Prophet of Purpose: The life of Rick Warren

Acclaimed author Jeff Sheler's Prophet of Purpose is an insightful biography of Rick Warren based on three years of research. Sheler observed Warren in contexts from training pastors in Africa to conducting Saddleback Church staff meetings. Warren Bird recently interviewed Sheler about his unique access to Rick Warren, Warren's staff, and Warren's family:

What does the Rick Warren story teach others, especially other church leaders, about the idea of innovation?

Rick's story certainly tells pastors and church leaders that they can be committed and faithful to the gospel, to spreading a timeless message, while remaining open to new approaches and methods of ministry. Warren talks about the five purposes that drive his ministry and his church: worship, service, evangelism, discipleship and fellowship. While those purposes never change for Warren, his programs and his methods do change. In fact, he would say that they must change as needs and circumstances require. So he's always looking for a better way, a more effective and innovative way of reaching people for Christ and ministering to their needs.

How would you describe the way he handles his staff as you observed it?

I have found him to be a delegator. He's definitely not a micromanager -- he is not detail oriented at all. People who work with him say, "Rick soars at the 30,000 foot level. He likes to look at the big picture and he leaves it for the people on the ground to work out the details." His staff know that he trusts them, he respects their abilities, and he respects their ideas. At the same time, sometimes in unexpected situations he will step in and shake things up. He'll say, "Let's stop this plan, let's change and go in this direction." And that can be very disturbing to people when their routine gets broken. His staff sometimes refers to him as "the chief disturbing agent."

Was he always a delegator with his staff?

I think he's certainly grown in empowering others. He has always been one to learn from others. He's always been one to recognize his own strengths and weaknesses and to have people around him who are strong where he is weak. And he takes pride in the fact that he doesn't do it all himself and that he has needed the help of mentors over the years and continues to seek out mentors. I think he has demonstrated this aptitude from the very beginning and continues to demonstrate it.

How does he allocate his time between church responsibilities and other initiatives?

Rick has felt called from the very beginning of his ministry to be the pastor of one church for his entire life and he has never lost that vision. He's stuck to it very carefully. He still sees himself primarily as the pastor of Saddleback Church. That remains his number one priority. But over the years, he and his staff have learned to have less of Rick Warren. When The Purpose Driven Life took off, and certainly after starting the P.E.A.C.E. plan, Rick found himself being pulled in directions that he had never been pulled before, in terms of demands on his time and his energies. Initially that did cause some problems for him and his staff. After a while, they got together and sat down and really hashed it out. His staff told him, "Rick, you've got to let go of some of this."

What would the pastor of a church of 100, of 1,000, and of 10,000 learn most from Rick Warren?

Warren has been in all of those positions. Right out of seminary he captured a vision of building a church for the unchurched: people who hate going to church. So he did research in order to learn about his target audience: their needs, their motives, the reasons why they stayed away from church. His first service had about 120 people, but each step of the way he continued to learn, he continued to do research, continued to try new methods. He was willing to let go of ideas that didn't work, and willing to try something new. He was eager to learn from others. He didn't have a lot of pride in 'this is my idea and we're sticking with it." He was willing to use other people's creativity and to recognize his own strengths and weaknesses. That's a useful attitude for a pastor of a small church or a large church.

Article: http://www.pursuantgroup.com/leadnet/advance/may10s1a.htm