Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren announces search for his successor: 'Timing is everything'

Rick Warren speaks in a sermon delivered on June 6, 2021.
Rick Warren speaks in a sermon delivered on June 6, 2021. | Saddleback Church/Screengrab

Influential Pastor Rick Warren has announced that after more than 40 years as the lead pastor of Saddleback Church in California, he will be soon stepping back from his current role with the church and has begun the process of searching for his successor.

“This next week, we are going to begin the official search for my successor,” Warren, who oversees the 25,000-member, 19-campus Saddleback Church based in Lake Forest,  announced in a June 6 sermon

“That's a big deal, the official search for my successor," the 67-year-old pastor said. "This isn't the end. It's not even the beginning of the end. It's the beginning of the beginning, but we're going to start looking for the next-generation pastor who will replace me and lead our family into the future.”

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Since they launched the church in 1980, Warren said that he and his wife, Kay, “knew this day would eventually arrive. But he promised to dedicate 40 years of their lives to the church.

“We've been waiting on God's perfect timing, began the process, finding our next lead pastor, and letting me make the smooth transition into a less visible role as founding pastor," he said. "Now, this is such a significant decision because I'm the only lead pastor our church family has ever had.”

As the church neared the 40-year mark in January 2020, Warren said that he and his wife attended a prayer retreat to uncover God’s calling on their lives.

“We went out, we prayed and we both felt that God wanted us to stay on in leadership past the 40-year commitment,” he said. “Neither of us had any comfort in leaving, we had no idea what the future would hold, but we decided we're gonna stay on until God gives us His timing."

“And then we didn't understand it then, but three weeks later, after our 40th anniversary, the COVID pandemic would shut everything down for a year and a half,” he continued. “As we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel of the COVID pandemic, we started feeling that God was saying, ‘Now is the time to at least start the process, start looking for your successor for your replacement.’”

Warren, whose church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, stressed that the Saddleback staff “doesn’t know all the details” of what searching for his replacement will entail. But he explained, “you don't have to see the ultimate step to take the first step. You just take the first step in faith.”

The Purpose Driven Life author added he has no intention of leaving the church and that he’s looking forward to the transition into a less visible role with the church. 

He said that while he and Saddleback elders don’t have a particular successor in mind, they will be looking at the “biblical qualifications for a pastor,” including someone who will “love you as much as somebody who's willing to sacrifice their life for your benefit” and is “already doing purpose-driven ministry.”

Earlier in his message, Warren said that one verse that has guided his ministry is Acts 13:36, which reads, “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.”

“You might think that's a funny life verse … but to me, that statement is the definition of a successful life serving God's purpose in your generation. That would be a wonderful verse to have on your tombstone,” he contended. 

“There is a right time for every activity. That includes every activity in your life,” he added. “We're not supposed to just do the right things, the things that God wants us to do. We are to do it at the right time. Timing is everything in life.”

Warren’s announcement comes just weeks after Saddleback ordained three women pastors, drawing criticism from Southern Baptist leaders, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, who said the church acted in "violation" of SBC doctrine. SBC President J.D. Greear also criticized the move. 

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