What is the biggest mistake that you have made in preaching?
Warren: Well, I have made more mistakes. We have done more things that didn't work at Saddleback than did. We are just not afraid to fail.
I think the biggest mistake I made in the first couple of years of my preaching at Saddleback was not realizing the importance of drawing the net. I think drawing the net was an important thing. I didn't know as much as I do now. Forsyth says what the world needs today is the authoritative Word of God preached through a humble personality. I think a combination of confidence and humility goes together. I have learned the secret of spiritual power is integrity and humility.
It is not vision. A lot of people talk about vision being a big thing to grow a church. Visions are a dime a dozen. A lot of people are visionaries who are not growing churches. What God blesses first is integrity, walking with integrity. Walking blameless. That we are exactly what we appear to be. The other is humility. Now humility is not denying your strengths; it is being honest about your weaknesses. We’re all a bundle of strengths and weaknesses. We all have strengths. We all have weaknesses. Paul could be very obvious about his strengths. He would say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Because he was also very honest about his weaknesses: “I am chief among sinners.”
I used to look at Paul and go, “Man I could never say that.” Follow Rick Warren as Rick Warren follows Christ? It seemed so arrogant, but then I realized people learn best by models. At least I am making the effort. I am not perfect, but you know what? I'd rather have people follow me than follow a rock star! I am at least making the effort, and they know what my weaknesses are because I am honest, I am authentic with the people.
I do believe in confessional preaching. I believe you should confess your strengths and your weaknesses. You don't dwell on yourself, but in many ways the minister is the message. The word must become flesh. The best kind of preaching is incarnational preaching. The most effective message is when I am able to get up and say, “This is what God is doing in Rick Warren's life this week. This is what I am learning. This is what I need to believe, what I need not to believe, what I need to do, what to not do,” – those four things. There is a ring of authenticity about that.
It is interesting that I have a thorn in the flesh that makes preaching extremely painful for me. I was born with a brain disorder, and I took epilepsy medicine through high school. Although I did not have epilepsy, they gave it to me because they did not know how to deal with it. I would faint; I would be walking down the street and just fall over and faint. It is a very complex thing, but I am under the care of Mayo Clinic. I have been to the best doctors in the nation. I have a very rare disease that less than two dozen people have; that’s what Mayo Clinic told me. My brain does not assimilate adrenaline correctly. So adrenaline, when it hits my brain, will tend to blind me, will tend to create headaches, dizziness, confusion, and all kinds of things.
Any pastor knows adrenaline is your best friend. If you don't have adrenaline, you are boring. You need adrenaline for passion. Yet the very thing that I need to speak to 5,000 people at one time is the very thing that harms my body. So it’s quite painful for me to preach, and I just think it is in God's sense of humor the guy He chose to speak to Saddleback is a guy who is really quite weak. In my weakness, He is strong.
Sometimes people think, “Warren do you ever get full of pride knowing you preach to 32,000 or 33,000 people last week?” I want to say, “If you only knew.” When I am up speaking, that is the last thing on my mind: “Oh, how great this is.” My thing is, “Oh God, just get me through this.” The reason I do it is because I am addicted to changed lives. That is what motivates me. I love it. People say I love to preach. I don't love to preach; it is painful for me to preach. It is actually painful, but I love the results of preaching. I love the changed lives.
If a guy says, “I love to preach,” that never impresses me. They may just be a ham. They may just like the attention. They may just like to be the center of attention. They like the adrenaline rush of being on stage. I don't want to know if someone loves preaching, but if they love the people to whom they preach. That’s the key. If I have not love, I am of sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. So, when I get up to speak I do this five times. I have a whole prayer. It is about a 30 second prayer that I pray every weekend. I pray on Saturday and Sunday at every service. As I get up before the crowd and I look out there, I say, “God, I love these people, and they love me. I love You, and You love me, and You love these people, and many of these people love You. There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out all fear. This is not an audience to be feared; this is a family to be loved. So love these people through me.” That is the last thing I think before I get up to speak before every service. It just kind of gives me the pastor's heart.
(Adapted from a Preaching Magazine interview with Rick Warren.)