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Mourning with Rick and Kay Warren and Family

Brandon Cox and Rick Warren

Pastor Rick and I in his study behind his stage at Saddleback on the night he gave me his blessing and many words of wisdom for planting Grace Hills Church.

I’ve started to write this post quite a few times, and each time, I’ve deleted it. It’s hard to know what to say when someone you admire and love goes through something as tragic as what Rick and Kay Warren have endured the last few days. Their son, Matthew, ended his own life at the age of 27 after battling severe mental illness for many years. I have heard Rick speak of this behind closed office doors, asking for prayer and pouring his heart out concerning his love for his son and his trust in his God in spite of not understanding all the reasons why Matthew suffered so terribly.

I believe that Rick and Kay, their other two children, and all of their loved ones will battle an array of emotions for quite some time. But I also believe that the message of hope that Pastor Rick has shared for the last three decades has come from the deep conviction of his heart. Rick believes that “God never wastes a hurt,” and Matthew’s life and death will prove this, perhaps in ways we cannot fully see just yet.

I love the Warren’s and believe that now is a time when God’s people should pray for them fervently. It isn’t that they somehow deserve prayer more than others because of their success and popularity. Rather it is that Rick is a man who has surrendered himself and all that he possesses completely to God, and God has blessed him by using his life to change the world. And because God has given him such a public platform, his private pain is perhaps amplified. Not only do the Warren’s have to suffer through the loss of their son, but they must do so somewhat publicly by virtue of their influence.

There is little that I can personally do to alleviate their pain. In managing the pastors.com website and community, I’ve sought out some voices that deserve to be heard, such as Beth Moore, Geoff Surratt, and Greg Laurie. I’ve received and answered dozens of emails to Pastor Rick sent via pastors.com, all of which have been positive and encouraging. And I’ve also read some of the most cold and heartless comments on the web from people who have decided to use this moment of pain to pounce on the Warren’s.

What I can do is pray, and I believe that prayer is powerful, effective, and meaningful. And I’m inviting you to pray with me as you read this. As we pray for Pastor Rick Warren, for Kay, and for their family…

  • Let us pray that God gives them a peace that passes all understanding – that is a peace that is present when it doesn’t seem possible.
  • Let us pray for the heart of a Dad, a Mom who lost a son as well as a brother and a sister who lost a brother.
  • Let us pray that others who struggle with mental illness in the shadows would seek help in the light and find churches that will look beyond the stigma of mental illness to offer real compassion and healing.
  • Let us pray for gospel-empowered change in the hearts of accusers and cold, calloused critics who would use a moment like this to spit venom on the devastated and broken.
  • Let us pray for a church that hurts for her shepherd and a global community of church leaders that hurts for its mentor.
  • Let us pray that all that Pastor Warren has taught about the trustworthiness of God and the hope we have in Jesus be all the more believable to a watching world as the Warren’s continue to boldly proclaim their faith.
  • Let us pray that in their understandable weakness, God’s grace would be sufficient and God’s glory would be spread.

I can’t imagine their pain. I was in Pastor Rick’s office one day a couple of years ago when he was asking a few of us to pray for Matthew who was at that time hospitalized because of a severe bout with depression. As Rick became transparent and asked a few trusted friends to guard Matthew’s privacy and to lift him before the Father, he also taught a powerful lesson. He explained that life is not a roller coaster with up’s and down’s, but rather a set of railroad tracks where we endure suffering and blessing simultaneously. Pastor Rick never claimed to fully understand the reason for the existence of mental illness. But he did testify to the faithfulness of God in spite of it. Even through tears of hurt for his son, he was teaching powerful truths.

There are only a small handful of men on the planet that I consider to be my pastors, and Rick Warren is at the top of the list. So I’m praying for my Pastor and his family today, and I’m inviting you to pray with me.

The Saddleback Network Includes Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan Community ChurchThe church we are planting, Grace Hills, is part of the Saddleback Network, a new, still-forming initiative to cover the earth with purpose driven churches. Today, there are four of us in the network. Peter Dupre is planting Revive Community Church in the Boston area. Jose Gonzalez is planting a Hispanic congregation in Anaheim. And now, Lower Manhattan Community Church, led by Pastor Ryan Holladay, is part of us as well.

I just finished reading a post about the church written by my friend Alex on ChristianPost.com that tells the story well. As we approach the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, I’m praying for a great response to Lower Manhattan Community Church as they minister to people who lived in the middle of the upheaval that took place. Alex wrote a paragraph about what they’re doing…

Lower Manhattan Community, which has a relatively small congregation, will be part of Saddleback’s 9/11 Hope & Freedom services this weekend commemorating the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. Holladay was recently filmed at Ground Zero for video to be shown during the Saddleback services, he said.

You can read more about the joint effort between Saddleback and Lower Manhattan on Saddleback’s website where you can also catch one of the many Hope and Freedom services over the weekend. You can also join us at our time of study and reflection at Grace Hills this weekend as well. We’ll meet at the Hyatt Place in Rogers at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday to talk about What America Should Remember.

I’m excited about the expansion of the Saddleback Network of new church plants. Beginning in January of 2012, simultaneously with our launch, we’ll be tackling some significant initiatives to expand the network ourselves. My own prayer is echoed by a story Tobin Perry wrote on NAMB’s website – Will the 9/11 Legacy Be a Church Planting Movement?

I Get To Be a Part of Saddleback Church

Saddleback Church Easter AttendanceThirteen years ago, I read The Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission for the first time. The first chapter contains the story of how Rick and Kay Warren packed up their belongings and headed to a community to which God had called them to plant Saddleback Church. They arrived in Orange County with a moving truck and about $1,000 and started a church with seven people at the first Bible study.

This past weekend, I attended four of our services and helped route people to overflow areas where they could participate in the services despite the fullness of the main worship center. The day’s attendance totalled over 37,000 across twelve services at eleven campuses. Please understand, Jesus was glorified with just as much excellence and enthusiasm in churches meeting with a handful of people.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better. But there is something pretty neat about reading the early chapters of the book of Acts and seeing how God inspired the record of those days to include detailed numbers on how many thousands of people were becoming part of the church family, and then seeing God continue to reach the masses in our culture today.

People, in those days, were being added to the church daily and in much larger numbers than we see anywhere on the planet today. I agree with Bailey Smith who said “There are no large churches. Some churches are just smaller than others.” We can hardly claim “largeness” just because of attendance numbers when so much of the surrounding population remains unreached.

But when I realized just how many people were on campus, I felt a wave of gratitude for several reasons:

  • Pastor Rick preached the gospel, crystal clear, to over 37,000 people at one time.
  • I deserve hell because of my sin. Instead, because of Jesus Christ, I am alive, in the ministry, and on staff at an amazing model church.
  • Jesus rose from the grave! That’s what the day was really all about. And the same power that worked in His resurrection is working in us today as well.

We won’t be here much longer. In nine weeks, Angie and I will go from helping pastor 37,000 people to pastoring only a very few (temporarily, we hope). But I will never even begin to be able to thank God enough for allowing us to be here, in this season, in this place, connecting with this church, and learning in this atmosphere.

He is risen. He is Lord. And He is sooooo good!

How to Know When God Is Up to Something

WavesIs the earth still spinning? Are waves still crashing on the beach? God. Is. Up. To. Something… guaranteed!

It’s been well over ten years since I led our church in Kentucky through a study of Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, the classic work by Henry Blackaby and Claude King. The primary lesson of that study has made a lifelong impact on who I am: God is always at work in, around, and through you. And the conclusion is we must join God in what He is doing.

Angie and I are on a roller coaster journey right now. Easter at Saddleback was a crazy time in which we saw around 38,000 people come to church with hundreds of decisions made for Christ. My parents have been visiting from Kentucky. I’m a bit behind on several freelance projects. Angie has a very busy week and then is heading for Vegas to be treated like the princess she is at Women of Faith. And as of today, we have about nine weeks until we move to Arkansas to begin the planting of Grace Hills Church.

As we prepare for relocation, it’s been interesting to see word get out about Grace Hills and people expressing an interest in being part of things already. We can’t wait to get on the ground and grow those relationships, but we also want to squeeze all we can out of the experience here in southern California. I have a Pastors.com community to manage. We have friends we’re going to dearly miss. I have mentors from whom I want to learn. And there is also a bit of packing to do!

We’re currently praying for God to open doors to support partnerships. If you or your church would be interested in partnering with us, we’d love to hear from you, but what is more valuable is the prayer support we’re already receiving in large amounts from many friends and family.

God is up to some stuff. If we get too busy, we’ll miss joining Him because we’ll be too distracted. If we don’t get busy, we’ll miss joining Him because we’ll expect things to happen without intentional effort on our part. In the middle is this thing called balance and in our walk with God, balance means finding that sweet spot where we’re taking time to slow down and know Him and we’re devoting time to serving Him.

Like the ocean waves hitting the shores, God is consistent in showing up. Day or night and no matter the season, He keeps making noise around us. There are times when the tide goes out and a sense of distance from Him looms heavy, but the tide always comes back in. God’s presence never leaves us. He’s always up to something!

photo source: stsuch

Everything Is Changing Again!

Planting & GrowthThat’s how God keeps growing us. He never lets us sit still. Even if we spend our entires lives in one place geographically, things are changing inside us and around us all the time.

Our family has been through a lot of changes over the last year and a half. We’ve added Sam to the family and moved across the country to southern California to join the staff of Saddleback Church. Even my responsibilities here at Saddleback have changed from simply trying to kick off a Pastors.com community to that plus overseeing correspondence for the Office of Pastor Rick Warren. And now, things are changing again.

Over the last decade, Angie and I have had numerous conversations about church planting. We’ve talked in hypothetical terms many times and have said things like “God might just be preparing to use us to plant a church someday.” Now, someday is here. In July of this year, our family will be relocating back to Bentonville, Arkansas to plant a new church.


By the way, have you "liked" Grace Hills Church on Facebook yet?


This decision fits perfectly with the flow of what God has been doing in us. Isn’t it just like God to move us from a community we loved so much across the country to put us in one of the best training facilities available (Saddleback Church) and then confirm His calling in our lives to go back to Bentonville and plant a brand new church, the very first Saddleback Network church.

We could write endlessly as to “why” we believe God brought us through Saddleback. We believe whole heartedly that we are returning to Arkansas changed people. The biggest lesson God has been teaching us is to simply “trust”. Moving our little family to California was a big leap of faith. God has honored that step and has been more than faithful. We have had the opportunity to learn from the best church leaders you will find anywhere. They have invested in us and we feel called to carry what we’ve learned and go “be the church” in Northwest Arkansas.

I’m a different guy than I was even a year ago. Angie and I have a different marriage than we did a year ago. My outlook on ministry and on the world has expanded greatly. The speed at which we make decisions, our understanding of community, our feelings about a globe in desperate trouble have all been fueled by being in the atmosphere of Saddleback Church. Pastor Rick often says that “God calls some people to Saddleback, and He calls others through Saddleback.”

Steven Furtick wrote recently about how God uses “hubs” in our lives to help us make connections leading to our final destination. He wrote…

God knows how to get you to where He wants you. Even if it doesn’t seem like the most direct route that you’d prefer. And He’s not just wasting your time or playing games with you. There’s a purpose to every hub He takes you to. To the hub you may be in right now.

Source: Steven Furtick

Pastor Rick has set a course for Saddleback that includes planting hundreds of churches in the next decade and Geoff Surratt, Pastor of Church Planting, is helping to implement that vision. And guess what? We get to go first! We get to be, as Geoff put it, Saddleback’s “guinea pigs” for what the process looks like.

I’ll never forget the first time I met Kenneth, a friend of mine back in Bentonville. He was going through a very difficult time in his life and had many serious questions about what faith in God really looks like. We began meeting weekly and after just a few weeks, Kenneth made a commitment to Christ. In spite of his 6′ 5″ police officer frame, I baptized Kenneth without drowning either of us. Later in Kenneth’s story, Christa came into his life. She too trusted Christ and I baptized her as well. I performed their wedding and visited their first home to pray with them just after they moved in.

Not a day goes by that I don’t hunger for more Kenneth’s in my life – people who are hungry for purpose. Angie and I are ready to go where God has called us and spend the rest of our lives reaching, teaching, and loving a community for Jesus Christ.

As for my role with Pastors.com? I will continue to serve as Editor and Online Community Facilitator for the site for some time and will always be a key contributor, even at the point at which the community needs a new leader in place.

You can follow more announcements about Grace Hills on Twitter, Facebook, or by subscribing to the email newsletter. And I’ll certainly be issuing plenty of updates along the way here on my blog as well.

We definitely ask for your prayers, and that’s the greatest way you can help us. Pray for details to fall in line, for financial provision, for spiritual protection, and for the community of Bentonville to be receptive to our coming there to serve the needs of the people.

If you are interested in making a financial investment or partnering with us in some way, I would love the opportunity to talk with you. Simply contact me or check out the support page of Grace Hills.

We’re so thankful for the friendships and relationships we’ve made along the way. Each day we are here makes it that much harder to think about leaving. God has surrounded us here with a small group of friends, mentors, counselors, and teachers. We’ve been granted the gift of learning from one of the world’s most influential churches.

God has been so good to us! And now we’re ready to experience Him in this next chapter of our adventure!

photo source: stock.xchang