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Saddleback pastor Rick Warren to retire in September, names Andy Wooden as his successor

(RNS) — After greater than 4 many years, the pastor of one of many nation’s largest and most influential church buildings is able to step down.

And he has named a younger couple to take his place.

“This afternoon, at our all-staff assembly held on the Lake Forest campus, I used to be lastly capable of publicly announce that we’ve discovered God’s couple to guide our congregation, and that they’ve agreed to return!” Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren instructed his Orange County, California, congregation in an e-mail on Thursday (June 2).

The e-mail included a hyperlink to a video that includes Warren and his spouse, Kay, together with Andy and Stacie Wooden of Echo Church in San Jose, California. Andy Wooden, 40, is at the moment Echo’s lead pastor, whereas Stacie Wooden is a instructing pastor. They’ll have the identical roles at Saddleback.

Based in 2008 as South Bay Church, Echo now has 4 campuses and attracts about 3,000 individuals to weekly companies. Like Saddleback, Echo has ties to the Southern Baptist Conference, although neither church makes use of the phrase Baptist in its identify. A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Andy Wooden has additionally labored with church planters by way of the SBC’s North American Mission Board.

“Kay and I imagine a lot on this couple,” Warren mentioned in an announcement asserting the transition. “We love them a lot, and we’re assured that God has ready and chosen them to take up the baton and run the following leg of the Saddleback marathon.”

The seek for a brand new pastor started final summer time, partially due to ongoing well being issues for Warren. He instructed the church final yr that he has spinal myoclonus, which causes tremors and blurred imaginative and prescient, and that it has worsened lately.

Saddleback leaders spoke with about 100 potential candidates earlier than deciding on Wooden, who preached on the church earlier this yr.

Wooden plans to step down as pastor of Echo Church on the finish of June and can transfer to Orange County to start the transition. Step one will likely be a dialog between the Warrens and the Woods throughout companies over Father’s Day weekend. In August, the couple will start attending Saddleback.

The church will rejoice Warren’s ministry throughout the first few weekends in September. Wooden’s first official day as pastor will likely be Sept. 12.

RELATED: ‘Purpose Driven’ Pastor Rick Warren Goes Global

“For many years, we’ve admired and revered Pastor Rick and Kay Warren and their work by way of the Goal Pushed Church mannequin has been essential,” Wooden mentioned in an announcement. ”We’ve been so blessed by their friendship, and after months of prayer and searching for counsel from others, we imagine that God has referred to as us collectively to step into serving at Saddleback Church.”

Within the e-mail to the Saddleback congregation, Warren mentioned he and Kay have been stuffed with love and gratitude for the church and quoted a New Testomony verse about combating the great battle and ending the race.

Pastor Rick Warren throughout a panel dialogue in Baltimore in June 2014. RNS photograph by Adelle M. Banks

“Now it’s time for us to go the torch on to a brand new technology who will love, lead, and pastor our church household within the many years forward,” he wrote.

In Could 2021, Saddleback made headlines after ordaining three feminine staffers as pastors — a controversial step for Southern Baptists. The SBC’s assertion of religion limits the workplace of pastor “to males as certified by Scripture.” However Southern Baptists disagree over whether or not that applies solely to the church’s senior pastor or whether or not it bars any girls from having the title of pastor. Additionally they disagree over whether or not girls can preach in a Sunday service.

On the SBC’s annual assembly, Saddleback was reported to the Credentials Committee, which is charged with deciding whether or not or not a church is in “pleasant cooperation” with the denomination. Although some church buildings have left the SBC after naming girls as pastor, the denomination has by no means formally eliminated any church for having a girl pastor.

Filling Warren’s sneakers will likely be a difficult job, as the present Saddleback pastor has lengthy been one of the influential Christian leaders within the nation, shaping the whole lot from how pastors costume to how they manage and begin new church buildings.

Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Faith Analysis at Hartford Worldwide College, mentioned megachurch transitions are sometimes a problem. The upper a megachurch pastor’s profile, the tougher it’s to exchange that individual.

Whereas megachurches can proceed after a founding pastor leaves, it’s not a straightforward transition.

“It won’t be the identical place with out Warren,” Thumma mentioned.

Pastor Andy Wood. Photo © Andrew Jo via Echo Church

Pastor Andy Wooden. Photograph © Andrew Jo by way of Echo Church

Wooden’s success, Thumma mentioned, will rely partially on whether or not Warren can let go of the church and permit a brand new pastor to take over and chart his personal course. However Thumma noticed that Warren has taken steps prior to now to permit others to guide at Saddleback. He doesn’t preach each Sunday and has been what Thumma referred to as “a considerate chief.”

Thumma mentioned the Warrens have been a constructive mannequin of what pastors might be throughout what’s a tough time for church leaders. They’ve averted scandal and have been sincere about their struggles. For essentially the most half, they’ve averted the tradition wars and partisan feuds which have induced many to lose religion in non secular leaders.

Warren’s retirement will mark the top of a exceptional profession in ministry.

After graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in December 1979, Warren and his spouse, together with a 4-month outdated child, packed up their belongings and moved to the Saddleback Valley in Orange County, California, then one of many fastest-growing communities in the US.

In his 1995 guide, “The Goal Pushed Church,” Warren described poring over demographic and census information in the summertime of 1979, looking for the appropriate place to start out a brand new church —stopping solely to name his spouse just a few instances a day to see if she had gone into labor.

Someday, Warren mentioned, he had a revelation after seeing the information on Saddleback Valley, saying God spoke to him and instructed him to plant a church there.

“It didn’t matter that I had no cash, no members, and had by no means even seen the place,” he wrote. “From that second on, our vacation spot was a settled difficulty. God had proven me the place he was going to make some waves, and I used to be going to have the experience of a lifetime.”

The church launched on Easter Sunday 1980, with a crowd of about 200 individuals in a rented area on the Laguna Hills Excessive Faculty in Orange County, and by no means appeared again.

By 1992, the church had grown to six,000 and bought a 74-acre website the church nonetheless calls residence. The church is now one of many largest congregations within the nation, drawing greater than 23,000 worshippers, assembly in additional than a dozen areas.

The church, although Southern Baptist, downplayed tradition struggle battles and eschewed conventional church tradition for a extra informal, come-as-you-are strategy to worship, one newcomers may simply embrace. Within the early days, Warren was identified for preaching in a Hawaiian shirt — prompting a brand new style development amongst pastors.

Saddleback additionally was the birthplace of Have a good time Restoration, a Christian 12-step impressed program to assist individuals take care of their “hurts, hang-ups and habits.” This system has been adopted by tens of hundreds of church buildings across the nation.

Pastor Rick Warren preaches at Saddleback Church in California. Photo courtesy A. Larry Ross

Pastor Rick Warren preaches at Saddleback Church in California. Photograph courtesy of A. Larry Ross

Warren grew to become a family identify in 2002 with the publication of “The Goal Pushed Life,” a runaway bestseller. The success of the guide allowed him to “reverse tithe” by giving freely most of his earnings. Within the mid-2000s, prompted largely by Kay, Warren and the church grew to become energetic in responding to the worldwide AIDS pandemic and to addressing poverty abroad, particularly in war-torn Rwanda. He later additionally wrote a preferred eating regimen guide referred to as “The Daniel Plan,” prompted by his personal weight reduction.

Although conservative, Warren has averted a few of the partisanship related to evangelical pastors. In 2008, he hosted a presidential candidate discussion board 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 wrestle with psychological sickness. The household shared overtly about their loss and, within the years after Matthew’s loss of life, have turn into advocates for addressing psychological well being and ministering to these affected by suicide.

From his early days of beginning Saddleback, Warren hoped to spend his complete ministry on the church. Certainly one of his heroes as a younger pastor was W.A. Criswell, who spent 5 many years 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 individuals,” Warren mentioned final summer time. “It was my manner of claiming: ‘You don’t want to fret about me leaving when instances get powerful for you. I’m right here for the length. I’m going to provide my life to this church. I’m going to stay with you,’ and I stored the promise.”

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

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