Mystic with a Spreadsheet
Note: Christianity Today editor in chief David Neff and Prophet of Purpose author Jeffery Sheler will discuss Sheler's new biography and the life and ministry of Rick Warren in a special online seminar Wednesday, December 2. Registration is free.
Like many teenagers, the adolescent Rick Warren wanted to be a rock star. Living in Mendocino County, California, in the sixties, he actually met some, working as a volunteer stagehand for the Golliwogs, a precursor to Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, whose lead singer was Janis Joplin. According to Jeffery L. Sheler's Prophet of Purpose: The Life of Rick Warren (Doubleday Religion), the future megachurch pastor and best-selling author looked the part: "tall and thin with long blond Beatle bangs swept across his forehead."
But the young Rick Warren never really fit in the drug-laced Mendocino rock scene. He was interested only in the music, and he also felt the call of politics and preaching.
Although he never got to be a rock star, he now gets to do rock-star things. He talks with Bono, gets invited to the Davos World Economic Forum, and meets with world leaders like Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Paul Kagame.
Like Billy Graham in his heyday, Warren is able to meet with just about any public figure he wants to. Indeed, Sheler writes, Warren hired a staff member in May 1998 for the express purpose of expanding his range of contacts with "movers and shakers in business, government, and the philanthropic world."
The invitation to draw comparisons with Billy Graham was heightened when Barack Obama invited Warren to pray at his inauguration. Warren had attended George W. Bush's second inauguration, and knew just how cold it could be. Sheler tells how Warren bought a good warm hat in West Hollywood and then, when time was short, realized he had misplaced it. About a week before the event, a package arrived at the Warren home.
Inside, carefully wrapped, was a charcoal-colored Homburg hat made of crisp fur felt with a stiff narrow brim and a satin band. It … reminded Warren of the hat Al Pacino wore in The Godfather. Tucked inside was a note from Billy Graham. "This is the hat I wore at all the inaugurations …. It's your turn, Rick. It's your hat now."
Pastor for Life
Rick Warren spreads himself thin these days, but he has not lost focus. His main passion is what it has been since the early '70s: He wants to be a pastor.
During his sophomore year at California Baptist College, Warren drove 350 miles from Riverside to San Francisco to hear W.A. Criswell, legendary preacher of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. Criswell challenged the pastors at the annual meeting of the California Southern Baptist Convention to dedicate themselves "to a lifelong commitment to their congregations." Warren, who had envisioned a career as a crusade evangelist, was suddenly convinced that God wanted him to put down roots and minister in one place.
In his final year at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Warren mailed a questionnaire to the 100 largest churches in the country, wanting to discover what had made them successful. The churches varied widely in approach, but they had a few things in common, and to Warren the most important common factor was pastoral longevity. "Large healthy churches usually were led by pastors who stayed in one place for a long period of time." When Warren's research on megachurches reinforced his earlier conviction, he rededicated himself to pastoral perseverance.