My Sobering Time with Rick Warren about His Son Matthew

Rick and Ron Edmonson

Over the last few days, my Internet world has been inundated with news about the death of Rick Warren’s son Matthew. When I got the word Saturday, my heart surely skipped a beat. I have grown to love Rick. I don’t know him well, but I have had the privilege of being with him numerous times and found him to be genuine and deeply concerned for the well being of anyone who he meets. He’s definitely a pastor’s pastor.

I debated sharing this story. I don’t want to appear to sensationalize the issue. It’s getting enough attention. After reading numerous negative stories about Rick, his family, and Matthew (I honestly don’t know why anyone would choose a time like this to personally attack someone), I asked permission from one of the leaders at Saddleback to share my experience with Rick concerning his son Matthew.

A couple years ago, I had the awesome experience of visiting the inner workings of Saddleback Church. I was asked, along with a couple other pastors, to help them think through some of their online presence ministering to pastors. (One way Rick wants to end his ministry is by using his influence to bless other pastors. They have made a tremendous free resource.) It was an incredible trip. I had been to Saddleback, but on this trip, I got the complete behind the scenes tour. I was in the green room before Rick spoke. I got to hang out many from their staff. I left even more impressed with the depth of their ministry. Any rumor or thought someone has that they are a “watered-down” Bible teaching church is clearly wrong. I can vouch for that.

Rick Warren, the infamous, bigger-than-life, founding pastor was there. He was very engaging to all of us and made us feel extremely welcome. Most of our time was spent with other staff members, but Rick was intentional about spending time with us. If you are a pastor, I promise, you will never get close to him without receiving a bear hug.

The last afternoon we were there, Rick called a couple other pastors and me into his office. I could tell he was dealing with something. He wasn’t as jovial as he normally is. He closed the door and told us he needed our prayers. He told us that few knew what he was about to tell us and asked that we be willing to keep it confidential. (I haven’t shared it with anyone until now.)

He then told us that his son Matthew had struggled with a deep depression all of his life. They had done everything they could for him. They had sought advice from experts. He had seen doctors and counselors. Obviously, they had prayed constantly. Nothing worked. To protect Matthew, Rick had shared with very few people about Matthew’s mental illness. I can understand that as a parent.

Matthew was a great young man, with a huge heart and a deep love for people. It’s obvious from my experience he inherited at least part of that quality from Rick. Matthew loved Christ. He loved his family. For whatever reason though, Matthew couldn’t shake the depression. He, therefore, never found or realized his ultimate purpose in life. Imagine the irony of that. The son of the author of Purpose Driven Life couldn’t find his purpose. It reminds me that there will always be things in life we cannot understand.

Rick wanted us to pray, because Matthew had made some recent threats against his life. It wasn’t the first time he had done so. He had been doing so well lately, but it was obvious Rick was taking this current threat very serious. (As any parent would and you always should with any suicide threat.) Rick was deeply troubled and concerned and asked us to pray for his son.

Rick doesn’t know this, but I have prayed for Matthew almost every time I thought of Rick since that day. If I saw Rick’s tweets, I said a prayer for Matthew.

You see, what Rick also doesn’t know is that I’ll never forget that moment. It made a lasting impression on me. It was surreal. It was heart breaking. Rick was a “bigger than life” pastor in my mind. He was wildly successful in his career. He was humble, genuine, and took a personal interest in me. I probably mistakenly believed that Rick never dealt with the personal issues and struggles most of us outside the limelight live with everyday. I know that’s not true, but we tend to forget everyone has a story they are living…some of it will be good…some of it not so good. Even people of faith have days of despair. All of us have questions without answers. More than anything, however, that moment was a demonstration to me that no matter how powerful a figure you are, no matter how influential you become, you’re always vulnerable when it comes to your children.

Rick Warren wasn’t the pastor of a mega-church that day. He wasn’t the best-selling author of “Purpose Driven Life”. He wasn’t the internationally known church leader who knows presidents and kings of nations. Rick was a dad. Simply a dad. A great, big, loving, and tenderhearted dad with puppy dog tears and a situation he could do nothing to change. In that moment, I also witnessed first hand that Rick was fully surrendered. Fully dependent on God.

I don’t understand the term “mental illness”. I don’t understand depression. I know it is real, because in my ministry I have dealt with it many times. I don’t understand many of the physical ailments of our day. I don’t understand why Matthew struggled so long. I don’t understand why Rick and Kay had to carry…and will carry for a lifetime…the pain in their hearts over their beloved son. I don’t understand.

But, I know this. Rick had fully and completely surrendered his son to Christ…then and obviously now. And, even today, Christ is in control…of Rick…of Matthew…of you and me.

I’m praying for you Rick. Thanks for showing me the true love of a dad. Just imagine how much God must love us!

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40 thoughts on “My Sobering Time with Rick Warren about His Son Matthew

  1. Thank you for such a tender-heart story. I agree that those on top are the easiest to aim at when it comes to criticism and the need to rip down from the top. I was attending a Bible study many years ago and a very well known speaker once commented to a mom whose daughter had committed suicide this way…It may not have been the way God would have chosen her death, but He opened His arms to her on that day.

    I pray that through your tender words, that the Warren’s find peace as well as those other Christians who are or will go through the same tragedy.

  2. Thank you for your honest, heart-felt post. We live with a similar story, and pray every day God's hand remains on our son, who loves Jesus, so that he may have a remarkable, fulfilled life in the face of what he faces everyday. Thankful for you, Ron, and the experiences you had with Rick Warren ~ so that the sharing of Matthew's story branches off to even more people to bring about awareness as well as how we so desperately need to cling to one another in this imperfect life. Continued prayers for the Warren family. ~ ♥†

  3. As a person who has fought the evil of depression, I know the life sucking feelings and thank the Lord have had the personal success of getting past it, time after time. Let me tell you that , along with Martin Luther and other church leaders who have suffered with this lonely illness, we love the Lord and are assured of our salvation as His children. The Lord has been so close to me from the time I accepted Him as my Lord and Saviour. It's a frightening thing to feel worthless and completely alone, which is what these feelings do to me. My prayer has been, all my life "no matter how I feel, I will trust you Lord." I know Matthew is with the Lord and is now free of depression, in the Fathers arms. Paul fought with the "thorn in his flesh" and God said, "My grace is sufficient for you." PRAYING< PRAYING< PRAYING for the Warren family in this sad time.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, it may help somone else who is dealing with the same type issues.

    I know and truely believe satan will attack any place where God’s kingdom is being built. Where there is true love, satan will find a way to add suffering. We as Christ followers need to always be aware of this and not let it stop what we are committed to, Jesus and His kingdom.

  5. It is saddening how people can attack others especially at a time as this. I commend Pastor Rick & Kay for responding to “attacks” in an exemplary way even in such a difficult time.

    Praying for the Warren family & Saddleback

    Ron, thanks for the reminder too: “Even people of faith have days of despair”
    Twitter: blessingmpofu

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I wish all the critics who are attacking the Warren family would get the opportunity to meet him/ them in person. The entire family is the real deal. I have known the Warrens for over 20 years (Kay for way longer) and who they were 30 years ago, 20, 10, 5 etc. is the same. They are people who love The Lord with all their heart, have a passion to reach those who don’t have the hope they have, and who are genuine and approachable people. Their kids were in the youth groups I was a leader in, and I continue to count them as dear friends today, even though I no longer attend Saddleback. My heart grieves for them, and is in awe of them as they walk through this trial with nothing but love, patience, and forgiveness for those who attack them, etc. While this tragedy is horrific, I know the Warrens will use this time in their lives to continue pointing to Christ through the midst of their pain, as they cling to their Heavenly Father to make it through each day. Matthew is in a better place now, and although it happened in a way that no parent should have to address, they can rejoice that all is made new in the presence of Christ, and knowing that one day they will be with him again, in a place where they can see him as Christ always has. Complete. I have been praying for them for so many things, but God put it on my heart when I first heard, that we are to be praying for their emotional protection, especially from the media. Thank you for sharing your experience with them, as more people need to know the real people they are. May God bless you and your ministry.

  7. This is worth sharing Pastor Ron. Thank you for writing this. We are excited to hear Pastor Rick here in Sydney for the Hillsong Conference in July. Truly our GOD is a God of Love.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this. I love how you asked permission to share as well (such class), this is so incredibly honoring to Rick and his family. It honors Matthew's legacy as well-that being a young boy with a heart of compassion that was unfortunately stifled by the snares of depression. I worked at in 2003, right around the time that PDL went big. Rick was just as humble then, if not more now. He was absolutely genuine and always approachable. Thank you for reiterating that sentiment here today.

  9. Great write-up. Thank you for sharing. It is a tough lesson to learn that Christ does not promise an easy or burden free life. But it is a wonderful lesson to learn that even in our burdens and especially in our burdens, He is with us and has been through worse, and will be with us for eternity. May the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding be with you, Rick and his family.

  10. Thank you so much for this blog, Ron. I sing on the worship team at Saddleback, and I have a little more access to inside look at the church and Pastor Rick than the general public. I'm wholeheartedly in agreement with you that you cannot meet Pastor Rick without getting that big bear hug. Even though I'm only a member of the worship team, he tries to remember and say my name (usually incorrectly, but at least he tries!), and he looks at me in my eyes when he talks to me. He's the real deal. And I feel terrible for him and Kay and their extended family. May the Lord use even this tragedy to bring something glorious in His name.

  11. "there will always be things in life we cannot understand".
    Prayed for them all this morning also. God who heals, rescues and restores would in the lives affected.
    Amazing, Matthew is free now. Mental illness is consuming and it is real. Like heart disease and diabetes.
    How sad that this significant issue in the Warren's life had to be lived "alone".
    Satan wants to isolate and divide. Grateful he was able to seek people when he needed the support.
    Who do we need to be there for today?
    Twitter: eccle0412

  12. This is beautifully written, Ron. This is so honoring to the Warren familly. I too had the privilege once or twice at past conferences of meeting Rick (briefly), and I can echo your statements about him and his example. My wife and I also felt pain for their family when we read the news with thousands of other ministers. May God continue to wrap His arms of grace and warmth around them all.

  13. Thank you for sharing this. I’m so saddened that this was matthew’s death. And I know firsthand that you have to be completely surrendered like Rick to be able to not let suicide become the definition of a life. It’s a death, it’s not the sum of all parts of a person. I am humbled and encouraged by Rick’s and saddleback’s openness and honesty. I pray we can all become more compassionate to those suffering from mental illness and their families. We don’t get why, but God does.

  14. What a beautiful article. Thank you for sharing. Our earnest prayers are with Pastor Rick and his family during this time.
    Dana Adams/Vice-President, Rehoboth Ministries, Inc./Cap-Haitian, Haiti/

  15. Ron. I have also been amazed at how genuine and approachable Rick is. I always marvel when I see him sitting at a picnic table outside the speaker's lounge at the Exponential conference in Orlando. He just hangs out there and encourages church planters. He is truly one of the good guys. We are praying for him and his family.

  16. Praying. The bigness of this world with all of its' pain and suffering cannot overshadow the bigness of God's world of love, comfort and healing and for that I'm so thankful.

  17. Bless you Ron and thanks for sharing this story. I can't understand the vitriol against Rick either and can only pray for Rick and the family at what must be a time of unimaginable grief.