Saddleback Church deemed ‘not in friendly cooperation’ with SBC

The SBC Executive Committee affirmed a recommendation from the SBC Credentials Committee Feb. 21 to deem Saddleback Church as “not in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The move comes less than a year after founding pastor Rick Warren left the helm of the church and was replaced by Andy Wood and his wife, Stacie. While not co-pastors of the church, Andy serves as lead pastor of the church while Stacie serves as a teaching pastor.

The Credentials Committee cited Stacie’s role as teaching pastor of the church as the reason for the removal of cooperating status due to the church’s lack of a faith and practice that closely aligns with the Baptist Faith and Message — which states in Article VI 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.”

In October 2022, Andy told Baptist Press that the two “are not co-pastors but rather have unique roles on staff.” However he added that “we believe pastoring and teaching are functions and spiritual gifts to be exercised in the church by both men and women.”

Warren told messengers at the 2022 SBC annual meeting in Anaheim that he believed there is a difference between the office of pastor and the gift of pastor but declined to explain in his comments from the convention floor, referring messengers to his mailing list.

In a statement released to the media, EC chairman Jared Wellman said: “In its meeting today, the SBC Executive Committee determined five churches to be not in friendly cooperation with the Convention due to the churches continuing to have a female functioning in the office of pastor. As stated in the Baptist Faith and Message Article VI, the SBC holds to the belief that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. These churches have been  valued, cooperating churches for many years, and this decision was not made lightly. However, we remain committed to upholding the theological convictions of the SBC and maintaining unity among its cooperating churches.”

Saddleback has the opportunity to appeal the decision at the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans on June 13 and 14.

The SBC Bylaws provide a process for appeal by churches found to not be in friendly cooperation. Bylaw 8 provides the opportunity to bring their appeal before the next SBC annual meeting.

Warren’s story of starting Saddleback is widely known thanks to the account in his best-selling book, “The Purpose Driven Church.” Warren, a fourth-generation pastor, grew up as the son of a Southern Baptist director of missions in northern California. During his final year at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Warren studied the 100 largest churches in the United States with the help of longtime evangelism professor Roy Fish.

Through that research, Warren discovered that large, growing churches had long-tenured pastors. He then committed to spending his life at a single location. After much prayer, God led him and his wife, Kay, to choose Orange County, Calif., the fastest-growing county in the country during the 1970s, from among several locations in the western United States. The couple arrived in the community in January 1980 with little money but a plan to start a new church in just a few months.

The church grew quickly — and caught the attention of the California Southern Baptist, the state’s Baptist newspaper and Missions U.S.A., the magazine of the Home Mission Board (now NAMB).

— Jonathan Howe is vice president for communications at the SBC Executive Committee. Brandon Porter, associate vice president for communications, contributed to this story.