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: When did you find faith?
Rick Warren: Of course I was raised in a Christian home. My father was a pastor at very small churches up in rural northern California. My dad never talked to me about ministry, never encouraged me to go into ministry. He said, “Be whatever you want to be.”
In fact, I originally planned to go into government. When I was a sophomore in high school, I received an appointment as a page to the United States Senate. Now I really had planned on going into government; and the reason why is I just always wanted to make a change. I wanted to influence society. I wanted to make a difference with my life. And so I thought well maybe politics was the way to do that. The more I studied it, the more I realized you can’t change society without changing people’s hearts. You’ve got to start at the inside, and there’s no law that can force people to (03:36) love each other; to treat each other without bigotry, without prejudice.
Politics is really downstream from culture. There’s a lot of things that people attribute to politics. It does not have as much power as it thinks it does. If you really want to influence culture, you have to move further upstream to deal with the arts, entertainment, sports, academia and things like this. By the time it gets to politics, it’s already been in the water for a long time. By the time they start making a law about something, it’s already there. You should have started much, much earlier in dealing with the problem, with the issue, or whatever you want to change. There’s not a kid in North America that has a picture of a politician on his bedroom window.
So actually what happened is during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I received a notice that said, “You’re not coming to Washington, D.C. until the fall”; instead of into the summer. And so that summer I got a job as a lifeguard at a Christian campground in Northern California. And I basically ran the campfire service at night, and did a little dishwashing in the kitchen, and was a lifeguard in the afternoon. And it was there where I saw people who, for the first time, there was really something different about their life.
And I have to say it wasn’t the Bible and it wasn’t church that attracted me to Jesus Christ. It was people. They just seemed to have something I didn’t have. And I said, “I want to find that.” And actually my experience of conversion, I remember I was working at this campground. And I went into my cabin one night, and I got down on my knees and I started praying. And I said, “Dear God, if there is a God, I don’t even know if there is a God. But if there is a God, I want to know you. And I open my life to you. I don’t understand all of the details and all the theology of it. But if you’re real, make yourself real to me.”
And I finished that prayer, and you know what happened? Nothing. No thunder. No lightning. No angels came down. No flapping of the wings. My hair didn’t turn white like Charlton Heston. But that was actually the turning point of my life, that simple “yes”.
And that, of course, was the biggest turning point in my early years.
Recorded on: December 11, 2007