Saddleback’s “On Fire” Church Growth Strategy

Did you know that God brings calamity in the world so your church can pat itself on the back and grow at the same time?? At Saddleback Church, it’s not called a disaster, it’s called an opportunity.

Here’s most of a recent church letter that went out from Rick Warren to people around our area this week through the Orange County Register. To be fair, I am sure there were many good things that this church was involved in, but to be honest, a lot of this letter makes me want to puke.


Dear Saddleback Church Family,

Our campus has been spared, but with fires in Santiago, Modjeska, and Live Oak Canyons, so many of our members have been forced to evacuate their homes. So far, over 20,000 acres have burned here in our Saddleback Valley area.

Of course your church has been at the center of relief efforts once again. This is the eighth national or international disaster that Saddleback has mobilized for, so our disaster teams are quite organized and effective as first responders.


* Our 120 acre campus has served as a Fire Evacuation Center, caring for and feeding people who had to evacuate their homes. We’ve also been taking care of a lot of pets and horses!

* We’ve also been a staging area and Relief/Refreshment Center for the fire fighters. Today we fed over 425 fire fighters on our church campus. These fire fighters are from all over California.

* Our ministry teams have been placing evacuated families into homes of members.

* We’ve sent out over 100 of our trained volunteer chaplains to care, counsel, and pray at other evacuation sites.

* On Saturday, many of our relief teams will head to the hardest hit areas of San Diego, as well as serving here in our local communities.

As the fires have raged this week, I’ve once again seen the undeniable importance and benefit of being a part of a small group. While people without a church home or a small group were sent to evacuation centers across Southern California (like our campus), I kept hearing story after story of Saddleback small groups opening their homes to fellow group members who had to evacuate. I also witnessed small groups actually fighting fires together when a group member’s homes was threatened by fire!

THAT, my friends, is what small groups are all about! Your group carries you through a crisis! Right now I feel sorry for those who’ve never connected with a group. It’s never too late to join one.

(For those of you who asked: Yes, Kay (my wife) and Saddleback staff minister Elizabeth Styffe were captured briefly on video by a local TV news crew. Members of our small group were assisting in saving the Styffe home from the fire in their back yard. You may have also seen many of our college ministry (“CRAVE”) students working alongside firefighters on the fire lines.

1. Continue to pray for all the firefighters. MANY are Saddleback members.

2. This weekend, invite your friends and neighbors to hear my message of comfort, “HOW CAN I LOOK UP WHEN I’M BURNED OUT?” I’ll share God’s way to handle every crisis, and fulfill the first purpose for your life AND KEN BLANCHARD, the bestselling management author of all time, will share his personal testimony and response after his house burned down this week in Rancho Bernardo.

3. The following weekend, Nov. 3-4, invite everyone to join us as we publicly honor all the Fire Fighters at our six services Please pass on this word.

Remember, God’s purpose for your life is greater than any problem you’ll face. “These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold-and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT)

See you this weekend during 40 Days of Purpose.

Pastor Rick

The Fires of So Cal

Well, I know to the outside world it seems that all of Southern California is going up in flames… and well, it kind of is.

At this point San Diego is obviously the worst, but we have had our own problems here in Orange County. If you watch the news, I live in Portola Hills and the fire that is being called the Santiago Canyon fire is happening all around me. We were under voluntary evacuation last night, but me and my neighbors just kept watch all night, with bags loaded just in case. Fortunately we didn’t need to leave, although it came closer than we would have liked. In the image below, you will see my house (green arrow) and where the fires were burning closest to my house at 5:00 this morning (that’s about 1500 feet from our community).

In this image, all wilderness on the left hand side of the picture had already been consumed during the night, and this morning the fire wrapped around and came in behind us. That’s the worst thing that could have happened as far as we were concerned. But the firefighters showed up around 5:45 in about 20 firetrucks and made a stand along the road and in front of the houses on the right of the picture and saved the day for many homeowners. It never made it across the road and up towards our homes due to their efforts.

As I write this, the fire is still burning and moving out towards the canyons and up the face of Saddleback Mountain and planes are out dropping water to try and get things under control. It appears my family and neighbors are out of danger but there are plenty of homes in the canyons, and a really good friend of mine is unable to know if he has a home to return to or not.

I took the video below around 5:45 or so after the firetrucks arrived. The wind has really picked up and the blaze is moving fast at this point.

So that’s the update. We are safe but smokey and our thoughts go out to many others who haven’t been as fortunate. It seems the weather is going to give us a break and hopefully no other lives will be lost as a result.

Finally, I was thinking last night that it was my blasphemy against Prophet Timothy that might have brought this calamity upon my community. But since my property and life was spared, it must mean that I am in the clear…. for now at least!

Timstown Coming?

Ok… it’s official. I have no life.

As some of you know, Jason and I had a little run-in with the Gracehead group ( and they since have done the following:

1) Deleted any and all comments made by Jason and I.
2) Banned our URL’s from referencing their site (that’s the reason for the typed out URL above) and reported us as spammers.
3) Hid behind the skirts of Pam (no offense intended) who apparently is the only one of the group willing or allowed to talk to us. Trent (site founder I believe) and the prophet Timothy refuse to speak or mention us by name it seems.

In one of these early exchanges with Pam, I wrote:

One can’t just declare that this is what God has told me, even if it lines up with their interpretation of Scripture and then say that no one else has a valid viewpoint or can question them and their beliefs. One can’t hide behind faith alone and refuse to dialogue to gain a broader understanding of things.

There’s a fine line between Jonestown and many churches in America based on this logic.

Well this ruffled her feathers a bit, and she claimed that there was no kool-aid parties being planned, but from the beginning of reading some of Timothy’s “prophecies” I sensed something not quite right here. In my last note to Pam, I wrote:

It’s troubling to me b/c I see that it (i.e. Timothy’s writings, the Gracehead site) is a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) form of control and manipulation of people. You are right, as long as people line it up with the Word of God they should be fine, but people are lazy. And I know, spiritual leaders take advantage of lazy people and begin to accept everything they say and do as God’s word… and this happens in and out of the church every single week.

Believe it or not Pam, I haven’t done the challenging and writing and confronting b/c I like to be abused either or that I like making people mad… I actually do care.

Ok, now back to the reason I have no life. I spent some time yesterday reading some of the writings of Timothy, the history behind it, and I find it fascinating. His epistle is entitled:

Letters from God and His Christ
True and Actual Conversations with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, given to Modern Man for Modern Man’s Sake
In the introduction, he tells a bit about himself and his calling:

My friends, I do not wish to replace, or take away, or add to the Holy Bible! Rather, these words and this understanding was given to Me by the Lord, and is for all those who have ears to hear. He alone may “add to” His Word for our benefit and to give us greater understanding…

I do not have any previous learning in Scripture, no degrees of any kind, nor have I attended seminary, nor have I received any teaching from any pastor, minister, etc., nor have I been to church…I must remain separate from those whom God wishes me to give His message to, lest I become biased toward a certain denomination…

And to this end, I am called:
1) To trumpet the coming of Christ to every corner of the world, in all manner of speaking and devices (internet, etc.).
2) To write God’s Word, which is a Final Testament to His glory, so those who have not heard might hear and those who have heard might come into a greater understanding of His will set forth in the Scriptures of Truth, the Bible…
3) To give this Word to the churches so they might receive correction and make themselves ready…
4) To be a “watchman”, that I might sound the warning, the blowing of the Trumpet, to warn all those who abide on the earth that the redemption of God’s children from the world draws very near, and God’s judgement must immediately follow!

At first glance his calling sounds like some church mission statements. But somewhere in there was this very troubling sentence, and I am sure you caught it too: To write God’s Word, which is a Final Testament to His glory…

This goes beyond your basic Stupid Church People status. If I read this write, Timothy IS writing a new and final testament of scripture, indeed adding to the Bible a new revelation.

So correct me if I am wrong and call me crazy, but my initial gut reaction may not be that far off. From what I can tell, what we have here is the beginning formation of a new cult…or, at the very least, the attempt at one.

I guess I am just fascinated by how things unfolded over at Gracehead. I am intrigued at what causes people to not question and just blindly follow a leader, his vision, his words and take them hook, line and sinker. As I said…there’s a fine line.

Thus Saith Timothy

So I know it’s been awhile since I have posted anything…sorry about that. I have been using the time to get inspired and the way I most often do this is to visit other blogs, read and comment.

Recently, I hit the jackpot of inspiration.

One blogger that has been having some very good topics is Jason over on Losing My Religion. Jason has some unique views that I like to read and recently I joined the discussion on some topics.

Through these conversations I was introduced to Pam and found my way over to a site called Gracehead where she contributes. On occasion, Pam would mention a guy by the name of Timothy. She called him a prophet. Apparently Timothy is “modern day prophet” who writes as the mouthpiece of God to modern man. You can read more on his website.

I took a look at a couple of these prophecies as they were posted on Gracehead and couldn’t believe that they were serious. These writings are a sad mixture of the King James Bible and nonsensical babble. He writes them in the form of letters (think Paul) but pretty much quotes a lot of fire and brimstone from the Old Testament (think Jeremiah).

To see if Timothy (or the Lord) had any sense of humor, I took a poke at the prophet and commented: “I think it’s funny that the LORD still speaks to us in King James English”. Almost immediately my comment was deleted and a rebuke was posted from the Lord (or Timothy – I am so confused) and here’s what they had to say to me:

Steve, the Warning from the Lord I was commanded to give to Jason, I am now commanded to give to you…

Thus says the Lord: You have gone out of the way, thinking you stand. You do not stand, for you have stood against Me and My Word sent through My prophets…this is not to stand. You shall be brought low… you shall not be gathered. Neither will I hear you, for you have forsaken your Lord for your own way…such arrogant, high-minded children, continually misleading themselves and all those they speak to, never hearing the voice of the Lord their God.

Son of man, did you think I would stay silent?! Did you think that I, even I, would not blow the trumpet and alert the watchmen?! Therefore, it is fulfilled and shall come to pass in that Day, which is upon you, that the Son of Man, your Redeemer, shall say to you, “I never knew you”. For if you truly knew Him and He lived in you, then you would recognize those I send and the Word given them…yet you forbear, resting in the beds of false doctrine, even the doctrines of men. Therefore, you shall not be gathered, for I do not see of Myself in you, though you speak My words instant in and out of season. For you speak them seasoned with the salt I, Myself, have NOT given you. This you have received, in vain, at the hands of men. Know you not, that which is of God has salt in itself, and in no wise needs seasoning?… Get wisdom and receive understanding, and repent. Read more here.

He has more to say to me, but that’s the gist of it. Officially now, I guess I am an unbeliever…or never was one. Whichever, it’s a relief to have that solved. I always wanted to know and now, direct from the LORD’S mouth, through Timothy, in bastardized King James form, I have it in black and white… I am headed to hell.

The Vision

Every evangelical or emergent or missional – or whatever churches are calling themselves these days – has a vision. Having served on various church staffs for years, the overall vision is to “reach people” or “develop fully committed followers” or some variation of that.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. Most of these church develop a sort of business plan to reach these people. We were taught somewhere that you have to have something to rally people around if you want them to keep coming and bringing their friends. I guess God just isn’t enough… but that’s beside the point.

There apparently has to be something “out there” that is the goal. This “goal” motivates people, challenges them and most importantly (let’s not forget this) keeps them giving money to “the vision”.

Here’s one such vision that I church I am familiar with has had since it’s inception over ten years ago.

For almost as long as I can remember, it’s been the dream of many at First Church (church name has been changed) to someday build a community center for our area. Not just “another church building” that’s used mostly on weekends or mostly for our own needs, but a center for our community. An auditorium that doubles as a basketball court all week long for area kids’ teams. Kids’ classrooms that double as day care rooms during the week. A large game room and youth rooms that are used for after school programs. Great rooms that are available for AA and 12-step groups, karate classes, and any number of other community functions. A coffee shop where small groups meet or where people from our church hook up on the way home after work or where a mom waits while her pre-teen son practices with his basketball team….

And what if we were to strategically leverage their presence in our space to potentially connect them with God – no strings attached? The dream took flight. We pictured a day in the not-too-distant-future when a mom would drop her son or daughter off for a 5:30 basketball practice. And instead of sitting in her SUV reading her book, she’d come into the coffee shop located conveniently in front to sip a latte and read. On the table is an advertisement for a 4-week support group / seminar on parenting pre-teen kids occurring – what a coincidence! – exactly on this night of the week, during this hour!

True, there may be many people who would frequent our space and still never consider coming to a class or a group or our church. That’s where the “no strings attached” part comes! (And that’s where a true servant’s posture kicks in!) But the evidence over the years seems to demonstrate that even many of the most spiritually-resistant people become open to God at times of crises in their lives. And during those times, they turn first toward the people and places they’ve already been exposed to. We would like to be among those people and places, when the time comes, whom God might use to resurrect spiritual life in their hearts.

I Don’t Miss Church People

Every once in a while I am reminded quite clearly of the things that I don’t miss about church, or more specifically, church people.

First and foremost, I think it would have to be “Christianese”.

Over on “Losing My Religion” this topic was raised recently. What was most amazing is that in explaining some of the “Christianese” that was being questioned and looking for some serious explanations, the result was an even deeper and more insidious version of Christianese than originally was expressed.

For example, when asked to explain the phrase “spiritual rebirth”, one writer says:

Spiritual rebirth is when we come alive to God. It is when Jesus becomes the center of our lives and our self-centered desire to please self is changed to a desire to please God. To be spiritual is to be in close and intimate communication with God.

Wow! Ok, so where do I start. There are so many insider phrases in that short paragraph that it boggles the mind.

So let’s share shall we… what are some of your favorite “Christianese” sayings?

I Don’t Miss Church or Church People

So here it is October 14 and it’s been over two weeks since I wrote anything… well at least wrote anything to post here. Actually, I have decided to try and write more, post more, and be more honest regarding my feelings on the church. Believe it or not, I have been holding back.

One thing over the past couple of years that has held me from being even more forthright regarding the church was fear of offending someone. Can you believe that? Me afraid of offending someone?? That’s almost funny to see in print.

But I think I am slowly getting over that.

It’s like last night. I met someone for the first time, and they knew of my past connection with Saddleback Church. So when we were introduced, she said, “Yeah I used to go to Saddleback and even worked on staff there for a short while.” I think she thought that this would create an instant connection, but trust me when you meet me and start the conversation along those lines, it isn’t an ice-breaker.

So we were all hanging out, and decided to play Scrabble. Normally I am not that keen on the game, but they had been drinking so I felt it this was certainly a sure win.

So Miss Saddleback gets the “A” and its her turn to go first. And wouldn’t you know it, the first word she lays out is “LORD”. Holy crappola! I couldn’t believe it.

Now at some point during the game, I am not sure whether it was my fine use of the word “DELVE” or after my triple word score on “QUEST”, things turned spiritual on me (well shall we say mystical). Out of the blue, Miss Saddleback asks me what my sign is. I know sounds like a pickup line, but