It has been a busy week, and unfortunately I have let it affect my regular writing pattern. Much of this has been due to the regular business of the semester, but at least part of my absence was due to a trip to California with some of our Northwest University ministry students. Every year the group goes out-of-state to visit a significant number of churches in a weekend. The goal is for students to experience and evaluate a variety of preaching and teaching styles in addition to understanding more about the diverse body of Christ. During our trip, for instance, we visited a “hip” 20-something congregation, a new church plant, a huge African-American congregation, and a nationally prominent megachurch. These and others formed an interesting aggregate as we attended a total of nine services in a weekend. The experience will provide, I think, a helpful base for reflection.
The megachurch in question was none other than Saddleback Church. Pastored by Rick Warren and having an attendance of over 20,000 per week, it is serious business. The campus of the church is immaculate and immense, yet not, I think, overly ostentatious. Not for a church whose pastor has written the blazing bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life or prayed at the 2008 inaugurate of President Barack Obama.
This lack of ostentation was on display in the person and presentation of Rick Warren himself, who spoke on the Saturday night service we attended. It was a very basic and unassuming message without a lot of flash or excitement. He spoke plainly yet truthfully. It was the kind of message that seemed to fit with the feel of the congregation and the Southern California culture, yet would have been as expected in a church of 100 as it was in a 20,000 person behemoth like Saddleback. My outside expectations were somewhat altered.
My favorite moment, I think, was when Warren spoke of service and humility. Though I do not have the exact quotation, he talked about how so many people he meets wants to speak with him about leadership. Considering the achievements that surround him, this makes sense. All the same his answer was telling. He basically said leadership isn’t about tricks, skills, or methods, so much as it is being a servant. As he said it, many people want to talk to him about leadership; not a lot want to speak with him about service. It’s a simple yet bold teaching from a man who could have said anything he wanted. It is Scriptural. It is truth.
It is encouraging to know that in our day of endless leadership book after leadership book, there are those in lofty places who do recognize and reflect upon those truths upheld by Christ himself:
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)