Prominent evangelical pastor Rick Warren has announced he will retire from leading Southern California’s Saddleback Church, which he founded 42 years ago.
Warren, at 67 a bestselling author and one of the most influential figures in American evangelicalism, made his announcement in a video to his congregation on Sunday.
A search will begin this week to find a successor to Warren, whose church serves a global audience of more than 40,000 people, according to The Orange County Register.
Warren has more than 11 million social media followers and has written multiple books, including “The Purpose Driven Life.” In 2005, Time magazine named him one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”
“Rick Warren is the pope of a version of American evangelicalism,” said Amy Hall, associate professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Warren, who will continue to lead Saddleback until a successor is found, said his decision did not mark an end but was the “beginning of the beginning.”
“That’s always been my goal, to serve God’s purpose in my generation,” Warren said. “God has given me the privilege to serve multiple generations.”
Warren said that although he will take a less “visible position as founding pastor,” he and wife Kay will remain part of Saddleback.
“For 42 years, Kay and I have known this day would eventually arrive and we’ve been waiting for God’s perfect timing,” he said.
The couple fulfilled a promise they made to themselves years earlier.
“Kay and I made this crazy promise when we were 25 years old that we would give 40 years to one location, that we wouldn’t move and that we wouldn’t be tempted to go to another church,” Warren said in 2019.
Warren admitted he and his wife considered stepping down in February 2020, but decided to remain.
“Now, looking back, I can see the wisdom of why God didn’t want me to step down 3 weeks before the pandemic happened,” Warren said.
“It would have been practically impossible for a new pastor to hold our church family together without being able to hold public worship services for over a year. As we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel of the COVID pandemic, we felt God was saying now was the time to start the process.”
In making his announcement, Warren cited health as a reason for his decision. He has a rare neurological disease called spinal myoclonus that causes spasms and blurs his vision when he gets a jolt of adrenaline.
“When adrenaline hits my brain, adrenaline is like poison and it makes me shake like Parkinson’s,” he said. “And I have spasms and tremors and shaking when that hits. Every time it hits me, my vision goes very blurry. It’s very painful. It creates bad headaches.”
Saddleback’s main campus is located in Lake Forest, south of Los Angeles. The church has grown to 14 locations in Southern California with an average weekly attendance of 30,000. There are four international campuses, in Hong Kong, Germany, the Philippines, and Argentina.
Warren has interviewed leading figures such as former President George W. Bush, late-Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The pastor gave the invocation at former President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
In 2013, the Warrens’ son Matthew died by suicide. Warren and Kay then dedicated themselves to fighting mental illness and helping other families dealing with similar situations.
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