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Opinion: Rick Warren’s Stunning 2014 Sermon to Mars Hill Foreshadowed Andy Wood Debacle

By Julie Roys
rick warren mars hill 2014
On December 28, 2014, Pastor Rick Warren delivers a guest sermon to Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. (Video screengrab) 

Refuse to be bitter. Don’t gossip or judge. Show grace to your leaders.

These are the common lines used to silence whistleblowers when there’s a church scandal. Whether it’s the former elders at Harvest Bible Chapel defending James MacDonald, or a pastor at an ARC megachurch defending his lawsuit against congregants, the response is the same. As author and survivor advocate Wade Mullen has said, it’s almost as if abusers are reading from the same playbook.

So, I was surprised when I recently listened to a 2014 sermon from “America’s pastor,” Rick Warren, using these same silencing and shaming tactics against the congregation at Mars Hill.

The sermon was historic. It was given at the last service at Mars Hill Church before the church shuttered in the wake of scandal involving Pastor Mark Driscoll.

I had heard rather innocuous excerpts from the sermon in the popular Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast. But when allegations of abuse surfaced against Warren’s successor, Andy Wood, I was curious to hear all Warren had said following Driscoll’s egregious bullying and abuse.

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And what I heard was breathtaking.

Warren urged his audience to extend grace to the abuser, Driscoll. But for the abused, he had repeated admonitions.

“Don’t be bitter,” he told them, missing that the word translated “bitter” in Scripture often means “to grieve.” And to grieve when a pastor betrays your trust and destroys your dream is normal and healthy.

Warren also shames congregants for blaming anyone for the Mars Hill debacle. “Here at Saddleback, we have a little statement,” Warren said. “We say, you spell blame, ‘be lame.’”

Warren further silences his listeners by urging them not to “gossip” or “judge.” But he doesn’t define these terms. He just says they’re bad.

“Did you know that the Bible says over and over again, that one of the things God hates most in life is gossips,” Warren said. “. . . You’re not the judge. I’m not the judge. You got to let it go. Don’t be bitter. Don’t blame. Don’t gossip, don’t judge.”

It’s stunning Warren would tell Christians not to judge a pastor who so clearly had disqualified himself from ministry. The failure to judge Driscoll is one of the main reasons Driscoll has been allowed to return to ministry and to continue his abuse

But the sermon got even worse. Warren then urged the congregation to send Driscoll thank-you notes!

“You need to be grateful for all the ways that God used Mars Hill Church,” Warren continued. “Be grateful for all the ways God used Mark Driscoll. . . . Most of you would not even be Christians if it hadn’t been for (Mark and Grace Driscoll). And I just want to encourage you, you might just send Grace, Mark, and the kids a note, a thank-you note, for all the good things they did.”

Rick Warren’s Advice to Mars Hill in Final Sermon

Warren’s sermon might be understandable if he had given it before the elders at Mars Hill found Driscoll guilty of “arrogance,” a “quick temper,” and “leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.” But this sermon was given after the elders reached their conclusion—and after Driscoll abruptly resigned, rather than submit to the elders’ plan of restoration.

I don’t know if Warren’s perspective on Driscoll has changed in the past eight years. But on Monday, a man facing very similar allegations to Driscoll, Andy Wood, is set to assume Warren’s mantle. And I can’t help but wonder if Warren’s regrettable 2014 sermon foreshadowed what’s happening with Wood.

I reached out to Warren through Saddleback’s PR agent, Kristen Cole of A. Larry Ross Communications, asking whether Warren regrets anything he said in his 2014 sermon. But I did not receive a response.

I have always viewed Rick Warren as one of the better megachurch pastors. While some have been exposed as proud, greedy, and authoritarian, Warren has appeared the opposite. He’s warm, down-to-earth, and gives away 90% of his income.

Yet, given Warren’s 2014 sermon, and the way he’s handled abuse allegations against Wood, Warren appears to have major blind spots when it comes to abusive pastors.

At best, he doesn’t recognize the telltale signs of an abusive pastor, nor grasp the devastation these pastors leave in their wake. At worst, he sees the abuse, but excuses it.

When the allegations first surfaced against Wood in July, Saddleback appeared to take the allegations seriously and commissioned an investigation. But it was one of the worst investigations I’ve ever seen.

Andy Wood Echo
Andy Wood teaches at Echo Church (Source: Video screengrab)

Before investigators even talked to any alleged victims, they announced a preliminary finding clearing Wood of the allegations. How is that even possible?

Also, when the investigation concluded, Saddleback claimed investigators found no “pattern of abuse” under Wood’s leadership. But the church never defined what it considered abuse. And given Warren’s 2014 sermon, I have little confidence that he understands what spiritual abuse is.

To this day, Saddleback has refused to release the full report of the investigation. But having interviewed several of the people who participated in the investigation, I can’t fathom how investigators arrived at their conclusion. And since then, the case against Wood has grown.

Two former pastors at Wood’s previous church, Echo Church, have come forward with detailed stories, alleging that Wood bullied and spiritually abused them. Another former Echo pastor claims Echo maintained a “culture of leadership worship” where questioning Wood was not allowed.

Numerous former Echo staff say they can’t talk about their experiences because of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) Echo made them sign—a practice Echo recently defended.

On top of this, two executives with a Baptist organization that worked closely with Wood say Wood displayed a pattern of predatory behavior towards small congregations with valuable church properties. They add that Wood abruptly quit their organization and retaliated against them when they refused to “broker” a deal for Echo to acquire a $15-million building from a small church body.

There’s also Wood’s apparent admiration for predators like Driscoll. At a conference last year, Wood interviewed Driscoll and called him a mentor who had shaped Wood’s ministry.

Wood has since apologized for that interview, saying Driscoll was only at the conference to discuss his “mistakes.” However, former Echo staff say that’s not true; Wood interviewed Driscoll about “healthy” leadership, not his mistakes. Soon after an article published about the event, Echo removed video of Wood’s interview with Driscoll from online.

Wood has also expressed admiration for other questionable preachers. In an Instagram post, Wood called T.D. Jakes and Steven Furtick “two of the best preachers alive.”

Jakes is a prosperity preacher who promotes a heresy called “modalism,” holding that God eternally exists as “three manifestations,” not persons. Furtick is a pastor known for his expensive lifestyle, including his 8,500 square foot mansion and $1,000 sneakers.

andy wood instagram furtick jakes
On October 22, 2017, Pastor Steve Furtick of Elevation Church (right) welcomed Bishop T.D. Jakes for a Q&A session, which Pastor Andy Wood was present for and later praised on social media. (Image via Instagram)

At this point, believing Andy Wood is qualified to lead one of the largest churches in America requires a degree of naivete, or even self-deception, that’s hard to imagine. Yet apparently, that’s what Warren has chosen to do. And it makes me sad. It’s a horrible way to end what otherwise seems a long, fruitful ministry career.

But this is not the time for Saddleback’s congregation or elders to do the same. The elders need to release the full report of the investigation on Wood. And together, with the congregation and outside experts, they need to weigh the mounting evidence against Wood in both the report and what we’ve published at The Roys Report. And then, by all means, they need to judge.

If they don’t, I fear Warren, or some other trusted pastor, may someday have to give a somber sermon for a deeply grieving church. But this time, it will not be for Mars Hill. It will be for Saddleback.

Julie Roys is a veteran investigative reporter and founder of The Roys Report. Before that, she hosted a national talk show on the Moody Radio Network, called Up for Debate. She’s also worked as a TV reporter for a CBS affiliate, a newswriter for WGN-TV and Fox News Chicago, and has published articles in numerous periodicals.



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24 Responses

  1. Thanks for your reporting here, Julie. We live in an area where ‘mega church’ is something that can be found only in the mega cities; nothing close. But, whether a pastoral change at a mega church is called into question, integrity is still integrity; and the church body is duty bound to hold leadership accountable. We, all, saw what happened to James McDonald, who came across as such a skillful, diligent teacher, but behind the scenes was worse than a loose cannon. When the church appears to have the same problems as they world, we are embracing the wrong message – and leadership.

    1. ” James McDonald, who came across as such a skillful, diligent teacher,…’

      I have to disagree with you. He came across as a bullying used car salesman with a god complex, it says a lot about the state of the world that people continually fall for these “cult of personality” types. We are supposed to be serving God, not feeding the ego of self or of man.

      Osteen/Copeland/Johnson/Jakes congregations are great examples of what PT Barnum said about a sucker being born every minute.

    2. Very true, Tom. we have had a few churches in my area that have hit the 2,000 member mark, but they didn’t stay there for various reasons.

      Julie, another Julie. ;-)

      3. Celebrity pastors become the focus of worship.

      Does the pastor encourage his congregants to idolize him, or do they idolize him and then he comes to enjoy it? I don’t know. But I do know that there are Christians who only follow a celebrity pastor and have forsaken local fellowship. Moreover, there are Christians who go to church and tell the pastor how he didn’t preach as well as (insert celebrity pastor here) did last month on that topic.

      Church is meant to be a place to worship God, but celebrity pastors turn it into a personality cult. I won’t say these men purposefully make church that way, but it seems to be an inevitable result.”…


      While I don’t agree with everything she says —even in this article—I did find this particular article quit good.

  2. Thank you for compiling the information in this clear and concise way, Julie. I agree that the sheer volume of accounts from people who have experienced the negative aspects of Andy’s “leadership style” is staggering – and that’s just those that have the legal freedom to speak because they didn’t sign NDAs. I share your incredulousness that anyone paying attention can feign ignorance at this point. But here we are. I pray that Saddleback hears the voices of those speaking out, trying to protect them. But based on their response thus far, my hope is slim that anything will change.

  3. I have to disagree with you on this one Julie. Rick Warren along with Bill Hybels were the demonic duo spawned by Robert Schuller who destroyed the church and turned it into either a businesscorporation or a recovery rehab. Rick Warren was the dude who threw out the choir, the Bible, the older saints, reverence, holiness and a lot more. I sat under a pastor ala Warren who was one of two of the most abusive people in my 68 years. Got publicly excoriated for taking issue with the “god as I define him” taught in 12 steps. Oh and then there was that “Purpose Driven” phenomen that taught a horrendous gospel throughout the land. Frankly I am glad Warren is gone.

    1. I don’t think you have a clue what you’re talking about. Purpose driven is based on two statements made by Jesus – the great commandment in the great commission. I wonder if you have even read the book.

  4. What seems so obvious with these mega churches is that successors are chosen because they’ve done well as business managers. I believe Warren said that as a main criterion for choosing Wood i.e., he had built a big successful church operation. Well, I think I’d agree that if a pastor is called to lead a huge church they need to have organizational experience and have success leading a huge church and it should be a criterion. But it shouldn’t be the primary criterion. The first thing should be humility. It’s pretty easy to find a successful business manager to run a church.

    If I had my way, there’d be no churches over two or three hundred, and best, churches would be under under 200 with many more congregations spread throughout the community.

    Humility … I don’t think there’s much of that anymore.

    1. I love your last 2 paragraphs, James. And don’t forget, humility is not just lacking in the area that you refer…it lacks tremendously in message boards as well.

  5. Utterly unbelievable the pretzels that the vast majority of TRR’s readership ties itself into defending this guy. Just saying.

  6. “At a conference last year, Wood interviewed Driscoll and called him a mentor who had shaped Wood’s ministry.”

    It sounds as though Mr. Wood was being honest.

    ‘Wood has also expressed admiration for other questionable preachers. In an Instagram post, Wood called T.J. Jakes and Steven Furtick “two of the best preachers alive.” ‘

    Maybe Mr. Wood defines “preaching” as “a verbal performance by a minister.” In that case, the ability of Mr. Jakes and Mr. Furtick to attract large audiences and high donations could be said to make them “two of the best.”

    In a highly literate society with vernacular Bibles available to everyone, why do people need Mr. Wood, Mr. Furtick, or Mr. Driscoll to speak for God?

  7. Thanks, Julie, for “connecting the dots” of recent history. Not long ago I would have accepted Warren’s advice as helpful. Because of what I’ve learned from podcasts and articles on this website, however, the 5:10 sermon excerpt strikes me as formulaic and dismissive toward the intended audience. Several of his comparisons are inappropriate; Christ’s enduring of the cross “for the joy set before Him” does not obligate a church to ignore the pain of spiritual abuse. Worse, Warren confuses the judgment prohibited in Matthew 7:1 with necessary discipline of sinning pastors.

    Finally, Corrie ten Boom did not die in a Nazi concentration camp. She was released from Ravensbruck and lived until 1983. After World War II she spoke extensively around the world and wrote books, including the one that Warren quotes from.

  8. I am curious as to the governance of Saddleback. Do the members vote on whether to call a nominated pastor, is it a committee who decides or does Warren simply get to name his replacement?

  9. I, too,had wondered who had selected Andy Wood to be the next pastor at Saddleback. On Saddleback’s website I found two places that identify Rick Warren as being the one who chose Andy Wood, with Rick Warren saying that he started the search for his successor, referencing the types of effort/research he did. He subsequently introduced the elders and their wives to the Woods, and the elders unanimously confirmed his choice (in the video he refers to it as his and Kay’s choice). Here are two different links for this:
    The second link included this writing, “After a one-year search, Pastor Rick announced that he has found the next Senior Pastor of Saddleback…” (and there was something similar on the Saddleback website):

  10. “I reached out to Warren through Saddleback’s PR agent, Kristen Cole of A. Larry Ross Communications, asking whether Warren regrets anything he said in his 2014 sermon. But I did not receive a response.”

    The fact that a pastor has to be approached through a PR agent should be disturbing to say the least. This paragraph speaks volumes about Saddleback, and megachurches in general.

  11. Warren shows his true colors with this one. People who say these kinds of things are snakes, enemies of the cross, and people who would gladly kill Jesus all over again because Jesus is the big guy and their narcissistic egos have no room for any other God but themselves.

  12. I agree with Warren that people in the church should not gossip.

    So let congregations discuss such matters openly.

    Oh wait… people in the church cannot, as NDAs and other means of push-back are employed which shuts down any conversation on such critical matters ……

    When I was young I was taught honest, integrity and transparency were important in the church….

    Never mind……..

    1. “I agree with Warren that people in the church should not gossip. So let congregations discuss such matters openly.”

      Excellent point!

    2. Amen!! With regards to, “I agree with Warren that people in the church should not gossip.
      So let congregations discuss such matters openly.”
      The Bible gives us Terrific advice on such matters, “Speak the Truth in Love.” That pretty much covers everything.

  13. Julie, I’m thinking that much of what Rick said would have come across differently if he would have begun with an acknowledgement of what Mark had done and what so many of them had experienced with Mark. Start with naming the sin and recognizing the hurt, and then talk about how to move on. I heard many on the Mars Hill podcast talk about the good they got from Mars Hill and Mark’s ministry, but they needed to be able to name the abuse and craziness to work through what happened. It’s like he gave half of the message and didn’t acknowledge the time it takes to go from shock and anger to reframing, boundaries and forgiveness.

  14. Julie, thank you. Past sermons can reveal much.

    I attend Church @ The Springs in Florida when I’m home from college and Pastor Andy Wood was a guest speaker at our church this past year. I never heard Andy before, but was personally hurt with the start of his sermon.

    Starting at 29.45, please see for yourself:

    Why would a pastor discredit the community leaders he pastors with? Why would he create emboldened division over such a sensitive issue in our world today?

    Please help.

    1. Wow! Yeah, that’s a bold play. I wonder what the members of the Echo congregation would think of that characterization of them…? I guess he’s counting on the fact that they won’t watch this video. Or that he was already planning to leave the Bay Area to take over at Saddleback and their reaction wouldn’t matter.

  15. Having myself been in a cult for almost 9 years, it is evident that Warren is doing the same thing that cult leaders do: get those with legitimate complaints/grievances to “stuff their feelings” by turning the focus off the perpetrator and onto the aggrieved. He’s basically attempting to tie the aggrieved into an emotional knot which results in NO justice and helps to perpetuate sin/crime/etc.
    Warren is a silver tongued devil who considered Peter Drucker a mentor for 25 years ( See the video footage of him at a memorial for Drucker in the documentary ” Church of Tares” ) Drucker was a master at teaching business leaders to manipulate their employees so they would better serve the company. Warren has manipulated people for decades with a soft FALSE gospel that builds up a huge congregation and gratifies the egos of the silver tongued wolves who lead them.
    Complaints and grievances cause trouble , which can lead to less people, which leads to LESS MONEY!!!! and less EGO GRATIFICATION and therefore, the “trouble makers” must be guilt- tripped into silence.

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