(RNS) — After more than four decades, the pastor of one of the nation’s largest and most influential churches is ready to step down.
And he has named a young couple to take his place.
“This afternoon, at our all-staff meeting held at the Lake Forest campus, I was finally able to publicly announce that we have found God’s couple to lead our congregation, and that they have agreed to come!” Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren told his Orange County, California, congregation in an email on Thursday (June 2).
The email included a link to a video featuring Warren and his wife, Kay, along with Andy and Stacie Wood of Echo Church in San Jose, California. Andy Wood, 40, is currently Echo’s lead pastor, while Stacie Wood is a teaching pastor. They will have the same roles at Saddleback.
Founded in 2008 as South Bay Church, Echo now has four campuses and draws about 3,000 people to weekly services. Like Saddleback, Echo has ties to the Southern Baptist Convention, though neither church uses the word Baptist in its name. A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Andy Wood has also worked with church planters through the SBC’s North American Mission Board.
“Kay and I believe so much in this couple,” Warren said in a statement announcing the transition. “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.”
The search for a new pastor began last summer, in part because of ongoing health problems for Warren. He told the church last year that he has spinal myoclonus, which causes tremors and blurred vision, and that it has worsened in recent years.
Saddleback leaders spoke with about 100 potential candidates before settling on Wood, who preached at the church earlier this year.
Wood plans to step down as pastor of Echo Church at the end of June and will move to Orange County to begin the transition. The first step will be a conversation between the Warrens and the Woods during services over Father’s Day weekend. In August, the couple will begin attending Saddleback.
The church will celebrate Warren’s ministry during the first few weekends in September. Wood’s first official day as pastor will be Sept. 12.
“For decades, we have admired and respected Pastor Rick and Kay Warren and their work through the Purpose Driven Church model has been critical,” 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.”