Rick Warren is an evangelical leader, best-selling author, and founding and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California. Along with his wife, Kay, Warren founded Saddleback in 1980 with just a single family to fill the pews. Today the church has a 120-acre campus, 22,000 weekly attendees, and has provided spiritual guidance and source material to over 400,000 ministers worldwide.
He also leads the Purpose Driven Network of churches, a global coalition of congregations in 162 countries. More than 400,000 ministers and priests have been trained worldwide, and almost 157,000 church leaders subscribe to the Ministry ToolBox, his weekly newsletter. His previous book, The Purpose Driven Church is listed in “100 Christian Books That Changed the 20th Century.” Forbes magazine called it "the best book on entrepreneurship, management, and leadership in print.”
Warren received his BA from California Baptist College, his MA from the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, and his Doctor of Ministry from the Fuller Theological Seminary. Warren has recently taken on several issues previously ignore by the evangelical community; he is the most prominent signatory of the "Evangelical Climate Initiative," and is the co-founder and co-director (with his wife) of The Global PEACE Fund, which fights poverty, disease, and illiteracy. Warren has spoken at the United Nations, the World Economic Forum in Davos, the African Union, and the Council on Foreign Relations.
Question: How do you deal with your success?
Rick Warren: When “The Purpose Driven Life” became the bestselling book in history in America, and the bestselling book in the world for three years, it brought in tens of millions of dollars, and it also brought in a lot of fame. And I had to ask myself, “What am I going to do with all this money? And what am I going to do with all this attention?”
It actually frankly scared me because; I started Saddleback Church in 1980, and I made the decision never to put the weekly services on television because I didn’t want to be a televangelist. I don’t like those guys. It’s not my style, and I didn’t want to be a celebrity. And so we, as much as we could, stayed out of the limelight. And we very happily for 25 years were not known except by maybe other pastors.
But then the success of the book “Purpose Driven Life” brought in enormous amounts of money, enormous amounts of attention. I think it was number one on New York Times for almost two years. And I began to pray about what I call the “stewardship of affluence” and the “stewardship of influence”.
What am I supposed to do with all this money, and what am I supposed to do with all this fame? Because I don’t think God gives you money or fame for your own ego – to just be a fat cat. There’s got to be a reason for it. And when you write a book and the first sentence of the book is, “It’s not about you” – that’s the first sentence of “Purpose Driven Life” – then when all this money and fame come in, you got to figure, “It’s not for you.” It’s kind of . . . Well yeah. And so I said, “God, what do you want me to do with this money? And what do you want to do with this fame?” And in that time period I began to read through the Bible – the Torah, the Old Testament and the New Testament. And I found one verse in the Old Testament that wasn’t in the Torah. It was actually in Psalms. And one verse in the New Testament, what to do with the money and what to do with the fame.
In the book of Corinthians in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul is writing to pastors, and he says, “Those who teach the Good News should make a living by the Good News.” In other words, it’s okay to pay your priest, your rabbi, your minister, your imam. It’s okay to make a fulltime living at ministry helping people. But Paul says I will not accept that right, because I want the freedom and the privilege of serving God for free so nobody can accuse me of doing it for money. And so Kay and I said, “That’s what we want to do.” And so after the book became such a big success, we did two things. Actually five major decisions.
First we said, “We’re not going to change our lifestyle one bit.” I still live in the same house I’ve lived in for 14 years. I drive an eight year old Ford. I don’t own a Rolex. I don’t own a guesthouse. I don’t own a boat. I don’t own a, you know, a jet. When “Purpose Driven Life” came out, I could have gone out and bought an island and retired and had people serve me little drinks with umbrellas the rest of my life. But that’s not really the purpose of life. It’s not why we’re here. And so we said we’re just not going to spend the money on ourselves.
Second thing is I stopped taking a salary from Saddleback Church. This was about five years ago.
Third thing is I added up all that the church had paid me over 25 years and I gave it all back. And I did that because I knew I was being put under the spotlight as a global or national leader, and people would be questioning my motives. And I didn’t want anybody to think I do what I do for money. In fact right after we made that decision to give all of my salary – 25 years of salary – back, the next week I was interviewed by a reporter from either Time or Newsweek, and her first question was, “What’s your salary?” And I thought, “Okay this is going to be good,” because she thinks here’s some fat cat, mega church pastor; you know ripping off the flock; you know getting rich off the donations of other people. And I looked at her and I said, “Look. Frankly I’ve served my church free for 25 years.” And it was like popping a balloon. She was an African-American. She went white. It was like, “Yes.” I mean it felt so good. I later had to repent of my pride, but it felt really good for about two minutes when I go, “Yeah, I did that.”
The fourth thing we did is we set up three charities. One is called Acts of Mercy that my wife runs which helps people infected with HIV and AIDS around the world. And we’ve been able to give a lot of money to that over the years to help people. And we have another foundation called Equipping Leaders that I lead. This last year I did a 46,000 mile tour around the world in 45 days. And everywhere we went training leaders, I would meet with the government leaders – usually the president of each country, the top business leaders and the top religious leaders. And that entire trip I paid for. We never charged anybody. We don’t take any honorariums or anything like that.
Recorded on: December 11, 2007