Rick Warren, one of America’s most popular pastors, tweeted earlier today to his 130,296 Twitter followers, “I challenge any church in America to match the spiritual maturity, godliness & commitment of any 500 members of Saddleback.” This tweet came on the heels of two earlier tweets:
RickWarren: Mary, it’s true. Over 10,000 Saddleback members have now served in missions overseas through our network & P.E.A.C.E. plan.
RickWarren: For 30 yrs our plan was to turn spectators into participators, consumers to contributors, an audience into an army. It worked!
The final tweet was later deleted, but managed to get quite a few responses from the Christian twittersphere. Here are a few:
ScottyWardSmith: I challenge any church in America to show me 500 of their members who need the gospel more than we do in Christ Community Church.
timmybrister: Re: @rickwarren twitter hype – It’s a good thing that no one else has a better gospel than I do, because that’s all I have to vouch for.
stevekmccoy: Yo @RickWarren, I’m happy for Saddleback & I’mma let you finish, but Corinth had the most mature Christians of all time!
jaredcwilson: I challenge any 500 Saddleback members to compare their commitment & godliness to Christ, whose righteousness belongs to every believer.
Some thoughts on the situation:
- It’s not clear whether Warren was making a statement about the superior spirituality of the least spiritual 500 in his church or trying to stir others up to love and good works (He 10:24). When you have only 140 characters, you need to choose your words carefully.
- Is there biblical warrant for this kind of competitive statement? Paul discouraged comparison (2 Co 10:12; cf. 1 Cor 1:12; 3:4), but he also talked about outdoing each other (Ro 12:10) and encouraged others to immitate him (1 Co 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17; 4:9; 1 Th 1:6; 2 Th 3:9). Is all comparison bad? Is there room for healthy competition in the pursuit of godliness? Scripture often commends the behavior of certain Christians to others (e.g., Mt 8:10; Ac 17:11; He 12:1).
- There’s seems to be an appropriate kind of pride one can have in those he shepherds (1 Co 15:31; 2 Co 7:4; 8:24; 9:2; 1 Th 2:19).
- It’s not necessarily a denial of the gospel to encourage others to follow the example of those who are modeling godliness. Christ is our ultimate example, but there are other lesser examples that point to Him. Christ is our perfect righteousness, but others can model the righteousness of life that God calls us to pursue.
- What you say on the Internet has potential to reach far more people than you may intend. Warren has more than 130,000 Twitter followers, but the reach of his comment far exceeds that number when you take into consideration the hundreds of people who retweeted it or tweeted about it to all of their followers (not to mention those who blog about it, share it on Facebook, etc.). Keep in mind that the potential audience of what you say online numbers in the hundreds of millions.
- The fact that Warren later deleted his tweet probably means that he had second thoughts about posting it. We all make mistakes and say things we wish we could take back. But there’s a good lesson to be learned here. Once you put something online—especially if the content gets syndicated or cached (e.g., Twitter, RSS, automated emails, Internet Archive)—it’s virtually permanent and can’t be easily or entirely undone.
- Twitter lends itself to expressing your thoughts before you’ve taken time to stop and ponder them. That’s often not a good thing.
Update: Warren apparently defends his tweet yesterday—or at least responds to his critics—with these follow-up tweets:
RickWarren: Paul COMPARED the Macedonia church’s commitment to Corinth’s & challenged them to MATCH it 2 Cor. 8:1-8. Wise teaching tool
RickWarren: “I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” — Paul 2 Cor. 8:8
RickWarren: BIBLICAL leaders use themselves as examples to challenge others. Paul often did. See David’s courageous model! 1Chron 29:2-5