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Pastor Rick Warren announces successor to lead Saddleback Church into the future

Pastor Rick Warren, who ministers weekly to a global audience of more than 40,000 people and has offered spiritual guidance to multiple American presidents, announced on Thursday, June 2, the successor who will lead the Saddleback Church he founded nearly 43 years ago.

Taking the helm in September when Warren and his wife, Kay, expect to retire from leading the church will be Pastor Andy Wood and his wife, Stacie, of Echo.Church in San Jose.

Warren plans to deliver his final preaching series on Sept. 3 and 4.

“Kay and I believe so much in this couple,” Warren said. “We love them so much, and we are confident that God has prepared and chosen them to take up the baton and run the next leg of the Saddleback marathon.

“We truly, deeply, confidently and unreservedly endorse this couple to take our church to the next level of growth and impact.”



An emotional Warren first announced his selection – church elders confirmed the choice of Wood – during a more than hour-long, all-staff meeting at Saddleback Church. Shortly after that, he sent a message Thursday afternoon to his vast congregation.

The announcement comes a year after Warren announced plans to retire and told his congregation about his search plans.

In his video message to the Saddleback Church community on Thursday, Warren discussed his decision, including that Wood was selected from more than 100 “potential, purpose-driven pastoral candidates, interviews and countless prayers.”

Warren said he looked for “a proven leader” and someone who exemplified “the biblical qualities described in the books of 1st Timothy and Titus.” And, someone who is can lead a church with the impact of Saddleback.

Much like Warren and his wife, Kay, both 68, Wood, 40, and his wife, Stacie, a teaching pastor at Echo.Church, also took a cross-country road trip from Texas to start their ministry.

Warren graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He said he poured over census charts and maps and took note of the Saddleback Valley, his gaze was “strangely frozen” on the word Saddleback. “I couldn’t take my eyes off it,” he said.

“At that moment, God whispered, ‘That’s where I want you to invest your life growing a new church,’” Warren said.

The Woods were called to San Jose, picking that community because it was “diverse, influential and had the potential to echo the message of Jesus to the rest of the world,” they say in their biography.

They wanted their church to impact Silicone Valley. Fourteen years later, the church has 3,000 attendees and three campuses across the San Francisco Bay area and an online presence.

Wood describes his mission for Echo.Church as a “church that communicated the timeless truths of Scripture in a way that could be practically applied and understood, even for those who felt irreligious and far from God.”

Wood, who has called Warren a mentor and was educated in the same seminary as Warren in Texas, said he was inspired by “Purpose Driven Church,” Warren’s church-planting book. The book details Warren’s plans for launching Saddleback Church, and preceded his national bestselling “Purpose Drive Life.”

Warren invited Wood to preach at Saddleback Church in March and said that was when he decided that Wood “fit all the qualifications on his list.”

“For decades, we have admired and respected Pastor Rick and Kay Warren; and their work through the Purpose Driven Church model has been critical,” Andy Wood said in a statement. “We’ve been so blessed by their friendship, and after months of prayer and seeking counsel from others, we believe that God has called us together to step into serving at Saddleback Church.”

Last year, Warren told his congregation that his decision to step down as lead pastor was partially driven by a rare version of spinal myoclonus he’s been battling most of his life that is made much worse by adrenaline and stress. At the time he described it as almost like a poison and said, “I have spasms and tremors and shaking when that hits. Every time it hits me, my vision goes very blurry. … It’s very painful.”

Warren said his condition worsened during the pandemic, and he found it more and more difficult to do multiple services. That hasn’t improved in the last years and he regularly goes through bouts of feeling good and bad.

With its main campus in Lake Forest, Saddleback Church has grown to 14 locations in Southern California, with an average weekly attendance of 30,000, and more than 7,000 small groups meeting in homes. There are four international campuses: in Hong Kong, Germany, the Philippines and Argentina.

His megachurch model became a paradigm for other church leaders.

Warren, who has more than 11 million social media followers, has written eight books, including “The Purpose Driven Life,” which has sold nearly 40 million copies in English. In 2005, Time magazine named Warren one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

Warren held his first public service on Easter 1980 and 205 people attended. On Sept. 15, 1995, the Lake Forest worship center opened with 10,000 members after a two-year funding campaign that raised  $12 million. In 2018, the church baptized its 50,000th member.

In 2003, Kay Warren traveled to South Africa for a World Aids Tour, kicking off the church’s effort to fight against the disease. That year, the couple also launched a massive effort to mobilize 1 billion members of congregations to attack five “global giants” – extreme poverty, pandemic disease, deficient education, conflict injustice and spiritual emptiness.

In 2006, Saddlback Church held its first Global Summit on AIDS, and in 2008, Warren held the first Civil Forum on Global Health in Washington D.C, where he lauded then-President George W. Bush for his efforts in the AIDS fight and presented him the first International Medal of PEACE. (Warren’s PEACE Plan is to “Promote” reconciliation, “Equip” servant leaders, “Assist” the poor, “Care” for the sick and “Educate” the next generation.)

That same year, Warren invited then-Sen. Barrack Obama and Sen. John McCain for a forum at Saddleback Church. In 2009, Warren delivered the inaugural invocation when Obama was sworn in as the 44th president.

In 2013, the Warrens’ lives were shattered when their son, Matthew, died by suicide. After taking months off, Warren returned to the pulpit, and he and Kay dedicated themselves to fighting mental illness and helping other families. In 2014, they held the first Mental Health and the Church symposium in which they partnered with Bishop Kevin Vann of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange to help erode the stigma of mental illness.

And during COVID, the church’s members sprang to action, volunteering and helping 600,000 people in need with groceries. At its Hong Kong campus, the church distributed more than a million masks.

Recently, the Warrens were awarded the first annual Sandra Hutchens Interfaith Community Service Award by Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes. The award was created in memory of the former sheriff and will be awarded annually to those who have significantly impacted the Orange County Interfaith community.

Sheriff Hutchens created the OC Sheriff’s Interfaith Advisory Council in 2015 to help build relationships between the department and the diverse faith communities in Orange County.

Source: Orange County Register

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