Rick Warren: The purpose-driven student

For IV - 20061117

Have you ever asked yourself, “Who am I?” or “Why am I here?” Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-driven Life, downloads his thoughts for college students. “God is more interested in who you are than what you do,” says this pastor of Saddleback Church. He is a keynote speaker at the upcoming Urbana 06 student missions convention where he will invite today’s “Reformation generation” to boldly embrace God’s global mission.

StudentSoul: Your book, The Purpose-driven Life, makes a great graduation present. What are some of the questions you get from students who have read your book? What do they ask you?

Rick Warren: I think the biggest misunderstanding that college students have is confusing God’s purposes for their life with secondary issues. They want to ask questions like “where should I go to school, what job should I have, who should I marry, where should I live?” Those are important, but secondary, because God is more interested in who you are than what you do. We are human beings, not human doers. God is far more interested in your character than he is your comfort, or your career, because you’re not taking your career to heaven, but you are taking your character.

The truth is that, given the right situation, there might be any number of people who could be God’s will for you in a mate, and there might be any number of jobs that could be God’s will for you in a career. It’s what you become in that career, or what you become in that marriage, that is far more important. A lot of people will read The Purpose-driven Life looking for: “Is it going to tell me what I should do?” No, it’s not. It’s going to help you look at your shape and look at what God says: “I want you to love me and know me. I want you to love other believers. I want you to grow in me. I want you to serve me. I want you to share me.” If you do these things, it’s like Augustine said, “Love God and do what you please.”

StudentSoul: How can college students move in that direction?

Rick Warren: Well, I think one of the biggest problems with a lot of college students is that they are not connected to a community of believers. I mean, really connected. They may attend a church but they are not actually involved in building the 58 “one another” commands in the New Testament, such as “love one another,” “care for one another,” “pray for one another,” “encourage one another,” “share with one another.” There are students who have been active in church all through their lives who often get lost in the years between 18 and 23, and then come back to the church after that time. They get disconnected while they’re at school and don’t find a church to get involved in. But you cannot be all that God wants you to be without other believers who are building into your life, and you’re worshiping, and you’re serving, and you’re fulfilling all five purposes. I think it’s a typical problem for some students to become lone rangers when they go off to school.

StudentSoul: Many students get actively involved in a campus fellowship. How can student groups take that responsibility seriously?

Rick Warren: Well, I think students need more than a campus fellowship where you have only people your own age. It’s good to be involved in a campus fellowship — I ran a campus fellowship when I was in college and was quite involved. But I think you still need the intergenerational local church. It’s not enough to just be with believers of your own age group. You need children in your life because children teach you to be unselfish and not just think about yourself. You need older people in your life who have wisdom you don’t have. So I’m a firm believer that it’s not either/or — it’s both. I think you need to be involved in a college fellowship of your peers because they understand the pressures you’re going through. And you need to be involved in a local church so you’re part of a body of believers that’s not just college age.

StudentSoul: So be involved in both.

Rick Warren: Absolutely.

StudentSoul: For some students that’s not possible. They find it very, very difficult.

Rick Warren: Yes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about this. Some people are looking for the perfect church and walk out saying, “Well, I didn’t get anything out of that today.” I say, “Sorry, you missed the purpose. It wasn’t for you, anyway — it was for the Lord. Worship is for God, not for you.”

StudentSoul: What is your definition of worship? It’s such an important part of student experience. Many students think of it as a time to sing praise songs.

Rick Warren: One of the biggest misconceptions is that some think that worship equals music. Worship has become a synonym for music. They say, “First we have worship,” meaning the music, “and then the speaker,” as if the person speaking or leading the Bible study isn’t part of worship! Worship is giving, committing, praying, discussing, serving. It’s so much more than just music. In fact, today worship has even become a genre of music. There are those who say “I really like the fast praise songs, but I especially like the slow worship songs.” As if the tempo has anything to do with worship!

Worship is simply expressing love to God. Anytime I am expressing my love to God I am worshiping. I could be worshiping while sitting in a class when the teacher is teaching because I am talking to God in communion as I learn truths that belong to God. I could be in a group of three people, or in a small group in a dorm, or with 50 people in a group out on a lawn, or with a thousand people in a rally. It has nothing to do with size and it has nothing to do with music. When you are expressing your love to God, you could be washing dishes or taking out the garbage — that’s worship.

StudentSoul: You have three children who all went through college. What advice did you give them?

Rick Warren: The main thing I tell kids going off to college is to keep your options open. Don’t get stuck. Don’t let anybody put you in a box. What I have discovered is that very few people go into the field they major in. We all do our majors, but what we do in life may be different. And I think that the experience of college is far more than just the academics you learn. It’s about growing up. It’s learning interpersonal relationships. It’s learning responsibility. It’s developing character. It’s handling conflict. It’s all these other things.

A lot of times Christian students, particularly, get really committed to the Lord and then they think that must mean that they have to do this one particular thing: “I have to be a missionary,” or “I have to be a pastor, or a youth director.” There are ten-thousand-and-one different ways to minister. Don’t let people put you in a box. You may have many different ministries and many different stages in your life. For instance, I’ve been a youth pastor. I’ve taught college. I’ve been a writer. I did full-time evangelism for a while. I’ve been a pastor. I’ve served on the mission field. So I’ve done lots of different things and they were all a part of God’s plan for my life.

StudentSoul: And now you’re involved in mobilizing the world-wide church. Mobilizing students for God’s world-wide purpose is our passion at Urbana 06. As a speaker, what will you say to students who attend?

Rick Warren: I believe that this is the Reformation generation. I believe that we are on the cusp, the very beginning, of the second Reformation in the church. And I hope to give twenty years of my life to it. But reformations take fifty years, not twenty. And while I believe that my generation may be a part of starting it, I believe that sustaining it will be up to the next generation. In our church we are strategically hiring younger staff. We have been doing that for some time. I have about 300 staff in our church and over half of them are under 35. That is intentional because I am preparing the next generation to be the Reformation generation.

The first Reformation was about beliefs. This one will be about behavior. The first one was about what the church knows and believes. This one will be about what the church does. The problem for the last fifty years is that the church has been the body of Christ, but the hands and the feet have been amputated and all that’s left is the mouth. Most of the time, we’re known for what we say and not for what we do in culture. And we’re more known for what we’re against than what we’re for. I’m tired of that and I intend to change it. I’m seeing the signs of it all around the world. I was on a 48-day trip this summer where I literally went around the world — 44,000 miles. We headed west to Australia and came back across Asia and India and Africa and went up to Toronto where I spoke at the International AIDS Conference. We finally got back home, but I saw the signs of change in many areas.

StudentSoul: What part of the world did you see as the most strategic, or having the most potential?

Rick Warren: The future of Christianity is the global South. There is no doubt about it. The future of Christianity is not Europe, or even North America. It’s going to be Africa, South America and Asia. We must learn, as North American Christians, that the center of gravity is shifting, and we should rejoice in that. The fastest growing churches in the world are all outside of the United States. The fastest growing movements, like church planting, are all happening in Africa, in South America and in Asia. We are truly becoming more and more global every day. The church has been global for 200 years, before anyone started talking about “globalization,” but now we are becoming more and more global than ever before.

StudentSoul: That’s very good news!

Rick Warren: Yes it is!

Read more from Rick Warren at Urbana.org where he discusses AIDS, sacrifice, opportunity and the importance of local ministry in a global age.