Rick Warren: Surfing skills critical to ‘catching waves’ of God’s activity

SAN DIEGO (BP)--The secret to a vibrant, growing church lies in the surfing skills of its members -- their ability to “catch the waves” of what God is doing, said pastor and church growth expert Rick Warren.

“If you want your church to explode with growth, you have to stop praying, Lord bless what I’m doing, and instead start praying, ‘Lord, help me to do what you are blessing,’” he told participants during Reach ’98, a national conference on evangelism and church planting held in San Diego Sept. 8-11.

The conference included joint worship sessions, about 75 small-group workshops, and a related Inner-City Evangelism (ICE) Conference at another location. More than 700 individuals in the San Diego area made professions of faith through the ICE conference and “experiential events” that accompanied six of the evangelism workshops.

Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven Church” and other books, is pastor of the 14,000-member Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, Calif.

Effective churches can be found in all shapes and sizes, he said.

“It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people,” he said. "We’ve baptized 5,000 new believers in the past five years. Why? Because we’re somebody special? No. We’re just a church that tries to look for waves, and we ride them. And then we try to do it with balance.”

Saddleback’s “purpose-driven” model stresses that healthy churches are built around the five purposes of worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship and ministry – rather than other factors such as tradition, personalities, or target audience.

Catching the wave means first determining what God is doing, Warren said, and one of Jesus’ favorite topics in Scripture was the kingdom of God.

“We have to start thinking kingdom-building mentality, not church building mentality, denomination-building mentality, or political party building mentality,” Warren said.

One of the most direct references to the timing of Jesus’ second coming was in Matthew 24, he added.

“Jesus said I am going to come back after the gospel has been shared with everyone who it’s supposed to be shared with,” he said. “The moment that last person has stepped across the line who God knows is going to enter his kingdom, then bam, it’s finished.”

Warren shared of a recent visit to China that illustrates how rapidly that day is approaching. One of Saddleback’s own missionaries was able to meet with top Christian and government leaders in China, resulting in an invitation for Warren to teach his Purpose-Driven Church seminar in three cities in China. Thousands attended each seminar, and another 9,000-10,000 turned out for a conference in Manila, The Philippines, that organizers had originally planned for less than a thousand.

“In our meetings with the highest government leaders, they are open,” Warren said. “They are spiritually hungry, and there are incredible waves taking place in China.”

Warren told how the top government official in charge of religious affairs, a communist, accepted an invitation to visit one of their services. Afterwards, when Warren asked him what he thought of the service, he said, “I have to say this is the first religious service I’ve ever been in that I actually got something out of. … If this is what Christianity is, we need this in China.”

“Now if ever I heard a good case for preaching to felt needs, then that’s it,” Warren said. “It was a message on parenting, and here was a seeker of the first order.”

Later, during his trip, Warren was able to share with the provost of one of the country’s most prestigious universities who was sick with cancer. After an extended discussion, the man -- also a communist and atheist -- accepted Christ and sat near the front in church the following Sunday.

“Fifty years of communist indoctrination cannot press down the fact that everyone has a hunger for God,” Warren said. “… Don’t you ever say no for anybody, and assume that they are not interested in Christ. Make it your primary concern, pray for it, and share it with other people.”

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