Cnlp 467: Rick Warren on Finishing Well, Why Megachurch Pastors Fail, and Lessons Learned Over 42 Years at Saddleback


In 2021, Saddleback founding pastor, Rick Warren, announced he was retiring as senior pastor to embrace a new role. In this wide-ranging interview, Rick talks about how to leave a legacy of integrity, why so many megachurch pastors fail, what he told Bill Hybels, and lessons learned over 42 years at Saddleback.

Catch the full interview plus bonus footage on our YouTube channel.

Welcome to Episode 467 of the podcast. Listen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

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Recently I’ve been using an app called Thryve to add texting into my marketing, and it’s been really useful. Now, I’m really excited to teach churches how they can use Thryve to do the same thing.

Thryve makes it incredibly easy to send texts to individuals or groups. But it’s so much more than that. Thryve is made to help churches send devotional series, answer common questions, get more prayer requests, send surveys and even collect stories of life change. And because everything is managed from one shared message inbox, you and your team can access messages from your phone or desktop. That means you can assign prayer requests, respond to messages, track new visitor follow-up, and more. Your whole team can see and respond to every interaction from one place. That means human-to-human service for everyone.

When you use Thryve with other tools you already use, it’s even better. Integrations with leading church management systems are already available, and more are being added all the time. This is why Thryve is the leading church texting solution.

Thryve also offers an extensive template library of done-for-you texts. At the click of a button, you can turn on text series for advent, new guest follow-up, your marriage and prayer ministries and so much more. The best part? It’s completely free to get started.

Go to today to sign up for a FREE, 14-day trial so you can connect with your church community.

Conversation Links

Full interview with Rick plus bonus footage on YouTube

Saddleback Church

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren

11 Reasons Why It’s Time to Begin This Transition – video by Rick Warren

Rick Warren on the ChurchPulse Weekly Podcast

CNLP 409: Rick Warren Opens Up About the Coming Tsunami of Grief, Handling Personal Tragedy, and How Saddleback Grew During the Pandemic

At Your Best by Carey Nieuwhof

Get Carey’s Content Straight to Your Inbox

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1. Look at your church like a garden

One way that Rick has prepared Saddleback to move on without him is by viewing the church as a garden. When he first started, he said it was like bare clay, almost un-grow-able. So he started enriching the soil every year by putting in nutrients to help make the environment fertile for spiritual growth.

And after 42 years of enriching the soil, he says that, “Anybody who comes in and plants a seed, they ought to grow. One of the things that every year when my harvest is over and everything’s done, what I’m most satisfied with is not the harvest of that year but knowing that year I enriched the soil a little bit more.”

2. Focus on people in pain, and you’ll grow a church

You’ll rarely see Rick post anything self-promoting on social media. Why? Because he believes the way you connect and engage with others is through pain. Rick states, “Successes don’t unite us, but pain does.”

Nobody gets to go through life pain-free. Even the most self-centered, successful, young professional who thinks, “I don’t need God,” will one day experience some form of tragedy, and they’ll be searching for support. Next year, there’ll be other people in pain who weren’t in pain this year, and the following year there’ll be somebody else. Rick says that if you focus on the 25% in pain, you’ll grow a church.

3. Love the people of the world and hate the value system

When we see pastors or others have moral failures it’s often plastered all over media. Satan loves a target, and he loves for nothing more than to take the target down.

In 1 John 2:16, when Jesus says, “Love not the world,” he’s talking about the value system of the world. In the very next verse he says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are not of the Father, they’re of the devil.” We are to love the people of the world and hate the value system.

The problem is today, as Christians, we do the exact opposite. We hate the people and we love the value system. We are as materialistic and hedonistic and secular as they are, but we hate the people. We’ve got it reversed.


Our greatest ministry will come out of our deepest hurt. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEETSuccesses don’t unite us, but pain does. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEET

The path to glory is through the cross, not through showing off. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEETPain is inevitable. Misery is not. Misery is optional. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEET

God isn’t interested in your sin as much as he is in the direction of your heart. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEET

We are to love the people of the world and hate the value system. The problem is today, as Christians, we do the exact opposite. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEET

We naturally look for people like us in a congregation. If we see somebody like us, we’re more likely to stay. If we don’t, we’re more likely to leave. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEET

You don’t help anybody with your successes. You only help them with your failures, your weaknesses and your problems. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEET

When people come to your church, the first two questions they ask are not theological, they’re sociological. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEET

The number one factor on the size of your church is your location. It’s not your giftedness. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEETYou will attract what you are. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEET

I’m most like Christ when I refuse to retaliate. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEET

It’s better to have no staff than the wrong staff. @RickWarrenCLICK TO TWEET

The greater your differences in marriage, the greater your potential for spiritual growth and sanctification. @RickWarren


Looking for a key quote? More of a reader?

Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode here.

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New York Times bestselling author Donald Miller discusses the surprising (and at times confusing) journey from being the well-known, well-loved author of Blue Like Jazz to becoming the founder of Business Made Simple, a wildly successful company that helps businesses succeed.

Carey and Don discuss why he’s made the multiple transitions he has, how it’s all part of the same journey, common mistakes leaders make, as well as how to drop a victim mentality.