Over the course of my life, I have had many spiritual mentors, people willing to take the time to help me in my walk with Jesus. From my youth leader to an Intervarsity leader at Carolina to various pastors in my life, and also to some really, good friends, God has been very faithful in putting people in my life who poured their life into mine. My life has been made all the richer because of them.
Some of my mentors have impacted me through a personal relationship; others have touched my life from afar through their writings or teachings. The key to all of them is that I had something to learn from each of them that helped me walk with Jesus.
This weekend, one of my spiritual mentors from afar retired. Rick Warren served for over 40 years at Saddleback Church in SoCal, and his retirement has caused me to reflect on his life and ministry and how God used him in my life.
The first time Stacey and I went to Saddleback with some friends, we were kind of put off by it all. It was too big, too loud, too much technology, too bustling, too overwhelming for me. It was like going to Disneyland with shuttles in the parking lot and people everywhere. But something about being in a room full of people who seemed to really love the Lord and who seemed full of life was compelling enough to get us to go back.
Years later, Stacey and I would go to Saddleback for Date Nights on Saturdays because as the Director of Children’s Ministry at our home church she always had to work on Sundays. So, we would go on Saturday afternoons to Saddleback, worship together and then go out to eat. It was something we looked forward to. After the boys were born, we continued to go to Saddleback so we could be together as a family. Ethan called it “Big Church” even though our home church was over 1,500 people. Saddleback was even bigger.
When I went to seminary, about ½ of my classes were on the Saddleback campus on Sunday afternoons, and I would go early to sit in on the services. (They had 6 services per weekend). Each week, God would speak to me in personal ways there in the services. Rick Warren came into one of our classes one night and disrupted the whole thing. I think the prof was a bit flustered, but it was fun to be able to hear from Rick personally.
I learned a lot from him over the years, listening to his sermons and breaking down his communication style and how he handled Scripture. For graduation from seminary, I received the Purpose Driven Church Conference on DVD and watched it over and over leaning how to lead in a church setting.
I learned how to handle tragedy as a pastor as he shared his stories of the death of his father and later his son. He and his wife Kay taught me how to handle difficult subjects like AIDS and Mental Health issues with grace and truth. He taught me how to handle adversity and criticisms. Often, I found that the Spirit would use something Rick taught to take me on whole different directions in a kind of Spirit inspired daydreaming. For a long time, his sermon podcasts were what I listened to while I mowed grass, and sometimes I would stop to replay something I missed over the sound of the lawnmower.
I didn’t agree with everything he taught or how he might interpret something. I don’t think there’s anyone any of us agree with 100% of the time. But more times than not, he made me think about God’s Word in new ways.
Of course, I read the Purpose Driven Life like so many others and over the years have returned to it from time to time to refresh myself on it. One of his best attributes was his ability to encourage people to follow Jesus in a deeper, more purposeful way.
One time, Stacey and I got to meet him at a conference and even then, he was gracious, and his enthusiasm was contagious. I believe he truly loved people.
It was at Saddleback, that the dream of leading a church was nurtured under his teaching. It took quite a while, but seeing this healthy, vibrant church up close helped me see ministry in a new light. The fact that Rick was a compelling speaker without a commanding voice or tone helped. Rick was always just himself, flubbing words, getting caught in sentences without knowing where they might lead, telling bad jokes - made me understand that it’s up to the Spirit to work and not in the talents of an individual. God can and does use anyone whose heart is devoted to him.
His heart for the lost and living a life on mission to reach “one more for Jesus” resonates with me even now. Thousands of people found faith in Jesus through Saddleback. It truly was a place of life transformation.
So, it will be strange to be in a world without Rick Warren at Saddleback. He never knew me really, but his life impacted mine in a way I will always be grateful for.
Thank you, Father God for bringing spiritual mentors like Rick Warren and others in my life. My life is all the richer for it.