Two years after three women were ordained as pastors at Saddleback Church, Southern California preacher Rick Warren is explaining his shift in perspective on female leadership.
Warren, who recently stepped down from his senior pastor role at Saddleback, has faced a lot of criticism for his decision to allow female leadership within the church. In fact, earlier this year, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to oust the Lake Forest congregation — its second-largest member church — because a woman is on the pastoral staff.
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The best-selling author briefly explained his change of heart in a column for Premier Christianity.
“Most people think that if you change your mind on the issue of women in church leadership, you must be caving in to culture,” he wrote. “You must be becoming a liberal. You must not believe the Bible anymore.”
Warren, 69, said “none of those things” are true of him. Rather, he explained, it was his study of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) and the recounting of the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21) that led to his shift in perspective.
There are four verbs in the Great Commission: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Men and women are to do all four things. Women are to go, women are to make disciples. Women are to baptize and women are to teach. You can’t say: “Well, the first two are for men and women, but the second two are only for men.” The Great Commission was given to every person; not just men and not just ordained people.
“The Purpose Driven Life” author furthermore explained that, on the Day of Pentecost, as it’s recounted in the New Testament book of Acts, “women were in the Upper Room” and both men and women received the Holy Spirit.
“It was so different from the Old Testament, where only ordained men from the tribe of Levi got to be priests, that Peter explained it as the coming of the prophecy in the book of Joel,” he wrote, referring to Joel 2:28-32, in which it is written, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (NIV).
He added, “Now everybody gets the Holy Spirit: sons and daughters, young and old, men and women. Nobody gets left out.”
Warren also noted women were the first to tell of Jesus’ coming and His resurrection. God used the Prophet Anna, who spent her days and nights worshipping in the temple, to tell all who were seeking redemption that a Savior was coming (Luke 2:25-38). And upon His resurrection, Jesus chose to first reveal Himself to Mary Magdalene, one of His earliest followers. As the first evangelist, Mary Magdalene was tasked with sharing the Good News with Jesus’ disciples, a group of men (John 20:11-18).
“These are verses everybody else wants to ignore,” Warren wrote, “but they are the verses that changed my mind on the subject of women leaders.”
As for the SBC, messengers voted to boot Saddleback during a February meeting without public discussion. The denominational leadership deemed the church “not in friendly cooperation with the convention,” terminology used to remove a church from SBC membership.
The motion brought forward by the SBC’s executive committee stated Saddleback “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,” a reference to Stacie Wood, the wife of lead Pastor Andy Wood and a teaching pastor in her own right.
Saddleback leaders have not indicated whether the church plans to appeal the SBC’s decision during the next annual meeting in New Orleans in June.
“We love and have always valued our relationship with the SBC and its faithful churches,” church elders said in a statement. “We will engage and respond through the proper channels at the appropriate time in hopes to serve other like-minded Bible believing SBC churches. Meanwhile, we remain focused on following God’s leadership to love and serve our church family and the communities around our campuses.”
As for Andy Wood, he told The Associated Press in 2022 that Scripture “teaches that men and women were given spiritual gifts by God” and that “the church should be a place where both men and women can exercise those spiritual gifts.”
“My wife has the spiritual gift of teaching and she is really good,” he explained. “People often tell me she’s better than me when it comes to preaching, and I’m really glad to hear that.”
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