The Testimony at Saddleback


Photo from Salon
Right before the New Year, Pastor Rick Warren sent out an urgent letter to his congregation at Saddleback Church to consider giving to the $900,000 deficit in the church budget. The church had literally 48 hours to meet the 2009 budget.

It is interesting that within hours various news and media outlets got a hold of this and started to report on it. This incited people to question the motive of Pastor Rick and the church. In fact, if you read some of the comments that are on the various websites, you will be amazed at some of the negative remarks and even hateful things that are said.

There were speculations of mismanagement of funds and even mockery from people.

But to everyone’s surprise, by Saturday night, they raised $2.4 million and that was only through the cash and checks that people were dropping off at the church. You can read up on the story from various news outlets.

As I was reading up on this story, I was thinking about several leadership principles. In this incredible response from God’s people at Saddleback, there are four things that come to mind:

1) The display of good leadership. In order to appeal to his members to give and for the members to respond positively, it shows the character and the leadership gift of Pastor Rick. To make an appeal in a letter with only couple of days left in the year was a bold call. He must have known that there would be the possibility of criticism and questions from people, whether it is the media or from his own members. But this is what good leaders always do – they make tough calls even though it is not popular or it will draw criticism. Pastor Rick knew that they had to meet the budget; therefore it required an extra measure in getting the message across to God’s people.

2) The importance of trust in leadership. For people to respond to the appeal of one person, one thing that comes to mind is the word, “trust.” Trust is not something that we get overnight. In fact, it is something that has to be worked on and it takes years. With close to 30 years of service to Saddleback Church, we see that Pastor Rick has earned the trust of his members. The traits of consistency and integrity become the fuel for building trust in a relationship; and from the response of the people, I think we can confidently say that Pastor Rick has it with his members.

3) The generosity of the members. When you see the people at Saddleback respond like that to a need, it is just a testimony to the character and the maturity of the members. Generosity is not something that comes automatically for a person. It is something that has to be learned and developed. It is a discipline – just like prayer, fasting, or reading God’s Word – that we need to see continual growth.

4) The glory God receives when people live by faith. The shortfall in the budget was due to the increase need in the outreach ministry, as well as people not being able to fulfill their giving because they were gone for the holidays on the last Sunday of the year. With the recession, people came to Saddleback asking for assistance. Instead of turning them away, they ministered to them by providing for their needs. Instead of cutting back on various ministries that were making a legitimate impact, they decided to believe by faith that God will provide. At the end, God did and it brought glory to His name.

For me, through this story, some takeaways are:

1) Leaders need to build trust with people. Trust is the glue in relationships that enables the group to do great things. Without trust, we will bust (hey, that rhymes).

2) Learn to communicate clearly, not only the vision but also the need. There are people who are willing to give, but they just need to know what the needs are. But we have to remember that just sharing a need will not necessarily motivate people to give. They have to see how it is connected to the greater vision.

3) Lay a good foundation for generosity. I, as the pastor of HMCC, need to model, teach, develop and challenge people to a life of sacrifice. It has to be something that is valued and practiced in our church.

4) Live by faith and not by sight. There is something about living life with faith that amplifies who God is in His character. God just gets glorified big time when people display some crazy faith. May this year be a year of endeavoring in areas that will require greater faith.

5) Longing for more miracles in our ministry. We know we are just settling for the status quo when we just do enough to get by, when we calculate and control everything, and when we don’t have the courage to step out in faith to do some big things for God. If we want to see more miracles, then we have to change our perspective and approach.

6) Love people who criticize you.
Every decision you make will not always be popular, even from within the ranks. Therefore, as we move forward we have to learn how to love people who might disagree with you. We will always be criticized for something; therefore we need big hearts and thick skin.

Spiritual ENTREPRENEUR, Church EQUIPPER, Leadership EDUCATOR, Ideas EXPERIMENTER & Global EXPLORER who is trying to transform lives and transform the world.
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