I have found a new friend and mentor in Rick Warren, pastor of mega-church Saddleback in Lake Forest, CA and author of the mega-bestselling book, The Purpose-Driven Life (PDL). I have to tell you that I’ve never met Rick and though I’ve purchased PDL, I’ve only gotten as far as Day 26. You’re probably wondering then how he became my new friend and mentor. Well, I heard him this past Sunday (12/24) on Meet the Press with Tim Russert and his heart touched mine.
You see, since I’ve started writing Christian fiction, I’ve been torn about the affluence and influence that comes with being a best-selling author, not that I’ve reached any great height in either area — yet. Anyway, Rick spoke to my heart when he spoke about these two in his life on Meet the Press. As he spoke, I knew his words were for me from God. I want to share them with you. You can read the full transcript of the entire conversation here or view a video of the session here until Sunday, 12/31. It was an excellent session all around, but here I’m only going to excerpt what he said about affluence and influence. Here goes:
MR. RUSSERT: As we speak on this Christmas Eve morning, tonight. many Americans will be surrounded by an abundance of gifts. I was quite taken by something that you said, Pastor Warren, and I’ll put it on the screen. “I don’t think it’s a sin to be rich. I think it’s a sin to die rich.”
I was a goner right here. This hit my heart so strongly. Wealth is not about having and hoarding/keeping, but about giving.
MR. RUSSERT: Explain that.
DR. WARREN: Well, in my own personal life, when “The Purpose Driven Life” came out and it became the best-selling book for a long, long time in the world…
MR. RUSSERT: Twenty-five million copies.
A note here. If PDL sold 25 million copies (or 30 million as Rick corrects below), I’d guess that PDL has made over $50 million. Now that’s a lot of money.
DR. WARREN: …yeah, now 30. And it’s in 56 languages. Well, that brought in enormous amounts of money. And it also brought in a lot of attention. And I had to pray about what I call the stewardship of affluence and the stewardship of influence. And I began to go to Scripture, and I, I found a verse in the New Testament on what to do with the money, and a verse in the Old Testament on what to do with the, the fame. And on—in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul—Apostle Paul says, “Those who teach the gospel should make a living by the gospel.” In other words, “It’s OK to pay your priest or your pastor.” That’s a legitimate offer to society. But, Paul says, “I will not accept that right, because I want the freedom to serve God and be a slave to no man.” And I thought, “I want to do this.” And when, literally, when all this money started pouring in, Kay and I make five decisions on what to do with the money.
First, we said, we’re not going to spend it on ourselves. I still live in the same house I’ve lived in 15 years, I drive a six-year-old Ford truck. I don’t own a boat, I don’t own a house—a second house. I don’t own—I don’t own a plane. We just said we’re not going to—I’m not going to spend it on that. A second was I stopped taking a salary from Saddleback Church about four years ago. Third is, I added up all that the church had paid me in 24 years at that time and I gave it all back. And I did that because I knew that I was being put under the spotlight and I didn’t want anybody to question my motives of why I do what I do. And sure enough, the very next week I was interviewed by Time. . .
I cut a short quip about Time magazine here. You can read it in the full transcript.
DR. WARREN: And the first question the author—the editor—the reporter asked was, “What’s your salary?” Which I thought, OK, here’s another fat cat megachurch pastor fleecing the flock. And I said, “Well, honestly, I’ve now served my church for free for 25 years.” Her face went white and I thought, it was worth every penny just to say that. You know, I had to repent of my pride, but I really felt good for about a minute. You know, and then I got real humble again. But I did that. Then we set up some charities, one’s called Acts of Mercy, which helps those with AIDS. And another on training leaders and another on this Global Peace Plan.
MR. RUSSERT: What did the New Testament tell you about celebrity?
Not so quick, Tim. Rick’s still telling us about the stewardship of affluence.
DR. WARREN: The last thing I did is we became reverse tithers. When my wife and I got married 31 years ago, we started giving 10 percent of our income as a tithe to our church. And each year we would raise it at least 1 percent. Now, we never told anybody for over 30 years–25, 28 years. We’ve been married 31 years and, and the first year of marriage we raised it to 11 percent. Second year to 12. Well, we’ve now been married 31 years, we give away 90 percent and we live on 10. And honestly, that’s quite fun. The joy of giving at Christmastime—I really do belive in the joy of giving. I’m probably the happiest person on the planet because we get to use money in so many great ways. You can’t outgive God.
Can’t you see why this guy is my hero? How many of us think about affluence this way? Now let’s hear about the stewardship of influence.
DR. WARREN: On the, on the stewardship of affluence, I was reading Psalms 72 and it’s an interesting prayer, it’s Solomon’s prayer for more influence. When you read this prayer, it sounds like the most egotistical prayer because he says, “God, I want you to make me famous.” He says, “I want you to spread the fame of my name to many countries. I want you to give me power, give me blessing and make we well-known.” And it sounds pretty selfish till you read the, the motivation and he says, “So that king may support the widow and orphan, defend the defenseless, care for the sick, assist the poor, speak up for the oppressed, the immigrant, the foreigner,” things like that. The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence, and that changed my life. It turned my old—I had to repent and said I will spend the rest of my life using whatever influence I’ve got for those who have little influence.
And Rick’s words changed my thinking. The purpose of the celebrity that comes with selling a lot of books is not to build self-importance or to sell more books, but to speak up for those with no influence and to build up the kingdom. I’ve wondered about the wisdom of church groups who invite people to speak just because they’d sold a lot of books. It seemed as though they were equating financial success with godly wisdom, which is a dangerous association to make. Listening to Rick, I began to understand that influence open doors that can be used for godly purposes. You may have already understood this, but I’m a bit slow. 🙂
As I look ahead to 2007, I feel more ready for any affluence and influence God may send my way, because I have some concrete examples of how to best use them for His glory. I thank Rick Warren for sharing them with me.
That said, I’m starting The Purpose Driven Life again on January 1. Anybody want to join in with me? You can get the first seven days of readings online here. Each day’s reading ends with a series of questions so the online readings will take us through the first week and then we’ll need the book. You can get the book just about everywhere, including local discount stores, bookstores, Rick Warren’s web site and online bookstores. It’s up to you.
Let me know if you’re interested and we can do this together. I know this is short notice so if you want to join with me but you want to wait until January 8 to start, just let me know and we’ll go with what works best for people.
Happy New Year!