EXCLUSIVE: Incoming Saddleback Pastor Accused of Retaliating When Baptist Group Wouldn’t ‘Broker’ Deals

Por Julie Roys
Andy Wood baptist group
Andy Wood has been named as senior pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California, to replace Rick Warren. (Video screengrab)

For his first 10 years of leading Echo Church, a multisite megachurch in San Jose, California, Pastor Andy Wood—the incoming pastor of Saddleback Church—expressed no interest in joining the Great Commission Association of Southern Baptist Churches (GCA). If anything, he saw them as an impediment. 

Wood was building Echo into one of the “fastest growing churches in the most unchurched areas of the United States.” And as previously reported in El Informe Roys (TRR), GCA blocked Echo’s attempt to acquire a $10- to $12-million church property in nearby Campbell, California, in 2013.

But in 2018, Wood’s disposition toward GCA changed. And Echo applied for membership in the Baptist organization.

Yet once again, Wood had his sights on acquiring another church property worth about $15 million, GCA Executive Director of Missions Mike Stewart told TRR.

And 11 months later, when the small church—Oak Grove Baptist Church in San Jose—rebuffed Echo’s advances, Echo abruptly quit GCA.

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en un email to Stewart on November 11, 2019, Echo’s then-Executive Pastor Filipe Santos explained why. Top among his reasons was Echo’s unmet expectation that GCA “would help broker relationships between existing churches that are ‘dying’ (decreasing in attendance and health) and churches/planters who are effectively reaching the community but in need of facilities.”

Stewart said Wood and Santos then retaliated against GCA by contacting local churches and disparaging GCA. The situation became so serious the GCA board wrote a letter rebutting Echo’s allegations, which it sent to Echo and GCA’s member churches and ministries, Stewart said.

GCA’s experience with Echo over six years raises questions about Wood, who’s about to succeed Rick Warren at Saddleback Church—the largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) with an average attendance around 28,000 and 20 campuses worldwide.

According to Stewart, Wood does not care about small churches or the people in them, but instead displays a naked pragmatism that values only assets and attendance.

“It was obvious that the only reason (Echo) joined the association was to acquire (Oak Grove’s) property,” Stewart said. “And once the property was not going to be quickly acquired, remaining in the association had no financial benefit to them. . . . Helping all the other churches in the association—the other 103 congregations—with resourcing and assistance wasn’t their thing.”

GCA Baptist group Oak Grove
Oak Grove Baptist Church in San Jose, CA (Courtesy Photo)

Stewart said Wood’s pattern of lashing out in anger also raises concern. Plus, during Echo’s application process, Stewart said GCA learned that Echo provided no accountability for Wood. Though GCA required Echo to rewrite its bylaws to add oversight for Wood, Echo staff who recently left the church say Wood ran Echo in a “dictatorial manner” and abused his power.

TRR reached out to Wood for comment through his PR agent, Kristin Cole of A. Larry Ross Communications, but Cole did not respond.

TRR also reached out to Echo Church and Filipe Santos for comment, but no one responded.

Christian real estate developer expresses concerns

Also expressing concerns about Wood is Christian real estate broker and developer Dominic Dutra.

Dominic Dutra baptist group
Dominic Dutra (Courtesy Photo)

Dutra, author of Closing Costs: Reimagining Church Real Estate for Missional Purposes, dicho TRR that in March 2022, he received an email from Wood. This was shortly after Dutra was quoted in a Servicio de noticias de religión article about repurposing empty church buildings.

After suggesting that he and Dutra should “talk sometime soon,” Wood wrote, “I wanted to let you know that if you are able to find any church mergers that result in real estate we would be willing to compensate you for that.”

“I was just kind of taken aback,” Dutra told TRR. “I think it was the qualifier, ‘Hey, if you can find churches with real estate.’ That was a big red flag for me. It wasn’t, ‘If you can find churches that help me propagate the gospel and bless communities.’ That would have been encouraging. And then the follow up to that was . . . ‘We’re happy to pay you, compensate you.’ . . . So those two things just concerned me.”

As a result of his concerns, Dutra said he decided not to work with Echo.

Retaliation

Como TRR reportado la semana pasada, both Stewart and a colleague said Wood angrily confronted Stewart in 2013, claiming God would judge Stewart for blocking Echo’s attempt to acquire First Baptist Church Campbell.

A similar pattern was repeated in 2019 when Wood disparaged GCA to local churches and ministries, Stewart said.

GCA mike stewart church acquire
Mike Stewart (Photo via GCA)

GCA’s board responded with a detailed letter in December 2019 rebutting allegations by Echo, which were contained in Santos’ November 11 email. GCA’s letter was then copied to the organization’s member churches and ministries.

Concerning Echo’s allegation that GCA failed to “broker relationships” with “dying” churches, GCA wrote: “GCA is not a broker of church properties, and it never made commitments to be one during the Echo application process.” GCA added that the congregation pursued by Echo chose “autonomously” to continue as an independent church.

Echo also alleged in Santos’ email that GCA’s Hearts and Hands Christian Preschool ministry was curbing church planting.

According to Stewart, Hearts and Hands is a successful GCA ministry that’s helped numerous churches generate additional income and bless their communities.

But Echo alleged that the preschools hurt church planting by keeping “dying churches alive” and pointed to Oak Grove Baptist Church as an example.

“This is very unfortunate in our opinion,” Santos wrote, “because these facilities could be used for church planters and growing churches to reach those far from God. Oakgrove Baptist in (sic) an example of how a small group of people have held hostage a building that could be used to advance the Gospel.”

In its response, GCA wrote, “We are concerned about Echo’s perception of a GCA member church holding its own building ‘hostage’ from church planters (emphasis in original document). . . It grieves us that there has been evil intent ascribed to a sister church . . . We are also concerned that other church planters in our region are being influenced to think in this manner about their sister churches.”

GCA baptist group
GCA Logo (Courtesy Image)

Echo also alleged in Santos’ email that “church planters we spoke with” communicated that GCA “tries to ‘control’ them more than ‘support’ them.”

In response, GCA said it contacted all nine of its current church planters and only one expressed any issues with GCA. Others provided statements refuting Echo’s claim.

“I’ve never felt that way about GCA,” a church planter in San Jose reportedly wrote. “. . . GCA as given full support and kept the autonomy of the church and supported the church to make their decisions.”

Echo’s remaining complaint against GCA concerned the organization’s requirement for member churches to give 3% of their income to GCA. “For us to give that amount of money we would need to be in better alignment with the association and its goals,” Santos wrote.

GCA responded that these contributions by member churches was how GCA supported church planters and other ministries.

Stewart also noted that Echo had committed to a graduated giving plan in its application for membership in 2018. The plan called for Echo to give 1% of its income to GCA in its first year; 2% in its second year; and 3% in all following years.

Despite these commitments, Echo gave only $6,000 (about a tenth of a percent of its income) to GCA in its first 11 months as a GCA member, according to an email from Stewart to Echo in September 2019. Given its annual budget of about $5 million, Echo should have given $50,000 its first year, the email stated.

Stewart confronted Echo about its lack of giving in his September email to Wood and Santos. When Wood and Santos did not respond, Stewart sent an email on November 7, 2019, informing Wood and Santos that GCA would be reviewing Echo’s “probationary” membership at a meeting on November 16.

Santos sent his letter withdrawing from GCA four days after receiving Stewart’s email.

After the GCA board sent its response to Echo’s allegations, Santos sent an email to GCA, challenging Stewart’s claim that Echo failed to fulfill its financial commitment to GCA. Santos claimed Echo agreed to give $1,000/month in 2019 and 1% in 2020. As evidence, Santos copied and pasted a quote by Stewart from a previous email.

Stewart said the quote contained a typo. But in Echo’s application to GCA, Echo clearly committed to paying 1% in its first year, which was 2019.

GCA Baptist Group Echo Church
An excerpt from Echo Church’s application to join the Great Commission Association of Southern Baptist Churches. (Image provided by GCA)

Santos did not respond to the other issues discussed in GCA’s letter, including the alleged disparagement. But Santos wrote “we have no grudges” and offered to collaborate on GCA’s “efforts to transform the Bay Area, including conferences, assessments, etc.”

Lack of accountability

According to Stewart, another red flag concerning Wood surfaced during Echo’s application process in 2018: Echo provided no accountability for Wood.

As part of its application, Echo (formerly South Bay Church) was required to submit its bylaws, which have been obtained by TRR. The bylaws gave the directors on Echo’s board “final authority” for all business matters.

But according to Stewart, all Echo’s directors were high-profile Christian leaders who lived in other parts of the country.

Andy Wood Saddleback
Pastor Andy Wood. (© Andrew Jo via Echo Church)

“They were the only people who had any authority over Andy,” Stewart said. “But they were never there to see anything that he did. That’s dangerous.”

This kind of external church governance is common among churches within the Association of Related Churches (ARC)—a large church planting organization rocked by sexual and financial scandal to which Echo belongs.

However, external governing boards are almost unheard of in the SBC, to which Echo (and GCA) also belong. The SBC holds that congregations should be governed by a “democratic process.”

To be admitted as a member, GCA required Echo to rewrite its bylaws and add a local board. The new bylaws, obtenido por TRR, call for Echo to have trustees in addition to its external “Board of Overseers.” Trustees must be selected from the church body, the bylaws state.

Despite these reforms, several Echo staff pastors who left Echo in the past couple years say Wood ran Echo in a dictatorial manner y abused his power. Former Echo Pastor Jason Adams-Brown said when he worked at Echo, the church didn’t post the elders’ names on its website and few people knew who they were.

Jason’s wife, former Echo associate campus pastor Lori Adams-Brown, also said Wood’s willingness to partner simultaneously with ARC and SBC was an outgrowth of Wood’s pragmatism.

“He said he was like NASCAR—that’s how he would describe it,” Adams-Brown said. “He would take stickers from anybody. So, if you’re ARC and you want to support him, great. If you’re Southern Baptist and want to support him, great.”

Echo reportedly has received funds from both ARC and the SBC’s North American Mission Board (NAMB).

Under ARC’s model, ARC matches dollar-for-dollar the first $50,000 raised for church plants.

Wood North American MIssion Board NAMB
NAMB logo

Del mismo modo, en su prospectus for the launch of South Bay (now Echo), Wood notes $50,000 of “Denominational Support” from NAMB, CSBC (California Southern Baptist Association), and “Associational Giving.”

In 2018, NAMB featured Echo and Wood in an article published by its On Mission Magazine. Echo also has hosted NAMB’s annual assessment for church planting pastors in recent years.

When asked for comment about Wood’s actions, especially concerning church mergers and attempted mergers, NAMB Executive Director of Public Relations Mike Ebert responded: “NAMB does not speak for local churches. Since your questions mainly concern how Echo Church and its leadership operated, we would refer you to them.”

Call for action

A group called “Echo Survivors” is pushing for change and accountability regarding Wood and Echo Church.

On Monday, the group launched a petition urging Echo to release all former employees from non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements, which “can act as silencers on victims of abuse.”

The petition has more than 450 signatures.

Wood is slated to succeed Saddleback founding Pastor Rick Warren as senior pastor on September 12.

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25 pensamientos sobre “EXCLUSIVE: Incoming Saddleback Pastor Accused of Retaliating When Baptist Group Wouldn’t ‘Broker’ Deals”

  1. Fred Wolterstorff

    I don’t know much about the Great Commission Association of Southern Baptist Churches (GCA), but this article makes them seem as if they’re a bitter organization with an ax to grind. I also don’t know Andy Wood, but I applaud his desire to see dying church buildings returned to vibrant places of life and ministry. My guess is the people who originally invested in these once vibrant congregations and life giving churches would be saddened to see the GCA and tiny congregations allowing these spaces that are beautiful on the outside but on the inside they are full of the bones of the dead. But, I’ve seen the same story play out over and over.

    1. Then you aren’t familiar with how these predatory churches work. Several years ago, Fellowship Church (Ed Young Jr.) merged with a church in the Miami area, also with one in North Port (Gulf Coast side of FL) and again with one in Norman OK.

      The Miami church was then sold to Vous Church (Rich Wilkerson Jr aka Kanye’s BFF) and the congregation didn’t know about it until it was announced at the conclusion of a Sunday morning service. During their tenure FC did NOTHING to make the property attractive for prospective families.

      The Norman church was a long-time supporter of an after-school program. FC comes in and discontinues its support, causing the program to cease operations. The building was for sale as of December 2021.

      The North Port church no longer appears as a campus location.

      In addition they built a building in Keller TX which they later sold to a Church of Christ group.

      1. It wasn’t that long ago. Ed fingered the usual culprit, the cosmic realtor above.

        https://julieroys.com/fellowship-church-sold-miami/
        “When asked why Fellowship sold the Miami campus, Wilson simply responded that God led Young to make the decision. He added, “Pastor Ed has a long history of leading above reproach at Fellowship Church. He has a long history of being a leader who seeks out wise counsel before making any decision. You can be assured that that took place in this situation.”

  2. Brinna and Fred speak supportively of what others see as a concerning dictatorial aspect of Church dynamics.
    With respect to both, each of them subscribes in their respective posts to absolute (even annihilatory) dismissals of others (generation x, RR, GCA). Where whatever their intention, they end generating the same concern that others have about Wood and Echo (under his leadership).
    Being written off by others whose mission is seen as so exemplary as to justify that writing off, seems to me dangerous in the universe of faith and congregation.
    There may be a deeper debate to be had here, across two sides to this disagreement, but that debate has to be grounded in mutual respect and high standards regards what we say about each other.

    1. Fred Wolterstorff

      My comment comes from a place of urgency and from serving as a consultant to dying congregations. I basically plead with them to share power and allow space for the other — but the congregations are almost always resistant in practice (not always word). Jesus reserves his harshest language for religious people who are turned in on themselves — honestly Jesus uses much harsher language than I feel comfortable using.

      One final comment. We need to be careful not to equate pastor lead congregations with dictatorial leadership. The modern democratized congregation is a VERY recent phenomenon in the arc of church history. You may prefer it, but most churches throughout church history have been clergy led and the congregation had almost no say. The recent and I’d argue concern change is the lack of some sort of outside accountability.

      1. Thank you for replying Fred. I am a democrat in the sense that I believe: every voice to be infinitely valuable; and the possibility of peace in humanity to arise as each voice feels heard and understood.
        I hesitate to reify Jesus, preferring to instead confine myself to the example and understanding he offered when a human person amongst others. If a pastor so manifests God to listeners, that they follow his guidance as you suggest; that is okay. But in the instance of Wood, “resistant” congregants are not finding God in what he would have them do.
        That’s the point at which Wood should step back, and allow those better able to approach those congregants with the Jesus-cleaving suggestion you speak to: if those others can persuade those congregants that God and Jesus are manifested and followed in the pathway offered; then this latter pastoring or leading would have proven safely successful.
        The bottom line would seem to be that the God Wood is appealing to, is not the God that some see themselves as committing to. If Wood could enter dialogue about that fraught issue, then that would be good. Echo represents those to whom Wood is plausible as a pastor; where beyond Echo he is encountering principled resistance.

      2. In Acts 6 where the first deacons or “proto-deacons” were selected, it was congregational selection. “Choose from among yourselves…” (Acts 6:3) so the whole congregation selected the men (Acts 6:5). Of course there is the warning to Pastors in 1 Peter 5:1-4 on how to lead the church. There was the appointment of pastors and elders in churches, but these were immature churches that needed to be taught. There were also the criteria given in 1 Timothy 3 for those who are qualified or disqualified from ministry by which to evaluate.I don’t see where it is specified who makes the determination – congregation or other elders. Also the warning in 1 Tim 5 of sin that disqualifies. Certainly there are congregations that make the life of a pastor difficult and there are pastors who make the life of the congregations difficult. Hebrews asserts that congregations are to submit themselves to those who lead.

  3. What makes Mr. Wood a “better” judge of God’s purpose for various Baptist church buildings than the congregations that own them?

  4. I think that taking shots at an entire generation of Christians is not the best way to win a debate. You assume that all baby-boomers are reactionary curmudgeons who all march in lockstep and favor buildings and order over people. That is simply not true, and you know it’s not. I could respond and say that all megachurch senior pastors are simply money-hungry power-grabbing dictators and point to examples to demonstrate my point. But that would not be true either. As for “protecting inefficient and ineffective structures,” if that is the standard by which we are evaluating ministry these days, then we are in deep trouble. Because I would have to say many large megachurches are guilty of exactly that (and I worship at a megachurch myself). When it comes to pastoral ministry, I would recommend that you read Eugene Peterson’s profound little book, “Working the Angles” and Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership.” You might find them wasteful of your time, but you might learn something as well.

  5. I think that the Saddleback congregation is in for some rough days ahead. Rick Warren was a friend of sinners and his vision for the church included not only Saddleback, but support for the thousands of small congregations with bi-vocational pastors who labored for the sake of the Gospel. I hope it is not true, but I fear that Saddleback’s best days of ministry are now behind it.

  6. well the younger generation are rejecting church/religion in record numbers. I have a couple friends that post their church services on line and I look at them briefly…every single person, without exception in the choir, the minister and music minister and the entire congregation is a bunch of gray hairs. there may be some young people in some places….but overall 10 years from now churches are going to be like ghost towns.

    1. I have talked to family members in the younger generation. Some go to megachurches, but say the very things their churches are doing to attract young people actually repel them. They don’t want a show; they want community and authentic Christianity.

      1. Fred Wolterstorff

        Then why aren’t they going to a small church? Oddly, it’s often easier to find community at a mega than a dying congregation. It’s about intentionality. Big does not equal impersonal. Small does not equal community. For the record I go to a small church, but I don’t think mega means no community. Big or small, you get what you give — if the space creates room for new people.

        1. Fred, the primary concern for me, is always collective process: as it has to do with distance from the individual; where I see the individual as the crucial epicentre of everything human. When collective process has to do with the relation between God and the individual (so faith and theology) and/or the relation between collectivity and the individual (so law and culture and governance); then that distance has to be rigorously scrutinised for dynamics of manipulation and expropriation and compromise and corruption.
          Ideas and practices of Church and congregation and citizenship are then crucial loci to look at. While they claim crucial goodness around social integration, and may deliver on that claim to some degree, they have to be audited holistically.
          The benefits and flaws of collectivisation, of all types, have to be laid out. Its not a binary choice between small or mega, rather its a necessity of auditing both as to their flaws and benefits.
          What RR is a fulcrum for, across good journalism, is just such auditing. Where that auditing has to accommodate multiplicity of viewpoints. The question of comparison between Small and Mega and their relation, remains unresolved and contentious.

      2. Debra Szemplinski

        Thank you Julie. That is precisely what I am hearing, even from west coast congregations in LA and San Diego. Secondly, they are experiencing record attendance of young and old alike.

  7. If you’re not familiar with Andy Wood’s character, I think that the fact that he has so many people trapped by NDAs says a lot. He who has nothing to hide doesn’t need people to sign an NDA.

    1. 2 Cor 2:
      17 For we are not like the great number who make use of the word of God for profit: but our words are true, as from God, being said as before God in Christ. —BBE

      “3. For our witness does not come from error or from an unclean heart or from deceit: 4. But even as the good news was given to us by the approval of God, so we give it out; not as pleasing men, but God by whom our hearts are tested. 5. For it is common knowledge among you that we never made use of smooth-sounding false words, and God is witness that at no time were we secretly desiring profit for ourselves, 6. Or looking for glory from men, from you or from others, when we might have made ourselves a care to you as Apostles of Christ. 7. But we were gentle among you, like a woman caring for her little ones: 8. Even so, being full of loving desire for you, we took delight in giving you not only God’s good news, but even our lives, because you were dear to us.” (1Th 2:3-8, BBE)

      A lot of these modern pastors are not financially transparent ❗👉

      “How To Check Your Church for Financial Transparency” 🙄

      https://www.checkmychurch.org/post/how-to-check-your-church-s-financial-transparency

      Many churches / pastors who are not financially transparent are opaque in other matters as well!

  8. This and many of the other articles at TRR point to one thing: Too many of the men serving as pastors in this country are consumed with acquiring “the big three”: Money, sex and power. The Kings of Israel were warned by God to guard against those issues.
    Or maybe it’s as simple as the fact that too many of the pastors in the U.S. are not truly converted.

  9. We need more former staff members who did not sign NDA to come forward. I would be curious to know who is on the board of directors/elders of both Echo and Saddleback Church.

  10. I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it now: I believe that the Saddleback Church and Pastor Rick will both regret this choice in a new Pastor. The Church needs to re-open the background check and look more thoroughly before finally deciding on this young guy, who appears to be trouble!

  11. Wood is going to eat this mega-church alive. No doubt that quickly there will be trouble of such a magnitude that it will not be possible to shove it under the rug. Narcissism is what it is, and always does what it does. No wonder Jesus Christ hates it so much.

  12. Wood is going to eat this mega-church alive. No doubt that quickly there will be trouble of such a magnitude that it will not be possible to shove it under the rug. Narcissism is what it is, and always does what it does. No wonder Jesus Christ hates it so much.

  13. I get the impression that if a pastor is a successful leader of a megachurch there is a pretty good chance that individual may have sociopathic tendencies.

  14. In response to: “Echo also alleged in Santos’ email that GCA’s Hearts and Hands Christian Preschool ministry was curbing church planting.” Sounds like this is a very missional preschool. They are lovingly taking care of children and helping families in a much needed way. Are we led to believe that this act of service didn’t inspire some of the parents of kids who attended the pre-school to just maybe become Christians and even attending the church? And even in the off chance this didn’t happen, I’m sure it pleased God that children were being loved and cared for, even if this didn’t affect the numbers of the Evangelical Machine.

  15. Pastors may have a gift of teaching but that doesn’t give them a gift of administration. I think churches would be far better off if they would keep a separation of powers instead of letting the Sr. pastor have the powers of a king.

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