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Rick Warren announces Saddleback Church successor, says he’s stepping aside for next generation

Stacie Wood, Rick Warren, Andy Wood and Kay Warren
(From L-R) Stacie Wood, Rick Warren, Andy Wood and Kay Warren. |

Starting in September, Andy Wood, who serves as lead pastor of Echo.Church in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Stacie, will officially become the new lead pastor of the California-based Saddleback Church, co-founders Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, announced Thursday.

The announcement of Warren’s successor comes after nearly 43 years of ministry spanning 197 countries, the baptism of 56,000 new believers, donations of more than $1 billion to Christian causes, as well as the development of support ministries and groups focusing on HIV/AIDS, grief care and mental health.

“Kay and I believe so much in this couple. 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,” Warren said in a statement. “We truly, deeply, confidently and unreservedly endorse this couple to take our church to the next level of growth and impact.”

While Warren and his elders at Saddleback Church only began the official search for his replacement on June 5, 2021, he explained in a 22-minute video that he began thinking about succession nearly 20 years ago when his 2002 book The Purpose Driven Life became a bestseller.

He explained that when he and his wife started the church in January 1980 when they were both 25, he made his intention clear to about 60 members they had at the time that he would lead the church for 40 years and step down in January 2020.

But “in the final months of 2019, I had this uneasy feeling that it still wasn’t the right time to resign,” Warren said.

“I had no idea why I should keep serving cause there wasn’t any unfinished business that I felt compelled to do. But it became crystal clear six weeks after our church’s 40th anniversary when the COVID pandemic hit and all of our services got shut down for 14 months,” he explained.

After continuing to lead Saddleback Church through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Warren said he decided last June to announce his intention to step out of the lead pastor role at Saddleback Church.

He said Saddleback was fortunate in its search for a new lead pastor because over the last four decades the ministry had trained more than 1.1 million pastors in 165 countries.

He said he “studied, read about, talked with and considered nearly 100 possible candidates for the pastor of Saddleback Church,” before deciding Wood is the right man to lead his high-profile church.

He said he didn’t want Saddleback Church to be a one generation church and “God is calling us to step aside for the next generation.”

“In March, I invited a young purpose-driven pastor to preach our weekend services who fit all of the qualifications on our list,” Warren said. “Fourteen years ago, he had planted a purpose-driven church in the San Jose-Silicon Valley area. Andy and Stacie Wood grew that church to around 3,000 people in one of the most difficult places in America to start a church. I am so proud of what they’ve accomplished there.”

Warren and his wife are expected to interview the Woods on Father’s Day Weekend, June 18 and 19, as a part of the weekend worship services at Saddleback.

Wood, 40, and his wife will officially step down from Echo.Church on June 26 and move to Orange County in July. The couple will attend Saddleback in August during Warren’s final preaching series. Saddleback Church is then expected to celebrate the Warrens’ 43 years of service at Saddleback on the weekend of Sept. 3-4. On the weekend of Sept. 10-11, Wood and his wife will be commissioned into their new roles. Wood’s first official day as the new Senior Pastor of Saddleback will be Sept. 12.

Wood, who holds a master’s degree from Southwestern Theological Seminary, where Warren also attended, told Echo.Church in a joint statement with his wife that he believes God has called them to lead Saddleback Church.

“One of our core values at Echo is that we lead with open hands. And that means no matter how much we love something — we know that at the end of the day, it’s all God’s. He is the master, and we are His stewards. He knows what is best for His Kingdom purposes, and He is also the one who directs our steps,” the couple who have been married 19 years with three children, ages 8, 13 and 15 wrote.

“For the past several months, we have been praying about what we sensed was an invitation God. For decades, Pastor Rick and Kay Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County have been our ministry mentors — and much of their work through their Purpose Driven Church model has been critical for helping us start Echo.Church,” they continued.

“We’ve been so blessed by their friendship, and they’re now transitioning into retirement," they added. “After months of prayer and seeking counsel from others — we believe that God has called us together to step into serving at Saddleback Church.”

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2013 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved

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