Rick Warren, 67, lead pastor of Saddleback Church and bestselling author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” announced that he will be retiring as head pastor of Saddleback Church in the upcoming weeks. He revealed the news on Sunday, June 6, during a sermon called, “How to Discern the Best Time to Make a Major Change.”
“In the next few weeks Saddleback will start looking for a successor, not sure as of yet who the church is deciding to pick. This isn’t the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. It’s the beginning of the beginning,” Warren, said in the video. “But we’re going to start looking for the next-generation pastor who will replace me and lead our family into the future.”
Warren mentioned that his declining health was the reason for his decision to leave as lead pastor. He has a rare neurological disease called spinal myoclonus that causes spasms and blurs his vision when he gets a jolt of adrenaline.
The pastor fulfilled his decree of leading the church for 40 years, a promise that he made on Easter Sunday, 1980 holding 200 congregants at the time. In 2020, the church celebrated its 40 year anniversary.
Lee and Cynthia Hensler, staff members of Saddleback Church, recounted joining the church that same year. When the Henslers moved from New York to Southern California, they wanted to leave their religious beliefs in the past. But in 1979, when the 20-something couple decided to have their first daughter, they wanted her to be influenced by good morals.
“We started thinking — we were raised in church, and we turned out OK. We should do the same for her.” Cynthia said. “It gave our daughter a wonderful foundation, an anchor. God has done wonderful things in our lives through the church.”
In spring of 1980, the couple received a letter from Rick and Kay Warren, inviting them to come to the first church service at Saddleback. The couple enjoyed the church so much that a month later, they decided to recommit their lives to Christ and become official members of the congregation. Over time, Cynthia became a staff member of Saddleback, Lee served on missions trips and became a leader for the men’s Bible Studies. Their daughter even met her husband during the church’s college ministry and served on staff at Saddleback Church as well.
The Henslers, along with many other families have been impacted by the church. Over the last four decades, the congregation has grown from 200 members to having an average of 30,000 attendees and 7,000 small groups. The church is also one the largest Baptist Churches in the United States and also has 17 campuses around the world, including international campuses in Germany, Argentina, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.
While leading his church, Warren became the bestselling author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” selling the most hard copies of a book in the U.S., except the Bible, according to Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropology professor at Stanford who has written about American evangelicals.
He even interviewed renowned leaders like George Bush and John McCain, spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hosted Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the Lake Forest campus. In 2009, Warren gave the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration, with over 30,000 people tuning in to hear the preacher speak.