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

One day, Warren said, he had a revelation after seeing the data on Saddleback Valley, saying God spoke to him and told him to plant a church there.

“It didn’t matter that I had no money, no members, and had never even seen the place,” he wrote. “From that moment on, our destination was a settled issue. God had shown me where he was going to make some waves, and I was going to have the ride of a lifetime.”

The church launched on Easter Sunday 1980, with a crowd of about 200 people in a rented space at the Laguna Hills High School in Orange County, and never looked back.

By 1992, the church had grown to 6,000 and bought a 74-acre site the church still calls home. The church is now one of the largest congregations in the country, drawing more than 23,000 worshippers, meeting in more than a dozen locations.

The church, though Southern Baptist, downplayed culture war battles and eschewed traditional church culture for a more casual, come-as-you-are approach to worship, one newcomers could easily embrace. In the early days, Warren was known for preaching in a Hawaiian shirt — prompting a new fashion trend among pastors.

Saddleback also was the birthplace of Celebrate Recovery, a Christian 12-step inspired program to help people deal with their “hurts, hang-ups and habits.” The program has been adopted by tens of thousands of churches around the country.

Warren became a household name in 2002 with the publication of “The Purpose Driven Life,” a runaway bestseller. The success of the book allowed him to “reverse tithe” by giving away most of his income. In the mid-2000s, prompted in large part by Kay, Warren and the church became active in responding to the global AIDS pandemic and to addressing poverty overseas, in particular in war-torn Rwanda. He later also wrote a popular diet book called “The Daniel Plan,” prompted by his own weight loss.

Though conservative, Warren has avoided some of the partisanship associated with evangelical pastors. In 2008, he hosted a presidential candidate forum with Barack Obama and John McCain, then rivals for the presidency, and later gave the invocation at Obama’s first inauguration.

In 2013, Warren’s youngest son, Matthew, died at 27 after years of struggle with mental illness. The family shared openly about their loss and, in the years after Matthew’s death, have become advocates for addressing mental health and ministering to those affected by suicide.

From his early days of starting Saddleback, Warren hoped to spend his entire ministry at the church. One of his heroes as a young pastor was W.A. Criswell, who spent five decades as pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and Warren hoped to emulate Criswell’s tenure.

“It was my promise to God and to you, God’s people,” Warren said last summer. “It was my way of saying: ‘You don’t need to worry about me leaving when times get tough for you. I’m here for the duration. I’m going to give my life to this church. I’m going to stick with you,’ and I kept the promise.”

RELATED: Saddleback Church’s ordination of women pastors to be considered by SBC committee

This article originally appeared on ReligionNews.com.