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But the real key to Warren's success, say those who study him, is his ability to mobilize ordinary churchgoers to become active lay ministers. "Early on, Rick realized that he had to give up control of the church," says Erik Rees, one of 35 pastors on Saddleback's staff. Most ministries at Saddleback began, says Rees, "because somebody said, 'I see a need; can I help meet it?' And Rick's normal response is, 'Great! You're it!' " As a result, some 9,500 Saddleback members participate weekly in more than 200 local projects, from feeding the homeless to leading Bible studies to maintaining the church grounds. Says Warren: "The greatest thrill as pastor is helping people move to a higher level, getting them to become what they don't think they can become."
What most people would consider unbelievably good fortune--writing a runaway bestseller--created a unique set of challenges for Warren and his family: how to handle instant fame and wealth. Since its debut in 2002, The Purpose-Driven Life has become the bestselling hardcover book of all time. "It brought in a ton of money," says Warren. "The first thing we decided was that we wouldn't let it change our lifestyle one bit." So they live in the same house and drive the same four-year-old Ford SUV. No vacation homes, no fancy wardrobes. "Next, I stopped taking a salary from the church. Then I added up all the church had paid me in the previous 25 years and I gave it back." He and his wife now give away 90 percent of their income and live on the rest. They have also formed three charitable foundations.
Turning point. Dealing with the financial windfall was the easy part. "The hard part was what are we going to do with the fame?" For years, Warren had avoided the national limelight, refusing to allow his services to be broadcast so as not to compete with other pastors. Suddenly he found himself deluged with speaking invitations.
He turned to the Bible for guidance and found a passage in Psalms in which King Solomon prays for greater influence. "When you read it," says Warren, "it sounds like a very self-centered prayer. Solomon already is the wisest and wealthiest man in the world, and here he prays for more power and influence. But then you read the rest of it and he says, so that the king may support the widow and orphans, care for the oppressed, defend the defenseless, speak up for the prisoner, help the immigrant. He basically talks about all the marginalized of society."
That, says Warren, marked a turning point in his life. "I realized that the purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence. And in religious terms I had to say, 'God, I repent, because I can't think of the last time I thought of widows and orphans.' "
His resolve to maintain that course, he says, was strengthened during a trip to South Africa in 2003. His hosts took him to Tembisa, a poor township just outside Johannesburg, where a congregation of about 75 worshiped in a tent that also housed about 25 AIDS orphans. The African pastor told Warren that he walks an hour and a half every week to a post office, downloads Warren's sermons, and preaches them on Sunday. "He said, 'You are the only training I have ever had.' I burst into tears, and I thought, 'I will give the rest of my life for guys like that.'"
BORN: Jan. 28, 1954 EDUCATION: B.A., California Baptist College; M.A., Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary; Doctor of Ministry, Fuller Theological Seminary FAMILY: Married, three children MANTRA: "The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment ... or even your happiness."
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