One of the country’s biggest and best-known megachurches, Saddleback Church, is no longer a part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) after bringing on a female teaching pastor last year.
Saddleback was among five churches with female pastors who were deemed “no longer in friendly cooperation” with the denomination at a meeting of the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville on Tuesday.
The Lake Forest, California, congregation ordained three women from the stage in May 2021, a decision that rattled some Southern Baptists who believe the role of pastor is reserved for men. Then last year, Saddleback selected Andy Wood as Rick Warren’s successor and the church’s lead pastor, and his wife Stacie Wood came on as a teaching pastor.
Warren responded to calls for the SBC to cut ties with his church at the convention’s June 2022 annual meeting, held in Anaheim, California. “Are we going to keep bickering over secondary issues,” he said, “or are we going to keep the main thing the main thing?”
At the time, the credentials committee—the group tasked with recommending whether to disfellowship a particular church—hadn’t come to a decision on Saddleback, saying it wasn’t clear if the SBC’s statement of faith restricted women from any position doing pastoral work or with a pastoral title, or if it just applied to the senior pastor.
“I could talk to you all about what I believe about the gift of pastorate as opposed to the office of pastorate, but I’m not here to talk about that,” Warren remarked, spending most of his time at the mic reflecting on his decades-long history with the SBC.
This week, the committee recommended Saddleback be disfellowshipped, saying the church “has a faith and practice that does not closely identify with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith, as demonstrated by the church having a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor.”
The Executive Committee approved the decision, also cutting ties with two churches that have female senior pastors (New Faith Mission Ministry in Griffin, Georgia, and St. Timothy’s Christian Baptist in Baltimore, Maryland) and two churches that have female lead pastors (Calvary Baptist in Jackson, Mississippi, and Fern Creek Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky).
“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,” said Executive Committee chairman Jared Wellman in a statement. “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.”
The credentials committee also recommended a single church—Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Florida—be disfellowshipped for issues related to its response to sexual abuse. Despite a growing awareness of sexual abuse in the denomination, the SBC has only acted to remove a handful of congregations since 2020, the majority of whom knowingly employed a registered sex offender as pastor. Others have been disfellowshiped for their stances on LGBT and racial issues.
Churches who lose their place in cooperation with the SBC are no longer able to send voting messengers to its annual meeting, but they can appeal the decision. The next SBC annual meeting is scheduled for New Orleans in June.