Andy Wood—the man poised to replace Rick Warren in September at Saddleback Church—is an abusive pastor who punishes those who cross him, according to two former high-level pastors at Wood’s former church.
In an exclusive interview with El Informe Roys (TRR), Jason and Lori Adams-Brown spoke about their time at Echo Church, the multisite megachurch in San Jose, California, that Wood co-founded in 2009. Both Jason and Lori served on Echo’s Strategic Leadership Team and said Wood and his close confidant—now acting Echo lead pastor, Filipe Santos—bullied, intimidated, and then fired them.
Earlier this week, Saddleback Church announced that an investigación independiente had found there was “no systemic or pattern of abuse under Andy’s leadership, nor was there an individual that we felt was abused.”
But the Adams-Browns say that wasn’t their experience. And they contest the investigation’s finding, saying Saddleback failed to take their story, and the stories of other victims of Wood’s abuse, seriously.
“Power by fear”
The Adams-Browns, who both grew up as Southern Baptist missionary kids, told TRR they noticed “red flags” at Echo almost immediately after arriving. Prior to coming to Echo, the family had served in Singapore with the Junta de Misiones Internacionales. That’s where they met Wood, who visited Singapore in 2011 on a short-term missions trip. Then in 2017-2018, the couple met with both Wood and Santos during a stateside stay.
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In August 2019, Echo hired Jason as its church planting and missions pastor, and Lori as the associate campus pastor at Echo’s Sunnyvale campus. During the pandemic, the Adams-Browns also launched and led Echo Compassion, a ministry to connect people in need with resources and volunteers willing to help.
According to the couple, Wood and Santos led the church in a dictatorial manner.
“I would say a lot of power by fear,” Lori told TRR. “Make sure you don’t cross Andy, or he’ll say (bad) things about you. Or—make sure you cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I,’ because if you don’t, you’re going to feel his wrath.”
Jason said Santos was so well-known for his harsh critique that staff had a name for receiving it. It was known as being “Filipe’d.”
TRR reached out to both Wood and Santos for interviews.
Wood’s PR agent, Kristin Cole of L. Ross Communications, said Wood is taking the month off to spend time with his family and not doing interviews.
Santos did not respond to our request.
Lori said she first encountered Wood’s wrath when she innocently asked him a question at a July 2020 meeting of Echo’s Strategic Leadership Team.
She said Wood had announced that Echo would be starting outdoor, in-person services and used the analogy of driving two cars—a digital car and an in-person car—to explain what they’d be doing.
Lori said the idea prompted many questions in her mind about the logistics of running an outdoor service.
“So, I asked a very, just curious and innocent question, ‘How is it possible to drive two cars?’ I didn’t even understand the metaphor,” she said. “And for the first time, I felt Andy’s anger toward me. I had seen him be angry at other people, but it had never come toward me. . . . It felt just really scary.”
TRR also spoke with Darren Allarde, former campus pastor at Echo’s Sunnyvale location, who witnessed the interaction. Allarde said Lori asked a “great question” that “challenged (Wood’s) notion in a good way.” And, according to Allarde, Wood answered the question with a “great answer.”
However, after the meeting, Allarde said Lori asked him whether he thought there was something off about her question or Wood’s response. Allarde said he responded that he thought both the question and the answer were fine.
Soon afterward, however, Allarde said Wood asked him the same question, and again Allarde said both were fine.
Lori said she later tried to apologize to Wood while their two families were hanging out because she could tell she had upset him. But she said Wood shut her down, saying that he wouldn’t discuss the matter in front of his family.
Soon afterwards, Lori said Wood summoned her to his office for a one-on-one meeting and peppered her with questions unrelated to her job.
“It was, ‘What do you believe about CRT (critical race theory)?’ And I was like, ‘What?’ I didn’t even really know what it was at the time,” Lori said. “I felt like I would need time to research this, but it felt like I needed to give a 60-second answer. ‘What do you believe about abortion?’ And I felt this need to say a 60-second answer. . . . It was just an interrogation, like an inquisition, and it felt very scary.”
Lori said she was called into two similar meetings with Wood over the following two months. One of the meetings was also attended by Jason.
“The meeting didn’t make any sense,” Jason said. “(Wood) is just asking these rapid-fire questions of Lori. I can tell he’s irritated and bothered by it—definitely. . . . I just remember feeling really afraid—like, ‘What is this about?’”
In October 2020, Lori said Santos called her on the phone and told her that sometimes Wood develops such antipathy towards certain staff that he can’t be around them—and now Lori was that person.
Yet Santos reportedly said both he and Wood wanted Lori to remain on staff. She’d just need to transition to another role— like pastor of outreach—where she wouldn’t be around Wood. According to Lori, Jason, and Allarde, Wood didn’t pay much attention to the outreach ministry Lori and Jason were doing; his focus was more on things related to the weekend services.
Lori said she objected, saying that Wood clearly was unhealthy, and the goal should be for Wood to get healthy. Santos replied that’s not how things work at Echo, Lori said. She said Santos said that Wood is the lead pastor, and Santos has learned that his job is to promote Wood, not question him.
Lori told TRR that despite her reservations, she agreed in October 2020 to transition to a new position. But then for two months, she didn’t hear anything from Santos about the new job.
Then in December, Santos sent her an invitation to a Zoom meeting entitled, “Your 2021 role.”
Lori said the Zoom meeting happened just days before Christmas 2020. And because of concerns about COVID, she sat outside on Echo’s North Campus to connect to the call. But Santos didn’t show up for the Zoom, she said. So Lori said she put her mask on, went inside the building, and found Santos, who then informed her they would meet in Wood’s office.
“It scared me because the whole point was to get me away from (Wood),” Lori said. “So, for me to be brought into his office, it was really scary. And I didn’t feel free to say no—either to meeting indoors, or to being in his office.”
Lori said she then sat down on the couch in Wood’s office, and Wood and Santos sat on either side of her “with this kind of power move.” She said the two then began “a very rapid-fire interrogation meeting for a solid hour.”
Lori said the pastors asked her questions like: What is the wound that makes you want to talk about women? Did you ever tell Pastor Lucille (Sablan) to speak up more? Lucille feels very pushed and uncomfortable. Why are you so frustrated about COVID? Pastor Tim (Castagna) said you were frustrated about COVID.
“That whole conversation felt like such power by fear,” Lori said. “. . . It was like the two most powerful men in the church, flanking me on both sides. I have no one from HR with me—like, clearly, I’m being ambushed and interrogated. And I didn’t know that’s what this was.”
Lori added that during the conversation, Santos claimed that he and Wood hear and see everything.
“It was the creepiest thing I think I heard in that meeting,” Lori said. “And I felt at that point, like, ‘Am I in Russia? Are they gonna send me to the Gulag?’ I mean, it was just the most tyrannical statement I think I’ve ever heard.”
Lori said she felt unnerved and scared by the meeting. She also felt awful that she apparently had made Lucille Sablan feel “pushed” and “uncomfortable.” So, after the holidays, she texted Sablan to apologize.
Lori said Sablan immediately called her, said she had never felt Lori do either of those things, and asked what Lori was talking about. When Lori said she had been in a meeting with Wood and Santos, Sablan reportedly said: Did those boys rapid-fire question you?
Lori recalled, “I was like, ‘Wait, this is a thing?’ because . . . I’m still thinking this is just me. And she’s like, ‘Yeah, they do that sometimes. I’m so sorry they did that to you. I’m so sorry.’”
TRR reached out to Sablan, who’s still on staff at Echo, for comment, but she did not respond.
Initially, Lori said she simply referred to the meeting with Wood and Santos as “weird.” But now, after receiving therapy, she said she believes what they did was emotional and spiritual abuse, as well as abuse of power.
Confrontation leads to removal
Jason told TRR that when Lori told him about the meeting with Wood and Santos, he was very angry and requested a meeting with the two men. The next day, Jason met with Wood in Wood’s office with Santos connecting via Zoom.
Jason said he was nervous for the meeting because he’s “not a confrontational guy.” But Wood reportedly had the opposite response.
“As I start the meeting, and I told them, ‘I guess I’m really, really angry about this meeting you guys had with Lori.’ And I start sharing my thoughts. And immediately it’s clear that Andy’s trying not to laugh. Like, he’s got this huge smile on his face, and he kept putting . . . his hand over his mouth.”
Jason said Wood continued to struggle not to laugh and then put a mask on to cover his smile.
“It was pretty clear fairly early on that there was no listening,” Jason said. “. . . All I remember is, I would try to state something. They would cut me off. They would correct. It wasn’t like, trying to make sure I felt understood.”
He added, “I’m a grown man. I’ve been on like high level leadership teams overseas. And I’ve never had people make me feel the way these guys made me feel. I felt incredibly small—like something was really wrong with me . . . I left that meeting, just thinking, ‘Man, what is wrong with me? Like, where are these emotions coming from?’”
Jason said he also left the meeting worried he was going to lose his job and what that would mean to his family. Jason said that fear, combined with a desire to be “tenaciously teachable,” motivated him to write a conciliatory email to Wood after the meeting.
In the email, Jason said he shared a very personal detail and said he was considering going to counseling to explore whether that issue had contributed to the conflict.
Later, Jason said he learned that Wood and Santos shared Jason’s personal disclosure with other staff and volunteers to paint Jason as the one with issues in the relationship.
A former Echo volunteer leader who spoke to TRR, Megan Haverkorn, said she was in a Zoom call with Santos and other volunteers in March 2021 where Santos did just that. Haverkorn said Santos was explaining why Jason and Lori left Echo and mentioned that Jason had written an email to apologize to Wood. Santos then disclosed Jason’s personal issue and said Jason was considering counseling about it.
At the beginning of 2021, Jason said he began feeling “tons of anxiety about work,” especially after learning that Wood and Santos’ “rapid-fire” interrogation of Lori was not an isolated incident, but a pattern of behavior.
On February 25, Jason said he told Santos he believed the December meeting with his wife was “abusive.” Jason said Santos responded that Jason and Lori probably needed to find another job.
“I’m now realizing, oh my gosh, I’m so naïve! . . . Like they’re gonna fire us over this,” Jason said.
Six days later, in a meeting between Jason, Santos, and Vivian Dorflinger—then-Echo CFO, now one of four Echo trustees—the church offered Jason and Lori and a severance agreement, Jason said. Jason said the agreement gave the couple two-and-a-half months’ salary but was tied to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
Jason said he told Santos and Dorflinger that he and Lori couldn’t sign the agreement because they believed they may need to warn others about Wood.
The next day, March 4, 2021, Santos, Jason, and Lori connected on a Zoom call, which Santos recorded with Jason’s permission. In this meeting, Santos was “very chill” and had an entirely different tone, Jason said.
The church then offered the couple a revised severance agreement, which did not contain an NDA. Instead, it had a clause stating that “any and all legal disputes between us will be resolved according to Biblical principles.”
Elders rebuff Jason and Lori, back Wood
Jason said he was deeply disturbed by all that had happened and “felt convicted” that he needed to contact Echo’s elder board. On March 6, Jason sent the elders an email, requesting a meeting to discuss what had led to his and Lori’s firing. Jason shared his email correspondence with the elders con TRR.
The elders responded by appealing to Matthew 18, which urges an offended person to go directly to the person who’s sinned against him to resolve an issue. If that doesn’t work, take two or three others, and if necessary, bring the matter to the whole church.
The elders said they hoped Lori had already brought her grievance to Wood privately. They said they were willing to meet with Lori and Jason, but added, “We would like this discussion to be with Andy and Felipe (sic) in the room to confirm, deny or clarify any statements made.”
The same day, Jason received a text from Wood, which Jason shared with TRR. In the text, Wood says he’s willing to meet with Jason and Lori about their abuse claims “with witnesses present.” But Wood confronts Jason for not approaching Wood directly and urges Jason to “follow a biblical process.”
“It doesn’t have to go down like this, we can work through this in a God honoring way,” Wood writes. “If you believe you or Lori were abused you owe it to me to give me evidence and an opportunity to repent, none of which you have done.”
Jason responds, “When someone is saying someone was abusive you do not demand that they meet with that person. . . . If the board refuses to meet with us unless you guys are there then that is their decision, but I will not put Lori or myself through that.”
Similarly, Jason wrote in an email to the elders, “When someone is claiming abusive behavior, you don’t ask them to come and share with you in front of that person.”
The board then requested that Jason submit his account in writing to the board. Then, if the board believed the accusations rose “to the level of abuse,” the board said it would meet with Jason and Lori without Wood and Santos present.
The next day, March 7, was “Dream Team Sunday”—a special service at Echo to recognize volunteers. It also was the first Sunday for the new Sunnyvale campus pastor, Gene Quiocho, who had replaced Allarde who resigned in February.
Lori said Quiocho didn’t know any of the volunteers at Sunnyvale. She, however, had nominated all the volunteers for their awards. And she felt it was “super inappropriate” for someone who didn’t even know the volunteers to present the awards.
Even so, Jason received a text from David Dorflinger, an elder and husband of CFO Vivian Dorflinger, on March 6, telling him that Wood officially had given Jason and Lori the day off and “thinks it would be better if you guys weren’t there.”
The couple said they also received a call from a mutual friend of Wood’s in San Francisco, saying don’t show up for church tomorrow. Wood doesn’t want you to be there.
Even so, Lori and Jason attended the service and Lori presented the awards to volunteers. But she added that Dorflinger “seemed to be always hanging around listening to my conversations. It was awkward, but I didn’t say anything to anyone.”
That was the last time the couple was able to meet with any of the volunteers at Echo, Lori and Jason said.
That same Sunday, Jason sent a written account of what had happened to the elder board. The document, which Jason and Lori shared with TRR, also made three requests: one, that Wood receive counseling; two, that Echo would commission an independent investigation; and three, that Echo would provide the couple with six months severance.
In a later email to the elders, Jason and Lori rescinded their third request and instead asked that their severance go toward Wood’s counseling and an independent investigation.
Jason said Wood asked him to meet the next day with Wood, Wood’s wife, Stacie, and Santos in Wood’s office to “get our hearts clean.” Jason said he wanted to be “above reproach,” so he agreed, but Lori connected via Zoom.
During the meeting, Jason said Wood told him that if he and Lori would take the word “abuse” out of their allegations, Echo could support the couple in their future ministry. The couple said they felt like Wood was offering them “hush money” and rejected Wood’s suggestion.
On March 12, Jason said he met over Zoom with Echo’s elders to hear their response to his written account. Lori said she felt like she was going to experience “secondary trauma” and listened in from the backside of Jason’s computer screen.
But Lori said the elders kept asking for her to participate so she eventually conceded, though it ended up being “very traumatic.”
“I just felt like if my role today is just to . . . lay down in the mud, so someone can walk on top of me to get to the dry land, then you know, it would be worth doing that . . . because I don’t want anybody else to feel what I feel right now,” Lori said. “So, if I can lessen than that for the next person, I will. And so, I joined the call.”
Jason said the entire meeting consisted of questions for Lori, and he could tell the elders were painting her as a “disgruntled employee.”
“It was things like, ‘How did you know Andy was angry? Was he yelling? Was it this? Was it that?’” Jason said.
When the elders finished their questioning, Jason said he told them there was more and asked to speak. The elders reportedly responded that they had to go but would be in touch with their verdict.
“I got off that call and I was just devastated because I realized I had . . . brought my wife into the situation to be completely traumatized all over again,” Jason said. “She said it was like they had taken her insides out on a table and stomped on them for the full hour. And I just laid in my bed and I wept.”
The Echo elders never commissioned an independent investigation. They instead produced an “exhaustive report,” which exonerated Wood, according to a recent statement by Saddleback.
On March 18, 2021, the Echo elders gave Jason and Lori new severance agreements. Jason and Lori said the new agreements prohibited all parties from suing each other but allowed the couple to tell their story, so they signed it.
According to Victoria Fishel, a former volunteer leader at Sunnyvale, Echo never made any announcement from stage about Jason and Lori’s departure. And for weeks, the volunteers had no idea why the couple had left.
Lori and Jason said they began hearing awful rumors about them and why they left. And recently, since Lori has begun speaking out about Wood’s abuse, Jason said he’s lost about $1,000 in monthly support for the ministry he’s doing now with Afghan refugees.
But the couple says they’re committed to speaking out, especially now that Wood will pastor one of the largest churches in America. They say they’ve heard from other victims of Wood’s abuse and Lori said she’s deeply concerned about this “wolf that has a history of devouring sheep behind the curtains.”