By Maina Mwaura
Facts & Trends talked with Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren about how he manages his busy ministry schedule, the effects of social media on the culture, and how the church can best respond to mental health needs in the congregation and in the community.
What’s a typical day in the life of Rick Warren?
There is no typical day. I find myself switching back and forth between ministry and leadership. The difference between the two of those is that when you’re helping someone else on their agenda and time frame, that’s ministry. When you’re helping people move toward your vision and goal, that’s leadership. Being a pastor involves both. A lot of my time is spent being interrupted.
I like following the steps of Jesus, and almost every miracle in the Bible involves an interruption.
I was at the grocery store yesterday and I found myself ministering to four different people in the store. When I am ministering to others, I find myself doing three things: giving a look, a word, and a touch. The greatest gift you can give to a person is your attention. So part of my day is involved in interruption.
Outside of pastoral interruptions, how do you schedule your days?
I don’t schedule my days in 15-minute intervals. However, I look at my week in segments of sevens: seven mornings, afternoons, and evenings. I give my mornings to God, which means I devote that time to prayer, study, and meditation. I very rarely schedule meetings in the morning.
You’ve been in ministry a long time. What cultural issues have you seen that Christians should be aware of?
The biggest cultural change came with the start of the internet. There are many benefits to technology, but there are also many downsides. I’ve noticed more competition, comparison, and identity issues among people since the rise of social media. To be honest, a lot of it is people flat-out lying to one another. People are simply programing their lives for their own 15-minute reality show.
I use social media, but not as much as I used to. I believe if we’re always in the spotlight, it can blind us. My staff wanted me to join Twitter, and I had a hard time accepting it. I didn’t join until 2006. Social media should not be about you, but it should be used to build up others.
Social media has affected how we do church and how we do ministry. I often see church staff more interested in impressing other church staff members than doing ministry in their own community.
How has culture changed since you founded Saddleback?
California often leads the way, right or wrong, in cultural change—mainly because of media and the music industry. One good change I’ve seen has been in the area of multiculturalism.
When I founded Saddleback in 1980, almost everyone [in the church] was young and white. Today, our church speaks 69 different languages. When we started Saddleback, we intended to be multicultural.
I want Saddleback to look like heaven. God loves diversity. In fact, God overdoses on diversity. Racism is an assault on God and His character. Racism, basically, says God made a mistake in how He created people.
The most common sin around the world is racism. I’ve been to 164 countries, and I’ve seen it in everyone. In the area of race and culture, the church must be a lighthouse.
Last month was mental health awareness month. How has Saddleback responded with helping people with mental illness?
We didn’t plan on doing ministry in this area. It’s a ministry God gave us after my son, Matthew, took his life after struggling with mental illness for 27 years of his life. Not a day goes by that either Kay or myself doesn’t receive a phone call from someone struggling with mental illness or someone who has a family member struggling with it.
We train other churches and pastors in forming mental health ministries.
What can the church do to help in the area of mental illness?
The biggest thing we can do as ministers and pastors is removing the stigma behind it. I actually thought the biggest taboo in culture was HIV/ AIDS. However, I now believe it’s mental illness.
As ministers, we have to assure people that it’s not a sin to be sick. Your chemistry is not your character, and your illness is not your identity. If you have heart or kidney issues, we tell people to take a pill for that, so why is it a problem when it comes to mental illness? We’re all broken.
- Kay Warren: God Uses the Ordinary to Accomplish the Miraculous
- 13 Stats on Mental Health and the Church
- Can Mental Illness be Prayed Away?
MAINA MWAURA is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.