Home Christian News Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren to Retire in September, Names Andy Wood As...

Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren to Retire in September, Names Andy Wood As His Successor

In the email to the Saddleback congregation, Warren said he and Kay were filled with love and gratitude for the church and quoted a New Testament verse about fighting the good fight and finishing the race.

“Now it is time for us to pass the torch on to a new generation who will love, lead, and pastor our church family in the decades ahead,” he wrote.

In May 2021, Saddleback made headlines after ordaining three female staffers as pastors — a controversial step for Southern Baptists. The SBC’s statement of faith limits the office of pastor “to men as qualified by Scripture.” But Southern Baptists disagree over whether that applies only to the church’s senior pastor or whether it bars any women from having the title of pastor. They also disagree over whether women can preach in a Sunday service.

At the SBC’s annual meeting, Saddleback was reported to the Credentials Committee, which is charged with deciding whether or not a church is in “friendly cooperation” with the denomination. Though some churches have left the SBC after naming women as pastor, the denomination has never officially removed any church for having a woman pastor.

Filling Warren’s shoes will be a challenging task, as the current Saddleback pastor has long been one of the most influential Christian leaders in the country, shaping everything from how pastors dress to how they organize and start new churches.

Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford International University, said megachurch transitions are often a challenge. The higher a megachurch pastor’s profile, the more difficult it is to replace that person.

While megachurches can continue after a founding pastor leaves, it’s not an easy transition.

“It will not be the same place without Warren,” Thumma said.

Wood’s success, Thumma said, will depend in part on whether Warren can let go of the church and allow a new pastor to take over and chart his own course. But Thumma observed that Warren has taken steps in the past to allow others to lead at Saddleback. He does not preach every Sunday and has been what Thumma called “a thoughtful leader.”

Thumma said the Warrens have been a positive model of what pastors can be during what is a difficult time for church leaders. They’ve avoided scandal and have been honest about their struggles. For the most part, they’ve avoided the culture wars and partisan feuds that have caused many to lose faith in religious leaders.

Warren’s retirement will mark the end of a remarkable career in ministry.

After graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in December 1979, Warren and his wife, along with a 4-month old baby, packed up their belongings and moved to the Saddleback Valley in Orange County, California, then one of the fastest-growing communities in the United States.

In his 1995 book, “The Purpose Driven Church,” Warren described poring over demographic and census data in the summer of 1979, searching out the right place to start a new church —stopping only to call his wife a few times a day to see if she had gone into labor.