting it” continuing — i found the photos helpful in worship, as i was seeing the image of god in each of these people, in their uniqueness, in their “think differently-ness”.

until someone on stage moved and i saw the sixth photo.

rick warren.

really. my first response was, to be honest, not positive. i am not a fan of the commodification of christianity. and i’m not a fan of the hero-worship that seems so prevelant in evangelicalism, particularly. and, my church is often a bit too enamoured of ‘the rick’ for my taste anyhow.

but, somewhere in the midst of the songs, while i stewed and considered the extremely snarky blog post i would surely write about this mockery, i felt something else.


dang. conviction sure does get in the way of self-righteousness sometimes, doesn’t it?

i stopped singing and stood there, thinking. wrestling. i asked myself the questions i knew my spiritual director would ask me, if she’d been sitting there hearing my thoughts: what is god trying to say to me in this? what is it about rick warren, really, that gives me such a visceral response? what is god trying to say to me about me?

and suddenly it hit me: i am doing to rick warren exactly what i’m complaining about others doing to him. i’m de-humanizing him. i’m turning him into a caricature. i’m de-personifying him and making him into the monster of my own imagination.

do i have the guts (or calling) to start a church from scratch? no.
would i be courageous enough to try new approaches to church and worship (remember, rick’s stuff was pretty revolutionary when saddleback got started)? i’m not sure — i wonder if i’m more of a “pick the best of what i’ve seen” kind of leader.
would i have the faith to believe that a message i felt was truly from god would impact millions of people (when publishers laughed at my projections)? uh-uh.
how would i handle the attention? would i give 90%, and return all the pay i’d ever received from the church? not a chance. (as much as i’d like to nit-pick these actions, or convert them into something mal-motivated, the facts of the situation are pretty bold.)

in my ongoing search to be more true to who god is calling me to be, i keep running into people for whom i’ve been attaching evil motivation for years. i was this way with ron luce until we had our come-to-jesus in echo park. and i could list a dozen or more other examples. it struck me, standing there in church, not singing, head down, that i was doing the same thing to rick warren. silly thing is, i don’t disagree with rick on hardly anything! i have a deep respect for saddleback, and am very close friends with at least three people on staff there.

could i find things to criticize about saddleback. well, of course. where is the church were i couldn’t find things to criticize? are there things i could criticize about rick’s style of leadership, or choices he makes, or words he says? totally. but, really, not as much as most people could criticize about MY style of leadership, or the choices I make, or the words I say!

i’m going on record with my respect for rick warren. he thought (and i continues to think, i hope) differently.

26 thoughts on “why i choose to think highly of rick warren”

  1. I’m much in agreement with your thoughts, Marco. More and more I dislike how we Christians are so divisive of other believers and their church choices. I yearn for more unity. There is surely room for all shapes and sizes of churches and leaders, and the challenge for me is to respect them all for what they offer to the Kingdom, in their varied ways.

  2. This was so good and really challenged me. I never even thought the word – dehumanizing – when I would think about these people. But there it is, judging them without even knowing them or their heart.

    thanks so much, i really appreciate it! i read your blog daily, first time posting.

  3. Right on, Marko. I’ve had similar feelings about Warren and some others. Sometimes that part of myself really bugs me and I appreciate your honesty on the subject too. Some stuff is worth dividing over and other stuff is just arrogance on my part, and it’s important to know the difference.

  4. Marko, I am always impressed with the vulnerability you put out there in your writing; thanks for talking about conviction in such a personal way; it’s really affected my confessions as well, to read what you write about where God confronts you in your walk.

  5. Dude, I get so tired of people bashing people like Warren. My SP does it ALL the time. Honestly, the people who I hear criticize have so much arrogance in thier heart that it seems to be simply jealousy.

    it’s the same thing when people bad mouth fields. The same thing when I bad mouth ATF.

    We all need to be humble.

  6. Marko, thanks so much for your humility and complete transparency. I was kind of the same way with Rick, just not into the whole deal and then I heard a podcast of him rom Catalyst and was blown away with what he has done with the money and his focus on helping the poor. Plus he said he still drives around the same Ford and lives in the same house he did before the book was huge. Love you Marko. Keep challenging us. Peace.

  7. funny, the picture of bill gates is the one that would have gotten me. :) and there’s something quite humourous about a picture of bill gates under the (mac inspired) theme “think different.”

  8. I’ve got lots of issues with Warren and the purpose-driven craze, but when he gave back his salary for the last few decades, it showed that, whatever his theology, his heart’s really in it. God bless him.

  9. I have attended Saddleback Church for the past 15 years. I’ve personally heard testimonies from hundreds of people over the years whose lives have been changed through attending Saddleback Church and coming into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Rick Warren may think differently and he may think big, but his focus is basically small, the same as his father’s was: “To reach one more for Jesus.” And what you’ve heard is true: After receiving millions for his books “The Purpose-Driven Church” and “The Purpose-Driven Life,” he continued to drive the same car, live in the same house, he paid back to the church every cent he ever earned, and he lives on 10% of his income and tithes and donates 90%. His focus isn’t money; it’s “changed lives.” He refuses to be a TV evangelist as he believes everyone needs to be “plugged into” a church family to grow spiritually. He is driven by compassion for the lost and downtrodden. I believe his “think- big/think-differently/change-the-world” mentality qualified him for the “think different” posting at your church along with others who did: Mother Teresa, Anne Frank, etc. His life brings glory to God. Does yours?

  10. sharon p — i’m a bit confused. i post, respectfully, about the positives things rick has done. i post a fairly risky post stating my support of rick and my belief in his motives — a post that many of my readers would disagree with. and you’re challenging me on not being supportive enough of rick? or am i reading your last two sentences as a challenge when you didn’t intend it that way.

  11. Marko…what is the web site for your church? Believe it or not…our church is doing a “Think Different” series as well and my SP was curious what was on your church’s web site! :) He thought he was being original! :)

  12. deneice — it’s journey community church, in la mesa, CA. journeycom.org. but they’re already on to another series, so i don’t think there will be anything on the website.

  13. A LA TORRE!! (Spanish for, but stronger than “Dang!”)

    I saw you in Guatemala (I’m from de band Rojo) and i visit your blog at least twice a week.

    Man! what you just wrote, i translated it to other relationships/ministries/personalities and just like that, in two minutes, i see thinks very different. Thanks man.

  14. Marko… I’ve been in youth ministry for 22 years and have seen lot’s of changes. I appreciate your post! Several year ago I attended a late night session with Kimball, Jones, You and several others, the guy from the Ooze. I had just come off a fresh reading of the McLaren trilogy and wanted to hear what these so called theologians had to say about where the church was heading. Instead I heard criticism and bashing going on. Truthfully I found myself getting sucked into that… I laughed at my previous church who still did things the MODERN way. I have found myself criticizing ATF. Until like you I had one of those moments… One of those Rick Warren moments. We are ALL doing our part… I may not agree with it… but they are still brothers and sister out there trying to workl out their salvation! I’m rambling… just wanted to say thanks for being transparent!

  15. Just a comment from the other side of the planet(New Zealand). Marko thanks for being so open and transparent its great to see some great leaders express his true feelings and humanity and reflect on the crossroads God Bought him to.Great Honest relection. Blessings

  16. Great thoughts, as a catholic we are often told not to listen to writers such as Rick Warren or play music from the Hillsong Church. If we truly worship the same God, we could all learn from each other. Rick Warren and Doug Fields have had a great impact in my life as a Catholic. Unity not sameness is the key.

  17. It’s hard to honestly evaluate the theology, mindset and ministry of another person without making it personal. I find some things deeply disturbing about Saddleback, and for that matter, about Ron Luce. But that’s the theology and practices, not the people involved!

    It’s ok to disagree, to debate. It’s not ok to use differences as a reason to have attitudes against individual, or to assume bad motives. Where’s the love?

    Thanks for your blog on this topic!

  18. I agree that we need to recognize all the good he has done. I do continue to struggle with a few things….i.e., our church us about to get into his new product, “40 Days of Community”. The promo DVD was, well, terrible. “Spontaneous” applause was badly edited into the end of each of his segments, giving it the feel of a bad infomercial.

    Now–is a bad promo DVD for a project that, I am sure, will do some good a horrible thing? No. However, it reminds me that we continue to buy (literally and figuratively) into the ‘let’s program our way to heaven’ approach. We support the ‘church as the lighthouse’ model, vs. being and living in areas where we see and interact with people in need daily, and thus allowing our homes to become lighthouses for our neighborhoods…and, doing all that without having to buy a huge program and use key rings to remind us that we are supposed to be Jesus to those in need.

    To be fair, I bet Rick would agree with that. OK, nuff said. Thanks for being a great resource Marko.

  19. Thanks for your comments and insights. I think it is hard for most of us to keep in mind that we are all created in God’s image – with the emphasis on all, not just Christians, Christian leaders or Christians with the persona we most admire. The “all” includes non-Christians, aetheists, the homeless, the still needing to grow – all of us. If God created us, did He create us to be perfect? Or did He create us to be perfectly imperfect? Either way, when we focus on how others fail to measure up – especially when we are not telling them to their face in hopes of helping them see a better way, are we not also indirectly criticizing God for what we perceive to be some flaw in His design? Reminders like yours help us to re-focus on how much better we do when striving to partner in creation rather than tear it down. Thanks!

  20. Thanks for your honest words. I’m not a big RW apologist, but for some reason I’m surrounded by friends who have nothing good to say about all things Purpose Driven, etc., and I find myself defending him often. So though I’m not a Rick apologist, I play one on TV! Heard him recently at Catalyst, and thought to myself during his talk “this talk will surely sway my friends.” Turns out the things he said dug a larger hole. I can’t figure it out, but I will say I’m glad he’s on our side. He gets more done for the kingdom than a whole slew of us combined.

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