Should Rick Warren have asked for money?

Recently Rick Warren asked his congregation to make up a $900,000 year end deficit. It caught national attention.

I asked (through Twitter and Facebook) what people thought about it. It got some interesting responses. (Read them here).

Then the news broke that Warren got way more than he asked for… 2.4 million dollars.  (Read it here).

I asked again (through Facebook and Twitter) what people thought about this. I have several friends who have struggled with this both publicly and privately. (Read the feedback here).

Several have asked me what I think about the whole thing. So here’s what I think:

Warren and Saddleback have demonstrated that they are using money to expand the influence of Jesus in this world. This is a part of his letter to his church outlining how the money has been used (you can read the entire letter here):

YOUR GIFTS HELP THE POOR & THOSE HURT MOST BY THE RECESSION:

  • Saddleback Food Pantry- Your gifts are feeding 400 hurting families in our community each month. Over 2,000 different families received food assistance in 2009, thanks to your generosity and the help of over 250 volunteers.
  • Breakfast Together & Homeless Ministry- Thousands of Saddleback volunteers are serving in the 6 locations hardest hit by poverty here south OC.
  • Financial Coaching- With 10% of our congregation out of work due to the recession, this ministry exploded with growth in 2009.
  • Cars Ministry- Received over 150 donated vehicles. Some were sold to pay for parts to refurbish the rest of the cars which were given to members struggling without transportation. All our mechanics volunteer their time.

YOU ARE HELPING THOSE WITH PERSONAL & RELATIONAL PAIN

  • Counseling- Your 230 certified Saddleback counselors provided over 20,000 free counseling sessions to our community this year! Training for new counselors start in January. The need is so great.
  • Support Groups- 193 volunteers lead these specialized small groups that focus on acute needs. We support everything from Alzheimer’s and AIDS to Young Adults with Aspergers.
  • Recovery- During the recession, attendance at Celebrate Recovery has grown 35% after 27,000 participated in our 8 week Life’s Healing Choices Campaign Experience. A new program for elementary kids, Celebrate Station, was launched. Over 12,000 other churches nationwide now use our Celebrate Recovery program.
  • Prayer Garden- 6,720 people in crisis received warm, face-to-face attention and prayer through our Prayer Garden and Restoration Service. This does not include our counseling ministry.

YOU ARE HELPING CHANGE LIVES FOR CHRIST!

  • Baptisms – 2803 people demonstrated their new life in Christ through baptism- the most in 30 years!
  • Joining our Family – 4,026 attended Class 101 in 2009 – another 30 year record.
  • Prison Ministry – CR Inside grew by 20 state representatives who are directing our work in jails, prisons & rehab facilities nationally. Every state will be covered by the end of 2010.

YOU ARE HELPING PEOPLE FIND GOD IN WORSHIP
There is so much going on with our worship ministries it would require 3 pages. Here are just a few activities you probably don’t know about:

  • A 5th Saddleback campus opened in Laguna Woods – Adding to our available services in San Clemente, Irvine, Corona, and Lake Forest. Our Lake Forest worship venues (Overdrive, Praise, Traditions, and others) continue to minister to tens of thousands of spiritually hungry people. 20 worship leaders have been mentored.
  • Saddleback’s School of Music & Arts – 472 students took weekly lessons with our ten instructors. Our children’s choirs, involving hundreds of kids, did 20 outreach events in our community.
  • Guitarists in God (GIG) Ministry – Over 50 guitarists volunteer to play at nursing homes, our motel ministry to the homeless, urban outreaches, and Bible studies on our campus and in homes. A new credentialing program will launch in 2010.
  • Purpose Driven Radio – Began in 2009 on the Internet, offering 24 hour a day music, daily devotionals, children’s programming, and more. You can hear it HERE.
  • Our Ohana Band & Hula Team – (Island music) serve the community as Saddleback ambassadors.

YOU ARE HELPING PEOPLE GROW SPIRITUALLY

  • Small Groups – The heart and soul of our church family grew to over 4,000 adult groups, meeting in almost every city in Southern California. We’re testing 26 online groups. Talk It Over, our small group studies based on the weekend messages were downloaded 53,893 times for use by groups. Our groups speak over 20 languages.
  • Our online Spiritual Growth Center – was used 44,716 times. All our Bible studies set records for growth.
  • Married Life Pathway – 2,704 people took advantage of our programs for couples to strengthen their marriages in 2009.
  • Our Children’s, Jr. High, Senior High & College Ministries – We are shaping thousands of young lives and exploding with record growth. High school ministry doubled in the last year after we opened the Refinery.

YOU ARE MAKING A HUGE INTERNATIONAL IMPACT!

  • PEACE Plan & Purpose Driven Leadership Training Worldwide – It would require a book to tell you all your church is doing to Promote reconciliation, Equip leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick, and Educate the next generation. No other local church on earth has the international reach that Saddleback does. Over 8,000 Saddleback members have served in 139 countries. PEACE Teams are already planned to serve in the remaining 58 nations of the world in 2010.

(Paul talking here) How many other organizations can you name that are doing this kind of good to this extent?

Secondly, as I look at their website and how they encourage people to give I am impressed with their efforts to expand the influence of Jesus in tangible ways. Check out what I mean.

Thirdly, I think that Rick Warren and his wife are models of financial integrity. After becoming a best-selling author, he and his wife made five financial decisions. He talks about them in this video. If you want to hear about his decisions go to 7:55 and listen to the man speak for himself.

Fourthly, why shouldn’t churches ask for money? First it is biblical that believers give to the local church for the purpose of expanding the influence of Jesus (e.g. “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Love God and your neighbor like yourself.” etc.) . Secondly, when churches are functioning biblically there is no better organization for bringing goodness to the globe. Thirdly, just because there are multiple instances of financial manipulation and abuse does not mean that the church is a lost cause! It is a good cause. Scratch that. It is the best cause. We can’t chuck it! We must redeem it! I am not ashamed to ask people to give to the church because I know what the church can do when she is functioning under God-led leadership. Additionally, what’s wrong with a pastor or staff getting a raise (an objection I hear frequently)? Right now in the denomination in which I serve, the average salary is a app. $35,000 per year. Do you think there’s a problem with that? I sure do. Again, while there are glaring examples of financial excesses, these are not indicative of most pastors I know. They are exceptions and that’s why they are highlighted. Churches should ask for money because that’s one of the resources they engage to accomplish the work they’ve been called by God to do… bring hope, love, mercy, and all kinds of other goodness to the world.

Finally, there is context to this story. Warren explains it in this blog post. It wasn’t mismanagement or erratic spending that created this need.

So, I don’t believe that Warren was wrong to ask for this money, and apparently Saddleback church doesn’t either.

What do you think?

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