Rick Warren's preaching ministry had an indirect and rather bizarre impact on my life before I read anything he wrote. I was a candidate for a church youth pastor position. Before I signed on, I was warned that the senior pastor might be asked to leave soon because of a number of issues. One of those issues was that when he was a candidate for his position, a little over a year before, he had preached one of Warren's sermons as his own.
Warren encourages other pastors to use his sermons if they find them useful and says he doesn't care whether he receives attribution, which is quite generous of him, but many in the church felt that presenting someone else's work as part of your own in order to be evaluated for a position wasn't what your better trained Boy Scout would do -- let alone a pastor. There were other factors involved, but that pastor left a week after I came on to the church staff.
Before I read a book by Rick Warren, I read a companion book by someone else (Warren wrote the forward). As a youth pastor, I read Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (1998) by Doug Fields. It focused on the need to rely not on gimmicks for youth ministry, but to instead build a solid foundation based on Scriptural principles. The title and main ideas of Fields' book were not intended to be wholly original, but were adapted from Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Vision (1995).
When The Purpose Driven Church came out, it was The Thing pastors were talking about. The bottom line of the book was the need to build a healthy church rather than targeting church growth. Still, there was the assumption that the book's principles would cause a healthy church to grow. Warren argued that the five purposes of the church are worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. Not exactly unheard of ideas, but he presented them clearly and concisely.
Another book of his, The Purpose Driven Life, published in 2002, drew even more attention. By 2007 over 30 million copies of the book had been sold. Many churches, including Healdsburg Comunity Church (which Mindy and I attended and where I served), used the book for a course of study. Not surprisingly, it used the same purposes for the church and applied them to the life of the individual: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism.
It could well be argued that after Billy Graham, Warren is the most prominent and respected Protestant leader in the country. In 2008 he hosted a forum of discussion for Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama and he gave the invocation at President Obama' inauguration in 2009. Of course, entering the political fray in such a way has also led to some controversy, which Warren has for the most part handled well.
I'll have to admit that though I respect Warren very much, I find his writing practical and useful but not personally inspiring. But I appreciate that God has used his work to inspire millions of others.