The Man With the Purpose
How Rick Warren's best-selling book saved a hostage's life is just one part of the book's lore.
BY: Deborah Caldwell
In 1980, Rick Warren started his church with a time-tested formula used by thousands of up-and-coming Baptist pastors. He moved to a Sunbelt city, opened a Bible study in his condo and taught aimless baby boomer suburbanites how to connect with God - simple seeker-sensitive stuff, the sort of message that has built prosperous congregations for ambitious ministers nationwide.
But Warren didn't turn out to be just any ambitious minister. Today he heads
in Lake Forest, Calif., one of the largest congregations in the country with weekend attendance of about 16,000. He counsels power brokers from Hollywood to Wall Street to Capitol Hill. Christianity Today dubbed him "America's most influential pastor" in a 2002 cover story.
Warren, 50, also happens to be one of the best-selling American authors of all time because of The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (Zondervan, 2002). Described as a "groundbreaking manifesto on the meaning of life" in the book's marketing materials, Purpose-Driven Life has sold 20 million copies since it was published in October 2002. By January 2003, it was on the New York Times best-seller list, where it has spent 99 weeks - several as No. 1.
On March 14, a
was added to the book's lore. Ashley Smith picked the book off her nightstand and began reading chapter 33 to Brian Nichols, who earlier in the day had murdered four people in a shooting spree, sought shelter in Smith's apartment, and then took her hostage. On Day 33 of the book, Warren writes, "We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige, and position. If you can demand service from others, you've arrived. In our self-serving culture with its me-first mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept."
As the hours rolled on, she read him portions of the book--and convinced him that his life had a purpose, given to him by God. Smith suggested to him that God's vision for her life was to help Nichols see his own purpose--evangelizing in prison.
The book is only a part of the Purpose-Driven sales universe (
). Fans can buy a devotional volume entitled Daily Inspiration for the Purpose-Driven Life, a set of Scripture cards, a wall calendar and a leather-bound blank book for writing their own Purpose-Driven meditations, among other products.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, and advisers such as Karl Rove and Karen Hughes reportedly read The Purpose-Driven Life. So have evangelist Billy Graham and
, the author of that other huge seller,
The Prayer of Jabez
"I think everybody has brokenness," Warren told The Washington Post in a 2004 interview. "There's no doubt about that. We live in a fallen world. This is not heaven. Everybody has scars. Everybody is hurting somewhere, I guarantee you that. Everyone has a hidden hurt."
Warren experienced some of these challenges last year. The Purpose-Driven phenomenon has grown so large that it has become almost too much to handle, according to his advisers. And when his wife, Kay, battled breast cancer last year, Warren took time off to be with her. As a result, he has stopped granting interviews, at least for now.
But his 334-page book remains a juggernaut. In it, he outlines a six-week spiritual plan divided into short chapters to be read daily. During the first week, readers answer the question: "What on Earth am I here for?" Each of the next five weeks addresses one of the answers: