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After 43 years at the pulpit, Rick Warren delivered his final sermon as head pastor at Saddleback Church on Sunday. Warren announced his plan leave the head pastor position in June of last year. Warren, who started the church in 1980, then announced that the process to replace him would begin immediately. Nearly exactly one year from the announcement of his departure, Saddleback announced it would be bringing on Andy Wood of Echo.Church based in San Francisco as the new head pastor.

As he prepared to end his headship of Saddleback, Warren decided to return to the beginning, saying, “Now, the message you are about to hear today illustrates this value of, ‘begin with the end in mind,’ because I wrote this message and I preached this message only one time in 43 years. The very first service. It was on March 30th, 1980…” His message hearkened back to Warren’s call for a “purpose-driven life.” Warren’s book by the same name, released in 2002, catapulted Warren and his ministry into the public eye. His book spawned numerous spinoffs, and a culture of what purpose looks like for the Christian life.

Warren’s notable tenure includes hosting then presumptive presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008’s Civil Forum on Leadership and Compassion. It was the first time the two had appeared on stage together and would later lead to Warren being chosen to do the opening invocation for President Obama’s inauguration. Tragedy also struck during Warren’s tenure when his 27-year-old son, Matthew Warren, committed suicide in 2013. “In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided,” Warren said after the loss. Saddleback opened a new mental health ministry a year after Matthew’s death.

Warren’s departure also comes at a shaky time for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), of which Saddleback is a part. Prior to the 2021 annual meeting of the SBC, a number of pastors, headed by Pastor Russell Moore, accused the SBC of covering up sexual abuse violations from within the SBC. Guidepost released a report on sexual abuse a few weeks before the 2021 meeting, detailing a number of allegations and recommendations. In more recent news, Pastor Matt Chandler of the SBC-affiliated The Village Church took an indefinite leave of absence due to an “unguarded and unwise” online relationship with another woman. The vague details have left many speculating on what more, if anything, may come to light.

Warren himself shook up the SBC when he chose to ordain three women pastors just a month before he announced his intention to retire. The act violated the SBC’s “Statement of Faith,” which states that, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” Several SBC affiliates called for the SBC to “break fellowship” with Saddleback during the 2021 meeting. However, at the 2022 meeting of the SBC, their Credentials Committee withdrew its recommendation for removal after pushback, including an appeal from Warren himself at the meeting. It remains to be seen if the Credential Committee will act differently in the future, but with so many things shaking the SBC, it can only be hoped that, as Jesus says in John 17:21, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”

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