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Several years ago, before Saddleback moved to its present location, we bought a big chunk of land. I thought, "This is great! We have the Promised Land!" But just like Joshua, I realized there were giants in the land. There were problems.

For the next four years, we battled Orange County because they would not let us build on our land. Not only that, they started charging us $100,000 per year in taxes on it!

They began heaping on ridiculous requirements. First they said, "We'll let you build on nine of your acres if you give the county 104 acres of free open space."

Then they said, "We don't want the church seen from the road. You'll need to build a berm—an eight foot ridge of dirt—along the front of the property to hide the building."

Then they decided we'd need to move 150 oak trees from the back of the property to the front of the property and plant them on that berm.

Next, they told us we couldn't build a 7,000 seat auditorium. Instead, we could build a 1,000 seat auditorium and have seven services.

Then they demanded that we put in a charcoal filtration water system so that the water that ran off the parking lot would be nice and pure as it went into the gutter.

Then they told us we couldn't build a parking lot. We'd have to build a parking garage.

Finally, they decided we couldn't build a preschool because "that's not a legitimate church ministry." We said, "Since when did the government start deciding what is and what isn't legitimate church ministry?"

We battled for four years. Some 25 articles appeared in the LA Times and The Register during that time with headlines like, "Church Project Delayed" and "Church Project Delayed Again."

I asked our people to write to the county supervisors. Shortly after, this headline came out: "Pro Canyon Church Project Letters Flood the County Offices." Letters were coming in at the rate of 400 a day. Finally the county supervisors called me and said, "Please stop. You're clogging up our mail system."

A Church Under Siege—The Orange County Register published an editorial supporting Saddleback church and it was called "A Church Beset, A Church Under Siege." It said, "The church's congregation has grown in 91/2 years from nothing to 7,500 but still meets in a high school gym. What this really amounts to is county bureaucrats trying to force and control their use of property along a pre-determined path. What gives people the arrogance to presume they have the right to do such a thing?"

Finally I took our church directory to our county supervisor. I laid it in front of that supervisor and said, "Buddy, there are 18,000 names in this directory. They all vote and they're all in your district. You've got a problem. You either let us build on property we own or help us swap it for something better."

And that's how we swapped for the piece of property we now own. We paid $3.5 million for the first piece of land. During the four-year battle it went up in value to $6.5 million, and we traded it even-steven for a piece worth $9 million. We walked onto this property with $6 million in equity.

That is so God! The new land had more visibility, more usable space, more accessibility, a six-lane road on one side, a six-lane road on another side and a toll road that goes up and down the entire county, putting one third of Orange County—or a million people—within a 20-minute drive of this church. God knew what he was doing.

Were the risks and the battles and delay worth it? Absolutely. Because what God starts he finishes.

Some in our congregation have said, "I really regret missing some of those early exciting tests of faith that Saddleback was in on. I wasn't here during that time." One of our pastors, Greg Harris, made a great point, however, when he said, "The most exciting part of any race is not the start of the race. It's the end. We don't get excited about the start. We get excited at the end of the race."

Good things are ahead not just for your congregation but for all of God's people. We're all in a battle, but we already know we're going to win it because the Bible tells us. I don't know a more exciting time to be alive.

As a pastor, there are many things you don't have control over. You didn't choose when you'd be born or where you'd be born or what your natural talents would be. God, in His sovereignty, chose those things for you. But there is one thing you do have control over and that's the most important thing: It's how much you choose to believe God.

Philippians 1:6 says, "I am sure that God who began this good work in you will carry it on until it is finished on the day of Jesus Christ."

You can trust him. Whatever he starts, he finishes—and finishes well.

This article is used by permission from
Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox by Rick Warren.
More information available at

Author Biography

Rick Warren
Web site:
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Beginning with just his wife, Kay, in 1980, the congregation now averages 22,000 attendees at its 5 weekend services.

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