It was a year ago that Rick Warren, pastor of one of the country's most dynamic megachurches, announced he would be retiring after four decades of leading Saddleback Church just as soon as a successor could be found. That day has come.
After a year's search of some 100 pastors, and much prayer, the new pastor and leader of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, has been chosen. He is Andy Wood, a 40-year-old pastor who has been leading Echo Church in San Jose along with his wife Stacie, a teaching pastor at Echo alongside her husband. They will have the same roles at Saddleback.
"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!"
Warren told his Orange County, California, congregation the news in an email on Thursday (June 2). Included in the email is a video link to Warren with his wife, Kay, and Andy and Stacie Wood together.
Like Saddleback, Echo Church has ties to the Southern Baptist Convention. Religion News reports the church has four campuses and draws about 3,000 people to weekly services. Wood is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and 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."
As a young seminary graduate, Warren launched Saddleback Church in the Saddleback Valley of Orange County on Easter Sunday back in 1980 after spending months in prayer and asking God to show him where he was to plant a church.
"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."
They started with 200 in attendance that day. Today it's one of the largest congregations in the country, drawing more than 23,000 worshippers, and meeting in more than a dozen locations.
Warren's most famous book, The Purpose Driven Life, a runaway best-seller published in 2002, made Warren a household name and allowed him to give away most of his income and re-invest in the church and others.
In the mid-2000s, prompted in large part by his wife 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.
At home, the church began 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, according to Religion News. After years of struggle with mental illness, their youngest son, Matthew, committed suicide in 2013, prompting the Warrens to become advocates for those with mental health issues and ministering to those affected by suicide.
The 68-year-old Warren announced the pastor search and his coming retirement last year in part because of ongoing health issues. He has been diagnosed with spinal myoclonus, which causes tremors and blurred vision, a condition that has gotten worse in recent years.
Saddleback will celebrate the Warrens in early September, then turn the care of their beloved congregation over to new pastors Andy and Stacie Wood on September 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."
When Rick Warren started Saddleback some 42 years ago, he hoped to stay and serve that congregation for his entire ministry career - something he reminded them of last year.
"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."
Now as he anticipates retirement, in the email announcing new leadership, Rick Warren appears to be at peace with the changes that are coming.
"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."