A new independent audit found no “pattern of abuse” by Andy Wood, the pastor named to succeed Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in September. Last month, after the Southern California megachurch announced the transition, former staff members at Echo Church, which Wood has been leading in San Jose, California, alleged he had an abusive leadership style.
Former volunteer and staffer Amy Street said her time at Echo Church led to panic attacks. Other staffers raised concerns about an unhealthy culture, including a confidentiality policy and non-disclosure agreements.
In June, Saddleback leaders informed the church’s 20,000+ congregants they were examining these allegations. Vanderbloemen Search Group, the executive search firm that conducted Wood’s initial background check, reviewed new evidence and cleared the pastor of wrongdoing.
During the interview process, Wood had alerted Vanderbloemen and Saddleback about potential allegations that might surface. Wood, Echo Church, and Saddleback all denied the allegations.
Andy Wood Follow-Up Investigation Finds No ‘Pattern of Abuse’
Earlier this week, Saddleback elders told church members that Wood had been cleared by two additional investigations. One was a follow-up by Vanderbloemen, while the other was an independent review by Middlebrook Goodspeed, a law firm specializing in church issues.
According to the July 11 elder email, “The team at Vanderbloemen interviewed former employees, former volunteers, peers, and current employees to ask them about their experiences with Andy.” Based on interviews with that “thorough” sample, investigators “concluded there is no systemic or pattern of abuse under Andy’s leadership, nor was there an individual that we felt was abused.”
Although Saddleback elders didn’t elaborate on the culture at Wood’s former church, it referenced a conflict that was likely with Street. “Disappointment and hurt are not the same as abuse,” their email notes. “We know that we must minister in the REAL world, not the IDEAL world. In our broken world, there will always be conflict, disagreements, and disappointments, so recovery and reconciliation in relationships will always be needed.”
The elders referenced Celebrate Recovery, a program with roots at Saddleback, noting that it helps Christians cope with “every kind of hurt, abuse, wound, mistreatment, addiction, or other hurtful issue.” Elders say the report from Vanderbloemen won’t be released to the public.