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Rick Warren’s successor ‘cleared’ of abuse allegations


Just over a month after a preliminary investigation cleared Pastor Andy Wood of allegations of leadership abuse during his time at Echo.Church, elders at Saddleback Church say that Rick Warren’s named successor has been completely “cleared” by two separate investigations.

Saddleback elders said in a July 11 statement that the Vanderbloemen Search Group, one of America’s best-known and highly respected Christian executive search firms, conducted a rigorous background check on the 40-year-old Wood before his initial selection as Saddleback Church’s new lead pastor.

The Vanderbloemen investigation was also reviewed by the Middlebrook & Goodspeed firm, and the results are the same, the elders said. Wood is “cleared” to lead.

“The team at Vanderbloemen interviewed former employees, former volunteers, peers, and current employees to ask them about their experiences with Andy. The sample can be said to be thorough. After our work, we concluded there is no systemic or pattern of abuse under Andy’s leadership, nor was there an individual that we felt was abused,” Vanderbloemen stated after the additional review.

The selection of Wood and his wife, Stacie, to succeed Rick and Kay Warren as leaders of the California-based megachurch triggered “shock” and “fear” in some individuals who have previously worked with Wood who publicly accused him of leadership abuse.

“When I first saw the news that Andy had been selected as Rick’s replacement, my first reaction was shock. And my second reaction was fear,” Lance Hough, a former creative arts pastor at Echo.Church Fremont Crossroads, told The Christian Post in response to Saddleback’s June 2 announcement of Wood’s selection.

“It seems to me like Andy has been in a place of unaccountable leadership. And I would hate to see the patterns that started at Echo Church be recreated at Saddleback at such a much larger scale.”

Podcaster and international speaker Lori Adams-Brown, whose LinkedIn page says she worked full-time at Echo.Church from August 2019 to March 2021 as an associate campus pastor and development director, claimed on Twitter that “a pastor with many allegations of abuse against him” had been “hired to be the pastor of one of the largest churches in America.”

In the July 11 statement, the Saddleback Church elders noted that Middlebrook & Goodspeed were hired “to ensure the thoroughness and competence of Vanderbloemen’s findings” and  “evaluate the investigation, process, and findings.” The firm didn’t find anything to challenge the conclusion reached by Vanderbloemen.

“Based upon the testimony and evidence provided by Vanderbloemen’s background team, we believe the investigation was objective, thorough, transparent, and truthful. The investigation was done in a manner to protect the identity of the witnesses, which is essential to obtaining the truth. We feel that a conflict of interest did not exist in this investigation and that Vanderbloemen’s team followed all the leads provided to seek the truth,” Middlebrook & Goodspeed stated.

“Further, there was nothing in the materials and interviews we reviewed that would lead us to contradict Vanderbloemen’s finding that there was no pattern of abuse nor abuse towards an individual,” the firm added.

Andy and Stacie Wood officially stepped down from Echo.Church on June 26 and are expected to move to Orange County, California, this month with their children. The couple will attend Saddleback in August during Warren’s final preaching series.

Saddleback Church will celebrate the Warrens’ 43 years of service on the weekend of Sept. 3-4. On the weekend of Sept. 10-11, the Woods will be commissioned into their new roles. Wood’s first official day as Saddleback’s new senior pastor will be Sept. 12.

Saddleback Church elders said that based on the most recent findings “from two experienced and unbiased firms,” they will now move on with Wood’s installation as planned.

“We can now say with complete confidence that the investigations have CLEARED Pastor Andy Wood of the accusations made by a former employee. We will now resume moving forward with the process of installing Andy Wood as the next Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church in September. Thank you for your patience while we did our due diligence, so that these investigations could be completed,” the elders said.

“We wanted the truth. We will now turn our attention to planning a celebration of Pastor Rick and Kay’s unprecedented 43-year ministry, and then welcoming Pastor Andy, Stacie, Caedmon, Sammy, and Karis as our newest members of the Saddleback Family.”

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