Saddleback’s successor cleared of arrogance allegations …… | News and reports
Leaders of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church say a preliminary inquest cleared Warren’s recently announced successor, Andy Wood, of allegations of an authoritarian leadership style that demands unquestioning loyalty.
Rick Warren, author of The goal-oriented life and one of the most influential voices in evangelical Christianity, plans to retire in September. He appointed San Francisco-area pastor Andy Wood as his successor at Saddleback, a Southern California congregation that draws 25,000 people to worship services. Wood, 40, is currently the senior pastor of Echo Church, a multi-site congregation based in San Jose.
After the public announcement, a former Echo Church staffer commented on issues with Wood’s management on social media.
The allegations came as no surprise to Saddleback executives.
According to Saddleback’s statement on Sunday night, Wood had informed church elders of the former staffer’s claims during his interview and offered to show them videos of his meetings with the former staffer. The church asked the Vanderbloemen Search Group, which performed Wood’s initial background check, to do a follow-up examination.
“Our elders have now received a second preliminary report from the Vanderbloemen research group exonerating Pastor Wood of all allegations,” the church said in a letter to the congregation on Sunday, which was also sent to Religion New Service (RNS ).
The research firm received videos, emails and text recordings, as well as interviews that Echo collected in its review of Wood’s actions. He also conducted an additional interview, according to Saddleback’s letter.
“They have attempted to contact the former staff member and have yet to receive communication,” the church said.
Saddleback executives said they sent the letter because “we felt it was important for you to hear the facts about this from us now, rather than in the news or on social media.”
“Please stop for a moment and pray now,” church leaders asked the congregation. “Pray for clarity of truth and for wisdom.”
Wood, in a statement to RNS, said Echo “would welcome any current or former members of staff to share their experience working at Echo with Vanderbloemen as part of their investigation”, adding: “We want to do our utmost possible to help uncover the truth about these allegations.
According to the transition plan announced by the church, Wood and his wife Stacie will be interviewed by Warren and his wife, Kay, during services at Saddleback on June 19. The Woods will leave Echo Church at the end of June and begin directing Saddleback. September 12.
Scot McKnight, co-author of A church called Tov, who criticizes toxic church cultures, said large churches can create celebrity pastors who lead in problematic ways. He doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the issues with Wood’s leadership, but expressed concern about what he heard. “Big churches attract big egos,” he said.
Founded in 2008 as South Bay Church, Echo now has 4 campuses and attracts approximately 3,000 people to weekly services. The church grew in part through merge with smaller and struggling congregations to create what is called a multi-site church.
“Church mergers have become one of the most effective strategies for struggling churches to thrive again, for growing churches to amplify their reach, and for church facilities to be better used to make advance the Gospel in an area”, according a section of the Echo Church website.
Wood is also organizing a leadership conferencewhich included last year Marc Driscollthe disgraced pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle who resigned in 2014 after a series of controversies involving allegations of bullying, plagiarism and abuse of power. Driscoll is now pastoring a church in Arizona.
Lance Hough, a former staffer at Echo’s Fremont campus, left the church last year citing an “unhealthy culture” in which he said Wood demanded unwavering loyalty. Hough was on the leadership team of Crossroads Church in Freemont when it merged with Echo.
This merger is billed as a “marriage merger” on Echo’s website, where “two growing churches realign with each other under a unified vision and new leadership.” The merger was meant to be a partnership, Hough said, but became more of a takeover.
“And as soon as our organization started functionally merging, they started systematically killing everything that made our church unique,” Hough said. He notes that the Crossroads pastor remained on staff and disagreed with his criticisms.
Hough said Wood was kind and friendly as a leader, but dismissed any questioning of how Echo was working out of hand. He worried that Wood would use the goodwill created by Saddleback and Warren to impose his own approach to the ministry, which Hough says is inherently unhealthy.
A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wood planted a congregation known as Breakthrough Church during his seminary before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, according to a flyer 2009 for Echo. According to this prospectus, among the church’s founding values were healthy relationships and character-driven leadership.
“We believe that God is glorified in our midst when we make his love complete by showing sacrificial kindness to one another,” the prospectus states. “We believe the gospel calls us to place the goals and interests of others above our own.”
When he announced Wood as his successor, Warren said he considered about 100 potential candidates. He cited Wood’s experience in church planting as a plus, saying he had ‘already built a church in a very difficult place’ and had the skills to manage a complex mega-church. like Saddleback, which runs services in a dozen locations.
Warren also said character matters in a new pastor, mentioning the list of traits required for leaders in 1 Timothy 3.
“If you’re going to lead a church, those qualities are non-negotiable,” Warren said in a video featuring Wood. “And if you don’t have those qualities in your life, you are automatically disqualified from being a pastor and leading a church family.”