/ Tendance Floue for
Sunday Best: Warren, on a recent Sunday, believes in the
power of the people
Mobilizing Christians worldwide to heal the sick and feed the hungry It starts as an ordinary success story.
Rick Warren, a Baptist boy from California,
dreams of being a pastor like his dad. He goes to seminary and starts a church.
He begs and borrows, he preaches in living rooms. He builds a congregation—Saddleback Church,
in Lake Forest, Calif.—from nothing in 1980 to 20,000 members.
Then, something really extraordinary happens. Warren describes it as a
rocket-ship ride. In 2002, he published a book that began with the words
"It's not about you." The message was simple: by serving others, you
serve God. Since its publication, "The Purpose Driven Life" has sold
30 million copies in English, making it by some accounts the best-selling
hardcover ever. It is a phenomenon, a movement. It has given Warren access to world leaders at Davos, to corporate chiefs and rock stars. It has generated
"tens of millions of dollars," Warren
says—enough for him to pay his own salary back to his church, retroactively,
for the past 25 years, enough to launch three foundations. "PDL"
to "reverse tithe": he gives away 90 percent of what he earns.
Now things get
exciting. Another pastor might be content to diversify into "PDL"
DVDs and gift books, but Warren
is more ambitious. If "2.3 billion people in the world claim to be
followers of Jesus," then why not take the next step and mobilize those
people to do important things, like stop poverty, improve literacy, feed the
hungry, heal the sick? Conventional relief
organizations are fine, but why not tap what Warren calls "the faith sector,"
the armies of motivated religious volunteers who are sick and tired of
polarizing rhetoric and professional crusaders? "The old paradigm was,
'You pay, you pray, you get out of the way'," he explains, but in today's
global and wired world, troops of caring volunteers can be deployed to
communities in need with the push of a button. Such was the case on Christmas
2004, when Warren, awake and online at 4:30
a.m., received news of a massive underwater earthquake via e-mail from a pastor
in Sri Lanka.
Warren, who has an e-mail list of 200,000 pastors worldwide, notified churches
in Thailand and Indonesia, that immediately mobilized volunteers to tsunami disaster
sites. "It's universal distribution," he says, excitedly.
"There's a church in every village in the world ... the potential sits
there like a sleeping giant."
As always, his own church is his R&D department. Earlier this year
he launched a plan called "PEACE," in which small groups of church
members choose a remote village that needs help, travel there, provide aid
(water sterilization? mosquito nets?), make sure the leaders can replicate it,
and then leave. Already, more than 6,000 Saddleback members have made such
pilgrimages, and soon PEACE training materials will be available online for any
interested church group. Says Warren:
"Reformations always start with the peasants; they don't start with the
elites." Any good pastor can see the potential in one soul; it takes a
maverick to see those souls as instruments of God's work all over the world.