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Real Answers™
Copyright: ©2008 Debbie Thurman
670 words


By: Debbie Thurman

In the course of research for a forthcoming book and ongoing preparation for the commentaries I write—often with “fear and trembling” as I consider the grave responsibility of ministry to real human beings—I have found myself at the intersection of two great pastors and their legacy. I am speaking of Rick Warren and the late Jerry Falwell.

While I have yet to meet Warren in person, I was privileged to know “Doc” Falwell. My journey through this purpose-driven life took me from Southern California, where I served in a church not unlike Warren’s Saddleback congregation, to Lynchburg, Va., and Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. I have both worshipped and served in the latter for some nine years now, drawing inspiration from Warren’s Beatitude-driven recovery ministry—which he maintains was a catalyst for much of Saddleback’s growth—as I helped a cadre of “wounded healers” begin and grow Thomas Road’s recovery ministry.

I understand and feel equally at home in both kinds of mega-churches, though I also love the small-church experience of my youth.

Many observers have examined both Falwell and Warren, picking at their respective theologies; their styles of preaching, leadership and outreach; their politics or lack thereof and their interesting associations. While these men did not always agree on everything, they agreed on the one most important thing: that God called them each to build and grow a generation of servants they were to lead by their own examples. Naturally, their style was not the same; they were a generation and a continent apart, with different cultural and familial influences and platforms that could be viewed as two sides of the same coin.

God gave Falwell the strength and humility to persevere and remain true to his appointed mission. Warren is doing likewise. Like Falwell did, he endures the “evil report and good report” (2 Cor. 6:8) roller coaster that ministers of the Gospel all ride, dodging the plinking from within and without larger-than-life men tend to attract.

I can’t help but believe that God has been pleased with both Falwell and Warren. Each a visionary who had to overcome numerous obstacles on the way to seeing that vision come to fruition, these men related to each other in a unique way. Far from being at opposite ends of the “evangelical” (pick your definition) spectrum, they were of one accord, as Jesus Christ meant his Church to be. This was more than evident during an amusing moment in Lynchburg a few years ago when they took the stage during a combined Purpose Driven Church Seminar and Super Conference. Each borrowed the other’s well-known shtick. Warren appeared in a tailored suit while Falwell sported a Hawaiian shirt. The bear hug said it all.

To allay any lingering misunderstandings, however, Warren said the following in a press release he issued upon Falwell’s death:

“I believe Jerry Falwell’s primary legacy will not be his political leadership, but the church he pastored for 50 years; the university he founded that has produced two generations of leaders; the millions who heard him preach the Good News; the innovations in ministry he introduced; and the thousands of young pastors, like myself, whom he constantly encouraged, even when we did it differently.”

Sure, these two reflected some of the legitimate human shortcomings we all have. Check out the heroes of the faith in the Bible sometime. Yet, in this day of endless jockeying for the theological high ground and fruitless, purposeless influence-peddling among those who should know better, we can look to their example and its resonating harmony as inspiration for rising to “our better angels.” Isn’t that what both the shepherd and the sheep are seeking?

“If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ … any consolation of love … any fellowship of the Spirit … any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:1-2).

Debbie Thurman is an award-winning commentator and author who writes from Monroe, Va. Her e-mail address is

"Real Answers™" furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091;

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