Reporter's Notebook: Purpose Driven Life, on a Grand Scale

Editor's note: A FOX News special presentation — Purpose Driven Life: Can Rick Warren Change the World, will air this Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET.

Every generation produces a handful of people who do more than come up with a good idea — they revolutionize the way we look at things and inspire others to change the way the world works. Pastor Rick Warren is one of those people.

While Pastor Rick could probably walk down the street without being recognized as anything other than a big, affable tourist in a Hawaiian shirt, there are two recognizable elements in his life that immediately connect with millions of folks around the world. The first is his book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” which has sold at least 26 million copies, and was used most famously by an Atlanta woman to help talk down a murderous kidnapper. The book has transformed the lives of millions — from average folks to presidents of countries, both of whom are represented in our special.

Then there’s Pastor Rick’s church, Saddleback, a 20,000-member “mega-church” that developed along a decentralized business model and was singled out as a model of excellence by management guru Peter Drucker. What makes Saddleback more celebrated than its beautiful campus in the foothills of California, however, is the network of churches that has developed from it. Pastor Rick saw up close that networks of communities united around a single purpose could do so much more than the same number of individuals working by themselves. He applied this simple lesson to whole communities of Christians.

• Listen to Rick Warren describe his ambitious plan, and tell us whether YOU think it could work

Saddleback’s role in this network is to provide individuals and churches with the resources they need to accomplish their various missions (whether helping Hurricane Katrina victims or entire countries, like Rwanda). When a particular crisis or mission energizes this network, Saddleback becomes the core resource center that feeds the other missions. Should missionaries need technical training, help in learning foreign languages, or even help streamlining the process of getting visas, they go to the experts at Saddleback.

But while Saddleback plays a lead role in identifying a mission and providing the resources missionaries need, Rick has decentralized Saddleback’s authority, lest it become a top-heavy organization in which there’s no innovation. We’ve all worked for control freaks, who insist on running every little detail. These places aren’t fun to work at, and they usually implode because the leader either turns into a dictator that drives workers away, or the place becomes hopelessly inefficient, or both. Rick is intent on making sure that doesn’t happen with Saddleback. He wants to allow various missions the freedom and flexibility they need to organize the projects as they see fit in the field.

This all goes far beyond changing the approach churches make in dolling out charity and pitching in to help a needy community or country. It could revolutionize the way in which aid is distributed throughout the world. So many charity organizations and international organizations like the U.N. are top-heavy groups, in which the central authority often requires enormous resources of their own that suck the life and resources from the folks on the ground. These huge organizations become greedy middlemen between the resources and the folks dolling it out.

What Rick Warren proposes is eliminating the middleman entirely. Getting money and human resources away from the administrators and bureaucrats and passing them directly to the one institution that communities trust more than any other: local places of worship. Such a direct method of distribution would save enormous resources. It would also make people on the ground more accountable for what goes on.

So far, Pastor Rick has at least one model country to hold up as an example of his decentralized approach to foreign aid: Rwanda. Its president, Paul Kagame, liked Rick’s book so much that he asked Rick to come to Rwanda and turn it into a “purpose driven nation.” FOX News went to Rwanda to see what’s really happening. We talked to Rwanda’s president to see how Rick’s inspiring message actually works out on the ground. What we found was a mixed bag — nothing ever works as planned, and that’s certainly true here. But FOX News’ view into a revolutionary way to help poor countries become as rich as they deserve, is something that everyone who’s interested in Rick or his mission will want to see.

The problem with objectively reporting on an inspiring figure like Rick Warren is avoiding being drawn into his adoring crowd. It’s tough, because there is so much about Rick Warren to admire: his frankness, genuine humility, and ability to maintain rock-solid values without acting preachy or judgmental. But Rick’s a human being. He’s as prone to the temptations of fame as anyone. As we got to know each other and became friendly, I realized that the toughest part of my assignment would be to avoid flattery and get right to the heart of the temptations that dog any celebrity these days — particularly one who claims to be inspired by God. I hope I succeeded, and I hope you’ll all tune in to find out.